Autism in the Age of Social Media

I removed a friend on Facebook tonight.

This is a wholly insignificant event in the greater scheme of life, but I’ve only done it once before (and I wrote about that a couple of weeks ago). This time around, the person didn’t hit on me inappropriately, or creep me out, or just generally bug me. Their crime wasn’t really even a crime. Their crime was to go somewhere fun without me.

It is entirely stupid, and this is part of the reason why I’m writing about it. To autopsy my own feelings. To expose the ugliness that lies within.

Of course, lots of my Facebook friends (probably all of my Facebook friends) go and do fun stuff without me. And when they put pictures of it on Facebook, I am happy for them. I care about them and I want them to do fun stuff. I am not usually upset by it, and rarely jealous.

The sole difference in this case is that this friend is a work colleague. Someone who (at work) claims that we are “best friends”, but who can therefore be a bit demanding of my time and assistance. I like helping her, I just don’t like it when she wants me to be the bad guy who has to break bad news to a client. A couple of weeks ago, she was mentioned in another work colleague’s post, which showed them out at the movies together. It showed a whole bunch of my work colleagues out at the movies together. The whole, full-time female staff in fact. And it was tagged as a girls’ night for our team.

I am female, but I wasn’t invited to that “girls’ night”, despite everyone in that picture claiming to my face that they like me.

The next day, a couple of them even made sly, aside references to the film when they were sitting in a meeting with me. It was a bit like being in school again, while the cool kids titter about some private joke at my expense.

In two weeks, this is the third such “girls’ night” I’ve seen posted on her page. I’ve been invited to none of them, and indeed it has been kind of awkwardly talked around in such a way to make it clear that I’m not welcome (eg. “What are you up to this weekend?” “Oh, I have plans with friends.”).

This third time, upon seeing the post, I burst into tears. I’ve said it before, but I’m really not a crier. The thyroid problems, our mortgage woes, and work stress is all just piling up on me right now. I don’t need to add a bunch of confusing social problems into that too. So I unfriended her. Because it hurt too much to keep watching that happen, and I’d rather just not know when I was being shunned.

See, I hide it pretty well, but I’m on the autism spectrum. The vast majority of people don’t really understand what that means, and might imagine that I walk through life like a broken robot. I’ve never had a screaming fit in a public place, autism for me just means that I’m very bad at reading social cues. It’s like having dyslexia, but for people instead of text.

I’m very honest, and find it impossible to manipulate anybody. I also can’t look people in the eye when I’m talking to them (which, ironically, often makes people assume that I’m lying). I tend to take people at their word (because I don’t lie, so why would they?), which means that if you say you’re my friend then, well, I think you’re my friend. I might sometimes make a huge, huge social faux pas and not really notice. Or rather, I do often notice that everyone seems to suddenly not like me, but I don’t know why – which is perplexing and terrifying, but also feels so unfair. Autism certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t have feelings or that I don’t care about other people’s feelings. It’s just like trying to live amongst an alien race where you don’t speak the language. You’re going to make mistakes and not know what you’ve done. I have to ask people all the time what I’ve done wrong.

I try every day to translate my way through this confusing minefield, but the best I can do is to codify certain expressions or actions. If someone smiles this way, it means that they’re angry. If someone screens my calls, it means that they don’t like talking to me. If someone laughs at another person’s expense, it means that they’re mean. I understand that it’s an inexact science – human expressions are vastly complicated, and layered with meaning and/or lack of meaning – but it’s the best technique I have to be able to fake a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me. I suppose that I might fake it too well, because people don’t tend to assume that there’s something different about my mental function (we forgive those who we recognize as handicapped). Instead, people just think that I’m a jerk.

I’ve lived my whole life this way. I’m very accustomed to being the uncool kid. As a child, it was very difficult to hide my complete lack of social skills, and I was mostly shunned by other children. Or even worse, many times I was “befriended” by someone who just wanted to keep me around so they could be very cruel to me. And I put up with it because, well, they said we were friends. That’s another thing about autism: villainy in “good” people is perhaps the most confusing part of our world. To me, if you are mean then you are forever mean. I really can’t see cruelty as a petty prank or playful banter, because we don’t play that way. We make mistakes, but I’ve never set out to intentionally hurt somebody. I don’t really understand the motivation, which means I also can’t diminish it into something that “everyone does”. Still, as I grew older I got much better at translating this alien language, but it remained next to impossible to make or keep friends. I have a small, select few friends. But I’m sure I piss them off more often then not. People don’t like me and I don’t know why. They think it’s something that I’m doing intentionally, and something that I can fix. Indeed, I’ve probably received millions of pieces of “advice” over the years (delivered both with kindness and with vitriol) about what I should be doing to be more likable. Clearly, none of them have worked.

For the life of me, I don’t know what I’ve done to be excluded from this little clique of ladies at my workplace. I don’t know if I’ve done anything in particular, or if they just find me a bit strange and therefore drive me away because they don’t know that I can’t help it (again, it’s the disability versus jerkiness paradox). I do know that if I ask them what I’ve done, I almost certainly won’t get an answer. And it will just deepen the confirmation bias within the group. Now she must be shunned because she claimed not to know why she was being shunned. What a weirdo.

It makes me sad right now though. Really really sad… And that’s why I have to unfriend the girl and stay away.

Because it hurts too much. And I guess she wasn’t really my friend anyway.

Another one to chalk up to experience, I guess… There have already been far too many to count.



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