Hovering on the Fringe

My apartment building is testing the alarm system so I’m at the park today, sitting at a picnic table, writing. It’s a beautiful day and the park had been deserted until a few moments ago when a group of kids on a field trip showed up to eat lunch at the picnic tables and play on the nearby playground.

Watching them find seats and settle down to lunch reminds me of how much I dreaded field trips as a kid. The unfamiliarity of the setting. Having to find someone to sit with on the bus. Worrying that I would end up without anyone to hang out with during the inevitable free time we were given as a reward for enduring the educational portion of the outing.

As the kids are finishing up their lunch and breaking into little groups to play football or soccer, I hear a crash. Two boys were off by themselves swinging on the swings and one of them has literally fallen on his face. He gets up, pressing his hand to his mouth, but doesn’t cry or run to the adults for help. Instead he walks off to the side of the playground, away from the group, repeatedly touching his lip and looking at his fingers.

None of the adults notice whatโ€™s happened. Theyโ€™re distracted by the other children, most of whom don’t hesitate to seek out their help or attention.

The other boy on the swings saw his playmate fall and ignored him.

The whole situation feels painfully familiar. The wandering off to play alone. The clumsiness. The embarrassment at getting hurt and the subsequent refusal to seek help. The two boys playing side by side but showing little interest in each other. The invisibility.ย 

whale

As I watched those two boys on the swings, I recognized that they were using the same playground survival strategies I’d used as a kid. By playing side-by-side on the swings, but not really with each other, the boys have found a way to give the impression that they’re friends. That makes them less vulnerable than they would be playing by themselves. They may actually be friends–it’s hard to tell by watching them for a few minutes–but I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew little about each other or rarely talked to each.

Girls seem to be even better at this strategy, hanging around at the edges of a social group to avoid being alone. Some experts have suggested that aspie girls’ ability to appear socially adept while forming few or no close bonds may be one of the reasons that girls are diagnosed less frequently than boys.

As a preteen and teen, I got great mileage out of the hovering-at-the-fringes strategy. I usually had one or two good friends who tended to be nurturing, big sister types. They also tended to be more socially adept. They were my social gateway friends.

I found that as long as I was friends with that type of girl, she would include me in her circle. Suddenly I appeared to have lots of friends. Of course, if my gateway friend wasn’t included in some social activity, I wasn’t either. Sometimes it was because the rest of the group just forgot to include me, but often it was because I was too intimidated by the idea of going to a social event if my gateway friend wasn’t going to be there.

Honestly, if it weren’t for the social pressures (from parents, peers, teachers) to have lots of friends, I would have been content having one friend at a time. With one good friend, I knew who to phone when I wanted to go for a bike ride or have a sleepover. I didn’t have to think about who I’d rather spend time with or how to go about balancing the demands of multiple friends on my time and (limited) social energy.

As I’m wrapping this up, the kids have formed a football game. The boy who fell off the swings is quietly tagging along right behind the adult male chaperone who is organizing the game. The other boy who was on the swings is sitting at one of the picnic tables, playing cards with one of the adult female chaperones.

Again I see myself. I was the teacher’s helper, the kid who learned to play poker at ten because hanging out with the adults on holidays was more fun (yes, holidays in my family meant epic poker games). Adults seemed more interesting to me and more interested in me. They were easier to relate to.

Oddly, now that I’m an adult, you’re more likely to find me entertaining the kids at family gatherings. Their parents are happy for someone to take the kids off their hands for a bit and kids have pretty low expectations when it comes to social interaction.

Create a semblance of socializing is one of my go-to social survival skills. It worked on the playground and it works just as well at PTA meetings, birthday parties and holidays devoid of poker games.

100 thoughts on “Hovering on the Fringe”

  1. I know it may sound odd but this post made me cry. I was always at the fringe of society. Heck, I still am. I wanted so badly to be a part of the group. To understand the fascination with hair, makeup, boys, and clothes. Instead, I was the outsider. My own relatives barely included me in anything. As an adult I have no close friends near by. My one IRL friend lives hours away and I never get to see her and the rest of my friends are online and on twitter. And I’m still the outcast, at work, in public, at my children’s school. I feel like I’m doomed to be alone forever.

    And it sucks.

    1. To Forgotten:
      I just had to tell you, you are not the only one with this experience. Haven’t had a friend since school days, and those friends only lasted for brief times. When my kids are finished growing I will be alone, and am preparing for that eventuality. Being young and alone is over for me, I am in the middle presently, but am looking at and considering how to handle a future of being old and alone.

    2. Oh, and now your comment made me all squishy and sad. Friendship is really hard. The last IRL friend I had died of breast cancer eight years ago so I get what you’re saying here. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Does it help if I say that online friends are real friends too? Because they are. I know it’s not the same as doing things in person, though.

    3. Oh, God. I read your comment, Forgotten, and felt a stone hit the pit of my stomach. I feel like I’m doomed to be alone. When I express those comments to my family, group therapy, therapist, etc, they tell me that I am going through rough patch, it will get better, you’ll find someone. I thought I was the only one living my nightmare, but you are, too. And you too, Lucy. This is one of those times when I really would rather be alone. I don’t want anyone else living my nightmare.

