How to be a better friend, even when you’re busy

The best time for people with Aspergers to throw a party for their friends is Passover. Passover is a very long meal where Jewish people follow prescribed conversations and eating rituals. No unstructured socializing. Which means people with Aspergers can have all their friends around with minimal social anxiety. Plus, done well, Passover is a Jewish drinking game. 

So Melissa and I spend a lot of time putting together the perfect guest list for Passover. And it looks like my house is full of friends and family and we are so high functioning. And then Passover ends and Melissa and I have to sleep for three days.

Well, Melissa sleeps, because she’s an introvert. I write blog posts, because I’m an extrovert. The people who are closest to me find out about my life from reading my blog.

Except Melissa. Melissa has the password to my email account, so she finds out about me by noting the emails I should have sent but did not send. You can tell a lot about a person by reading their emails.  And this is a good article about how you cannot tell a lot about a person from their emojis; emojis that you think will look happy can actually look sad on someone else’s screen.

That article is a great primer on how it feels to have Aspergers. It’s about how you think you are sending non-verbal messages about one emotion but you are really sending them about another emotion.

People talk about how they love a culture of candor, but actually, the world is full of non-verbal rules, and I don’t see how anyone could possibly say they want a culture of candor because people with Aspergers are always getting in trouble for their candor. The reason I stop wanting to have friends is people say they like candor and then they don’t like candor.

Like the title of this post (which I stole from Fast Company but their article sucked, inspiring me to write my own) is BS because people are not too busy for their friends. People are too busy for their non-friends. I’m never too busy for Melissa. I’m just too busy hating myself to pick up the phone when she calls. But she knows she can always text. Plus, I bet she likes that better because she told me that her bitmoji is more Melissa than Melissa.

My thirteen-year-old son, has Aspergers and I don’t want him to have all the problems I’ve had. So I tell him all the time to not be rude. And not to interrupt people to tell them a joke. Even though I do that all the time. “Don’t lecture to people when they are sick of you,” I tell him. Even though I think I might do that with journalists all the time when they want a quote from me for their article and I tell them, instead, why their article topic is dumb.

Please god, help me to shut up. That’s what I’m thinking. But when god doesn’t answer, I think I should just not talk to people. It’s better.

Like how I need to stop telling my son how to reform himself because when you criticize people you make them less likely to want to change. This is why I think it is right for god to just help me to follow social rules. Because I don’t see another way for me to follow them besides an act of god.

If I don’t criticize he’ll never learn.

I have a driver to take us to cello now, so I don’t have a nervous breakdown, and my contacts were hurting me, and I don’t have to drive, so I just threw them out. And then I couldn’t see, (which is surprising because I don’t remember being blind without my contacts,) and then I realized that I feel more freedom to talk when I can’t see, because I am not held back by visual feedback from other people. It’s like being super-autistic or something. I found myself sort of just being in my own world and hoping people were reacting the way I’d hope them to at any given moment.

People with Aspergers are alone a lot, but we love being with people. If it would just not be so hard. I don’t look at peoples’ faces because I’m so anxious that if I know what they are feeling I will have too much anxiety over trying to make them happy. So I just look away.  Melissa and I don’t look at each other when we talk unless it’s to criticize my choice of clothing.

This research proves that everything I’m saying is right. Which makes me happy. Researches report in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience:

A theory of autistic children that I have become recently interested in: In autistic adults the amygdala, which is for emotional responding, is smaller. It has been hypothesized that smaller amygdala equals poor social skills. The interesting bit is that autistic children who are hyper sensitive to stimulus have humongous amygdalae. This indicates they are hyper sensitive to social input (i.e. looking at someone in the eye is hard and habituation to familiar faces does not happen). This hypersensitivity makes them ignore social input at a young age and the amygdala therefore does not develop and they do not form the social skills common in non-autistics.

Conclusion: I might be the nicest person you know.

Do you think this accidentally morphed into a post about how to understand the people with Aspergers in your life? Let me get back on track with this: In 1985 most people said they had three good friends. Now people say they have zero friends. I think it’s probably semantic. Like, if you don’t have friends, then lower the bar for what a friend is. And then you have some.

Melissa is my friend who only has dinner parties with me when there is prescribed socializing and mandatory drinking in the name of God. And she only does conversations with me when we are not looking.

