No, Lucy is not my “best friend.” Nobody is. I do not have a “best friend” – well, not anymore. And I am very relieved.
Socially-focused humans have a way of declaring inordinate affection with far too much ease. “I love you!” becomes a trendy catch phrase, instead of a sincere utterance of decided, solemn dedication. “You are lovely!” seems to be tossed out willy nilly at every single corporeal entity that jostles the atmosphere, even if ever so slightly.
The autistic mind tends to take language a tad more seriously, preferring the literal, cutting factual deposition to socially-driven platitudes. Are we ‘cold’ and ‘unloving’ creatures running on robotic mechanisms, then? That is what too many misinformed and emotionally effluent social-brained folk seem to delight in thinking, played up and egged along by the media. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Autism Speaks. The truth is, we are far more devout and zealous about our devotions and emotional attachments than most, especially much more so than the socially-driven, party-populating neurotypicals.
I shudder when I meet someone new who instantly falls head over heels in love with me. And I don’t mean merely the creepy romantic stuff, I mean platonic friends who decide very quickly that I am some wondrous discovery in the grand hyper mart of shiny human baubles, and wants to put me into their specially privileged social basket, take me home and make a necklace out of me.
No, it is not an ego booster for me at all. The scenario has played out too often, through my bumpy journey in this little rusty wheelbarrow: the adoration and first flush of exuberance soon hits the invisible glass wall with an inglorious, unglamorous thud, when the befriender comes face to face with the reality of my eccentricity. No matter how much I try to explain in words, the didactic falls on deaf ears. I am beginning to realize that neurotypical people rely a lot more on their global perception, their brains generally disinterested in details, until the said details hit them between the eyeballs like a bat in mid flight who has lost its navigation radar. The more socially inclined neurotypicals usually respond to my revelation (about my being autistic) with shock. “Noooo! You don’t look / behave / seem autistic! You can’t be!” is always the theatrical exclamation accompanied by a dramatic expression of wide eyed disbelief. Their premise? That I am not at all socially awkward, I am not ‘shy,’ I don’t talk like Temple Grandin, I am not hiding under the table (though little do they know that I wish I could), I don’t dress like a man (where do they get these impressions from?), I am a style diva with too many handbags and shoes (so autistic women don’t like pretty things???)… etc… Um. Is that a compliment or an insult? I am, to date, not quite sure. Right. Well, then they only become convinced that I mean what I said, i.e. that I am indeed autistic, when I begin to reveal my true self. I start to turn down the too many invitations to tea, coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, parties, day trips to here and there etc. I show them that I prefer to hide inside my little cosy microcosmos with Lucy and engage in happy solitude. What follows is a mixture of disappointment, shock and/or disapprobation, as if I had somehow deliberately deceived them, as if I had sought to subtract something from their idyllic little fantasy. Then comes the dropping away like dandruff flakes. The once avid, almost rabidly feverish interactions suddenly collapse into an echoing silence.
To a less self confident person, whether autistic or not, this kind of dramatic about turn can be very devastating. To the autistic person, the effect may be even more marked. I have read so many accounts by autistic individuals about their hurt and self doubt when faced with this kind of social impasse. For me, it does bother me to a small extent, especially if the person in question was someone I liked enough to make the effort of pushing myself beyond my own comfort zone and offer a hand of friendship to. But I am learning to allow room in my Space of Mind for the ephemeral, for processes that vanish into thin air without satisfactory development, for songs that begin and then end unsung.
The social arena, as scripted by neurotypical constructs, is a confusing cacophony to the autistic mind. Rules of engagement are not actually rules at all, they are more like mucky goopy phantoms that traverse the stratospheres of imagination, changing shapes and melting forms, intangible and impossible to pin down. What is worse is that we are supposed to be the ones who are impaired, yet nobody among the purportedly “unimpaired” have any ability to perceive our frames and simple, concrete modus operandi. Wherein is the impairment then?
On the more sinister side of this social conundrum is this: autistic persons also far too often fall prey to social manipulators and bullies, some of us not even knowing it until almost too late.