  2. Wow, this post really resonated with me. Even now, I form these intense bonds with my women friends one at a time. We hang out and if we (hopefully) share a common interest, I can spend time with our like-minded peers, but that can be a rough transition. It’s just so much easier to do the one-on-one thing than to try to expand beyond that dynamic — maybe it’s just more to think about in a conversation.

    1. The sharing a common interest thing feels really important to me as an adult. I think I kind of missed this when i was younger because my interests were so unusual, but as an adult I’ve only ever made friends with women who I shared some specific interest with.

      1. I know I’m going to make a pop culture reference (to a scene in a film or something that happened to a television character) at some point, and it makes me feel better knowing that doing so wouldn’t alienate me from the conversation. It’s easier with people who have literary backgrounds – those who studied English in college or just love reading and learning – or who consume a lot of media. They don’t mind it or may even continue my train of thought. Otherwise I just feel odd or as if I should come with footnotes.

  3. This is so…something. I’m not sure. This is the kind of writing that doesn’t exactly make me cry, it just give me that deep, heavy feeling in my stomach. It just rings so true, and yet it is so often unspoken. It aches a little.

  4. This. I’ve always seen myself as being on the fringe. Not exactly alone but never getting fully involved. Having said that, I can feel alone in the middle of a crowd of people: it’s a feeling of such vulnerability.

    Making friends is hard: building a close relationship requires a degree of openness that is frightening to somebody like myself who has suffered bullying because of being different, standing out. I don’t often take the risk.

    Gateway friend: I’d never thought about it before, but I’ve always relied almost exclusively on tagging along with somebody else to get introduced to other people. Used to be my younger brother when I was growing up, my wife through much of my adult life. Although the work environment has also been helpful in providing a reason to talk to people, some of whom have become friends through the years.

    1. My husband has definitely become my gateway friend now. I hadn’t thought of him quite that way, but it’s true. I can’t imagine going to a neighborhood get together or some similar social activity without him to tag along after. Even though once we’re there we’ll usually end up splitting up, I need the reassurance his presence provides to get me to the place and in the door. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Yes! That is just how I am, unless there are other people there I know well that I can tag on to. I used to drink to get past the anxiety I feel, but that’s not a good strategy: I’ve had several instances of very poor judgment under the influence.

      2. Yes, My wife is definitely my gateway friend. I don’t have any friends of my own. While I enjoy joining in conversations if invited (and the group is small) it’s not essential for my happiness. As a child I would take part in some play activity with other kids, but never felt as at ease as I did by myself or with adults. Looking back at my school days, I nearly always had one friend that kept me company at school. The friendship would last a year or more, and until I reached high school, that friend was always a girl. As best as I can recall it was always the girl who initiated the relationship. We never saw each other outside of school. We would occasionally have what could be called conversations, but mostly we took turns at monologues while the other listened. And there would be long intervals of silence, which we both seemed to enjoy.

        1. It’s interesting how many of us consider our spouses to be our adult gateway friend. I wonder if, in some way, that was part of the attraction. ๐Ÿ™‚

          The friendship type that you describe is a classic spectrum pattern – having a friend who is the initiator, making one friend at a time, the friend not being a typical peer (in your case being of a different gender, which I assume is somewhat atypical) and having an activity-oriented structure to the relationship.

      3. My partner’s my gateway friend! As a kid, I was definitely a one-friend-at-a-time kid, too.

        I get on best with people outside of my age-peers. Younger people think it’s cool that I don’t get all “I’m older ergo I’m right” about stuff, while older people tend to view me as a younger sibling in need of mentoring. Age-peers think I’m either too serious or too immature, and always too weird.

        1. Same here! I also get along best with people who aren’t my age. I prefer being around people older than me, but younger kids tend to accept me as well. People my own age tend to see me as weird (for all kinds of reasons).

  5. Yeah, that’s like me.

    I’m always baffled when I see how easily and naturally my niece socializes. I tell my sister she definitely didn’t get her gregariousness from me!

    We have a little boy in my martial arts club who’s mini-me. I am kinda unofficial self-appointed big sister to him – help him get involved with the other kids and if he doesn’t feel like socializing with kids, I’m happy to entertain him. He’s the kid who, when the other kids get loud and rough, he’ll quietly move off and pretend like he’s double-checking his gear or fixing his belt till they settle down before he tries to rejoin. So much like me it’s achy, and I hope my martial arts club is a place of acceptance that he strikes me like he finds it hard to get elsewhere.

    1. My daughter is a born socializer and I’m convinced she gets it from her dad. Or maybe she grew up learning to compensate for my complete lack of social skills.

      I bet that kid in your class is thankful you’re there to hang out with. I was always grateful for the adults who paid attention to me and sheltered me at social gatherings.

  6. I’ve always had one very close friend and then maybe one or two other friends I didn’t mind seeing but who I didn’t have such an intense relationship with. I’ve always felt both ashamed and weak that I’ve used my friends to navigate social outings. I’ve gotten to the point where I won’t even go to anything social anymore without someone else because I just need the buffer or I really can’t handle it. My husband plays that role for the most part these days. I’m not even sure how I feel about having friends anymore – I find myself wishing at times that I had more of them IRL and other times realising that I can barely participate in friend type activities with the very few people I am friends with.

    1. Sometimes it seems like the idea of friends might be more appealing than actually having friends. Like maybe to some degree friendship itself takes on a mythical quality that is greater in our heads than in reality? I find having friends exhausting because they always seem to want more than I can manage to do/give/share.

