So, the other day I was talking to a friend (you know who you are 😉 ) and the subject of valentines day came up. They mentioned they were having a rough time with it because they were single, then backtracked and acknowledged that I was single too, but that I’m “single by choice” and so it’s not quite the same thing…
Well. The thing is I’m not single by choice, I’m single by no choice.
I’m austistic. Now, being autistic has about as many different effects on people’s lives as there are autistic people, but the major debilitary effect it has on my life is a near complete lack of social instincts and a general inability to pick up on those mysterious channels of non-verbal communication that all you neurotypicals take for granted.
This is not terribly unusual for us autistics, and there are ways around it. Intensive study, social counseling and general life experience can help. Hell, the last one is the sole reason I can fit into society at all. But I wasn’t diagnosed with aspergers syndrome (my particular flavour of autism) until my late 20’s, by which point it’s hard – not to mention expensive – to try and undo years of damage from living in a society that’s essentially completely alien to you (and not realising why everything is so damn hard).
So, as a result of both my neurological state and years of unintentional abuse from a world that makes no sense I just don’t know how to do the whole relationship thing (and please note: in the term ‘relationship’ I include everything from living happily ever after with one’s soul mate to a quickie in a nightclub toilet stall). I don’t know how to approach someone, I don’t know how to talk to them, I don’t know how to indicate interest, I don’t know how to recognise any interest that may be being directed at me and, if I did somehow manage to recognise it, I have no idea how to reciprocate it. That kind of thing is just not in my skillset – and it would have to be in my skillset, because it’s not in my instinct-set either.
Now at this point some may scoff and make noises about how I’m overthinking things and I should just relax and let things happen naturally. Well, I’ve been doing that for over twenty years and no dice. The thing one has to realise is that the autistic brain just doesn’t work the way a neurotypical one does. The automatic systems that do all the heavy-social lifting stuff, quietly and in the background, are either unreliable or missing entirely. So social stuff is work. Hard work. And work that you need to be shown how to do, because you’ve got absolutely no idea where to start. The vast savannah of all possible behaviours is laid out before you, and you don’t have even the most rudimentary map to show you what path leads to the tourist lodge and how to avoid the lions.
There’s also the fact that not only am I congenitally socially incompetent, I’m also massively underexperienced. By your mid-thirties you should have basic social interaction – let alone social interaction of a more intimate nature – pretty much sorted out. You can make judgements on what to do and what not to do based both on your inbuilt social instincts and your years of experience. Well I don’t have those years of experience. Social interaction is hard enough without the added pressure of making some kind of rookie mistake that everyone else has been avoiding since their teens.
Add it all up and the stress and difficulty is just overwhelming. As a result I’ve more or less resigned myself to not experiencing the relationship component of life, and given up trying.
So, I’m single by no choice. Does this mean I sit around at home in the dark wailing in loneliness? No (mostly). I may not have a choice about being single, but I do have a choice about how I can deal with being single. I can wallow in self-pity and complain about how unfair it all is, or I can pull myself together and focus on the good stuff in my life. Good friends, good food, good music, a stable society, a safe place to sleep at night, socialised health care, access to funny cat videos on the internet, etcetera. It’s not always easy, when work or life or the state of the world are stressing me out it can be soul-wrenchingly hard to come home to an dark apartment and an empty bed, but on the whole it ain’t so bad. I can at least laugh about it and spend my valentines day’s considering how much money I’m saving not having to spend $20 per stem on hothouse roses and overpriced chocolates 🙂