“Are you my friend?” That whole #autistic interpersonal business


are-you-my-mother-coverWhen I was little, one of my favorite books was “Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman. It’s the story of a little bird who leaves the nest, looking for his mother. I don’t remember exactly how and why he ended up outside the nest. Maybe he fell out? But he wanders all over creation looking for his mother, asking everyone and everything along the way — including a steam shovel and a dog — if they are his mother. Eventually, his mother finds him, and the story ends on a good note.

The book actually made me a little really anxious. I really felt for that little bird. See, I could relate. It wasn’t that I couldn’t understand who was my mother — I just didn’t understand how everyone was “related” to me. I couldn’t tell if they were friends, if they were just acquaintances, or if I needed to stay away from them. I was always that way, from when I was a little kid, to when I was a young woman getting in trouble with men who mis-read my “signals” and thought I wanted something other than what I really wanted — just friendship.

I’m feeling a little bit like that, these days. My social issues continue. I’m still confused about it. And my Royal Aspieness is getting me into all sorts of emotional upheaval about my social connections. One of my new-found Aspie friends, who I have really connected with over the past six months or so, is moving away, just a few months after we got to know each other. That’s a bit of a blow to me. And now another person I thought was a friend, who I also really connected with over the past six months, is pulling away from me. Hmmmm… is that a trend I see?

Anyway, the second friend (who’s still in my area) is pulling away for good reason. She’s neurotypical. I’m autistic. And I haven’t told her about my Royal Aspieness. She knows other autistic folks, but I’ve never disclosed to her. I figured that would eventually emerge as a result of our friendship. If she really understands autism, she’ll one day remark that I seem awfully ‘spectrum-y’, just as many other people have in the course of my life. She hasn’t said a word, though, which makes me wonder if she’s even paying attention — because she’s actually one person I let my guard down around. I mask far less around her, than around most neurotypicals. I actually stim, flap, and let myself get a lot more excited about things than I do around others.

The thing is, the boundaries most “normal” people have between themselves and others were getting pretty blurry. And I’d been starting to get a lot … closer … to her than is probably comfortable for her. She’s married with a couple of kids and a successful career that keeps her constantly busy. She’s said that she really enjoys the time she spends with me, because I help calm her down. She’s felt comfortable telling me some pretty personal things about her anger with her father who abandoned her family when she was little, as well as her fears and reservations about what kind of mother she is. She’s shared some pretty sensitive info with me, and she feels safe being vulnerable around me, in ways that she apparently can’t around others.

Well, now comes the inevitable progression, which happens all the time with neurotypical straight women: Turns out, there’s a “connection” between us that (to anyone looking in from the outside) looks out-and-out lesbian. And maybe — probably — she’s feeling a certain attraction to me, because I’m pretty much of a guy, much of the time, and the masculinity I carry with me is the sort of safe masculinity that straight women really love. I’ve talked about my non-binary gender identity, I’ve talked about being a “boy”, and I’ve told her about living as a man for a number of years, back in the 1990s. She’s been alternately intrigued and perplexed. I’m such an attractive woman… why would I want to be a man? That, dear friends, is another discussion for another time. But long story short, despite her initial skepticism about how I could possibly be a “guy”, she’s had the chance to see me in action, first-hand. So, on a visceral level, I think she gets it.

And now I’m not safe to be around. Because — heaven forbid — she’s feeling something for a woman. And like just about all of the straight women like her who have drawn close to me, then pulled away, she’s not comfortable with her sexuality, she’s a workaholic, she’s focused on her professional development at the expense of her emotional development. And unlike the countless queers I know — who are “literate” about their sexual energies and know how to navigate them from years and years of practice sublimating, navigating, negotiating — she doesn’t know what to do with her feelings about me. And she doesn’t have the time, the ability, the permission, or the space/opportunity to figure that out in a responsible and considered way.

If this sounds implausible, I invite you to spend a few years with me, when I’m developing relationships with straight women who “aren’t gay”, but who are inexplicably drawn to me and confess they’re “having feelings” for me that make them uncomfortable. And then have to split, because I’m just getting too close to them. Or they’re getting too close to me. Or people are starting to talk, when they see us together. Or whatever.


So, this most recent case has been sitting closer and closer to me, when we get together. And she’s been encouraging me to let down my emotional guard around her. She tells me she wants me to open up with her, but that’s not really the case — because she has no idea what’s actually under the surface. And she has no context or ability to understand what’s roiling ’round inside of me. She pushes and prods and encourages me to open up… Then, suddenly, her schedule gets changed all around and she’s totally booked for the next 2-3 weeks. So, she can’t make it to our get-togethers.

And I wonder what I did wrong. Again. I know what I did wrong. I just let myself “be” around yet another person, and yet another person can’t handle me. She just can’t. She apparently doesn’t have a working familiarity with how to relate to others in an intimate-but-not-sexual way, which is actually my specialty.  You don’t have to be sexual with someone, to be intimately connected with them. And in fact, many of the connections I feel with others are extremely intimate.

When I interact with anyone, I try to understand their worlds. I try to see “how they work”. I Google them… their families… their places of residence for the past 20 years… their professional accomplishments. I’d make an excellent private investigator. I know more stuff about most of the people I know, than they can imagine. It’s just how I get to know them to the level of detail I need to make sense of WTF is going on with them. It’s benign. I’m not going to use it against them. I need to understand them, and since I usually can’t gather what I need from their social signals, I do a bit of research, and then I figure out how they are, what they’re like… the reasons for why they are how they are (which is otherwise a complete mystery to me).

