A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Posts tagged ‘Friendship’

On Masculinity

A couple of months ago, I saw a poster in the math building at the University of Waterloo advertising an interesting workshop. It was inviting the male Waterloo students to come to talk and discuss what it means to be masculine and to be a man. As a feminist and someone who’s very interested in the topic of gender, I was very curious and so attended. The workshop was run by a young gender equity advocate Stephen Soucie and it took only two minutes into it that I knew I had made the right decision to attend. Stephen lectured and had a discussion with us on how society (especially in our western culture) has shaped the male and female gender roles in detrimental ways and how this has promoted gender inequity and gender-based violence.

I loved the discussion and completely agreed with Stephen throughout. He started by asking us what expectations society holds on males. We brainstormed a lot and came up with several, including stoic, unemotional, hypersexual, strong, aggressive, etc. and then brainstormed ways in which men are ridiculed if they do not live up to these expectations to a sufficient degree. For example, men who do not fit this stereotype are more prone to bullying. They are often called things like “pussy”, “faggot”, “gay”, “bitch”, or “little girl”. Not only is such name-calling hurtful to the targeted men, but they are also harmful to women because they carry the implication that women are somehow inferior to men. These expectations, however, are a product of society and there is no rational basis for them. One could argue that these expectations come from the biological sex differences between males and females, but as Stephen pointed out, western society has overemphasised such differences. Moreover, male and female aren’t even exhaustive categories when it comes to either gender or sex, giving another reason why these gender roles need to be abandoned. Both gender and sex do not just consist of two categories, but both exist on a spectrum with male on one end and female on the other with a great variety in between.

Earlier in this blog, I mentioned how some of my social desires would be classified as feminine, such as cuddling with platonic friends. A little over a year ago, I did attend a Cuddle party once in Toronto (this is a social gathering where people can physically touch each other such as through cuddling in non-sexual ways) and I always find it fascinating that the majority of the attendees are male. I believe this is because society find platonic cuddling between women to be acceptable, but if a man or men are involved in this act, then it’s automatically classified as sexual and two men who cuddle are automatically labeled as “gay”. Society wouldn’t bat an eye if two women were crying in each other’s arms over a romantic movie, yet try replacing those two women with two men and you get something that’s completely unheard of. Our heteronormative society does not encourage homosocial bonding between men, which has a tremendous impact on men’s emotional and physical health.

These gender roles also promote gender-based violence in our society. Often, gender-based violence is portrayed as a women’s issue, often associated with the phrase “Violence against women”. You hear stories, for example on the news or in the newspaper, “Woman raped” or “Woman murdered”, failing to mention the perpetrator in the title (usually a man). But who the perpetrator is is just as relevant and stopping this gender-based violence takes way more than simply informing girls that they need to be careful, or to tell boys they need to behave properly. These, in my opinion, are just band-aid solutions, if they are even any kind of solutions at all.

Who are the perpetrators? Mostly men. Why are so many more men (many with horrible pasts, psychological problems, etc.) than women committing these horrific crimes? This is what the rest of the discussion with Stephen was about. These men weren’t born as killers or rapists. The rub is that it was fed into them starting from an early age, regardless if it was intentional or unintentional. They came to learn that to be a man, you must exhibit certain characteristics. They feel they need to be tough, aggressive, hypersexual, stoic, etc. and it often gets to the point where they feel that the only way they can measure up to these expectations and let out all the negative emotions they are feeling is by committing violence, especially against women. These societal expectations placed on men have affected their well-being very negatively and, as such, gender-based violence is just as much as a men’s issue as it is a women’s issue.

I am not trying to excuse the crimes that men commit here because men happen to be raised in a certain way. Crimes such as murder, rape, and domestic violence and abuse are horrible and should carry a heavy sentence regardless whenever they are committed. Instead, this analysis of the issue should be used when we’re asking what needs to happen for this violence to be resolved. In order to have equality for women, we need equality for men as well and indeed for people of all genders.

Since the workshop, I have stayed in touch with Stephen, and we have talked about these issues further and exchanged books and movies on the subject. One movie that I borrowed from Stephen was called Tough Guise 2 and it’s about everything I’ve written in this post and I highly recommend it.

The world is rife with inequity, and gender is definitely a prime example. I remain optimistic, however, that we as a society can correct this. Simply talking about it and advocating this issue is a definite first step.


Becoming Closer with my Sister

Last winter, I was dealing with a problem. It’s too private to even post on this blog, but in any case what it was is irrelevant and it was quickly resolved anyway. Like I usually do when a problem arises in my life, however, I normally talk to people about it to help find solutions and also since my perfectionistic mind can often distort a healthy perspective hearing someone else’s perspective on it can help combat it.

