In my first post Settling for What I Had I discussed a lot about how autism has influenced the social aspects of my life, particularly with my peers. I would like to continue that discussion in this post. If you’ve read the first post, you know that it was easy for the majority of people in my life to like me. The hard part was, and still is, turning any acquaintance-ship into a deep and a meaningful
Getting acquaintances I find especially easy. Whether I’m at school, university, or being employed or volunteering somewhere, they are easy to come by and make. They would be my classmates, fellow students, or other employers. All I have to do is smile and say hello and maybe ask how their weekend was or day is going. And if they greeted me the same way, I would answer politely. Turning any such day-to-day correspondence into a friendship on the other hand, requires something more than being a nice person. You have to open up more, treat the other person with priority, and in general you have to be with them more. Yes, it is all right if you wind up getting busy. After having spent four years in university, I know how tough this can be, especially in mid-term periods and periods right before exams. We can be up to our necks in papers and in study material. Given this it’s obviously ridiculous to expect friends to be with their friends all the time. That just isn’t doable. They should, however, be there for each other on a regular basis even if they do not see each other for the odd couple of weeks. At least that’s my impression. Feel free to comment if
you think I’m mistaken.
While I did improve on my relationships with my peers in university, it really was only the beginning for me. The time element that I mentioned above was a main obstacle in my path (though certainly wasn’t the only one). I was a perfectionist with my studies. In my first year, I put in 75 to 80 hours a week on my school work. I backed off that amount for my next three years and put in about 30 hours less each week. And my straight A average stayed the same. Yet even for those three years, perfectionism did manage to creep in a good bit of the time.
And the clubs and societies I was involved with too. Even though I was at a small university that had only about 3000 students, there were quite a lot of activities to join, and I often signed up for more than I had time for from Improv to Ultimate Frisbee. More clubs meant, of course, more acquaintances, but less time outside to spend with potential friends. I’ve heard the advice at least twice that if you want to get more connected with people, get involved more with what’s going on. This may be true to a point, but speaking from experience, you can go too far. It’s always good to make sure there’s enough time outside of ‘anything official’ to develop strong friendship bonds with acquaintances you know. It’s this commitment to time outside that is a key separating factor between an acquaintance and a true friend. Again, if you think I’m mistaken, feel free to comment. I’ve managed to do a few such things with fellow students at university, which helped make me feel less lonely. Watching a movie with someone, going up to the dining hall together when in residence, and going to see a play with a fellow student were a few things that I did. For the last of these, I actually organized with someone I met at the Improv group to go see a play in a nearby town. This was just before I graduated this spring. I organized the taxi rides and we split the fair. Another thing that I did that I’m equally proud of is telling peers about my autism. This is certainly another step forward and shows what I believe to be another key factor in what separates a friend from an acquaintance. You have to be prepared to open up more. For the first time in my life I was actually starting to open up to who I truly was. It is these small changes in my behaviour that I’ve been able to manage that has given me much hope for the future.