What is this friendship of which you speak?

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AngelL
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

Joined: 13 Jul 2021
Age: 56
Posts: 165

20 Jul 2021, 9:50 am

I tend to write more skillfully than I speak. Conversation speed is often too fast for me - between translating what the speaker said into usable information for my brain, and having to figure out how to respond so that they hear what I say without adding or removing meaning to what I said. Writing is also a way for me to process. Recently I had an epiphany regarding friendship and wrote it up to both process it, and to share it with my therapist. Even after sitting and considering it for a while, I'm not sure what my intention is for sharing it here but it seems I'm going to do it anyway... (note: It appears that some of the formatting wasn't compatible and the formula's went wonky)

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to determine what a friend is, without success. That the world appears to have no difficulty doing so hasn’t been lost on me and has been a source of frustration, shame, depression and anxiety. In the past, my attempts to explain the challenges I face understanding this idea, have been met with unintended ridicule. “What do you mean you don’t know what a friend is?” Even this question stymied me; it took me decades to understand that this was incredulousness, and not a serious question to be answered.

My difficulty is that ‘friend’, unlike the word ‘basketball’, is defined in a circular manner. Merriam-Webster defines ‘friend’ as “to act as the friend of”, and the phrase, “be friend with” as “to have a friendship or friendly relationship with”. Over the years, in my quest to understand and conceptualize friendship, I added and subtracted to my evolving definition as I collated the collective, perspectives of the many hundreds of people that I’ve asked. The law of large numbers is a theorem in the field of probability that tells us that as more data points are collected, our answer shall tend toward an expected, precise answer. However, instead of approaching a singularity, the more data points I used, the more divergent my collection of responses became and the further away from a concrete definition I found myself. Then, last night, I had an epiphany.

The definition of an individual friendship, unlike a basketball, is dynamic rather than static. As such, the summation formula I was using to uncover the answer, f(x)=∑_(n=1)^∞▒(n₁+n₂+n₃+⋯) , led to a wildly oscillating, discordant and ultimately useless results. Attempting to define ‘friend’ or ‘friendship’ in this manner, led to exponential growth in my confusion. As a dynamic concept, it can’t be encapsulated in a static definition. Instead, friendship may be more properly thought of as the double integral of a function with two variables. Specifically, if we integrate friendship with respect to x (time) from just having met to no upward bound, and y (emotional depth of the least capable individual of the two) we can arrive at the ‘value’ of a friendship. The latter integral may also prove to be dynamic if the individuals are growing emotionally. In this case, the limits would be the range of their potential for intimacy: i.e., the integral, ∬_0^∞▒〖f(x,y)dx dy〗. Looking at friendship this way provides context to, and satisfactorily explains the wild variations in definitions I’ve collected and tried to incorporate into the failed summation equation.

If you’re like most people, you’ve concluded long ago that I’m overthinking this. I know this, not because I’ve ever shared this before, but because when I finally do arrive at an understanding that others take for granted, I always have that explained to me. After a lifetime of being told, both explicitly and implicitly, that the manner in which I think is wrong – I’d like to know if there are others like me. If so, have tools and techniques been developed to help others who might not be able to refrain from ‘overthinking’ for a half-century to reach understanding? I’m weary of trying to figure out those things that the rest of the world takes for granted and of being shamed, or treated like an idiot, when I ask for help.

Regarding the latter – the asking for help issue, I’ve had a recent epiphany regarding this as well. Perhaps one of the reasons that I’ve received no help is that I meticulously prepare my request, as well as my description of the problem I am facing, by translating it into a format that the listener can understand. In doing so, I am consciously and conscientiously, masking my thought processes. It might be helpful to think of this as ‘co-dependent communication’ as I am taking responsibility for the listener’s understanding. In doing so, I am presenting to the listener as neurotypical which is an immediate barrier to receiving help.



Mona Pereth
Veteran
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Joined: 11 Sep 2018
Age: 63
Gender: Female
Posts: 4,176
Location: New York City (Queens)

20 Jul 2021, 8:30 pm

You might be interested in the following blog post I wrote a while back: The ingredients of friendship.

Friendship is multi-dimensional. It isn't just one thing.


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AngelL
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

Joined: 13 Jul 2021
Age: 56
Posts: 165

21 Jul 2021, 8:29 am

Mona Pereth wrote:
You might be interested in the following blog post I wrote a while back:


Good call; I was. I did have a couple of questions that arose while I read it. I wonder if you might take a crack at this one, please. (originally, I was going to ask more than one but this one got kind of involved...)

From ingredient number two, 'freedom to be (relatively) unmasked'. Could you say more on this? I'm not going to get past the word 'relatively', without help. I was compiling a list last night around the idea of masking. At first I tried to determine all the parts of me that I mask but they're hard to find because they're....umm, masked. ;) So then I tried to come up with a comprehensive list of everything people might mask, and then tried to pick the ones I recognized in myself. The whole thing was messier than I would have thought, and I'm not done but...