      1. Indeed… I didn’t have friends until I got to high school (well, not real friends, anyways), and up until that point, I wanted to have friends more than anything. And then I got to high school and managed to be friends with a more popular girl which made me automatically friends with all her friends and I realised I actually didn’t want that many friends after all… Now I have two friends, and even that’s incredibly draining sometimes.

  7. I completely relate to what you have said about hanging around on the fringes, not having lots of friends and actually preferring to have one friend at a time. Yet again you have put me into words.

    It is possibly to feel like this and not have Asperger’s, though, right? I relate to pretty much everything you write about yourself, and I tick lots of boxes when I read about Asperger’s and other people’s experiences, but I recently had my first interview assessment for Aspergers (self-referral) and the guy I spoke to was quite dismissive (my reading of the situation). The fact that I had any friends seemed, in his mind, to eliminate me. He also seemed fixated with the notion of one obsessive interest – again, the fact that I don’t seem to have one means I couldn’t possibly have Asperger’s.

    Maybe I don’t…

    It’s frustrating, though, being judged like that by someone, fitting or not fitting criteria.

    Rant over. Keep posting – I love it!

    1. I’m sorry the interview guy was so dismissive of you! I have a couple of very close friends, but that doesn’t make me non-autistic. I still have impairments with social interaction. My friends, however, have all accepted my impairments as part of who I am. Doesn’t mean that I’m magically not autistic anymore.

      If you think you’re ticking a lot of boxes and can relate to this blog, then you’re basically self-diagnosing, which is a good thing. Because there are a lot of professionals out there who are still stuck in a male-oriented, one-dimensional picture of Asperger’s and autism, and if you want to pursue an official diagnosis, you might have to arm yourself with knowledge and fight for it. I had to do the same. It’s pretty hard work to make them see that women present differently.

      1. Thank you for your comments and your support. I am arming myself with knowledge but don’t have the confidence to put it forward.

        1. You don’t need to put it forward right away. Keep exploring and reading stuff. The most important thing I’ve found is not the diagnosis (although that does feel immensely validating, I won’t lie to you), but the support and recognition I find with other bloggers. It just helps so much to know I’m not the only one struggling with certain things.

    2. That sounds like a discouraging experience. It’s sounds like the person who you spoke with is holding on to some outdated notions of Asperger’s and/or has no idea how it manifests differently in women. It’s quite possible, for example, that you have an obsessive interest but don’t realize it because it isn’t trains or whatever the interviewer might be stereotypically suggesting. For example, he’d probably outright dismiss my special interests in reading and writing as not being valid based on the traditional model.

      I hope that you’ll continue to work through the process and if you have a next interview, go armed with some information about how women present differently (if you believe you’re on the spectrum). If you’re identifying with a lot of what you read here, there’s a good change you are on the spectrum. OTOH, you could certainly identify with a lot of what’s here and not be. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a lot of exploration and “leg work” involved in coming to a definite conclusion.

    3. It is possible to feel like this and not have Asperger’s. I don’t have Asperger’s, but I relate to this story and identify very strongly with certain elements of things described on the blogs of Aspies.

      That said (and as Cynthia has mentioned), it’s also entirely possible (and likely) that you feel like this and do have Asperger’s… You wouldn’t be the first Aspergirl to seek diagnosis and be told you weren’t autistic enough for one (on the basis of not fitting someone’s interpretation of a diagnostic criterion).

      1. Yeah, I think it’s important to remember that someone can have social anxiety, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, OCD or just be an introvert, which would make some of the things written about by aspies relatable and others not so much. An important first step in exploration/self-diagnosis is looking at all of the core trait categories (social communication, RRB, sensory) and thinking about whether you can see yourself in all of them.

        1. How would one determine whether someone is an aspie or whether they have all of social anxiety, SPD, ADHD and OCD? Because social anxiety tends to create significant difficulties in social communications, either due to lack of social experience-gaining or just because it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

          1. That’s a really good question. First, I think it’s important to differentiate between social anxiety and social anxiety disorder. Disordered social anxiety is anxiety in the presence of good social skills. Autistic social anxiety is generally anxiety in the absence of good social skills. Not all social anxiety (or anxiety in general) is disordered.

            The other part of it – how can you tell the difference between AS and having a bunch of other diagnoses with similar traits is trickier. I think it’s certainly possible to have all 4 of those diagnoses and not be an aspie, but it’s probably not that common. A combination of two, say OCD and ADHD, seems common. But if all 4 appear to be present, I think ASD is a lot more likely explanation. Or perhaps ASD plus ADHD or ASD plus OCD. Does that make sense? I’m not sure if I’m explaining what’s in my head clearly.

            1. Disordered versus non-disordered social anxiety does pose certain problems for those attempting self-diagnosis. Someone with disordered social anxiety probably isn’t going to realise they have good social skills.

              Your explanation was really clear and made perfect sense. Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    4. Aspie mommy,
      I think part of the reason why I don’t seek out a professional diagnoses is that first, there isn’t a blood test, so it can be very subjective. Second, I wouldn’t want to feel like I was lobbying for a diagnoses (which I probably would be) by telling the person about all my quirks and soft pedaling the things that didn’t fit the pattern. There is a mountain of evidence that shows I’m different and fit onto the autism spectrum that stretches back to my earliest childhood memories, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some doctor that would brush me aside when he found out I was good at baseball (one indicator is said to be clumsiness, and it’s not easy to perform in baseball if a person is very clumsy), or that I’ve perfected looking a person in the eye.