That level of knowledge into others is, I believe, a rarity amongst non-autistic people. But for me, it’s essential. I’m flying blind, otherwise. But I never use what I learn against the people I “study”. It’s just background information. Along with all my studies of their body language, the things they’ve said, the patterns of their behavior, their topics of conversation… the works. I have a complete and very intimate “inner dossier” compiled on just about everyone I know in the offline world, because otherwise I’d have no idea how to interact with them.

I never tell people this, of course. It would probably freak them out — especially non-autistic individuals, who are friends with me. It would seem too close. Too familiar. Crossing artificial boundaries they raise to feel safe and autonomous. The thing is, all those boundaries rapidly become invisible to me — like panes of glass surrounding others. I can see them so clearly… and then when I try to approach, I run up against the wall of bulletproof glass and get hurt. Because for me, it’s not there. I don’t see it.

But it’s there. The wall is standing tall, and I’m the one with the broken nose.

This has happened to me a bunch of times. Especially with women. They sense that my empathic self is able to reach into places of their experience and reality that they want to keep separate and for themselves only — or the few personal friends who they choose to allow in. And that really puts them off. So much so, that they disappear from my life and refuse to have anything more to do with me.

Maybe it is intrusive. Especially for women. I mean, we have almost the whole world trying to get inside us — either trying for sex or wanting to go back to the womb. And our boundaries and personal autonomous integrity is essential to feeling safe and viable in our own right. So, maybe my empathicness (which I differentiate strongly from empathy) is a problem for them.

I know it’s a problem for me. Which is why I never tell others (in person) I’m empathic. They get freaked out. They don’t want to be “probed” in the ways my empathic nature probes their “space”. They don’t want to be examined, studied, evaluated, analyzed, in the on-so intimate way that my empathicness does it. So, I usually do pretty well about keeping my distance and not letting on about that stuff.

Unless they’re a friend.

Then that kind of dissipates. Lines get blurred. I try to relate as the person I am, with the skills and abilities and nature that are mine.

And then they stop being a friend.

I have to quit considering other people as my true friends — especially neurotypical ones. They can call me their friends, they can consider me their friend. But they can’t be mine.

I can’t keep doing this.

The loss of yet another person I felt connected with — no, two, counting the other friend who’s moved away — is just too painful. It stings and hurts and it’s costing me precious sleep, as well as peace of mind. I don’t have time for other people’s interpersonal stuff. It’s dismaying and embarrassing, and I can’t believe I let it happen all over again.

I really need to stick with my autistic friends who live nearby. And supportive autistic folks online, who have just been amazing in the relatively short time I’ve “hung out” with them. I’ve got another support group coming up next week, so that’s good – I’ll get to see my “Aspeeps” again. Maybe we can grab something to eat just before the get-together. Or go out afterwards. Dunno. I just get tired of the roller coaster that comes with neurotypical straight women who gravitate to me, connect strongly with me, then withdraw and get on with their non-autistic lives.

I get sick of being left in the dust. And I get even sicker of that oh-so-familiar feeling of dismay and embarrassment at getting “hooked” to begin with.

I don’t even want to have to ask “Are you my friend?” Right now, I just want to be left alone… by everyone who’s not on the spectrum.

5 thoughts on ““Are you my friend?” That whole #autistic interpersonal business

  1. Ah, someone else who researches everything they can find about people in their lives so they can understand them, but who never lets on about anything they know because they learned long ago that really freaks people out.

    I’ve also been confused that people never seem to do that with me.

    And I also have a long history of people getting close and then pulling away and going away. (Or worse, turning out to be dishonest and actually wanting to use me in some way.) Different contexts, reasons, and stories but same end result.

    I’m very empathic in the sense that I often will pick up and start to actually feel the emotions of those around me. The problem has always been that I have a very difficult time identifying and describing both what I’m feeling and as well as what others are feeling. So that’s not really very helpful. It just adds to the broader confusion. It can be even harder for me to identify and describe those emotions than it is the ones I’m feeling naturally myself. Not sure that description made sense to anyone but me, which may not be surprising since it’s hard for me to disentangle.

    Sorry that it’s happening again. I know how painful it is when people you are close to pull away from you and go away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VisualVox

      Ah, the joys of alexithymia… not having a clue about how to articulate emotions, either from/for others or within/without ourselves…

      Yeah, that makes sense. And yes, the whole business about “picking up” on the emotions of others and then experiencing them with them, as though they’re your own… that’s quite familiar to me. It gets so confusing at times. What’s going on?

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m sorting things out, realizing (yet again) that personal autonomy is really the only reliable approach to my life. I get too entangled in other people’s stuff. It’s not that I don’t care or don’t need others. Maybe I care and need too much… I just need to find a common-sense balance, and not be hard on myself for being how and who I am. The standard-issue (neurotypical) interpersonal rules don’t seem to apply to me. And that’s fine. It’s when I start expecting myself to be just like everyone else and I start measuring myself by their standards that I get in trouble.

      Enough of that.


      I’m fine the way I am. And I’m happiest when I’m just letting myself be.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Feeling like I need to let some stuff — and people — go – Under Your Radar

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