On Friendship

A lot of what I read about autism and relationships focuses on friendship: the lack of friends, the difficulty in making or keeping friends. I’d thought about it previously, but now it feels like something I should dig into…

I have friends. And I think I’m a good friend–I try to be. I am a good listener and I give thoughtful responses and advice when I am able. I keep secrets. (Lots of secrets. Why do so many people tell me their secrets?) I stress out over gifts to make sure they’re appropriate and useful and show that I care. I will go hang out with them and attend their events and try to support them however they need me to: like their band on Facebook, share their press releases, or donate to the nonprofit they’re raising money for.

I don’t have many friends. I would count them, but I’m afraid if I started categorizing people as friends or acquaintances or whatever is in between, I wouldn’t feel great about those numbers. There is no single person on this planet I feel I could say absolutely anything to–tell my secrets–but I think that might be normal, if we’re honest. I just know that people put too much or at least more emotion or weight into things than I do, so I shield or deflect everyone from things I don’t think they can (or I don’t feel they should need to) handle.

In movies and TV shows, there’s this image of a girl and her best friend, cuddled up watching their favorite movie or crying into each other’s hair after a breakup or comparing boobs–I’ve never had that. Do you get that from having sisters or growing up with a childhood friend? Thinking back to my closest friends when I was a child, there were Peter and Carmelyn. Peter was my first friend, like, as an infant. When I was 3, my family moved away from the Chicago suburbs to California for a couple of years, and when we returned, after hopping around a little, we moved to a different Chicago suburb when I was 6…around the corner from Peter. So we were friends again. I sat at his 2nd-grade boys’ lunch table even though I was a 1st-grade girl. We played soccer and climbed trees and played in tiny backyard pools and went to theme parks. He moved away to Arizona when I was 9, so that was that. My next close friend, Carmelyn, was different. She was also from my neighborhood, so we had sleepovers and we bought things that matched. I was often frustrated that she wasn’t smarter, and she was more interested in girly things. By the time we were 12, we had grown very apart–she started calling herself Lynn and hanging out with girlier girls, and there was a real pressure to be more social outside of school, and also an emphasis on like-liking boys, which was silly. So I walked away.

I didn’t have another “best friend” until sophomore year of high school, Paige, and she was my “best friend” because maybe people started calling us that, I don’t know. We’d known each other in elementary school and were both in this or that gifted class, but she wasn’t popular in the same way I had been. She had been chubby and it was the ’80s, when that was enough to make you not cool. But we’d found the punk scene around the same time, the spring/summer of freshman year (after my breakdown). We spent a lot of time together and I could handle most of her drama. She definitely did a lot of social work for me, in that she made sure I got out and went to parties and worked on plays. She introduced herself to people, and she was super confident and comfortable with herself. She was one of the first of us to get her license and she had her own car–that’ll make you the center of a social circle in high school. We could go see all the bands play all the time. She was also the one who dated all the boys, some of whom I ended up having very awkward moments with because they’d liked me first (or just in addition to) and then they either tried to hook up with me while they were still dating her or right after, and of course I could never tell her, so that sucked. We stayed friends until we all went away for college. She called me really late one night, crying that she was drunk and chipped her tooth and something about boys–I told her I didn’t know what to say and that I didn’t have the time and energy to deal with her. That may have been the last time we spoke. I was probably supposed to say something else, but it was the truth.

We didn’t fight, though. When people tell me they’re fighting with a friend, I don’t get that. I don’t argue with anyone, I just leave. It’s always been that way. If we’re not enjoying each other’s company or input, then I don’t see the point in keeping that relationship. We can have a difference of opinion about an external issue, but the minute it turns into a personal issue, I’m done. There’s no anger or otherwise hurt feelings on my part, I just turn away a few degrees. I see our relationship as serving a different purpose. I don’t want to say I don’t care…but I kinda don’t think I care.

In my twenties and thirties, my partner and I moved around a bit, from Chicago to New York for five years, then Los Angeles for three years, a decade up in Portland, then back to Chicago. In New York and Los Angeles, I made lots of acquaintances on the job, but nobody I spent a lot of time with, nobody who would be an assumed catsitter or whose wedding I would attend. In Portland I had lots of activist connections and a couple of friends. Now back in Chicago, I’ve reconnected with my friends from the mid-’90s (my twenties), and some of these people make me feel like I would fight giants for them. They give me the right kind of hugs. I can lie down and stare at the stars and talk all night with them. I can eat tacos in front of them. (Tacos are a friendship food, as they are often very messy.)

But would their death affect me at all? Is grief or loss a separate issue? If I moved away again, would we lose touch? I guess I’ll figure that out when one of those things happen. I don’t feel like I’m necessarily lacking in anything or doing anyone a disservice in what I have to offer (or don’t), so I guess whatever it is that I have works.

One thought on “On Friendship

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