In the movie ‘The Princess Bride’, one of the characters utters the line ‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’ I thought of that quote when sketching out today’s post about friendship. Perhaps part of the problem with friendship and those with Aspergers is that Aspergians think friendship means something different than NT’s.
I asked my son his definition of friendship. He stated that friendship was a relationship between people who are not related by blood or law. That friends were people you can trust and do things with. I think Aspergians and NT’s would agree with that basic definition.
So I dug a little deeper. In my own experience, many NT’s have a variety of friends at a variety of levels of involvement/trust. There are job friends that interact mostly at work but not elsewhere. There are common interest friends (sports, exercise, etc.) that gather together at bars, stadiums, gyms to watch and/or perform. There are neighbors that share experiences living in the same area. And there are close friends that share personal information and experiences good and ill. So one could have friends that they went drinking with but didn’t reveal intimate details of their life. I think of those kind of friendships as analog ( I am an electrical engineer after all), for the friendship can have a variety of levels and strengths.
I find that many Aspergians see friendship as digital: on or off. A person is either my friend or they aren’t. If they are my friend, I trust them and want to do things with them and expect that they want to do things with me. This kind of intensity is hard for many people to handle who are accustomed to a variety of levels of friendship. There is this person telling them all kinds of intimate details and they really didn’t think they were that close of friends.
One place the difference in the perception of friendship can be a problem is at work. When people work together, they often overhear pieces of information about each other. Over time, information about people’s families, eating habits, cars they drive, etc., are discussed. An Aspergian with a good memory and attention to detail will collect that information and mentally file it away. To them, these are details about their friends. And you pay attention to your friends. The problem is that one day, talking with a co-worker, the Aspergian will discuss an item from the filed information, not realizing that they shouldn’t. Even though that information was in the clear, so to speak, it is considered a faux pas to discuss if it wasn’t said directly to the Aspergian. That subtle point, that what you hear is not open to discussion except under specific conditions, is confusing. To the Aspergian, if you don’t want it discussed, don’t talk about it where anyone could hear it.
Another work issue is the confusion between acquaintances and friends. In the NT world, if I work with a group of people daily, they are my acquaintances. If I build trusted relationships with some of the people at work, they are friends but friends that may not continue to be my friends when we are no longer at that job. In the Aspergian world, I work with you, I talk to you, we are friends. Why do you go out to lunch with that group of co-workers and never ask me?
Personally, I don’t like work environments where a subset of people have their own lunch club and attending is by invitation only. I understand certain people sometimes just want to get out and rant or chill and want to control who will be there. What I don’t like is the environment where there is a distinct clique that controls the social climate at the job. Probably due to the fact that I am normally on the outside of the clique. ;.)
I was going to continue and wrap up the friendship mini-series tonight, but I want to continue it one more day and discuss the death of friendships and those relationships which should be allowed to end.