I mean, I certainly mask my ND - of that there is no doubt. But, for instance, I also mask mental illness. I/we have dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) that is extraordinarily well managed, but there are four of us in this system, we are co-conscious (meaning we can hear each other's thoughts and/or speak with one another), and when at home alone, we regularly talk aloud to each other. That's not something I do in public, of course. In addition, I'm a member of Mensa. It is not unusual for me to mask my intelligence, particularly in certain crowds. That was a lesson learned from the Encyclopedia Brown children's books fifty years ago. The young Brown pointed out that he always paused before giving the answer to pretend like he was thinking about it, because people didn't like folks that were 'too smart'.

So when you say 'relatively unmasked'....is this across all aspects of masking or were you specifically referring to autismonly? Too, what does the process of unmasking look like? Do you start by being unmasked with this person, or do you let down the mask as trust builds? The latter seems likely, but how do you continue on the road to friendship after doing a bait and switch with them (if you only let down your mask after some time)?



Mona Pereth
Veteran
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Joined: 11 Sep 2018
Age: 63
Gender: Female
Posts: 4,176
Location: New York City (Queens)

21 Jul 2021, 1:09 pm

AngelL wrote:
From ingredient number two, 'freedom to be (relatively) unmasked'. Could you say more on this? I'm not going to get past the word 'relatively', without help.

By "relatively masked," I mean "less masked than one normally is around most people, but not necessarily completely unmasked." Exactly which aspects of one's personality would be unmasked, and which would still be masked, would vary from one person to another.

Almost everyone masks to some degree. In my opinion, some kinds of masking are relatively harmless, while other, more intensive kinds of masking can be very detrimental to one's mental health.

Some kinds of masking really are essential to staying on good terms with other people, even with the most autistic-friendly and otherwise non-judgmental people. For example, it's a good idea not to say every nasty thing that pops into one's head every time one is annoyed.

On the other hand, masking for the purpose of making oneself look like a culturally mainstream NT is much more involved and much more arduous than that, and much more detrimental to one's mental well-being.

AngelL wrote:
I was compiling a list last night around the idea of masking. At first I tried to determine all the parts of me that I mask but they're hard to find because they're....umm, masked. ;) So then I tried to come up with a comprehensive list of everything people might mask, and then tried to pick the ones I recognized in myself. The whole thing was messier than I would have thought, and I'm not done but...

I mean, I certainly mask my ND - of that there is no doubt. But, for instance, I also mask mental illness. I/we have dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) that is extraordinarily well managed, but there are four of us in this system, we are co-conscious (meaning we can hear each other's thoughts and/or speak with one another), and when at home alone, we regularly talk aloud to each other. That's not something I do in public, of course. In addition, I'm a member of Mensa. It is not unusual for me to mask my intelligence, particularly in certain crowds. That was a lesson learned from the Encyclopedia Brown children's books fifty years ago. The young Brown pointed out that he always paused before giving the answer to pretend like he was thinking about it, because people didn't like folks that were 'too smart'.

Personally, I've always refused to hide my intelligence. Personally, I've always believed that anyone who would be put off by my intelligence is not a good potential friend anyway, and the sooner they and I know that, the better. I've always wanted friends (and romantic partners) who would appreciate my intelligence and not be put off by it.

AngelL wrote:
So when you say 'relatively unmasked'....is this across all aspects of masking or were you specifically referring to autismonly?

I wasn't really referring to any type of masking in particular. Regardless of what particular kind of thing one is masking, it can be a huge relief to be with a person with whom it is safe not to mask that thing, and especially with a person who not only tolerates but appreciates and relates to that thing. And that emotional relief can be an important dimension of friendship.

AngelL wrote:
Too, what does the process of unmasking look like? Do you start by being unmasked with this person, or do you let down the mask as trust builds?

Either way can work, depending on the person, the situation, and the kind of thing one is masking. Both approaches have their hazards too.

AngelL wrote:
The latter seems likely, but how do you continue on the road to friendship after doing a bait and switch with them (if you only let down your mask after some time)?

Indeed, one of the hazards of the "let down the mask as trust builds" approach is that the other person may feel that you've done a "bait and switch" -- and may resent you for that.

This is one of the reasons why, in my opinion, it is so important to build communities of oddballs, such as the autistic community, to help us find good potential friends with whom one does not have to hide important parts of oneself.

(Note: by "community" here, I mean "organized subculture." See my article Longterm visions for the autistic community.)


_________________
- Autistic in NYC - Resources and new ideas for the autistic adult community in the New York City metro area.
- Autistic peer-led groups (via text-based chat, currently) led or facilitated by members of the Autistic Peer Leadership Group.
- My Twitter (new as of 2021)