Friendships are one of the best things in life, as well as, one of the hardest of all things to understand. I want friendships, but they are a mystery to me. Friendships are complicated, simple, painful, loving, scary, safe, and I could go on with my diametrically opposed words but I think I’ve made my point.
So, when I have a friendship, I try to safeguard it from any possible mix-ups that can happen. I know what these are because they’ve all happened before at some time in a previous friendship. I safeguard it by explaining about autism and what could happen along the way in life.
I tell my friends (all five) that I’m on the spectrum and there’s a distinct possibility I will make social mistakes, but please tell me so I can fix them. I remind them that I’m on the spectrum when I’m shook up and can’t find my words. I show them I’m on the spectrum when I can’t stand a certain sound, smell, or taste.
I explain to my friends that I feel disconnected when I haven’t been with them for a while. They don’t understand, so I explain it again… and again.
I try to convince my friends (all four, I lost one somehow) that when they say, “I’ll text ya later!” that to me it actually means they will text me later and when they don’t I feel forgotten and that they lied to me. It’s not a good way to say good bye. “Good bye!” is a great way to say good bye.
And again, I repeat to my friends (yep, all three) that I’m autistic and I will make social mistakes, but could they please tell me so I can explain what I meant and/or fix them?
And because, most of the time communication is the difficulty, I might send them flower pictures or funny quotes in the middle of a regular day to let them know I’m thinking about them. I listen to my friends when they need someone to hear them. I’m there if they are sick or if their hearts are hurting. I do whatever I can think of to show them I’m invested in the friendship. I do that just in case THE SOCIAL MISTAKE happens. The one I’ve told them about already. The one I’ve tried to prepare them for. I have no idea when it’s going to come either. I just know in most of my friendships it has reared its ugliness.
All of a sudden, without warning, a friend is very angry with me (down to two). They say things like, “How could you?” or “I thought you cared about me,” and “Why did you do that again?” And, I’m socially lost. I start getting very anxious. I don’t understand what’s happened yet. I’ve done something. I don’t know what it is, and most of the time when I find out what it is, I don’t understand why it was so wrong in the first place. Hopelessness sets in and makes itself at home in my heart.
I try to fix it. I try to explain why I did what I did. I try to help them understand I didn’t do it on purpose because I would never want to hurt anyone else (I know full well what it feels like) and I didn’t know what I did would hurt them.
So, now my friend (yes, sadly… one) is hurt and angry. They are pretty much done with all the “stuff” that goes into being friends with me. (There are always two sides to being done with all the “stuff” that goes into being friends with anyone, but that’s a story for another day.)
Here’s the thing. I’ve warned them THE SOCIAL MISTAKE might happen. I’ve made suggestions about my friends telling me right away, letting me explain why I did what I did, and reminding them that even before it happened, I had told them I didn’t mean to do it, I just knew I probably would. I have a blind spot when it comes to social communication, especially as friendships deepen and become more intimate and confusing.
Here’s the solution. Listen to me when I explain what my autism means in a friendship. Don’t take what I say with a grain of salt (really—just one?). Honestly listen to me when I open myself up and am vulnerable to explain about autism all in the sake of friendship. Friendships are worth it, there’s always hope that when you are sadly down to one, there are many more people out in the world to meet and find out who they are, and explore more possible friendships.
And, then when (if) something does happen, remember what I suggested. It’s pure and simple. And it’s messy and complicated. It’s friendship.
About Lisa Morgan
I am an autistic adult, officially for 8 years now, unofficially for 46 years before that. I’m the author of Living Through Suicide Loss with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), written in 2016 after experiencing the loss of my husband of 30 years. I have a master’s degree in the Art of Teaching in special education, am certified in Behavioral Analysis, and a support group facilitator for NAMI. As a community council member of AASET, I continue to advocate for autism awareness, better resources, and stronger communication skills. And, most important of all, I’m the mother of four amazing people!!!