One of the people I ended up talking to about it was my sister Carolyn. She was sympathetic and told me to keep her updated about it and, in fact, she said she wanted to communicate with me more anyway. My relationship with Carolyn throughout our lives has probably not been the closes in the world. There might have been a little bit of sibling rivalry, but we certainly loved each other even if we didn’t express it in the closest of bonds.

We’re also different in a few ways, which most likely caused us to grow a little apart. For example, I’m much more of an academic than she is. I’m in my third year of a PhD while she after high school took a year off and didn’t really know what she wanted to do at the time. Since then, however, she’s found her dream passion in cooking and got both a culinary arts degree and a hospitality management degree and she’s now working in hotel management and eventually wants to become a chef. While her path in life might have been a little more disconnected than mine, I never believed that this was because I was more intelligent than her or anything like that. In fact, I sometimes feared she was intimidated. I just see her path as demanding a different (but certainly not less) kind of intelligence. I’m sure that the meals I make in my home can’t hold a candle to what my sister is capable of in the kitchen. I also sometimes wonder what it must really feel like to lead a slightly disconnected path in life (this is actually something in general that graduate students sometimes do, positing ‘what if’ scenarios since graduate school is quite demanding and “delays” your entry into the “real world”).

At any rate, in response to my sister’s request to remain in contact, I sent her another email and we’ve since had a couple of email correspondences since then. I feel I was more open with her about what is going on in my life. Doing so in writing like in an e-mail was a great method for me to achieve this since I could make sure it was exactly what I wanted to say and I could take my time with it, which helped combat perfectionistic thoughts in the process. Making yourself vulnerable in describing your short comings, your struggles, and your weaknesses I believe is a key component for any relationship to become closer. I’ve talked to Carolyn about how we’re corresponding and we both agree it’s making us feel closer to each other.

Carolyn also has a great philosophy on life, which I completely agreed with it when she told me. She said that everyone’s life sucks in some way or another and that if people though all their problems into a pile and actually saw how big the pile got, they would see that their life isn’t as bad compared to everyone else’s that they’re making it out to be. She also said it was okay to be unhappy and to let out your misery (so long as it was in private).

In a world like today where often family members may not be particularly close, I count myself lucky to not be in such a situation and to be close to a lot of my family including my only sibling.

A Third Level of Freedom

Today marks the anniversary of this blog! That’s right. Exactly one year ago, I made my first post on here. And given that this is my 34th post, I think I’ve done pretty well! It hasn’t always been easy to come up with new interesting things to say and updating a blog on a regular basis does take time and discipline (although my interesting in writing novels certainly developed discipline in this regard). The topic for this post, however, was easy enough and elaborates on a new way I’ve learned to look at friendships.

Well, a third level of freedom! What have I discovered now? My first post on freedom was about the aftermath of my first term at grad school and how given the intensity of the work, I learned to get rid of academic perfectionism. My second level of freedom occurred just over a month ago when I decided to stop looking for a girlfriend and decided to just keep doing what I love and let the girl follow. Romance happens when you least expect it. (For convenience I’ve created a new category Freedom where I’ve placed these three freedom posts and where I’ll place more if more come). What I’m going to elaborate on now relates to this (indeed it can probably incorporated into it, but given that it didn’t automatically follow and it took a month to do so, I’m going to treat it distinctly). And what does it involve? Well, it involves not just “letting the girl follow”, but also just “letting friends follow”. In other words, I’ve decided to not put so much energy into getting closer friends, but to simply do what I love and let any friendships develop naturally.

There are various levels of friendship. In my third post on my blog On the Difference Between Friend and Acquaintance I described (at least how I see it) what being a friend entails and it requires more time than being a mere acquaintance with someone. The time factor is key, especially when it’s outside of anything formal like courses, a job, clubs, societies, etc and you spend a lot of time with someone in order to be close friends with them. But in order for you to develop such a connection with someone, requires more than just the two of you being nice people. Two relatively nice people who see each other on a regular basis because of, say, school or a job can become acquaintances fairly easily. But in order for them to become close friends, they need to spend a lot of time with each other outside of this. But in order for them to get to such a level of close friendship, they need to have a “special connection” between them.