  8. THAT’S what I saw in my childhood picture! I looked like I was part of the group, but now that I’m older I see it’s not completely true. There was always a big sister type to hang out with me and do stuff. Well, at first. As you get older it seems like you have to find your “big sister type” by yourself. Studying at a business school, where being social IS your currency, made it so much worse. But as I’m sitting here reconnecting with who I am (long story behind that), I realize I’d been trying to be mainstream this whole time when I really belong with part of the fringe of society or the underground. Heh, even my favorite music isn’t mainstream and it takes a certain kind of person to listen to them. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. There was always a certain kind of girl ready to “adopt” us, wasn’t there? I don’t know how they found us, but I guess I’m glad they did. Without those big sister types, I would have been truly lost. Instead I got at least some exposure to social interaction.

      Business school sounds challenging. I took a few b-school classes for my minor and most of the people I came in contact with seemed like aliens. ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. I read this and saw myself to scared to ask for a turn at the swing and denying when I hurt my hand, to the point were I denied it so much I fractured it for trying to hide it was hurt. Always trying to hide in a group of friends that were never really friends and then being left when that gateway got to annoyed at how different I was. Hiding with the adults at my own birthday parties. I’m 15 and I’m still to scared to jump in to life like the teenagers around me. And I’m finding my newest gateway has closed.

    1. Aw, I’m sorry you’ve lost your gateway friend. I know how hard that can be. I once had a friend’s mom ban her from hanging out with me because she said I was using her daughter. Which it might have looked like, but I really liked the girl too.

      I wish I had some magical advice that would make things better but all I have is empathy for what you’re experiencing. If it helps at all, I was never the jump into life kind of teenager and looking back now I don’t regret that.

  10. I was recently reflecting on the friends I had as a child. First, I came from a very unsettled family. I literally went to more than ten schools growing up. In third grade I went to four different schools. Once I got into junior high, and beyond, most of my friends were really my brother’s friends (he being about 54 weeks younger than me). Even as an adult, that has been true. Though I’ve been reaching out a bit on my own now that he’s moved an hour away.

    I had friendly relations with other kids/classmates but nothing that could be called a friend. In fifth grade, I had a ‘best friend’ named Ray Cabrera. I’d go to his house in the mornings on the way to school… but I never wanted him at my house. One Summer I put a sticker on the door that said, “No Rays allowed” just in case he came over.

    1. That sounds like the friendships I had. A lot of the time, I was sort of just there, along for the ride. The girl next door walked to school with me every day and I remember many mornings spent sitting in her kitchen talking to her mom while the girl got dressed upstairs or ate breakfast. We weren’t really friends and I have no idea why I was always showing up so early. Her mom probably thought I was quite the odd duck.

  11. Yet again, the “that was me” thoughts are my first reaction to your post! I lost track of how many teachers I got to do “special things” for, like making copies or running the projector or sorting the books, and throughout school I seemed to be able to interact better with kids who were several years older than me… Some of them (in hindsight) thought it was “cute” that I’d tag along, and even though I was a complete disaster socially, I learned to fit in by defusing comments that today would be called “bullying” by applying self-deprecating humor that undermined whatever I was being teased about. I find that making fun of myself, sometimes inappropriately, is still a common response of mine to new people or a new situation.

    I survived college parties by always hanging out “in the kitchen,” where I could “hide” from people by occupying myself with some mundane chore like breaking up ice, or taking out trash, or arranging food on serving trays. Definitely on the fringe.

    1. I was the queen of “doing special things”! And I often got “lost” on the way back from delivering something to the music room or the office but no one seemed to notice.

      Being more comfortable with older or younger kids is a pretty common trait. I used to hang out with my older cousins and they thought I was adorable too, sort of like a mascot. They also seemed to enjoy putting me in inappropriate situations (drinking in my early teens, taking me to haunted houses, telling me not to report whatever wrong thing we were doing), probably because they knew I was too socially inept to do anything about it.

      1. “Like a mascot.” That describes exactly how I feel in any social situation, my entire life. Like I’m the cute quirky kid everyone keeps around because she’s entertaining and it would be too harsh to tell her no. Even at work, even at 30! Especially at work. Hell, I feel like I’m kept employed half the time because folks feel I’m too nice and take things too personally to fire.

        I will stop back-commenting, I swear.

  12. “…like a mascot…” and “…putting me in inappropriate situations…” definitely hit home for me. With “encouragement” from those peers, there are many things I did that were not appropriate… some with more significant consequences than others… drinking, pranking teachers, asking the captain of the cheerleading squad out for a date, as a freshman, in spite of the fact that she’d been dating the captain of the football team for several years… at least they both took it as a complete joke, and I didn’t suffer any physical harm from that escapade!

    1. I wonder if these experiences subconsciously contribute to our (my?) difficulty with trusting people as an adult and inhibit the formation of friendships. I never quite thought about it in this context but that would make a lot of sense.

      1. Interesting to look at it this way… is our reaction to people now based on learned response to “mistreatment” by people we had trusted earlier in life, or is it more that we react in a way that is normal given the way in which we process both thoughts and feelings? This is probably another of those “spectrum things,” where reality includes parts of both.

