How’m I gonna let this go,
Am I someone I’d want to know,
Fearful twisting in the darkness alone.
How’m I gonna make me work in overdrive alert
I’m sorry I let you down
But I don’t remember it, remember at all.
(Heather Peace, I Don’t Remember)
If I met me, would I want to be my friend? Probably not. Little social blunders all the time. Too much eye contact, or not enough. Speaking out of turn, or not speaking at all. Harping on about something of no interest to the listener, or changing the subject entirely. Making people slightly uncomfortable, though they can’t quite put their finger on why. People talking to me politely, then turning round to have a much more dynamic conversation with someone else. Sound familiar?
I’m quite a sociable person, I do love being with people, but I have never really had friends, not what many people would describe as friends anyway. Now, amazingly, I have a wonderful partner and a lot of lovely acquaintances, and am rarely lonely. From the age of about 3 I had imaginary friends: I’m told the first ones were the Doctor, the Dentist and the Mouse, (although I don’t remember them!) “Friends” is perhaps the wrong word though, as I didn’t interact with them and I knew they were a figment of my imagination. My favourite game as a primary school child was inventing networks of imaginary people: I would cut pictures of children out of catalogues, give them names, put them into family relationships and school classes. Sometimes fictional versions of real people would join the networks too. I could have written books about them. Their activities tended to mirror what happened in everyday life: when I went to ballet lessons, there were ballet classes in my “school”, and when my sister took up horse riding, the “school” acquired a stables. I still think about a few of these characters from time to time, though not obsessively any more. They’ve grown up and had their own children now! Well, other people watch soap operas, so what’s the difference? Mine is far more creative as I invent the storylines myself.
As for real friends, I did try joining in other children’s games. Most of them involved running (tag, British bulldog) and as I was clumsy and by far the slowest runner, I was always caught. No fun at all. Now and again a group of girls might have a discussion, or enact a fantasy scenario, but I was a painfully quiet child. They would suggest to me what to do, but I hated being bossed around and I didn’t have the words to add my own ideas. Easiest not to join in. Playing by myself was the best option, and this I did, for 95% of my school playtimes.
I always longed for friends. Every time I went somewhere new where there were other children, I thought “it has to happen now, I’ll meet my tribe here.” I still think that way to some extent, though things have become so much clearer since my diagnosis, I now know my brain is just not wired for friendship as most people understand the word.
I remember in Year 4 primary (age 8-9) a new girl joined the parallel class to mine. She was exotic, she’d come from another part of the country and had an unusual name, and knew no one on her first day. I wrote her a letter saying how I’d love to be her friend and could I show her round the school? It lasted about 2 playtimes before she realized I was weird and not the one of the coolest kids in the year. Then I befriended the class naughty girl, who had few friends because she was so naughty. She taught me swear words that 8 year olds shouldn’t know, and inappropriate places in which to use them. She taught me how to insult kids who happened to be different in any way. What happened then? I got into trouble, of course. I’m absolutely not proud of that period of primary school. But I did have a few laughs, that I’d rarely experienced before.
Secondary school – first year, I hung around with a large gang of girls. I blended in. I said very little. I was good. People hardly noticed me. Then in the second year, our differences began to be obvious. I couldn’t do girly gossip. I wasn’t interested in the topics they discussed. Strangely, around this time someone did adopt me as her “best” friend. I didn’t even like her that much – nothing in common, but I followed her round for a few weeks like a puppy dog. Then, just as quickly, she unceremoniously dumped me and spent the rest of our schooldays making faces at me and telling me how ugly I was. I’d rather forget the rest of my secondary years. At uni, I began my current pattern of friendly acquaintances that has continued to this day and has improved as I’ve matured.
There have been advantages to having few or no friends. I’ve had plenty of time to pursue my creative interests, which need solitude and no interruptions, eg music practice. In a group, I’m good at noticing others on their own and talking to them, at least initially. Because I’m not tied into a friendship group, I avoid any cliques and think outside the box. I can be my own person, I don’t have to pretend to go along with things I don’t agree with. Nobody drags me down with petty arguments. If anyone tries, I will never take sides and will always remain neutral. But I’m still looking for my tribe – I’m guessing I might find something close to it among other Aspergirls??? If not, it’ll be fun to find out anyway…….