Friends of mine will often say they don’t have any friends. Rude.
Friends come in many different flavors. We crave the kind that satisfies our current needs. Sometimes you need friends to spend quality time with. Other times you need a shoulder to cry on. It’s rare to find a single friend who can meet all of your needs.
Personally, I have plenty of casual friends. They love to chew the fat and that is pretty much it. They see me when I happen to be around and our time together is limited to what is convenient. I’ll make friends like this in class or at work and when it is time to leave the friendship goes with it. Out goes the baby with the bathwater.
It’s a small group of friends I have that will make an effort to stay in contact with me. I don’t receive phone calls all that often and friends that do call me up sometimes stop when their other friends take up more of their time. When they start dating I cease to exist as far as they’re concerned.
My two best friends go beyond any of these previous descriptions. The reason they are the best is because they show an interest in me as a person. They care about Joseph. Most people make me feel like I am just a detail in their lives. My best friends make me feel like I hold a special place in it.
Friendships are expressed in as many ways as there are people. We can be friends to people or we can be friends with them. I’m grateful for any amount of friendship people are willing to offer. My hope is that my friends will realize just how much their friend cares about them.
As you can see, I am invisible.
Being invisible has its perks. People will leave you alone, you don’t have to put on a show for anyone, and you can come and go as you please. However, it can get hard in ways you can’t see.
Invisibility comes in handy as a child. While the grownups talk to each other about boring stuff you can slip away to play. Most adults don’t pay attention to what the children are up to. That was fine for me. Adults usually try to take control of everything anyway. I never needed anyone to see me to do what I wanted to do.
School was more tricky. You start to care about who notices you. Invisibility is nice if you’re trying to avoid being a target for judgment and ridicule. However, you become a target for bullying if the bullies think no one will help you. You can’t help someone you can’t see.
As an adult invisibility becomes a natural part of life. You become a name and a number slipped onto a bunch of different lists held by businesses, the government, and various other organizations. You’ll work alongside people for months and years who won’t notice if you resign. You’ll create works of art that will never have an audience.
Nearly every great man or woman begins invisible. Someone eventually takes the time to notice them and then gives them the opportunity to be seen by others. Critics will often complain about who deserves to be be visible or not. Personally, I don’t think being visible should be seen as a privilege. That makes being invisible seem like a punishment.
If being invisible is the circumstance I am dealt, then so be it. I’ll make it work no matter what I face. But what do I do for those I see who are also invisible? I see people sitting alone in the same room as me. Do they want me to not notice them? I walk by people who avoid making eye contact. Is there some sort of unspoken agreement not to acknowledge the people we meet in life?
People are invisible when we allow them to be. It wears off when you tell someone you miss them. You can’t be invisible if people look forward to seeing you. It’s destroyed when you greet someone you don’t know. You can’t be see-through when people prefer you as a friend rather than a stranger. Being invisible may be a super power to some, but seeing people seems like a pretty special talent to me.
You’re going to like this blog post. I’m sure of it.
A scientific definition for social skills might be the talents allowing us to work well with other people to accomplish an intended purpose. I prefer to define it like I see it: How to not look like a complete fool in front of other people.
You won’t get an opportunity to develop social skills if people won’t give you time to do it. These aren’t skills you can study about in a book, do some homework, and then apply the knowledge later. It’s learned on the job.
Kids don’t like to do what they don’t think they’ll enjoy. They won’t eat their vegetables, won’t clean their room, and won’t go to bed on time. It was tough for me as a kid because it seemed like the majority of my peers didn’t like me. I don’t think anyone particularly hated me, but they made me feel like I wasn’t fun to be around.
I was picked last for teams of any sort; sports or class projects. It’s not that I was weak or unintelligent. People just prefer to be in the company of those they enjoy to be around.
Every now and then I would do something people liked. I would give a great performance, make people laugh, or show off one of my talents. I’d have the spotlight for a bit and people would treat me well. But the show doesn’t always go on. Most people don’t stick around if you’re not going to continue entertaining them.
Transitioning to adulthood has been interesting. People now like me for a variety of reasons. I had to wait till I was a grown man before a woman told me she found me to be handsome. My social life has drastically improved when people started to like the way I look.
The majority of people who continue to stick around me do so because I said or did something they liked. Sometimes I’ll say something smart or interesting or thoughtful when I’m in public. If what I say happens to resonate with someone they usually end up waiting around to see if there is anymore to discover. I’m no different. I flock to those who house the traits I admire.
It can be frustrating having to worry about whether people like you or not. We all deserve respect and kindness, but people tend to prioritize the ones they like first. I often despise having to do a song and dance before people decide to be a friend to me. Getting the opportunity to socialize shouldn’t be a reward for being likable. I’d rather just be myself and take the few people who like what they see. Now that’s a social life worth living.
I invite you to accept my invitation.
We all send out many invitations, most of them unconsciously. My words, actions, and even facial expressions can let you know that it is alright to engage me. On the other hand, refusals also come in the form of words, actions, and facial expressions. How do we figure out which is which?
Sometimes I see a person sitting down and I think about whether or not they would mind if I joined them. Before I even ask them I try to determine what kind of mood they are in. If it looks like they specifically chose to sit alone, then I have to decide whether that is a refusal to let most people in or an invitation for specific people to join them. For me, I try to be inviting in a way that draws company to me while at the same time making it clear that I refuse the company of certain people I don’t want close.
Using our words doesn’t always make our intentions clear. If I ask if I can sit next to a person they may say it is alright but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am welcome. Ever talked to someone and got the impression they didn’t truly want you around? They never smile, they give you one-word answers, and they don’t ask you any questions in turn. This happens a lot. Instead of refusing you they would rather invite you to leave.
