So I’m visiting back home and my friend and I are standing at the top floor of the (redneck) club in town, watching people. He’s awkward. He’s awkward as hell. But he’s not autistic like me. I always looked up to him because everyone seemed to know who he was and invite him places. Even though he never got laid.
My problem was sort of the opposite.
“You know,” he says, speaking carefully. “You’ve gotten better at communicating lately.”
I look down at the crowd. “I know.”
When you have Asperger’s, you’re not working on the same timetable as everyone else. I had a misfit group of friends in college, who I fought with all the time. But I never really went anywhere. There were two people: this placid but popular gay guy and this Marine who thought I was cool and took me places in public. Otherwise my ass was stuck in the dorm.
In grad school, I started to improve my social skills. I got invited out. I was actually able to have short relationships. I hung out at this bar all the time where (I don’t think) people thought I was off. But I kept almost everyone at a distance.
Also, I didn’t tell the school I had a disability. Between me legitimately not being able to keep up in class and me partying all the time (“all the time” for an aspie is average for everyone else btw) I couldn’t keep up. I got kicked out.
Now I’ve just finished my second degree. I’m writing. And I’m actually gaining some ground. I feel better than I have in ages. But the problem is that other people reached this stage about five years ago.
That’s the thing about being behind. I keep reminding myself that New York is full of Peter Pan types anyway and we’re all being criticized for it. At least we Aspergers have an excuse. But we still have to live with the constant fear that other people our age are making plans for the future while we’re just waiting for the party to end.
I feel like a postgrad you guys. But I’m not.
All you late 20s/early 30s folk know what I mean. You can still hang. But the end is coming long before you’re ready. Other people you know are getting married. They’re settled into office jobs with 401Ks and thinking about kids. If I had kids they’d be autistic. I don’t know what to say to a lot of my old friends anymore. The judgment from friends and relatives is going to start raining down on my head soon. And I’ll have to be strong enough to tell them to fuck off.
Autistic people’s friends tend to be much younger or much older. Mine were always younger. But around 26 I had a major shift in my thinking. In your mid-to-late-twenties your brain stops growing and you see the world the way adults do. Whether you want to or not. Even if you’re living like a 23-year-old, you can’t be friends with them because you understand consequences better than they do. They’ll breathlessly tell you some story about someone they know and you’ll be standing there, jaded and bored. Because you already know the ending.
I’ve made friends with other people who are behind for various reasons. We’re discovering ourselves. We’re so happy. But we’re all still vaguely afraid of ending up like Debbie from Knocked Up.
Society (and biology) sets constraints for us to do things. But the reality is that a lot of us just don’t fit into that timeline emotionally. You have to be made of strong stuff to live the way that’s right for you. You have to be made of even stronger stuff to accept that your path is leading you out of sync with most other people.
If you’re my age and not ready to settle down, remember that it’s okay to be the way you are. Different people have different peaks. We’re not old. Not yet. We’re not foolish or narcissistic to think that we can still do great things. The world’s still about us. Enjoy your single girl apartment, your weird friends, your nights out. Your all-night conversations about obscure shit while everyone else is talking about the future. We’ve got guts, you guys. We’ve earned it.
And we’re not alone.
*Image from mothersknowbest.com