Even after nearly 20 years practise at learning to navigating the tricky world of social, personal and romantic relationships, I still find myself in particular situations, wondering how this happened. Sometimes I wonder how this has happened yet *again*, and smack myself in the forehead.
I’ve been in situations that I didn’t really want to be in, feeling responsible for causing them in the first place, and sometimes feeling that I must just go along with it. I take responsibility for the other person’s feelings and misunderstandings, and in some cases, for their deliberately coercive words or actions. I have asked around some other aspie friends, and I’m not the only one. The outcomes of ill-judged social forays range from minor to really very serious.
So I’ve wanted to write a post on this for quite a while, it’s clearly such an important issue. Because of social and communication difficulties, having Asperger’s can make someone at greater risk of harm or undesirable outcomes in interpersonal situations. Added to other factors for increased vulnerability, such as being female or smaller in stature, and it becomes a very very important issue. I am attempting not to make this heterosexist or gender binary, so I need to make a disclaimer that this list of strategies may or may not generalise to those in different lifestyle and relationship contexts. This is just my list that I use in thinking around my own safety (when I remember to – my prospective memory is terrible).
Presently, I have a new friend, or so I thought. After having a coffee, which I specifically couched “as mates”, I started getting text messages that could have gotten me in trouble with my partner had I not already been really open about the situation. I attempted to nip it in the bud by laying my cards very clearly and firmly on the table with my new friend, in the hopes that we could stop interacting at cross-purposes, and quickly recover. However I suspect that given its new-ness, it may be the case that neither of us has invested enough in the relationship at this point to make it worthwhile performing such a reset. The friendship may go by the wayside as an irreconcilable, “you led me on”/”you made a pass at me” type thing.
How did I reach this point? I think it is through a combination of things: not being able to see stuff like this coming (missing the signals and difficulty imagining consequences and outcomes); lacking the requisite skills to extricate myself from a situation before or after it reaches that point; difficulty managing personal boundaries; an inability to play psychological ‘games’; not knowing what non-verbal messages I may be giving or receiving (and possibly agreeing to merely by failing to object); I’m naturally very trusting and believe what I’m told – even if I remember to consider someone’s hidden agenda, I am not guaranteed to figure it out.
I feel that by my age I should be better at all this, that I should have acquired at least some basic common sense. People find it very difficult to believe that I am genuinely this naïve, gullible and intention-blind, and that I don’t deliberately engineer some of the situations I find myself in. My lack of “streetwise” makes me an easy target for someone with an agenda, particularly when those around me assume I know what I am doing. Who intervenes to point out the obvious?
Anyway, here are some of the guidelines I have developed for myself, which are based on repeating patterns I have seen in my own life and the lives of those close to me. I am very lucky in that I have a couple of Trusted People (TP) who I can talk to about uncertain situations. They help me see whether I am missing anything obvious or untoward (they are much better at reading people). These TPs are people who I know have my best interests at heart because they have given me unconditional friendship over a number of years, have previously dispensed good advice, and have never deliberately tried to hurt me. I talk to them if am unclear what I should do in a new situation, a changed situation, or with a new friend. If one of my TPs expresses concern or questions someone’s motives, then I listen to them, and they check up on me regularly. If both of my TP are worried then I implement some or all of the following:
– If someone is supposed to be a friend, and only a friend, then I intentionally use words and phrases like “platonic”, “as friends”, and “mate date” when arranging to do something with them. I tell them upfront if I have a partner or if I am single but not looking for a partner.
– When there is ambiguity around something they have said or done, I tell them that I don’t know if they are being serious or not and ask for clarification. I don’t act until they have given me a better explanation.
– If I have known someone a while and they suddenly ask to do something different (eg we usually always hang out in a group but now they want to meet me one-to-one) I make a note that something has changed in the way they think or feel towards me, and they now want to have a different sort of relationship. It may be that they just want to become better friends, but at least I am not then blind-sighted if they want more than that and I don’t.
– If someone wants to see me one-to-one as a change to how we normally hang out (or they are a new friend), and they want me to go to their house or to come to my house, and this is not something we have done before, I say no. A real friend will not mind if we go for coffee (in daylight, with other people around) rather than a house.
– If someone asks me to keep our friendship or relationship secret from other people, including a current or previous partner, then this is an alarm bell to say that I need to proceed with extreme caution. I discuss with my TP all possible outcomes, and if the reason given could be genuine, my TP helps me decide exactly how long I am prepared to continue if nothing changes, and what to do after that time has passed (eg if they still won’t tell anyone after 4 weeks then I won’t see them again).
– If someone tells me something that sounds amazing, or ‘too good to be true’ then I check it out with one of my TPs. Sometimes when I am saying it myself, it starts to sound implausible to me too, but not always (I had a friend who worked for MI5 don’t ya know…).
– I don’t drink alcohol with people I or my TPs are concerned about, unless a TP is also there and I am going home with them.
– If someone I don’t know very well asks me very personal questions, I may decide to spend less time with them, because it will be very difficult for me to maintain my own boundaries.
I find that the more I practise discussing these sorts of issues with someone I trust, the more I internalise the process. Sometimes I am able to run through in my head how a conversation with my TP might go in this instance, and arrive at some decisions by myself. I may always need to do it consciously and deliberately (and sometimes outloud!), but at least I can start to proactively look after myself.
© Catastraspie, 2012.