Ask yourself: What’s your definition of a friend?



32 replies
  1. Kirana
    Kirana says:

    Have you seen the movie My name is Khan”from 2013 about a Muslim man with Aspergers? if not, maybe you could watch & review. It’s really worth watching.

  2. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    “Like, if you don’t have friends, then lower the bar for what a friend is.”

    Spot on. A therapist taught me this in high school and it has served me well over the years. The example he used was a friend he calls only for money advice who calls him only for relationship advice, and how that’s okay – they can still be friends even if they only use each other for those specific piece of knowledge.

    I’m not on the spectrum, but I have a difficult time with those sort of specialty or acquaintance friendships. When I finally let go of the idea that all friends should be best friends, I became much less anti-social and developed a much larger network.

    • Whiteiris
      Whiteiris says:

      A friend is someone who loves you at your worst. Or at least tolerates it and accepts it even when annoyed. A friend is someone who is interested in you and it doesn’t fade. Even if you rarely see each other. Everyone else is just an acquaintance. I’m sorry the people you only turn to for advice? Um, those are colleagues or resources, not friends.

    • Whiteiris
      Whiteiris says:

      Or you can make a tea party of stuffed animals? Those standards shouldn’t be too low right! Works for girls. (I know I replied to you twice, bully). Door, where you?!

    • sarasen
      sarasen says:

      I don’t think lower your excpectation is “spot on” . You said it yourself, and I qoute : “When I finally let go of the idea that all friends should be best friends, I became much less anti-social and developed a much larger network” – key thing to note – that you’re referring to them as a “network”. That is different from a “friend”. I have 3 good friends, and I go to each one of them for advice on different things – just because these friends have their specialties in various areas. But they are all “friends” – and that definition means that they are in touch with me and know what is going on with my life and I with theirs. We care about each other to a point that we miss each other. When you are only calling someone for advice – and don’t have that “missing” feeling – they are just acquaintances. I do agree that having these acquaintances will make your “network” bigger – but they aren’t really your friends.

  3. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    A friend is someone whose opinion matters to me. I am willing to do what I must to keep their opinions in my life. If this requires more than I think the opinion is worth I walk away.

  4. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    Hi, P. It’s nice to know at least someone read my last thee emails! Did Melissa also get the book I sent you? If so, I’d love to know what she thought. I don’t really mind who got the damn thing. Or if it went in the bin (trash) on arrival. It’d just be nice to know if it made it through the post from Australia. Kind regards, P. :)

      • Whiteiris
        Whiteiris says:

        You inspired me to criticize you for correcting your typo-o. Let it go. Did you actually think that we would think that you don’t know how to spell the word “three?” I’m never correcting a type-o again. If THIS is the impression it gives. Learning so much today! Again, I always feel so mean on this blog. Apologies in advance, I’ll find the door.

  5. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    (I usually like what you write but the title doesn’t go with the article.) And I actually do like candor-for reals :) I like people who I know where I stand with them. And I have 2 close friends and 2 best friends all of who know my secrets and that definitely makes my life easier and more fun. It took me awhile to get to this point. When I was in my 20’s, I was self centered and a terrible friend.

  6. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    So much to comment on in this post. My youngest son is dxed Asperger’s. I’m never entirely sure, though. He could simply be a man of few words, and he could just be an introverted nerd like his dad. But one thing’s for sure, since I got off his back over all the things that worried me about him, we’ve settled into a quiet but warm relationship. It is just flat out wonderful.

    You said that you like being around people, but don’t like having to figure out the social rules. My son and I just hang out. We both like cartoons with edgy humor, so we watch them together. We like to go out to eat and not talk (much) while we do it. We even do little house projects together, like I replaced all the ugly doorknobs in my house with sleek new ones, and I just showed him what to do and we did it together with minimal talking. And I think he just loves all of that.

    And I’ve figured out that when I ask him what he thinks about ____ (anything really), words flow freely, cogently. The dude thinks. And I think he likes it when I ask, if the volume of words that come out are any indication.

    What a lovely table. I love your glassware.

    • JML
      JML says:

      “But one thing’s for sure, since I got off his back over all the things that worried me about him, we’ve settled into a quiet but warm relationship. It is just flat out wonderful.” Hear, hear.

