Trying to be social and form relationships with others is a particularly common source of frustration and anxiety for us Aspies. Many of us earnestly wish that we could mingle with our peers far more effortlessly, so that it would be much easier not to be so isolated.
For me, the story is absolutely no different. To this day I still have trouble fully grasping what is expected of me to socialize with the world around me. I get this sense that there’s a whole complex set of rules and customs that most people follow, regardless of social identity, yet seem to escape my intelligence. So I keep asking myself: what is it that I’m not doing that others are doing, and what exactly am I doing wrong that everyone else is getting right? Despite how much I’ve grown and gotten slightly better at hanging out with others, I have yet to encounter a complete answer to this question.
Firstly, I cannot positively determine when or how often I should contact someone I consider a friend or a close acquaintance. I mean, I want to make sure they know that I’m still interested in them and that I haven’t forgotten about them. After all, a crucial part of being friends involves “staying in touch.” But, at the same time, I obviously have a large set of other matters I want to attend to, including academic work, exercise, various meetings and appointments, household chores, yoga, and commitments to other friends. Plus, I know I should always give this person some personal space so as not to make them uncomfortable. The problem is that I am not sure how to find the right balance so that I work relationships into my life without causing myself or others any stress or unease. It becomes far more difficult when I’m trying to hold onto a whole circle of friends, which can sometimes feel like a huge responsibility rather than a blessing, as it truly is.
Meanwhile, how much of my independence and alone time must I sacrifice in order to be more social with my friends? Like a great deal of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, I’m fairly accustomed to having a certain amount of privacy and space to “do my own thing.” As much as I want to be less isolated and more connected with other people, I still want to maintain a certain degree of freedom in my daily schedule and do all the things I wish to get done. Because I’m so bad at managing my time, it can be a real challenge to create space in my schedule to hang out with people, whether they be close pals or new acquaintances.
In many cases, it’s difficult for me to solidify a relationship after first meeting someone, so that we actually do become friends. Even though I have been able to make numerous friends since childhood, I am still unfamiliar with the proper course of action to stay connected with people that I want to be friends with.
For instance, let’s say I encounter and mingle with someone at a social gathering or party. So how do we become friends from there? I may add them on Facebook, or I might get their phone number. Alright, now what? When should I get in touch with them? When should I try chatting with them? How long should I chat with them? What should we talk about? When should I try to get together with them? What should we do if we decide to get together? When should I contact them the next time? What should we do the next time we hang out? Also, what if they never contact me? What should I do if I don’t hear from them for a while? Should I just keep reaching out to them, or wait until they try contacting me?
Now this brings me to another issue I wish to get off my chest. The way I notice it, I’m usually the one who has to stay in touch with my friends. Not that often am I reached out to or invited to do anything, at least not as often as I’d like. For some reason, it’s mostly MY responsibility to make sure that I’m still connected to these people. To be frank, this feels a little unfair, and it makes having friends much more stressful than it should. When I have to do almost all the work, then I become slightly disillusioned with my friendships and feel somewhat discouraged from making new connections.
On top of all this, there’s always this deep, unavoidable uneasiness or nervousness associated with the idea of going out and socializing with other people. Even if I know that I will greatly enjoy it, there often will be a subconscious desire to simply stay at home to play video games, watch YouTube videos, and keep to myself. After all, when I’m alone and doing what I feel like, I’m completely “safe” and no one can judge me, criticize me, or watch over me. I can keep doing whatever I please and just be happy being me.
Yet again, when I’m alone then I have no one to chat with, no one to idle with, no one to have fun with, and no one confide in when I’m feeling distressed. That’s when I realize just how much I depend on the support and company of friends and acquaintances; that I am usually happiest when I have other people to simply be with. If I didn’t try to reach out to people and chose to continue isolating myself, then I wouldn’t be doing myself any favors in the long run. Therefore, in recent years, I have made countless efforts to be more “out there” with my peers and colleagues, having mixed results so far.
I always try my hardest to stay connected with my current friends and socialize with them as much as possible, given the various challenges I face. In addition, whenever I sense the opportunity, I do try meeting other people and forming friendships with them as well. I am infinitely grateful to have such awesome friends in my life right now, and I’m also very glad to have enjoyed many supportive, enjoyable companions in the past. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that most of my time continues to be spent by myself – both because I’m still pretty used to it, and because I’m not sure how to successfully extend my social life.
Hopefully, I will eventually be able to move past this kind of isolation, and find workable strategies of staying more in touch with my pals and having a larger social network. I’ll probably never reach a point where I’m just as socially active as most neurotypical persons, but I can at least hope to be far less solitary sometime in the future. I wish the same for all people across the autism spectrum who experience similar problems with this topic.