Autistic relationships

Relationships are not easy for anyone, whether Autistic or neurotypical. Other people are always unpredictable, precisely “other” than us, and remain unknown even when we delude ourselves that we know them perfectly. It’s the impossibility of getting into the heads of those close to us, a poignant feeling that, however close we may be – it doesn’t matter if we’re brothers, friends, lovers – we will never ever know for sure if the other sees the color red like us, or whether when they think of the word “love” they feel the same, identical sensations that pervade us when we think of a loved one, a friend, our mother.

This desire to know the other, to be able to read and predict their feelings, if they will remain with us forever because yes, we all need to know if we will be friends for life or if we will live together and love each other twenty years from now, we’ve carried this need to foresee the future for a good part of our evolution as a species.

It would seem that human beings developed the ability to make long-term plans probably together with symbolic thinking [1]. Whatever the reason, the result is that we humans have a natural tendency to plan for the future, we constantly look ahead, we wonder if a particular decision will bring some benefit. But this natural tendency to seek stability in the future screeches like nails on the blackboard with the equally natural impossibility of knowing what will become of an emotional relationship in the next ten minutes. Because others are worlds into themselves, they are unpredictable, they act spontaneously and beyond our control. Others could change their minds and no longer love us for any reason, they could pretend to love us to get something. Others are other.

Emotional ties are imbued with this ambivalence to varying degrees. Of course, we tend to take it for granted that a mother will love us forever, but for most of the relationships that we will weave in our lives the uncertainty of the future will claim its space, it will make noise.

Now try to imagine what would happen if this need to plan the future were extreme; Imagine not being able to do without minimizing (or better, eliminating) any unexpected element in your life because, given the way your brain is structured, unexpected events trigger sometimes uncontrollable reactions of anxiety, panic, anger. That which is unexpected hurts you.

Continuing in this role-playing game, imagine that the signals conveyed by others, especially at a non-verbal level, are not always decipherable. Or that to decipher them you have to perform a complicated and arduous translation operation to and from your inner native language. This adds further uncertainty to an already extremely uncertain situation.

As a consequence of this characteristic of not speaking the same social language, you often behave in a manner judged by others as inappropriate, rude, excessive. You say things that others think shouldn’t be said, you don’t grasp the hidden meanings implicit in many situations and often act foolishly, at the very least naively. Socially you are like an alien stranded on an unknown planet. While you can in some cases learn some of the natives’ rules, you will never inhabit them fully.

Don’t do it that way. Don’t say that. Stop it, stupid. You’re bothering people, lower your voice. You’re so funny. Did you actually look in the mirror before going out? You’re tedious, you’re so boring. Don’t you ever joke? What a face you’re making, did your cat die or something? Come on, I was kidding, it was a joke, didn’t you get it? Sometimes you scare me, I don’t get what you’re thinking. I don’t understand how you can stay locked all day in your room. Get out, socialize. You’re really strange, but if you don’t want to come out drinking you can go ahead and stay home. Smartass. Hey, did you notice that she smiled at you? Seems like you never know what to do. You have to learn to hang out with people. You have to change, you’re not the only person in the world. And look me in the eye when I talk to you.

Every day, since you were little, they repeat to you with various nuances that you are inadequate, that you are a social failure, broken, that there is something wrong with you. Every day of your life, you crave the affection of the people you love, you would like to know how they feel, you need – like everyone else – to make plans for the future. But every day, since you have been told that you are inadequate, wrong, you live in terror of being about to ruin everything, of suddenly losing a friendship like so many other times, because you know you will say something wrong, unforgivable, even if you didn’t intend to.

You need stability, need to be able to count on those people you allow to enter your life — and they are not many, because managing feelings is very complicated, when speaking such different languages. A stability that will never come because nobody ever truly achieves it. Nobody, whether Autistic or neurotypical, has the ability to predict the future and read others’ minds. But you are Autistic, and all this can make relationships sometimes unbearable, painful in their unpredictability, in their intrinsic fragility. That’s it: relationships between people are fragile, and you feel like a bull in a china shop.

Human relationships are difficult for everyone, but for an Autistic they can sometimes be really complicated, tiring. unpredictability can generate anxiety, terror, a feeling of inadequacy. All this often with a force that makes life unmanageable. On the other hand, if there were no difference from the neurotypical majority, it would be difficult to obtain a diagnosis of autism.

[1] Minoya, K., Unemi, T., Suzuki, R., & Arita, T. (2011). A Constructive Approach to the evolution of the Planning Ability. IJALR, 2, 22-35.

(kindly translated from the Italian by Andrew Dell’Antonio)

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