Opportunity; beginning; letting go.
I thought about what my mother had written. And recalled I had asked my friend David to guest-blog.
He’d asked what he should write about. I told him the same thing I’d told my mother: life; love; transition. “Write about where you are,” I think said. Maybe I didn’t. I said it like I was some kind of therapist. Except in August, all of the shrinks in Manhattan go on holiday, like they’re off to some secret shrink retreat. Some Esalen for therapists, where they get naked and drink cocktails and look out at the sea and laugh at our problems.
While we creep quietly around the City and contemplate letting go.
My wife and I are sitting in the marriage counselor’s waiting area.
When we first entered the room, it was vacant and we had a choice of sitting in one of three straight-backed, armed leather chairs or the suede covered Bauhaus-style soft. I choose one of the chairs and my wife sat next to me. She went to use the bathroom and when she returned I explained to her a new theory I had: there are chair people and sofa people. Chair people want their own space and like setting personal boundaries. Sofa people, on the other hand, feel comfortable stretching out and seem unconcerned with who may sit next to them, crowd them or touch them. My wife just nodded, mumbled some acknowledgement that she heard me and then picked up a magazine to read. After twenty years of marriage she was used to, if not bored, by all my idiosyncratic theories of human behavior. She told me many times that she would be more pleased if I understood her behavior and could understand what she was feeling without her having to tell me all the time. I try to figure out the rules that govern her but even after twenty years I find it difficult.
I grew up liking rules – the more absolute the better. They helped me navigate my way through the ambiguous morass that seemed to surround me. I did not understand school because I had dyslexia, undiagnosed. As far as my parents and teachers were concerned I was simply a slow reader. I’m also on the Asperger’s spectrum, which went undiagnosed until a few years ago. This explained why I did not understand people. I was happy having my family and maybe one or two other friends in my life – any more than that was too much to handle. As a kid, if certain social situations were uncomfortable, I would make up rules and convince myself that my parents put them upon me. I was rarely invited to parties but when I was I would say that my parents wouldn’t allow me to attend.
As an adult, particularly after being diagnosed with Asperger’s, I realized that most people, until they get to know me over a long period of time, don’t notice my quirkiness and it’s most likely because I have developed a list of rules and insights to live by. Many of them have to do with social situations. Dealing with people is not something that feels natural to me. I like people but understanding how to be with people, for me is something that has to be solved like an algebra problem.
These are my rules:
Before entering social situations think of topics to talk about.
Ask people about themselves: What they do? Where they live? Be curious about their interest?
You see the world differently than others. You see patterns that others don’t. Embrace that because people will come to appreciate it or think it’s funny or weird (which is okay.)
You are smart and can learn lots of stuff about many topics. People will find your knowledge interesting (as long as you know when to stop talking which is not always easy so rule 4.1 is: stop talking before you really want to.)
Social situations can be intellectualized (studied) and then internalized, so that over time, they feel more natural. If the woman I’m talking to is starting to look around I now know it’s not because she wants another drink it’s because I’m boring her.
Read lots of fiction. Mark Twain said that the difference truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. It’s easier to understand and therefore learn about human behavior through fiction.
Before reacting, pause and think if you understand the other person’s point of view. Understanding is not the same as agreeing but showing understanding is important for relationships.
I use to worry that friendships could end at anytime with saying or doing something wrong. Good friendships are not as precarious as you think (I still have a hard time with this.)
When my wife and I saw the marriage counselor, she explained that I had to accept that my wife has needs that don’t have to make sense to me, that her feelings cannot be reduced to math problems.
Over time as I’ve come to better understand my relationship with the rest of the human race, I’ve started on a new process – a process of letting go of rules, beliefs and assumptions. It’s a process of trying to accept the world as it comes to me. I’ve learned that life is more interesting not having expectations for people, like my kids, because then what they accomplish is a surprise. I’ve given up on religion because it’s all about other people’s rules. I’ve given up on being rich because it’s not a contest worth fighting. I’ve given up on Platonic beauty because like Don Juan DeMarco there is something beautiful in almost everything.
And finally, I’ve given up on being six foot with blond hair because I’m shrinking and going gray.