  13. Woah, I used to (and still use to) do these things as well! Good observations (which your blog has a lot of ^.^)
    I still get very stressed and upset when I have to go somewhere when I don’t know anyone, in other words a (gateway?)friend isn’t there.
    Sometimes I still make myself go after I’ve calmed down (sometimes I don’t, I’m trying not to be hard for myself anymore, I deserve understanding and comfort too~) and sometimes it’s actually surprisingly fun and not thรกt scary (although I’m veeeerry tired afterwards). If it doesn’t go that well, I try not tear down myself that much anymore. At least, I’m working on that. It’s going slightly better.

    1. I think it helps to remember that sometimes it turns out to be fun and then hope that this will be one of those times. ๐Ÿ™‚ That’s what my husband is always reminding me, at least. It’s still hard not to be anxious about the unknown.

  14. Yet again, very recognizable. Always on the fringe, always hovering, never quite participating. The few friends I had were gateway friends, (like the term), one I recently realised basically helped me through college. We went to Russia as part of our study, and I never would have done that if he hadn’t. I was aware of leaning so much on him already then, but he didn’t seem to mind.

    It made me sad to read this, but it’s a good analysis of what happened and now with the diagnosis I can place so much of it. And I realise I no longer really feel I have to participate so much, have to make friends so much. And that’s good, because I always got disappointed in what other people consider as friendship, anyway. Now, I just try to do things, like volunteer work, and if I meet people there that I like, fine. I try to stay in touch with people, and try not to be too disappointed when that contact slowly fades. I feel comfortable in groups of autistics, on- and offline. I still don’t have any real friends, but I think I’m okay with that now.

    1. I think I’m in a similar place with friendship that you are, though perhaps less connected with people. The idea of connecting with people through a common activity has always felt easier. But even when I get involved in an activity, I tend to be resistant to meeting people and will hover at the fringes of the fringes, doing the minimum necessary to keep a foot in the door. I have to agree that I feel comfortable in autistic spaces online but haven’t yet ventured into RL autistic space.

  15. Ugh, this, so much this. You’ve basically described my life brilliantly, again. I just don’t know how to just *become* an actual part of the group rather than a tag-along, especially when even the tag-along role can be overwhelming. It gets lonely.

  16. This is so me. I was always at the fringe as a kid. I really only wanted one friend at a time (basically just someone who would share my obessesions, and understand me; someone like me). But because of the intense pressure to have lots of friends, I’d do the tag-along thing just to find people who I could call “friends” if asked. I would count them, and somehow that number indicated something about my worth as a person.

    Now, I’m to the point where I just don’t want real life friends. I’ve found someone like me (my also autistic boyfriend), and that’s really all I need. It feels so great to admit that, and not feel bad. Yes, I’m 23 and I have no friends, and I am happy about that. Up until recently, I tried having friends, mostly because society says that having friends is “good” and “normal”. Now I know that I’m happier like this. I enjoy exchanging information with people (like here), but I don’t enjoy socializing for its own sake.

    Still, I do really feel sorry for those who want friends but have extreme difficulties making/keeping them. I only hope you can find friends who accept you as you are.

    1. The comments on this post are bringing up so many interesting realizations for me. I think I gave up very early on finding another kid like me and was happy with pretty much anyone who would hang out with me. Which sounds pathetic.

      It’s cool that you’ve come to terms with your lack of interest in having friends. There is a lot of social pressure to be connected. So often articles about preventing depression or being healthy or aging list ‘having a strong social network’ as an essential component so it can go beyond just social pressure and become a “health” issue too. I think allowances need to be made for people who find having social networks more stressful than comforting.

      And I too sympathize with those who are lonely or longing for connection and can’t find it. I guess it’s a bit of a blessing to not strongly have that need when making friends is so hard.

      1. That’s sad that you felt that way… it’s terrible how the pressure to be normal and the lack of acceptance when you’re not can do so much damage.

        Yeah, I’ve read all of the “in order to avoid depression, you should have a social network” stuff. It’s hard to find advice sometimes when the majority just doesn’t apply to you at all. They should rewrite those things so it’s more about finding what’s healthy for the individual.

        I agree that I’m kind of fortunate to not want friends, given the situation. I was actually just talking about that not too long ago.

  17. Can I just remark that the both of you have a partner? With that person you already have at least one solid friend. Other people who are still looking for connections (like me sometimes) may not have a partner, which means they are all alone, and that can be really hard in life, also for practical reasons.

    1. Maybe we should focus on dating skills for autistic people instead of friendship and general social skills. Because YES. Having a supportive understanding partner makes SUCH a huge difference. I am in an interesting situation because I have a partner who understands and embraces my autism, but who can’t help me with any of the practical stuff because he lives in another country. So I can really appreciate what having a live-in partner can mean to an autistic person.

      1. The word ‘dating’ always gives me the shivers, because it has (for me) the connotation of meeting up with people, just because you have to find someone who completes your life, beacuse ‘society says’ you have to have a partner. But I suppose you mean: the initial stages of getting to know someone who might turn out to be a romantic partner.
        I don’t think we should focus on that. I think it is good to have people in your life that support you and accept you for who you are, especially if that’s what you want. Whether or not they are your romantic/sexual/domestic partner is secondary.

