Ah, what a stage life is, and what a grand operatic theatre of absurdity! Today was one such day where I am reminded of the bizarre nature of my own social experiences. I finally worked up the courage to rid myself of an increasingly difficult connection, just as the sunshine began to spread its glow across the cold wintery sky.
The autistic person is often very painfully slow at navigating neurotypical social minefields. Well, some of us may be more adept than others – but I most definitely am one of the slower ones to grasp the craziness of social fluidity.
Language is one extremely confusing aspect of social interaction. The literal mind of the average autist is often thrown into discombobulation by the twists and turns of nuanced half-truths (I have trouble figuring out which part is true?), so-called jokes (not at all funny and with veiled ominous intent, but what is it exactly?) and plain and simple gaseous emissions devoid of purpose or concrete content (which I sadly sometimes take quite seriously, to my detriment). This issue was articulated in my guest post, “Social Language,” in Tongues Magazine’s blog, so I shall not repeat it here. Do head over to the link for the conversational soliloquy.
Pushiness is another difficult thing to deal with. This is the phenomenon that a good friend of mine has coined the “Social Avalanche.” Not surprisingly, the Social Avalanche is often also the type who engages in linguistic calisthenics (as described in my blog post “Social Language.”) This is the character in every social scenario who cannot seem to be alone and always has to be in company; the host or hostess with the mostest, who stages far too many parties and spends his/her time musing about who to invite, what to cook (then inevitably ends up serving the same old dish anyway) and afterwards delights in comparing his/her own superior interior decor with other people’s; and the garrulous person who has no other conversation or interests apart from dwelling on interpersonal shenanigans. A fairly innocuous and harmless entity, the pushy person can become extremely toxic to the retreating, non-confrontational introvert or autistic individual. Lately, I have struggled with too many sudden, impromptu knocks on my door; scruffy unwashed, unkempt animal on my bed; outdoor shoes trampling all over my tiny private space (despite having iterated and reiterated my repulsion for shoes in the bedroom and in my personal abode); too many parties enforced upon me (and my own inability to say no resolutely because all and any attempts at “No thank you!” are met with powerful overwhelming persistence).. etc… the list goes on. Add to the mix, loud and lavish statements belittling my autism and my preference for my own company, such as, “You MUST go out and socialise more! You are too boring! You SHOULD be more sociable! You NEED to have a man in your life!” as if this was the only good way to live life!
What perplexes me the most, though, are the subtle little ways in which some socially-driven people show disrespect and lack of consideration. For example, a few months ago, I told someone that I wanted to sell my fuchsia Fendi suede handbag. It was a collector’s item, worth much more than the $300 I was wanting for it. The lady begged me to hold it for her, saying she would sell her iPhone and a few pairs of shoes, in order to buy it from me. I agreed. Then, she wanted me to sell her iPhone and shoes for her, and again I said ok. But in the process, she became very demanding, telling me to retake the photos over and over again because she was not satisfied with them, harassing me every day about the sale (“Have you sold it yet?”), instructing me to change numerous details in the advertisements etc. It got to a point where I felt so inundated by her never ending requests that although I did in the end manage to sell the iPhone (after a lot of worry, time, and trouble communicating with potential buyers) and one pair of shoes for a total of just $230, I gave up the selling adventure, and let her have the handbag for the $230. This lady made no effort of her own at all to sell anything, and I felt demeaned in the process. Mind you, she is not a poor creature with no cash, because she simultaneously went off to the shops and bought a $2,000 Louis Vuitton handbag, spent another $3,000 on Gucci and whatnot, and has been buying liberally online as well. But yes, I agreed to do the selling, and I was the one who gave up on the final $70 after all – this is what she reminded me when our friendship came to an end. “YOU AGREED!” she said, and she was right. I had indeed acquiesced to all her dictates, so why am I now complaining? It does take two hands to clap, doesn’t it?