      I had the same experience with my son (different issues). Amazing what can happen when you trust and accept your children, allowing them to just be.

  7. Geoffrey James
    Geoffrey James says:

    My brother-in-law has Asbergers. When he said “do I have to play with it?” when I gave him a $300 Mindstorm set for Christmas, I chalked it up to Asbergers. When he was supposed to empty the cat box when we were away on vacation and he let the cat poop and pee on our $1000 mattress, I chalked it up Asbergers. Today he posts “God hates sinners” anti-gay screeds on his Facebook page. I’ve stopped chalking it up to Asbergers and have concluded he’s simply a jerk.

  8. Whiteiris
    Whiteiris says:

    Thanks. Came to figure out to have friends, manufacture time, and relate to social anxiety. Left with a new diagnosis. ‘Aspergers.’ And all the while I suspected I was projecting my insecurities onto others through criticism! Or at least mimicking my mother who was projecting HER insecurities through criticism and lacking social manners. We speak when we wanna speak! I totally get it now. Makes total sense. Thanks for the heads up on symptoms. I knew I was small talk dysfunctional. However, figured I was just so used to talking about myself every waking second I had never gotten used to teetering back and forth to listen to someone else talk for a change. But nope Aspergers. I like. It’s edgy and I’m sticking to it. As long as you don’t mind me snagging that! Never a dull moment around here!

  9. Anon
    Anon says:

    It seems like you may mean “prescribed” instead of “proscribed.” You can look it up and decide. Also, it’s OK not to publish this — it’s more in the arena of copy editing than comments.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The article ‘On Candor’ is a good one. It’s a difficult environment to achieve and even harder one to maintain. There will always be people questioning the motives of people expressing candor. A culture of trust and relationships placed at the forefront are necessary for candor to work well. As the article says – “As a leader my responsibility is to tell hard truths to my team and to my CEO. I can only do that when folks truly believe that I have their best interests at heart and my intention is to push them to being their better selves.”

  11. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    I have been learning lately what U2 says in The Fly, “a friend is someone who lets you help.” I have been leaning on friends lately for help. I also think friends are people you can pick up with as soon as you seen them and it feels like time has not passed.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh, I love that definition of a friend! It’s so hard to ask someone to help. And I feel really close to someone after I’ve asked for something that means a lot to me, and they come through.


  12. Summer
    Summer says:

    I worked for a pre-school teacher several years ago and there was a child in the class who displayed some “atypical” behavior. The teacher told me she thought he might have Aspergers, but she had learned over the years not to give her opinion unless asked by the parents. She used this as an opportunity to help the other children understand that “Blake” was different but that’s okay because we all have our differences. She gave him tasks and projects she knew he would enjoy (he did some of the most detailed drawings I’ve ever seen a 4 year old do) and was really direct with him on behavior like “try not to stand this close to another person because it makes them feel uncomfortable” and he seemed to accept these type of explanations and move on. I learned a lot from her, and that’s my definition of a good friend. Trying to understand someone and where they’re coming from, giving and sharing your time and talent and accepting their help when you need it.

  13. M
    M says:

    A study published in February in the British Journal of Psychology looked at 15,000 respondents and found that people who had more social interactions with close friends reported being happier—unless they were highly intelligent. People with higher I.Q.s were less content when they spent more time with friends. Psychologists theorize that these folks keep themselves intellectually stimulated without a lot of social interaction, and often have a long-term goal they are pursuing. [“The Science of Making Friends,” WSJ, 4/18/2016

  14. Betty
    Betty says:

    I am struggling a lot with feeling like I have friends right now. The idea of lowering the bar really struck a chord with me, as I tend to discount friends who are borderline acquaintances, but I need to remember that they count as friends too even if they are not really close.

    The thing I want most from social interaction is often just to have another person there. I like to do things silently side-by-side with my friends, like just reading a book on the same sofa. If it’s not a friend (like busy coffee shops) then it’s super stressful but if it is a friend then it’s super relaxing to just not have to do anything but to know that they’re physically there if we want to talk.

  15. Lavues
    Lavues says:

    That’s really great, I like that you are giving efforts to maintain your bonds with people around you, great article!

Comments are closed.