On friends

You don’t really know what it’s like to have friends until you’ve never had friends.

This sounds a whole lot deeper than you suspect it might be, but follow me on this.

It turns out Asperger’s is a thing you have your whole life, not just immediately following a diagnosis. In my case it has made it permanently difficult to make friends.

I have to address something that I absolutely hate about this thing, by the way, which is that in terms of standardised tests and current societal understanding I have “above average intelligence”. I don’t really believe in it, but since it was something all the kids in my school were tested on it was something everyone knew about me.

I was also very bad at emotional intelligence, which was a thing we were all testing each other on all the time. I was very bad at it. This was also something everyone knew about me.

If you are reading this, and you are like I was, escaping your peers because they’ve made a game out of kicking the crap out of you, then I’m glad you’re here and I hope you’ll believe me when I say it gets better.

Until the age of about 20 I had zero friends. No, wait, I had fewer than zero friends because plenty of folk seemed to actively hate me. I remember one person from secondary school, and that’s because I follow them on Twitter and they’re cool as heck. I don’t expect anyone to remember me.

It wasn’t really until I got to where I work now that I finally felt like the people I was talking to understood me. That took 25 years.

And see this is my point. I’m spending the weekend with six people I love deeply, who have these incredible quirks and sparkling brains and who love me in return.

Love has been flattened, I think, to mean only romantic love; to mean a love that has orchestral accompaniment and choirs of angels and wedding bands. But I’m not romantically attracted to these friends, any more than the normal amount of attraction due to people who get me. I love them nonetheless.

I’ve talked before about language, and about how this diagnosis is the beginnings of new language to explore a space. Having new language around love, and being bold enough to explore dimensions of love, is where I want to grow to next. Love is too short a word to describe the variations that exist within it. On the other hand, ‘bug’ is a word in which 50,000 species live. Maybe I’m being too hard on love.

What remains true about love is that it is a garden. I am resolved to love these friends of mine, whose kindness and understanding caught me so off guard that I found myself smiling through tears as I waved them away.

You cannot know how jealously you will guard your friends; the inhibitions you will cast off to dive in with them; the strength you will gain from their solidarity until you have them having never had them before.

We were talking, my friends and I, and I said I was excited to be 30. Hell, I was excited to be 40, because I knew things could only get better. I’d lucked out every step of my career so far and it was only now that I’d started to feel comfortable, but I’d never have imagined myself here. Ones of those friends was blown away. She didn’t know that I lucked into the Civil Service; that I knew almost nothing about digital before I started.

She didn’t realise that my career was only half of what I meant. In truth, I meant her and everyone at that table. I would never have imagined a life in which I had friends with whom I could share the ups and downs of my life.

And yet it happened anyway.

Somewhere down the way, things started to make sense. Somewhere along the way, I found a group of people whose successes I celebrate and whose miseries I commiserate.

I love you all, and I’m grateful you’re in my life.

myself and six friends

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