Take it slow: how to make real friends when you’re autistic

I am impatient in new friendships because I don’t know if the person is of their word yet or if they are like most people who say they will do things and never do what they say. Same reason I hated group projects; I’d end up taking on way more burdens than I should have and everyone else just got to skim off the cream. I need enough interactions with a person to discern their level of truth. I’ve lived long enough to not trust people’s words.

In the beginning people do say all sorts of things. And it’s only with time passing that relationships can develop. The ones that come on intensely and feel manic have potential, but they don’t deliver the way you’d hoped because you’re really just reliving pressured trauma bonds from a previous relationship. The reason they feel good is because they are familiar and your brain chemistry responds to trauma in the same way that it responds to love. Things can get confusing if you don’t slow down.

So how do you get to the point where you’re past the causal “We should hang out sometime” to actually hanging out and becoming friends with people?

Well, if you have issues committing to tasks or making plans and then executing them, that’s an executive functioning issue and you’re going to have to use coping mechanisms. But more regularly, the issue I see is autistics coming on too strong. I know I used to. So what do you do?

The answer is counterintuitive. You let them breathe. You give them space. You allow them to miss you. Let them come to you. Your inclination might be to invite them to a museum exhibit or send them music or articles or comment on all their social media. To you, this is just how you show enthusiasm for another human being. But the recipient might see it as smothering. They might see it as you feeling inadequate and needy. And I know you’re not. You give magpie gifts—little tokens of affection—because they come from the heart. But not everybody gets it. They think you’re trying to prove something.

You shouldn’t have to prove your worth. Maybe in the beginning, you put a little charm on and you make allowances for whatever substance they might be on or how tired they are from working. You give them the benefit of the doubt. If you don’t see them again, don’t worry about it. Definitely don’t regret or insert “should have” into your recollections. Don’t be bitter that they didn’t love you at first sight. Just because a casual acquaintance didn’t become a lifelong friend doesn’t mean you lacked value or they couldn’t appreciate you. People are busy. They’re dealing with stuff of their own you might never understand. And sometimes, you’ve dodged a major bullet with someone who could really have been bad for you.

In the meantime, get busy entertaining yourself. The better time you’re having in life, the more distracted you’ll get from the loneliness. And when you do get asked small talk questions that you’d normally not know how to answer, you can come up with a couple of sentences on something cool you did or saw or listened to or experienced or thought of. Little doses though. Most people can’t take on your enthusiasm all at once. You must dose them in small quantities.

Get used to rejection. It’s part and parcel of putting yourself out in the friend making arena. There is no shortcut to getting there. You just have to try and fail and get a little better and try and fail again. Learn a lesson each time. A different one. There are always lessons to be learned when dealing with human beings. But if you treat every failure as confirmation of why you shouldn’t be making friends, you’re hurting yourself needlessly and people will read your bitterness fast. You’ll have created a negative feedback loop and just isolate yourself even more.

Friendships each give off a different and distinct vibration. It can change frequencies over time but it is always unique and if you don’t establish stasis, you’ll never know what the friendship is. And until you do that, you might feel insecure in the relationship, wondering what you mean to other people because you’re so earnest in your own admiration and affection.

But once you know the vibration frequency of a relationship, you understand how it works and the value to assign to it. And you’ll know if the other person values the friendship or if they’re disingenuous. You can begin to take risks and improvise. You can intensify or not. Get deeper or not. Have fun or not. There are endless possibilities.

And then you can send them all the links to things that made you think of them. All the magpie gifts. Because now they have a better read on you and they can contextualize your natural enthusiasm.

I know this sounds like a lot of work and you wish things were easier. This takes too much energy you say. I get it. I wish it were that easy. But someday you might learn to love the journey as well as the destination. Until then, this is as succinct an answer as I can give you.

So in the beginning, you must trust the process and go slowly. Take a leap of faith. Hand yourself out in doses. Take everything with a grain of salt. And take very little personally. Listen more than you speak. Friendship, the virtuous kind Aristotle talked about, comes not from mutual interests or mutual benefit. Those are the reasons people talk to one another in the beginning. But real friendship comes when both parties just want what’s best for the other person. That rarely happens overnight.

If it is real connection you want, treat new people in your life like a fossil dig. Tiny strokes with little brushes. In the beginning you don’t know what you’re unearthing. It could be something marvelous and never before seen. Take your time and just enjoy the discovery.

P.S.: this is good advice when it comes to friends too:

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