For years, I was held captive by someone who styled herself as my “best friend.” She drove away others who wanted to befriend me, shielded me from forming close bonds with anyone apart from herself. Going away to university brought some much needed distance, and for a brief period, I managed to form bonds with others. However, upon my return home, this “best friend” person swooped down upon me once again. Coupled with another Colonial Power, a close relative, my next two decades were mired in a thick foggy web of subjugation, negation and iron-fisted control. When that “best friend” exited my life, it wasn’t without rancour. She took off on some personal mission-and-vision to a remote country and initially insisted quite violently that I must go along (no doubt as her personal aid and slave, of course). When I put my foot down, and held both firmly on the ground, she left. It was not without a fight, mind you, she was a most boorish and forceful person. Then there was the Colonial Power, with whom I continued to live and who I served faithfully, despite being warned by a few wise bystanders who saw clearly the unhealthy and crippling situation I was in. She even dictated who I should or should not date, and what form and shape my religion ought to be! It was not until this Power, in grand missish tantrum, called me her “Paid Companion,” that I woke up to the reality of my circumstance. In both cases, they were jealous whenever I developed ties with any other person, their tactic was to make me feel very guilty at abandoning them, so I would return to them with my tail between my legs (yup, that is why I never want to see Lucy’s tail between her legs, if I can help it!). Each time I ventured forth socially, they would make snide remarks that I don’t need them anymore because I now have this other person, or they would insinuate themselves into our midst, reminding me of their importance in my life. There was no consideration of my needs, no thought for my wellbeing or my own purpose in life. It was all about them, and how they could fully utilize my talents and emotional faithfulness for their benefit. If I failed to satisfy them in any way, they will berate, mock, condemn and run me to the ground, using every strategic method possible – without leaving a visible mark, so that I could not pin the cruelty down in any obvious way.
The Colonial Power still winds herself around people who I once considered my friends. But that’s ok, she can have them. In my mental library, they are now classified as her friends, no longer mine. What need do I have for superficial social connections?
How does an intellectually sound person not see such glaringly obvious social juxtapositions? How could I not have known that these relationships were detrimental to my very existence? Oh, don’t even get me rambling about the plethora of other unhealthy relationships – those don’t really matter as much as these two did anyway. The answer? My Autistic Mind does not easily grasp subtle nuances of evil. It was not that I did not feel frustrated, nor that I did not yearn to break free, it was that I wanted so much to “do the right thing” that I shoved aside Self in deference to the looming Other, closing my ears to the reverberating silent screams emanating from within.
But this rambling post has a positive message.
I am finally free. I do not want a best friend anymore. The shackles of confounding obligation are too heavy. I now have many wonderful and supportive friends – these are people who respect me and accept my eccentricities as a whole package. They do not attempt to ‘own’ me, they are never jealous of the time I choose to spend with others, they do not berate me for holding views that are different from theirs, and they do not to tell me what they think is good for me – they trust me to know, or to ask them if I want their opinion, and when I do, I can depend on them to speak honestly. In return, I do not wish to ‘own’ them either. I am most relieved when I know they have the kind of robust and full social life that they desire (for those who do) without me around. I am disinterested in the act of socialising without a primary practical purpose, my threshold for interaction is seriously limited, and I do not want anymore to push myself to breaking point, yet, I do not feel happy if my friends are lonely. I want my friends to be fulfilled and happy. But I also want to be fulfilled and happy too.
I know that by being Me, I might disappoint a few, and some friends may come and then choose to leave, but that is ok by me – social pandering is no longer what I want to do. I’ve done my time in Neurotypical Social Prison, an innocent who unwittingly walked into trap after trap of relational disaster.
I am my own person now.
I am secure in the knowledge that my friends are an assorted collection of people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds, a neurodiverse bunch of people, all with their own idiosyncratic quirks who are unafraid of difference. In fact, we celebrate eclecticism, rather than conformity. And these friends are true friends, who have seen me through some really tough times, extricated me from awkward pickle-jar-moments, 🙂 – without them I will not be where I am today. This is the way I prefer to live.
So, what about Lucy? She is not my best friend – she is my best companion. Canine Angel. Muse. Sensory anchor of calm when the cosmic atmosphere is crashing down, around and upon me. She is the face I wake up to every morning, she brings joy into my life in a way that no human has ever been able to do. I do not need to make her human-like. I shudder at the thought of a human at such close quarters. No, no, no! Lucy remains who she is. A beautiful Greyhound. In all her glory and goofiness. And I remain who I am. Me.
This is Beingness. The wonderful state of Being.