One of the questions the diagnostician asked me was, “Do you know or understand why people don’t like you?” The specific answer to that question is no, but it’s much more complicated than that. The truth is there aren’t any people, as far as I know, who actively dislike me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who don’t like me, but they’re not doing anything to declare it to me. I have trouble distinguishing whether a person likes me or not without some sort of clear declaration one way or the other, which makes it a different question.

The answer I gave in the moment was, “It’s actually the opposite. I don’t know why anyone likes me.” Now, before people start coming out of the woodwork to comfort the girl curled in the corner perseverating over the lack of anyone in her life who cares about her, let me tell you that’s not what I’m saying. I have many friends and I know they like me. What I don’t know is why.

I’ve been thinking about a post like this for years, but never wrote it because I didn’t want to sound like I was an insecure drama queen fishing for compliments. One way that discovering I’m autistic has helped me is in giving me words to explain things I was unable to voice before.

For me, this is a question of feedback. In our society, we all get plenty of negative feedback. People are generally happy to tell you when you’re doing it wrong. I’ve learned that with autistic people it’s important to be specific. Just telling us it’s wrong doesn’t help us because we still don’t know what’s wrong about it or why that’s wrong or how to go about doing it right.

For example, in the  favorite shirt post, I talked about how my college roommates tried to get me to stop wearing my favorite shirt. They didn’t use negative feedback, didn’t come right out and tell me my shirt was wrong, but I wish they had because then I could have asked them what was wrong about it. Not to be defensive about it, but to learn because I still don’t know what was wrong with it.  They used positive feedback, sort of, by telling me I looked great in what they talked me into wearing. But I don’t know why it looked better than my shirt. What made the stuff they picked out better than the stuff I chose. Color? Cut? Fabric? Style? Frequency of wear? If so, what’s the appropriate frequency? “You look great in that,” or even “this one looks so much better on you,” isn’t specific enough for me to learn how to do it on my own.

That’s really my ultimate goal; to be able to fit in enough to not be judged as “wrong” without having to rely on someone else to direct me. I think that’s the main reason I tell people about my own mess ups before they can point them out. One night a few years ago, I went to dinner with Marathon Girl and, as we sat down in the restaurant, I pointed out the big spot on the front of my sweater. She asked why I pointed it out, as she probably wouldn’t even have noticed it otherwise. Why indeed. I had no idea at the time, but now I think it was because pointing the spot out first meant that I was in control of it, I was on it, so she wouldn’t have to step in and rescue me from my own lack of decorum. I knew I was wrong and I needed her to know that before she could notice and tell me herself. Not that she would ever do that. Marathon Girl is one of the classiest people I’ve ever met. She would absolutely tell me if I had spinach in my teeth, but I don’t think she would point out a spot on my sweater that I couldn’t do anything about in the moment.

Pretty Fucking AwesomeBut it’s not just fashion where I need more specific feedback. Although it’s always nice to hear, in terms of why someone likes me, “You’re awesome” doesn’t help me any more than “you look great,” because there’s no information in it. I know that sounds hypocritical coming from me because I use that expression all the time, but that’s because I assume it has meaning for you. I assume everyone already knows what’s in my head, so you already know the meaning behind my words. I’m the dense one who doesn’t understand the social language of awesome.

So, I don’t know why you like me. And because I don’t know why you like me, I generally think I’m one wrong step away from you not liking me. So I point out the spot on my sweater, telling you that I know I messed up, so maybe that won’t be the reason you stop liking me. I know that makes it sound like I think my friends are fickle and shallow, but I really don’t. As with most negative things, it says more about the person saying it than it does about the person it’s said to.

Another evening out with Marathon Girl, this time with our husbands along, I told her I hoped she wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen with me because of something I was wearing. Or maybe it was the purse I was carrying; I really don’t remember. She stopped in her tracks and said, “If I were, then it’s you who should be ashamed to be with me.” I’d never thought of it that way; still don’t, to say the truth. I’m working on it, but it’s hard to change a lifetime belief that if something in the picture is wrong, it’s me.

Writing posts like this make me feel like I’m a wibbly-wobbly, pathetic mess. I’m really not, though. One of the best compliments I ever got was when I was talking to some friends about what would happen after high school. One friend was expressing worry about another and I asked why he doesn’t worry about me. He said, “Because you’re strong and I know you’ll be alright, whatever happens.” Or something to that effect; that’s how I remember it, anyway. I’m strong. I power through. I knew that was true and his telling me helped me see it was a positive trait in a friend. The flip side, of course, is that I take the being strong thing waaaaay too far, but that’s a story for another blog.