        1. OK, I get what you mean. I just see a lot of us have trouble navigating the waters of making connections with people, especially romantically. Misunderstandings that turn into huge fights. Etc. That’s more what I meant by “dating” advice. I thought that was the appropriate English word but I have to admit the English/American way of starting relationships is hard for me to understand.

          But despite societal norms being focused on people not being single. And how that devalues single people. (And I KNOW what that’s like because in everyday life, I present as a late 30s single woman, aka an object of pity). Despite all that. I think it’s useful to acknowledge that a romantic/sexual/domestic partner can do things for us that friends can’t, simply because they might have other people in their lives (partner, children, parents) who will ALWAYS trump your needs.

          That’s what the partnered people here have. Someone who puts their needs first. Who is there. Who can function as their “gateway”.

          1. I am definitely glad that I have my partner to help me through the things in life that I’m not so very good at, and I am truly thankful for how supportive she is for me. I do think, though, that having just my one good friend, my “gateway,” makes me more vulnerable to my own fears of abandonment… because my partner DOES have other people in her life that have needs – family, our children, her friends – there are times that I get very lonely and perhaps even resentful of the time she spends with those other people.

            Of the very few romantic relationships I’ve had through my life, I don’t think any of them began in what society would define as traditional “dating,” they’ve all grown out of a shared interest (or two) and lots of communication. I think that if I were faced with not having my partner, I would be utterly lost as to how to find another close friend, whether for romantic/sexual/domestic partner needs or simply as a good friend.

            When you combine our individual aspie social challenges with the sexist attitudes that are woven through society, I can only imagine how much harder it must be for women. The unreasonable pressures to “conform,” from many sides, must be overwhelming at times.

            1. Kent, thanks for mentioning the sexism here. I think it is a big deal. As a woman, I’ve had a lot more pressure to smile and act cheerful (when my natural mannerisms are more serious and unexpressive), while my boyfriend hasn’t really gotten much (direct) grief for his stoicness. I have actually been told “you’ll never get a boyfriend if you don’t smile”. Well, I did. I think women are raised from a very young age to think that socializing should be the most important thing to them. Which is hard when you’d rather sit by yourself and read about dinosaurs. On the other hand, I think there is a lot of sexism towards men too. Guys are under so much pressure to be the confident social leader, the “one of the guys” type. And some people act like men can’t experience anxiety or insecurity or sadness – which is utterly ridiculous.

              You’re lucky to have your partner. I also wouldn’t have the slightest clue on how to date – I’m so glad I don’t have to.

          2. I suppose it is the appropriate word (I’m Dutch too ;)), I just always hear the word dating in a sort of serial dating context, you know, people dating all kinds of people in order to hook up. So that’s what I think of.

            You’re right. A partner can definitely be more available, more reliable, closer in all kinds of ways. Maybe Iยดm just too aware of the fact that relationships can break up too and afraid to be too reliant on that person. Also, I come from a family where my father was always the carer for my mother, and I have always wondered if he didn’t resent that after a while. I guess I’m just afraid to ‘use’ my partner as a practical help, skewing the relationship. Something like that.

            1. I’ve asked my partner about that. I am very aware of the balance of power within any relationship, and I don’t want him to get resentful because it all seems about my needs and not his. And he said simply, “Because of you, I not only understand my son a lot better, but also a lot of other autistic people. You have made me a better person. That means the balance is completely in your favour no matter how often you need me, no ifs and buts.”

    2. I understand. My boyfriend is everything to me – I have no idea what I’d do without him. Before I met him, I was kind of preparing myself for the idea that I might be single forever (my dating history had not gone well, and it was very hard to find someone right for me).

      Perhaps you could (if it’s possible) try to meet other autistic people? Or someone who has some autistic traits? You might find that there’s a common ground on which to build understanding. I wish I could give better advice… but meeting people isn’t a strength of mine.

      1. As I said before, I do connect to some other people, including other autistics. I was merely commenting on you both expressing ‘no need for friends’, when both of you have partners. And that’s a different perspective to think from.
        I have accepted that I will probably stay single for the rest of my life. I am not that interested, really. But I do sometimes wish I had someone I could rely on.

        1. Sorry, I didn’t read the post of yours where you mentioned connecting with other autistic people. I hope you do find someone you can rely on.

    3. That’s very true. Although I’ve found that socially people don’t seem to count a partner when considering whether a person has friends, but practically it makes a big difference on a day to day basis. The thing is, if I didn’t have a partner, at this point in life I think I would probably be alone by choice. I’ve often thought about what might happen if my husband died first and I can see myself doing something solitary, far from society. Maybe that’s just a reactive fantasy, though.

  18. Thanks for going here. I find myself thinking of this possibility too. That my husband is 10 years older than me makes it even more plausable. I don’t worry as much about being alone as I do about being alone with health issues and just being able to handle the daily responsibilities associated with maintaining a home and what not. That scares me.

    1. Yes, exactly this. Although my daughter has proposed several scenarios including she will have a big property and I can live in her guest house or we will be Big Edie and Little Edie. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Wow. This is like reading about me. I’ve tried and tried, but at 48 I still find friendship exhausting. But I have been married to my gateway friend for 23 years now and we seem closer than ever (I think). My sister used to be a gateway friend. Other than that, I’d never had a proper date until I met my husband.

    My youngest son is really social, but completely inept at it (well, less now than before). His only friend is four years younger than him. He tries so hard to fit in and to be liked for who he is.

