Why You Should Stop Trying to Please Everyone, by Me, an Autistic Woman
I feel zero obligation to party when I want to stay home, or keep my mouth shut when I want to speak. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
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This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
I’m autistic, I’m antisocial, and I’m coming for everyone’s lies and self-deceptions. Often, there’s no filter between what I think and say. And while autism can obviously manifest itself differently from person to person, there’s one quality that unites us all: the exhibition of antisocial traits.
I’m the person wearing sunglasses at the supermarket, and getting frazzled when you “pop by” unannounced, and not wearing underwear because it doesn’t make sense.
I’ve been kicked under the dinner table for bringing up a family member’s drug habit in front of their friends because apparently, discussing it could “compromise their work situation” and change how others thought about them. Another time I was asked for “a quiet word” in the kitchen after I asked how someone’s stepbrother was doing in prison because “don’t you know that the family doesn’t like to discuss that?”
All of this isn’t to say that I don’t fear judgement or ridicule. I’ve just had to learn the hard way that certain subjects and behaviors are reserved for certain contexts, and that people don’t like having their carefully crafted social facades compromised. By virtue of being autistic, I’m highly likely to find myself inconveniencing people with the truth.
I remember a time when a friend was struggling with alcoholism and I said, “I think that you need to get professional help,” and she said “thank you, you’re such an amazing friend,” and then I never saw her again. The people around her at the time had a habit of pitying her while bitching behind her back, pandering to her, and being arrogant enough to think that they could help her. I didn’t though, and it cost me her friendship.
My antisocial nature has cost me many friendships because I also have a tendency to do what I want, when I want. There’s so much pressure to pretend everything’s fine and to do things that no one wants to do, just so we can all uphold the status quo.
One time, I didn’t go to a close friend’s dinner party, only to find that I was never invited to one of her dinner parties again. On another occasion, I was the first to leave a bachelorette party and, upon my departure, one of the ladies told me not to be so judgmental about recreational drug use.
The world seems to have become defined by unrealistic social expectations as a result of everyone saying “yes” when “no thank you” would have been more appropriate. Or other times when exclaiming “awesome, count me in!” when “actually, that makes me really uncomfortable” would have been more accurate. Then I come along, and who knows what’s going to happen.
If I want to ask about your break-up or your boob job or the accident that you were involved in, I’m probably going to—regardless of who else is present, or what situation we’re in. And if I’m feeling tired or overwhelmed, I’m probably going to leave because why should I stay?
Well, I can think of one reason: I fear being ostracized by those I care about.
I was at a party recently and I met a guy who’d had a huge week at work. He’d been out every night while trying to quit smoking and he looked exhausted. I told him that I couldn’t imagine anything worse and he laughed, before expressing how hungry he was. I asked him why he didn’t go out and get some food, and he said, “What? I can’t just leave.”
I couldn’t believe it. This was a grown man and he wasn’t being held hostage. He was at a party. “Well, I’m going for a walk,” I explained. “So you could follow me out and get some food if you like.”
“Why are you going for a walk?”
“I need a break from talking, and socializing.”
“Oh, ok,” he said. “Well, umm. Maybe I’ll go and get a sandwich from 7-Eleven?”
So off we went, me around the block, and him toward food. And as I was about to re-enter the party, I saw him hovering at the stairwell with a half-eaten kebab in hand.
“I think I might just bail,” he said quietly.
“Am I a bad friend?”
“No. They’re bad friends if they give you shit about it.” And, with that, he vanished into the night, toward the safety of his bed.
Socializing can sometimes feel like being held prisoner and being antisocial the equivalent of being set free. So don’t be all like, “oh, no, don’t go, come on, just a little longer, one more drink.” No. Stop it. Don’t even joke about it. We all know that it’s not a joke. We all know how much pressure there is to attend and to stay in social situations. Don’t make it any more difficult for yourself, or for other people, to leave. When a party’s over, it’s over.
I’ve never regretted leaving a social situation when I was ready to do so—even when other people have given me shit about it. It’s always been the right choice. Take my word for it—the word of someone who has always just done what’s logical without fear of social retribution. Forget FOMO. Socializing when you’d rather not means missing out on an opportunity to care for and get to know yourself. And the relationship that you have with yourself is the longest lasting, till-death-do-you-part relationship that you’re ever going to have.
So, this Autism Awareness Day, I encourage you to embrace more of your antisocial self because you never know. Through doing so, you might just be able to help set yourself—and someone else—free.
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Madeleine Ryan is a freelance writer.