It’s because of this “special connection” that the vast majority of people that we interact with in our lifetime don’t become close friends. It isn’t because we aren’t nice people. We are. But you also have to share a bond. The number of people that a person has a “special connections” can be very small as a result. I’m really beginning to see and understand that this is how friendships basically work and it has caused me to re-evaluate my methods for obtaining friends. For example, in my undergrad university Acadia, I knew two philosophy majors who are a great example of this. At least one of them was certainly an introvert. The other I chat up on facebook every now and then and when I was talking to her about the difficulty of obtaining friendships just over a year ago, she actually said that while she did have friends, she hadn’t really developed any close friends except for that other philosophy major and they ended up dating.

This has caused me to revise my own methods in a lot of was. I no longer to into a social situation whether it be with one person or a whole bunch of people with the mindset that I’ll develop a really good friendship with someone, but let the “special connection” happen naturally like it should. Such a method automatically has a lot of advantages (similar to how I explained in a previous post that I’ll “let the girl follow”). It means that I don’t have any expectations on anyone or that anyone will end up treating me as someone more than an acquaintance or a friend I see only every now and then at best. Thus I no longer feel disappointed in anyone.

Now obviously the optimal situation is where I do develop a “special connection”. This is why I do what I love. People who have more in common with each other have more of a chance of developing a friendship, which is partly why I’m going to start a writing club this fall (I have gotten four other students interested in this!), as well as an autism support group. The realm of writers and autistics are certainly two potential groups for making friends (though like I said above I hold no expectations). I’ve also met a girl who lives in Waterloo on a dating site and she’s an introvert as well and we text/chat on a regular basis (and we aren’t dating, we’re just remaining friends).

There you have it! The solution to friendship and loneliness. Now I just have to run with it…

A New Experience

This past week I expanded my social circle. How did I do it? Did I talk to fellow students more? Did I do things outside of school and clubs with others? Did I go into a bookstore and random chat with a girl again? No, I didn’t. Well, I went to see the movie The Hunger Games again with someone from Waterloo University’s philosophy society again last week (that movie was so good! And certainly stayed true to the book!).

But I did something even more exciting.

So what did I do? Well, a couple of posts back, I did mention that one option that I was doing to talk to people, especially girls, was going onto online dating sites. Now, in case you’re one of those people who have a stigma against such services, I suggest you hear me out before making a judgement. Anyway, I have been going onto online dating sites and I have indeed been talking to girls on them. I have even created a second Hotmail email account so that we MSN each other without my giving away any personal information right away. And so far, overall, it has been working out pretty well.

The closest girl location wise to me I’ve talked to actually lives in Guelph. There are a couple of others as well, but they don’t exactly live that close. I’ve become good friends with them and have even video chatted with two of them (including the girl from Guelph). For convenience sakes, let me call the girl from Guelph Miranda. This isn’t her real name but for obvious reasons I’m not going to say her real name (and not too much else about her for that matter). After I have been in contact with several weeks with Miranda, we both agreed that we would try to meet each other in person.

This is what I did last week. I actually met her. On Thursday to be precise. I have only one class during that day, which is logic and runs from 8:30-10. The previous evening, we set up a location to meet at in Guelph and that would be practical to bicycle to. It would about thirty kilometres away from Waterloo university, but I thought I could handle it. And to give me ample bicycling time we agree to meet at 11:45. And so at just after ten, I got on my bicycle and bicycled to Guelph and we successfully met up at the intersection at about quarter to 12.

While there wasn’t much to do in the part of Guelph we had agreed to meet she did show me around. We went to a park where we sat in a small pavilion and simply enjoyed each other’s company. We sometimes exchanged a few words back and forth, but we just saw in silence, given that we are both introverts. I found it nice actually. The long silences we shared didn’t seem all that awkward. I felt less pressure to say anything when I’m usually around people. It was nice. We then went to a subway and got some subway sandwiches to eat for lunch. We then walked around for a bit, and then spent another hour in the park. Mind you, it’s not like we didn’t talk at all. We talked about stuff that was going on in our lives, but when neither of us felt inclined to say anything, it wasn’t awkward at all. And then in the middle of the afternoon, I headed back to waterloo on my bicycle after Miranda gave me some water for my trip back.

I must admit it felt a little weird to meet someone like this, to meet someone I had absolutely no connections with (other than the internet). I wasn’t introduced to her by anyone or knew her through friend and/or family connections. If it hadn’t been for the internet, we wouldn’t have met at all and probably would’ve remained complete strangers forever. With the way the world is today with everyone leading hectic individualistic lives, it’s certainly a good solution. I’m not saying that I want to meet everyone I hang out with through the internet nor is the internet 100% safe. I’m just saying if used wisely and not obsessively that it can just be another option for meeting others. Miranda and I were both just introverts looking to expand our social circles. And now we have a good friendship.







On the Difference Between Friend and Acquaintance

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.