    The person who has finally given my oldest son a diagnosis managed to say that people on the spectrum would not like to read fantasy or science fiction. My oldest is stuck on manga and anime. I thought that was the strangest thing to say. Fantasy and science fiction help me understand the world. Not self-help books or technical books. I will admit that my psychology and sociology classes at college did put a couple of things into perspective.

    Thank you for explaining it to me.

    1. I’ve been writing about how girls/women manifest some autistic traits differently and one of the biggies is in the area of “imagination” – it’s commonly that autistic people don’t have any, which is silly. I think that escaping into fictional worlds or using fiction as a guide to social interaction is especially characteristic of females on the spectrum, though obviously men and boys do as well.

      It’s funny that you say you never dated other than your husband because my dating experiences were truly horrible before I met my husband. You probably didn’t miss much! ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. In my case I was never asked out. But fortunately I was part of a gang that I followed around and did lots of stuff I would not otherwise have done. I never could figure out how to tell if a person was interested or how to show that I was interested.

  20. Gateway friend. That is brilliant wording. And very accurate, although generally growing up I did just have one friend. That is part of why my parents were nevertoo concerned actually because I always seemed to have one friend (except for awful awful middle school). Although then there were the days when that one friend was sick or otherwise not in school and I just did not know what. To do, ever. I still don’t really.

    1. My parents were always concerned that I only had one friend! lol

      Oh, I used to hate the days when my best friend was absent from school. I would drift around like a lost puppy. Just thinking about it makes me feel all nervous and twitchy.

    2. Oh yes, I remember panic would always set in at even the possibility of my gateway friend being sick or absent for some reason! I always tried to have an alternate in mind . . .

  21. Here I am, backreading and commenting again, but, Lord, I know this feeling. I spent all of high school sitting at a table by myself (my choice) because I just didn’t know how to sit at someone else’s table. If people tried to talk to me, I assumed they were making fun of me, because why *else* would my peers talk to me? I was always more comfortable talking to adults, and my few ‘friends’ were always one-at-a-time fellow social pariahs who I let hang out with me through a sense of mystification and obligation. And usually eventually hurt and mistreated, because I resented them and the fact I couldn’t do better and neither could they. /greatperson

    The horrible thing, for me, what cracked things down the center recently, was making my first ‘real’ friend in years about five years ago, another woman. It was a revelation, but it also ended up hurting me immensely. Our friendship was so intense we tried a same-sex marriage, and I fell apart. One, I realized I couldn’t sustain keeping my special interests the same as hers, since hers threatened my sense of ‘being worthwhile’ and made me wonder whether she really was interested in me or was just using me as a tool to safely pursue her own special interests, so much of our intimacy shattered quickly. Two, I felt like a failure for being with a woman when I didn’t feel strong sexual attraction to her and felt like I was using her for a comforting/mothering replacement when I also desired men–both desired the social validation of being able to attract and engage with a man and the physical contact with a man.

    She made me feel safe enough to imagine I *could* interact with men romantically, and at the same time, prevented me from acting on that feeling of safety, through our commitment to each other. Now I’m back to having a few social acquaintances I’m practicing calling friends so I can believe they are, and wondering if there’s any hope, at 30, that I could negotiate another relationship. It’s enormously frustrating to fixate so much on one person at time. I want both close male and female friends, and it seems like if I have one friend, I can’t have others–which makes romance mean I’m choosing which gender I’m going to interact closely with for the rest of my life, to the exclusion of the other not just sexually/romantically (that’s fine) but emotionally/intimately. What a recipe for resentment and dissatisfaction, for me and my partner!

    1. I have heard similar things before, and also had my own not so great experiences in this. I mean, sometimes you can be so ‘obsessively’ and exclusively interested in a person, that it seems like a love interest, it seems like what other people talk about when they say they’re in love. I had that a few times. And then feeling like something’s wrong and something’s wrong with me.
      Can I just say that, at 30, you still have a whole life ahead of you? Time to find out what you want, what kind of partner you want, whether you even want a romantic partner at all?
      I personally feel that I would like to have someone in my life I can depend on, but I don’t necessariy want a romantic/sexual partner. All my experiences in that regard have only come about because ‘society’ tells me I should have a boyfriend, and for me that rule was like other rules, I must follow?
      I have noticed, btw, that many autibloggers seem to have a partner and very few, if any, friends. The partner seems to fulfill everything. It looks as if you’re not the only one who is so ‘exclusive’ about these things. I know that I certainly cannot handle too many people in my life, whatever their status.

      1. “Can I just say that, at 30, you still have a whole life ahead of you? Time to find out what you want, what kind of partner you want, whether you even want a romantic partner at all?”

        Folks keep telling me this. I believe them theoretically, but not always emotionally ๐Ÿ˜‰ Still, I know that it’s true.

        That’s an interesting point, about experiencing fascination and interest in a person and assuming it’s what people consider love. That sounds very like how I’d describe my experience, though I’d never thought to phrase it like that before. We were spending so much time together, it *had* to be love, right? As that’s the only mainstream social narrative that involves two people pouring most of their time and interest into each other. And I was inexperienced enough and desperate enough not to lose her (and possibly she was in a more similar position than I imagined she was at the time–I just assumed she was all-knowing in the realm of relationships, but looking back, I think she didn’t know that much more than I did) that I went right for that narrative as the only possibility.

