Monthly Archives: April 2016

On physical contact and affection

Hello internet. It’s been a few years. I just wanted to let you know that I’m still around. I want to start blogging again, and fortuitously enough, I can still get into this blog. Thank you all for continuing to comment and e-mail over the years, and I apologize for disappearing.

I wanted to talk a little bit about social expectations. I have never seemed to hold the same expectations around affection as others. I remember friends telling me “you just need to be hugged more”. I can’t speak for all autistic people, but if you really want to show me you care, a hug is both insufficient and also pretty darned uncomfortable to me. Yes, I dislike hugs. I’d rather be shown you care by your acceptance of my quirks. But back then, when my friends insisted I just needed more hugs, I didn’t even accept myself. One friend told me “you need to get a minimum of 3 hugs per day.” Maybe she was joking, but I took it completely seriously and literally, keeping a tally of hugs I received. For someone without many close friends, I didn’t have many people to ask for my daily allotment of hugs. And I took my inability to rack up the “recommended” amount of hugs personally. It was just another way that the world was saying there was something wrong with me.

Nowadays, I’m beginning to accept that my idea of affection isn’t quite what others experience. Another instance of this is my idea of long term romantic relationships. I have not had very many of these, and I’m starting to realize that I just don’t want them. A lot of people might ask, “well, how do you know you don’t want it if you’ve never had it?” To me, that’s similar to asking a gay person “how do you know you’re gay if you’ve never had a relationship with someone of the opposite sex?” The answer is simple. You just know. How do you know you’re straight?

In a society where marriage and children is the expectation, it can be hard. I’m in my early 30’s now and I’m lucky that I still pass as college age, and I don’t really get asked a lot about my plans for marriage and children. Here are my plans for marriage and children: I don’t want them. That’s right, I don’t want to get married. This may sound cold and callous, but I really appreciate my personal space, my time to myself. I’ve never met a person that makes me want to give that up. I appreciate people, though. I appreciate people who are open minded. I appreciate people who are willing to look past eccentricities. I appreciate people who seem to understand the way I socialize. I appreciate people who are brave.

Very occasionally in my life, when I was younger, I would misinterpret attachment for romantic love. I think this was partially because I knew that society expected me to want to date people, and so I was just trying to figure out why I didn’t want to. Don’t get me wrong, there are people that I love. Needing my time and space doesn’t mean I don’t love you. And just because I don’t always say it, or hug you, doesn’t mean I don’t love you. Look deeper. If you know how to recognize it, you’ll see that I care.

What’s hardest for some people to realize is that I’m perfectly happy on my own. I don’t feel like it’s a loss. I haven’t lost anything. Sometimes I see how other people relate to each other and I can see the differences between their style and my style, but the only sadness that has caused me has come directly from societal expectations. I used to make myself miserable telling myself there was something wrong with me. It didn’t matter that I was truly more comfortable operating in my own way. It was different from what was “normal” and therefore I was wrong.

I can’t find who to attribute this quote to, but I’ve read it many times: “Autism – it’s not a processing error, just a different operating system.”

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do lately – figure out my own operating system. Because it’s not wrong. It’s me. And I’m not alone. Maybe to your eyes, my relationships lack what you consider depth. But I have all sorts of meaningful interactions with lots of people, and some people that I consider really good friends. That’s all I need to be happy, once I stop trying to hold myself to a neurotypical ideal.