A software engineer discusses his existential struggle as a result of having Asperger’s Syndrome.
Am I a phony?
My first article about Asperger’s and about myself was posted here. It solicited some good comments and replies which initiated more thoughts. One of the comments led to title of this piece: Am I a phony?
Why does that occur to me? In that article was the statement that it is difficult to make friends because I “misbehave.” The word was used in a vague sense and as a catchall. I don’t have friends so presume to have misbehaved in some manner. The question was asked how I might misbehave. Buried in there is a major problem.
Here are some words and phrases I have learned to say to people: As much as two thirds of communications between people is unspoken. It is in the mannerisms, tonal inflections, prosody, body posture, and other things I don’t even know about. You don’t even think about them. You just kind of know where the conversation is going, what to say, and what not to say. I don’t have a clue. The results are that you think I am aloof, I don’t care, I am weird, or I don’t know what. You just don’t like me. You may not know why, and I certainly do not know why.
Having written that, please return to the first sentence of that paragraph in that those are words I have learned to say. Here is why those words were chosen.
I may meet a woman, have a conversation, and walk away thinking: That went well. Meanwhile, she walks off thinking all the negative things I listed earlier. End result, she wants nothing to do with me. She will be polite and kind to me, but she just does not want to be around me, much less be a friend. Or maybe she does not consciously think those things. She simply has no interest in me at all.
If I knew what she was thinking, I still probably would not have a clue as to why. When taken in context those words I have learned to say are hollow and pretty much without meaning to me. Why? Because, as compared to you, the conversations are just words to me. The words have meanings, often powerful meanings, but there is little unspoken language in my world.
Ok, there is some. Yes, I can see when you are obviously sad, angry, or what not. But the subtle clues that I read about, those that you use to know where to take the conversation and where not to take the conversation, they don’t exist to me.
How do I know all this? Only with help from my psychologist and evaluation of the history of my life. I had no friends as a child, teen, or young adult. There are only two names I remember from Junior High School and High School, and one of them was killed in Viet Nam. I still have no friends. I have learned to be rather good writing software and configuring computers. The end result is that I travel in a very small circle at work. Those people respect me. But not one has ever asked me to do anything with them outside of work. Not one ever stops by just to chat. I don’t see anything missing in our relationship, except for friendship.
To the title of this essay: Am I a phony?
After having thought a great deal about this, having rehearsed out hypothetical conversations multiple times, and now in real life I may present my case, to you, as an Aspie. I tell you that I am an Aspie and if that seems to interest you, I will present the pertinent traits. My hope is that will you delay judgement about me for a while until you get to know me a bit.
Then I run into problems. I have met a few people with Autism, and have attended an Asperger’s support group. My difficulties are much less severe than those that I have met. That presents a bit of a predicament. From what I observe, I am quite normal.
Except, that little point, that I have been essentially without friends for all my life. And that other little point that two psychologists say that my Asperger’s is rather obvious to them. I usually don’t feel like an Aspie. The obvious question jumps up at me: Am I using Asperger’s as an excuse for bad behavior?
To belabor the point a bit, I do not see that I miss much of the conversation. Everything is fine to me. It is difficult for me to really buy in to the notion that I am an Aspie and I really do not have those skills essential to successful human interactions. So when I tell you about those attributes, I am being a phony!
I am using every trick I can to get in good favor with you. And yeah, my bag of “tricks” is rather shallow and unreliable. If I have written this well, you might know that better than I. And “bag of tricks” is an apt metaphor. I cannot just be me and hope or expect that we will probably be friends. I misbehave and haven’t a clue as to when and how I do that.
If I can’t be me, then who can I be? I don’t have the skills necessary to be someone else. My best option seems to be to tell you a bit about me and hope for the best. Hence the badge of Asperger’s.
History and past experience tells me this: We start off well, then I open my mouth and we immediately enter a death spiral. By the time we finish the first few sentences I am already circling the drain. I have learned enough to know that a new relationship is a bit like fragile raft. It takes two, working together, to make it strong. I seem to begin all relationships already circling the drain and I need to paddle like hell to keep away from the swirl in the center. But that fragile raft will not yet support my strenuous paddling.
Back to those words I have learned to say, and here we go in our death spiral. I am a phony. Having written all this, and maybe asked you to treat me different, I’m a whiner. That does not sit well with me. But my options for your friendship are few.
As in life I often don’t know when and how to end a conversation on a proper note, so an abrupt halt will have to do. Irony and metaphor abound.