        1. I feel I have destroyed what could have been a great friendship by thinking it should be a relationship, so, yeah, I recognize that. It *is* the ‘only mainstream social narrative’ as you describe it, and all of my ‘boyfriends’ have been so because of that. I am 35 and I don’t even know whether I’m even heterosexual anymore, I’m so confused between what I think I want and what society has always expected of me. But I try to keep telling myself what I told you, I still have a whole life ahead of me to find these things out. Now I am just focusing on developing contact with people I like and appreciate, and try not to focus on what kind of relationship it is or could be. The main thing is that we do what feels right at the time.

          1. ‘I feel I have destroyed what could have been a great friendship by thinking it should be a relationship’

            Exactly that. What I’m mourning most now is the friendship, because I reacted so strongly trying to reestablish boundaries that I sabotaged trust between us. And because either my partner also had odd boundaries or I was giving very mixed signals (or both), and she kept offering to reestablish sexual contact, even when I thought I had made it clear that that wasn’t what I wanted. It’s easy to feel like you ‘should’ have sex with someone, when you care for them, they want it, and you don’t mind it and want to stay close! But having sex with someone just to stay friends with them and to maintain their willingness to emotionally support me seems…not quite right.

            I hear you on the not knowing if you’re heterosexual part. At this point, I think I’m ‘suggestibly sexual.’ I’m not in touch with or have enough faith in my own sexual impulses to not be uncertain about when I want to have sex and with whom. I’ve been trained socially to be careful about male pressure for sex, so I think I’m better prepared (possibly even too prepared) to set boundaries with men (I say, as though I had experience with them), even boundaries that deny my own interest, out of fear and identity self-preservation. With another woman, I was less concerned that she might be a threat to my identity, so I let boundaries down *too* quickly, and then discovered there’s just as much risk of self-dissolution with another woman as with a man.

            1. ‘suggestibly sexual’, good one. Other people’s emotions come in pretty hard with me, so that plays a role as well.
              I haven’t been taught to be careful about male pressure, so for me that’s been a major issue. I’m not a big fan of hugging, but maybe that’s because I’m always wondering about where it’ll lead to?
              Obviously we need to know and respect our own boundaries regardless of the type of contact, type of relationship, gender of the person. Now we know… *sigh* Life is learning, I suppose. Too bad it hurts so much.

              1. (Same person here, I just changed my account name. Also, this blog inspired me to write my own article last night on something that’s been bugging me for ages, if you’re interested): http://otterknot.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/permission-to-shop-executive-function-and-managing-special-interests/

                Yeah, other people’s emotions are difficult to filter out, since I feel like they ‘know’ better than I do about things. And also because if someone is paying attention to me and being patient with me, I automatically feel obligated to make them happy!

                Learning to accept hugs was rough. I ended up getting a BA in Theatre almost entirely because it forced me to learn how to deal with people who have just about no physical boundaries. I didn’t realize that’s why I took that major at the time, but it was a big part of it. As a shy theatre major, you can watch all these goofy extroverts (I hesitate to say NTs, I think many actors are whatever the exact opposite of an Asperger’s-haver is) and they won’t toss you out or not include you. And they’ll *definitely* hug you. A lot. One of the best ways to identify an actor is if they insist on hugging someone at the drop of a hat, in my experience. Possibly also sitting on them or going to sleep on top of them. They’re like puppies that drink a lot.

                The part with respecting my boundaries is that I hate them so much ๐Ÿ˜„ I just want to be able to accept physical affection and know when *I* want it, and to be comfortable with romantic/intimate contact. Knowing my boundaries mean I have to go at the pace of an amorous snail with those things is hard to accept!

                1. Oh my gosh, your first post? I love your blog’s tag line and I can totally relate to your shopping experience. I really benefit from having support personnel (i.e. husband or daughter) with me when I shop.

          2. Sometimes I think no favors are done anyone by making it so the only intimate physical contact that’s socially acceptable is sexual contact. I’m really not sure wanting to be physically close to my friend (snuggle, essentially, and seek hugs and close physical proximity) was the same as wanting her sexually. I think I just wanted the physical soothing and reassurance that, as an adult, I feel like I shouldn’t want and am ashamed of seeking. In a perfect dream world, I could share reassurance-intimacy with a same-sex friend *and* have a sexual/romantic different-sex partner. Which is essentially wanting a second mother on the side of an ‘adult’ relationship, alas. Hooray for being emotionally mature.

    2. I understand what you’re saying about it being difficult to have more than one close person in your life and how that can potentially limit your interactions. I’ve always said that if anything happens to my husband, I’m just done with relationships because I don’t think I could manage to navigate what it would take to find someone else. That said, we never know. Trusting is hard, especially after you’ve been hurt so badly. But give yourself some time. Often relationships happen when you least expect it and we continue to change and grow throughout our lives. I (and probably most people would say this) am a very different person at 44 than I was at 30 and I’ll probably be different still in another decade or two.

      1. A relationship, particularly a long-term one, is such an investment. I know even my very (I think) NT mother has said that she wouldn’t try again if anything happened to my father, because it’s such work. It’s funny how society both acknowledges how difficult relationships are and assumes that everyone will have one–or even want one.

        I have a lot of hope for the next few decades, really, on the good days (which there are more and more of). I learned a lot from the relationship about myself and other people. Not how I would have chosen to do so, of course!

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