Every once in a while, I realize how clueless I am when it comes to social situations.
I have been taking a communication class, and one of our readings was about relational messages. Basically relational messages are the clues people give that tell what type of relationship they are forming. It includes things like body language and showing interest. It was pretty eye opening for me because I am terrible at communicating like that. I am not very good at giving people clues about how I feel about them. That is one of the reasons why I write letters so often. I don’t understand how to let people know how I feel about them without explicitly stating or describing those feelings.
Up until I learned about this, I also did not know how to tell how people felt about me without them explicitly stating their feelings, which hardly anyone ever does. I realized that some people in my life have consistently shown me their willingness to be friends or their level of commitment through relational communication, but I completely missed the cues because I had no idea what they meant. Looking back at my interactions now, I can see quite obviously the clues I was given by certain friends. It seems almost ridiculous that I did not think certain people were my friends when they obviously showed me through their actions that they were indeed my friends.
No one ever taught me what to look for in a friendship though. No one ever explicitly told me cues people give when they want to be your friend. For most people, no one ever has to tell them, but as someone with autism, I was not able to learn this on my own. I needed someone to tell me that when someone talks to me consistently, that means they enjoy talking to me. I needed someone to tell me that when someone hugs me, that means they care. I needed someone to tell me that when someone listens to what I say, that means they value my opinion. I needed someone to tell me that when someone is excited to see or talk to me, that means they feel happy about our relationship. I know these may seem obvious, but to me they were a foreign language that I did not understand until I learned what they meant.
I can’t explain how much of a difference it makes to be able to notice signs of friendship. All of the years that I spent feeling lonely and isolated don’t seem so dark now that I can look back and see the many friends that were there. I wish I knew then how to tell that someone was trying to be my friend. It would have made me a much better friend in return. I would not have degraded myself for being unable to make friends. I would not have hated myself as much as I did.
It is still hard. I can see the actions of others that show friendship, but I am still working on learning how to show those actions myself. I am still working on learning how to show interest and how to communicate with body language. In the meantime though, I hope my friends understand how I feel about them. I hope they know that I care about them. I hope that my communication is enough to let them know I want to be their friend. And I hope one day I can learn to communicate how I feel about others in more ways than explicitly stating my feelings.