Latest night my mum and I were discussing events that have recently happened in our lives (births, deaths and lost phone numbers) when my mum responded to a comment I made about not having a lot of people in my life with:

“You do seem to discard people rather easily”

Wowha don’t hold back there mum tell me what you really think – was my first thought.  But then I looked at her face and for once recognised an emotion it was total puzzlement. It then struck me that although my mum loves me deeply I am a total mystery to her and she often finds my behaviour puzzling and probably occasionally hurtful.

My mum & both my sisters have alway been naturally sociable and they are people keepers, I on the other hand am not. You’re now going “people keepers” sounds almost Silence Of The Lambs creepy.  What I mean is that if you went through mum or the sisters Contacts Books you would find they have up to date contact information for people from primary school, high school, University, x-housemates, x-work colleges, the Irish lass they shared a room with at a conference, the Dutch couple they randomly became friends with in Italy while they were there visiting the Aunt of the couple who’s guest house they stayed at in Malta and so on.

In my mum’s case if any one in her Contacts Book showed up totally unannounced on the door step she would warmly welcomed them with the offer of food and accommodation even if she hadn’t seen or heard from them in 15 years.  Actually even if someone turned up on the doorstep she’d never met she’d be nice to them and if it turned out it was one of mine or my sisters friends the offer of food and accommodation would be offered with genuine warmth even if she’d never met them before.  I should clarify she’s not gullible she would ring us via FaceTime so we can see the person and confirm yup they are a friend not a random axe wheeling psychopath.

If either of my sisters had been the one to move back into the family home they would have whipped out an incredibly full Contacts Book and organised a party to which a diverse and  large amount of people would have attended. Then a constant stream of visitors would pop in with enough invites to social events to have the calendar almost constantly full.  There would of course also be the FaceTime, WattsApp or whatever with their international friends.  Plus the 4 day long weekend trips to other bits of Australia to visit friends who couldn’t make it to see them.

I on the other hand am completely the reverse.  I have been home for nearly 3 years now and have not held any parties, very few visitors have drop in, haven’t contacted any of the people I went to school with because I never made any close friendships at school, have taken trips interstate but not organised to meet up with people I know who live there and have not attended a single social event. Not to mention of the friends that do live in my area that I keep in contact with I’ve only every visited 3 of them at home and not very often.

If you combined my Contacts List in my phone, my friends list on FaceBook, my LinkedIn Contacts, Google Plus Contacts and so on you would reach the staggering number of 33 people.  Braking that down further 5 of them are family, 7 are LinkedIn work associates specifically on my profile as possibly referees, 3 are military pen pals who I randomly get life update from and try to keep in contact with, 2 are people who’ve been in my life since I was little mainly due to our parents being friends but we’ve sort of kept in contact (that removes 17 of 33 Contacts). Of the remaining 16 – 2 live in Melbourne, 4 live in Sydney, 2 live in the US and 8 live within the Sunshine Coast area and we mainly keep up via FaceBook status.

If you meet me socially, in a university lecture or even at work you would probably have a hard time believing that I’m Autistic and that I don’t have a Contacts Book full of names and contact details of interesting people.  However the smiling social butterfly who seems to effortlessly chat to everyone from the waiters circulating the room with drinks to the imposing cluster of Army Generals near the bar is an exact mimicked performance of how my mum or sisters would be at that event.  Put me in a situation where I have never been able to observe someone and mimic the expected behaviours and you will quickly discover how Autistic I really am because I will start bouncing on my toes, clicking my fingers, making a tuneless humming sound, have the eyes bouncing all over the room with a terrified look on my face and I’ll more than likely projectile vomit.

Although on the surface I seem sociable I’m really not and I find it very hard to make friends and at times even harder to keep them. Growing up my family unintentionally gave me the message that to not have a plethora of friends somehow made me defective and to dislike people and social situations was abnormal behaviour so to cure my “shyness” I was made to join sporting teams, Girl Scouts etc.  The problem was my ability to know who was a true friend and who was a predator looking for the next victim was and to some degree still is dysfunctional so I used to just let anyone into my life and then desperately tried to keep them in it even when my gut instinct was screaming RUN!

I’d frantically write, text or e-mail to stay in contact and convince myself the lack of response was because they had busy live not because they no longer needed me to look after their kid, lend them money, distract the cute guys girlfriend so they could snog him, bail them out of jail or be the person to dump all their problems on.  Then in 2007 I had a very solid wake up and smell the bullshit moment when I found out I had endometrial cancer and I found out the hard way how many of the numerous people I would have called a good friend really did not care one bit about me or the hell I was going through.

After 2007 I culled 90% of the people in my phone book out of my life entirely, put a couple of people on probation with the threat of kicking them out for good and kept very few people and I was NEVER letting anyone new into my life.  However much never letting anyone in sounds appealing as a way to insulate against the pain of risking being used or rejected by people it’s the equivalent of cutting off your leg to make the pain of a stubbed toe go away (an extreme solution).  But what was I to do I mean history proves I’m a glow in the dark neon sign for the stray dogs, psychos, losers, nut bags and users so how do I let people in but filter out the dangerous ones.

The answer was provided by one of my military pen-pals who I’d actually not known long but I’d randomly asked for advice.  His response was what he called the parking garage analogy.

  • Relationships operate like a parking garage you own and like all good business owners you need to be friendly but not to friendly until you know what sort of customer they are.  Some people are just going stay for a little while then pay the bill and move on (acquantences just let them go). Other people will come along and have a permanent parking spot which they use regularly (true friends).  Some people will give the impression they want a permanent parking spot but you soon notice it’s always empty unless they want something and getting them to pay the bill is almost impossible  (the users kick them out).  Some people will rattle up in a rusted out peace of junk and will randomly attempted to park anywhere despite the fact you’ve clearly stated the garage is closed and while sobbing their heart out they will try and get you to fix the muffler and move others cars so they can permanently park right next to you  because you’re so nice and helpful  (the losers kick them out).

So it’s not that I easily discard people, am teflon coated or shallow it’s simply that I now view relationships as a two way communication link and if I’m hearing the sound of silence from your side of the communication link then I’m not waisting my time and energy to try and make you stay in my life.

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