That is why I find pushy people the most difficult to deal with. I am out of my depth when my personal boundaries are not respected and I have to keep defending them in order to maintain a cordial or congenial relationship. Some people operate that way, I am told, but it is a terrifying system for me! It seems, for me, that the more I give in to these types, the more they advance upon me with orders and impositions, and the stretto of fear, anxiety and frustration builds and builds until the final cadential explosion that ends it all. Usually, it is I who detonates, at the point when I am so overwrought that I decide I cannot take it anymore. But this leaves the other person defensive and blaming me for the entire fiasco.
Gentle hints, even clear but genteel explanations of my situation, do not have any effect whatsoever on the Social Avalanches. Theirs seems to be the Take No Prisoners pedagogical method to relating with people such as myself. And why oh why do I seem to attract these ones so specifically and strongly? Most macabre.
Some of my close friends tell me I am too longsuffering. Others tell me I do not know how to draw clear boundaries until it is too late. And they all tell me to heed certain warnings and exit as fast as possible when the alarms sound. My dear friends do give me good advice, but I do not heed them quickly enough. I don’t seem to know how to walk away from avalanches. I must learn. I must!!!
The final straw in my most recent social adventure happened on Monday. My ‘friend’ had arranged two weeks ago, before she headed off on a long holiday, to have her house cleaned by my other friend, S. The Social Avalanche offered $100, which was well below the going rate for the plethora of things she wanted done in her house, but my friend S said ok, because he needed some work anyway. Before she left, I reminded her several times to leave the $100 on her dining table because I didn’t have that money at hand to pay S. But she did not leave the $100. Then, she told me via Facebook messenger that her husband, who was returning on Monday morning, would leave the $100 for S on the dining table. Well, the husband returned, I saw his suitcase in the hallway, but no $100 on the table. So I messaged this ‘friend’ to ask if she still wanted to go ahead with the housecleaning, and if so, I will pay S with my $100 but I would need her husband to return me the money asap because I needed that money to pay bills. She said yes. So I relayed the go-ahead to S. But at the very last minute, this ‘friend’ of mine sent me a message telling me to CANCEL the housecleaning, because her husband was too stressed and didn’t want the house cleaned! By this time, S had already arrived, and he was very put off by the last minute cancellation. Rightfully so. It showed a blatant lack of honour, really, and I felt so awful. (Or, am I sorely mistaken, and this is actually an acceptable way to treat ‘hired help’? Perhaps it is, in the third world country from which this former ‘friend’ hails?)
This morning, after a sleepless night grappling with the agony of it all, I finally decided that I had to take this particular bull by its horns and stare it in the eyeball. I told the Social Avalanche in logical and unemotional literal terms how inconsiderate and disrespectful she had been, citing some of the specific details in my message (no claims should be made without proper citation, right?), and I said that if she wanted this friendship to continue, she will have to show more due regard towards me. Of course, this action on my part comes too late, as I had already ‘spoiled’ the Social Avalanche with my own meek compliance for many months, and her reaction was unsurprising: she unleashed a lorry-load of emotional fury at me, as much as was possible in a text message! (And of course, ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook. 🙂 )
The positive part of this is that I now feel wonderfully relieved, as if a huge smoldering rancid mass has been whisked off my shoulders. I know, I should’ve issued the ultimatum much much earlier on in our developing relationship, then perhaps it could have been saved. A lesson I shall take to heart and try my best to learn and apply next time. However, I do question my own poor judgment of character: do I really want to have to deal with this kind of ‘friendship’ where I must consistently maintain my boundaries in the strictest possible way, where the other person is so diametrically opposed to my own genteel, gentle, polite and respectful way of conducting relational matters? I think not. I should’ve listened to my intuition in the first place, and kept a safe distance at the very first sensation of recoil. Then two people would’ve saved a lot of time and effort – the Social Avalanche and me. C’est la vie. We live and learn.
And now, time for some social-detoxing with my cuddle-Angel-hound and Yo Yo Ma’s beautiful rendition of J.S.Bach’s “Six Suites for Unaccompanied ‘Cello.”