I’ve missed invitations people have sent me. I can’t even count all the times a woman liked me and I didn’t pick up on it. People seem to prefer to make their invitations small. A smile here, a laugh there. You would think a lady saying they want to spend more time with me would be a big enough clue. Not to me, apparently. Instead, I pick up on the refusals. Their refusing to get to know me on a personal level. Their refusing to spend time with my friends. Should I focus more on the invitations or the refusals?
I don’t care for grand gestures when inviting people. Simply being honest and straightforward will suffice. However, I occasionally feel the need to make the invitation match the feelings behind it. Having said that: Come to me, you cowards! Show me what friendship looks like. Bear your hearts and I will let you break mine. Grant me a chance to take away your pain. How is that for inviting?
I like people. Believe me.
One of the characteristics defining autism is difficulty in social situations. Talking to people, making friends, and working with others proves a challenge. So how is this any different from just being unlikable?
Being difficult to work with is not unique to those diagnosed with a behavioral disorder. All people have hang ups. You can’t expect the average human being to automatically get along with everyone they meet. It’s like in cooking. Some ingredients go well together and others don’t. You can’t force it to work.
I was never liked growing up. Nobody really hated me or anything like that. They just didn’t think I was worth the time. I’d watch everyone else pair up and form their own little groups. Not me. I’m still waiting for an invitation to be part of a group.
People treat you different when they don’t like you. Bullies targeted me at school because they knew no one would defend me. Would you defend the well being of someone you didn’t like? Rumors would spread about me because no one cared about getting the facts right concerning an unlikable person. If you’re not liked, then you don’t get to see the best parts in people.
I’m perfectly fine with this. Not everyone can receive the same amount of respect as another. Take my necktie collection, for instance. I have one of every color in there. The reds, blues, and greens see the light of day more often than the orange and brown ones. I can’t help it if I don’t like the way I look wearing orange. I don’t owe the color orange anything. But I still won’t throw the orange tie away. I save that one for special occasions.
We all should pursue the things we like. We should also open our minds to things we may learn to like. I have a few special friends who take an interest in me. I know they like me because they make time for me. They ask me questions, try to get to know me, and care about what I think. And I like them. Not because of any one thing about them. I like them because they are mine.
When the going gets tough, the soft get running.
I recognize each of us has different levels of ability, but it is not wrong to expect a minimum amount of courage when facing life’s trials. Everyone needs enough bravery to at least get out of bed in the morning. And people certainly shouldn’t be afraid to talk to other people. We can’t function in society when we are governed by irrational fears.
On the other hand, knowing when to run from dangerous situations is part of survival. We take a risk when getting close to people. They could learn our weaknesses and exploit them. And becoming attached means it hurts when they part from us. Honestly, I don’t know how much optimism or pessimism I am supposed to have. Either choice presents risk.
Hope keeps me going. It’s more than just being positive. Not every positive person looks forward with hope. And a negative person can still be filled with hope. Hope means you can keep your eye on the prize on the good days as well as the bad days. It keeps me treating people with respect no matter what I am feeling.
I’ve met many good men and women who don’t possess hope. They give up on people at the slightest provocation. They would come to me, tell me I’m a friend, and then leave without saying goodbye. I’ve endured so much heartache because of people who run. I’m not their enemy, yet they run. I still love them, but they are gone.
Still I hope. So many people to meet along my journey. How can I give up on any one of them while I’m on my way to meet many more? I hope to one day encounter those who are running in my direction hoping to stay next to me.
John Donne wrote that no man is an island. If so, why can’t I see the mainland?
A group of people exists that are defined by their lack of a group; the lonely. I’m not talking about being alone or feeling lonely. Everyone can be in those groups for a time without it affecting them adversely. I’m talking about the lonely people who are socially isolated to the point where they can’t function in a group properly.
The person no one wants to play sports with won’t learn the skills necessary to play the game. The man no one wants to talk to won’t learn how to have normal conversations. The child everyone neglects to uplift won’t learn how to accept support from others. We all learn from being around other people. What hope do the lonely have?
Being separated from all social groups can be by choice or by circumstance. I choose to separate myself from groups that are mean-spirited, immature, or would in any way affect me negatively. And many groups exist I can’t choose for myself because I have no commonality with them. I can’t just go to a foreign country and expect them to welcome me in when I can’t speak their language and have no understanding of their culture.
Another cause for separation from social groups is due to exclusion. Some groups can consciously decide who to let in and who to block out. Not having any of the predetermined desirable traits automatically makes a person an outsider to the group. An individual can also be ousted from a group due to random occurrences. Sometimes a person is excluded simply because no one in the group remembers to treat them like a member of the group.
Fixing the Unbroken
Lonely people, like any other group, receive prejudice from the outside world. The world looks down on anything considered to be weak or undesirable. I’ve told people I am lonely before and they either respond by avoiding me or by trying to fix me. I don’t need fixing. Lonely people are not a lesser form of life. They can be just as smart, attractive, fun, funny, and nice as anyone else. The lonely simply need what anyone else needs; someone to talk to and someone to be with.
Take time to understand what the lonely man goes through. Your kind words to him may be the only nice thing he hears all week. He becomes a target for bullies because no one else will defend him. A lonely man who loses a friend often does not have other friends to turn to for comfort. Also, the lonely are often better at recognizing when someone is in need and are more sensitive to other people’s feelings.
Don’t avoid the lonely. Just because someone struggles to make friends doesn’t mean they can’t be a good friend to you.