Are you offended by my expressions and paradigms of love? Have you ever stopped to wonder if I may be hurt by yours too? What are the different paradigms for connectivity and forming interpersonal bonds? How do we each express attachment and intimacy? Do we ever ask ourselves these question when we interact with friends? How about friends we have known for decades?
For me, deeper bonding develops from shared interests and activating these passions together. In my PhD dissertation, I described my collaboration with my friend, Kat Fury, and how the process served to deepen an already resonant connection. We have never met in person. We found each other through our blogs. Our communications evolved at a pace comfortable to us, within a milieu that suited us well. Working together on my exhibition, Roaring Whispers 2014, strengthened our bond. This is my clement space for friending and friend-making, for sowing and nurturing intimacy in all dimensions. The most intimate expression of friendship is to share a similar Space of Mind: a place where we may co-exist within our shared passions, ‘working’ on little projects, chatting about our interests. No need for the huggy-wuggy-fuzzy-wuzzy stuff for us. We bond through ‘work’, or common passion for something outside of ourselves but yet intrinsically connected to our Being.
This seems to offend the normative ideal of social closeness. ‘Work’ or ‘project’ seem to be interpreted as things emotionless, success-motivated and even heartless ambition. Many are unable to grasp the precious reverberation, they cannot hear that thrilling timbre of exhilaration and they do not feel the rich textures of unspoken proximity. For many, the ‘Best Friends Forever’ (BFF) connection is achieved via a completely different set of activities, which I shall not attempt to elaborate upon in this little blog post, as I am no expert and it is extremely arduous an exercise for my little autistic brain to analyse and unravel at this time of sheer exhaustion. Suffice to say that from this vantage point, it all seems like a blur of cafes, shopping sprees, pubs, and a lot of talk talk talk – oh, and loads of ‘selfies’ and ‘wefies’ uploaded on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and wherever else, with a slew of hashtags, special focus on #bff – best friends forever. I wonder at these, because it is mind boggling and somewhat frightening for me to contemplate the sheer number of “best friends” these people claim to have, and “forever” at that! How is that even achievable? For the autist, joining in such fun and games entails “performing the unnatural as naturally as possible.” Something I am no longer willing to do.
Another garish dissonance I have personally encountered is the way loyalty is perceived. To the majority of normative folk that I know – even those I once considered close friends – loyalty does not rank high in their social constructs. For example, I have discovered that it is socially acceptable and even considered gracious, to ‘not take sides’ when mutual friends have a falling out – even when the schism is due to heinous and systematic bullying and abuse. This is not the autistic way. Why would my friends wish to remain cordial or even chummy with my abuser and with whom I have cut all ties? Oh yes, but this ‘black and white’ thinking is declared as a social impairment by non-autistic experts on autism after all. To expect loyalty is thus at best an awkward, squeaky, uncomfortable request, and at worst an unreasonable demand of a mentally-unhinged and deluded brat. The kind and well-meaning ones will try to reason and engage in ‘peace talks’, failing which, they sometimes advise kindly about ‘forgiveness’ with deep pools of glistening sadness in their eyes, shaking their heads in pity when the stubborn autist refuses to abandon native perceptions of morality. Tsk, tsk. The autist is to be pitied, poor deluded and socially inept creature!
For many an autist, including myself, this is profoundly injurious, and a form of repression and betrayal. The efforts to persuade and berate into conforming with the normative expectation of superficial ‘forgiveness’ perpetuates the abuse. Gaslighting is a common defence mechanism of abusers, and one very effective among the wider social realm. For the autist, it is a game too complex and toxic to play. The best action, most kind to native autistic modality, is to simply walk away and cut the ropes. We really do not need any more pummelling and plundering of our fragile embodiments.
I understand the normative social fluidity, and my autistic brain has learned to accept neurotypical (and even non-autistic neurodiverse) social behaviours as what they are: intrinsic paradigms that are alien to my own. Neither right nor wrong. Just different. However, I also see clearly now, after decades of pandering to prevalent and powerfully overwhelming dictates – even to the point of oppression and repression of Self – that my own native modalities are just as worthy of robust respect as that of the social majority.
Beingness is a quest. Along the way, one has to make decisions, especially where it comes to spending very limited resources. Leaving behind connections once held dear, friendships that the autist has gone to great lengths to maintain (at the expense of Self-ness), may be painful, but if these ‘BFF’s (with prominent hashtags) refuse or are unable to make effort to understand and embrace the autist’s natural modality, then it may be time to say goodbye. The saddest ropes to cut are those that have been tied for many years. But a simple, somewhat cliched song jumps out at the consciousness at this point, with an alarmingly poignant message: “If you don’t know me by now…” then you probably never will.
Thankfully, this autist has enough loyal friends new and old who have transcended the tricky neurocultural boundaries. Another one of the strange, underserved cosmic blessings upon a very tiny little insignificant life.