Tuesday, June 9, 2009

If Your Friends are Just Using You, They're Not Really Friends

Tonight I posted a response to someone whose "friends" didn't seem to really care about xem. While the message board itself is anonymous, so I won't post the original message or details, I thought my response might help some of my fellow Aspies and autistic children of my NT readers. Here it is:


You are not alone.

Unfortunately, I don't have the answer for you, but I can tell you a little about my experience... warning, this is very long...

It was heartbreaking for me to realize, toward the end of my senior year of college, that my friendships were shallow and one-sided. Every once in a blue moon I'd find someone who just liked hanging around me- watching the same things I watch, going to bookstores, going hiking, but for the most part my "friends" had specific agendas:

  1. They didn't have anyone else to hang around with at the moment
  2. If they wanted to talk and whine about their problems and all their other friends were tired of listening to it
  3. They wanted to use me/take advantage of me
Some examples of "3" include:
In school I was one of few students who had a car, so I would get offers to go places if I drove. I often got "friends" who needed help on their homework (I was an honor roll student) and "liked me" long enough to get the homework or project done. Sometimes the Christian and Mormon girls would need a "chaperone" and invite me to tag along with them hiking with a guy.

Even though it's in my nature to want to help everyone and do things for people, I try really hard to resist now. People that are just using others do not care about the people they are using. In fact, I've worked with a lot of people that think those of us who are willing to help were put here to be taken advantage of. Basically, they subscribe to the belief that some people were made to be used, and it's ok to take advantage of someone if they deserve it. Of course I don't believe this, myself, but since I know most of my coworkers do I try to keep myself from doing things for them so I don't establish a cycle of being used.

After realizing most of my friendships were not really friendships at all, I made a concerted effort to minimize my involvement with those who are only out to use me. So I saw that someone didn't really care for me (because they never wanted to do what I want, and when we did stuff I always gave, never received, or they never cared how I was, only about themselves), I stopped doing things for them and I stop talking to them. Not completely, but mostly. It hurt to lose my friends. But they weren't really friends. And the funny thing is, I opened myself up to finding new friends (at church, the bookstore) now that I wasn't wasting all my time trying to please people who didn't really care about me.

Nowadays, when I meet someone, I am very careful not to do things for them or to tell too many of my stories. It's hard because I always want to help. Early on, I let others to talk more about themselves because the more you let others talk, the more they will enjoy being around you. But I keep an eye out for clues that this friendship will be one-sided, abusive, or just plain depressing, and if so, then I minimize my time spent with that person.

Some main results of this are:

  1. (good result) I feel much better about myself. I don't feel like a doormat anymore. Sometimes I will accommodate someone who is just trying to use me, but usually only if it's in line with my own personal goals to do so.
  2. (good result) I have a lower percentage of "superficial friendships." When I stopped letting people use me all the time, they moved on to other targets, er, I mean, more accommodating people. And it seems like when I started treating myself better by getting rid of people who were toxic for me, I started attracting better people into my life. Not MORE people, but BETTER people.
  3. (sometimes depressing result) of course, that unfortunately means I have less friends overall. I go more places by myself and do more things by myself. I'm not completely happy about that, but now when I do go out with people, I have more meaningful interaction so when I get down about being alone more than I like, I tell myself "choose quality over quantity."
  4. (really caught me by surprise) Finally, I want to note a side-effect of this change in my life is that, over time, I stopped really trusting people who come in to my life. meetings notwithstanding, I find if someone new is really friendly to me, or really seems interested in me, I get wary and start looking for "what do they want? what are they trying to butter me up for? what are they trying to get out of me?" 99% of the time they are, indeed, trying to take advantage of me. But I try to keep an open mind because every so often someone comes along who is just happy to meet someone like me (who is just like them).
Two big caveats I need to add to my advice are:

  1. I, like most Aspies, have the problem of driving away "quality people" by expecting them to be like us. They're not. Even another Aspie isn’t going to be just like me. We can't always gauge someone's friendship potential by what we want or by whether or not our needs are always met because we may have unique needs other people are unable to meet. For example, I am a very "intense" person. Most people are not as intense, and will never be able to satisfy my need for that "intensity" in friendships. For example, I'm sure you couldn't tell by the length of this post, LOL, but I love long detailed descriptions. Most people (especially NTs) like to keep emails and posts to one or two paragraphs at most, and get overwhelmed when I send something this long. I can't allow myself to feel like they don't care about me if I write them a book and they just send one or two lines back. MOST people send short emails. That's NORMAL. They don't LIKE long emails. So I have to accept that. I have a few friends who like to write the way I do, and I always have to encourage them to ramble on and express themselves, otherwise they have been so conditioned by everyone else that they will automatically shorten what they say to me. I can't judge others by my own personal conduct because my conduct is not "normal."
  2. Many people are, as XXXXXXXXX2 mentioned, narcissistic and only friends with us to feed their own egos and meet their own goals. It's good to stay away from those folks (because they drain us, and make us depressed) but we need to be honest with ourselves and realize that most of us are a little like that- we want friends that like US, make US feel good about ourselves, listen to US, and are interested in US. Since I know this is true for me, I don't cut off interaction with everyone who is just out for themselves, but I keep my expectations realistic. For example, a coworker often arranges events (dinners, trips, museums, etc). She has the personality that always finds special deals and gets people to make special concessions for her. We have spent a good portion of free time together, but I have no false expectations that she cares deeply about me. She simply does not like to be alone, and since I'm adventurous but unable to come up with the cool events she does, the "relationship" works for both of us.

Wow, that's longer than usual but I hope you are encouraged to know you are not alone and that you DON'T have to SETTLE for poor quality relationships. We still have to work with (and sometimes live with) people who are not good for us, but we don't have to spend our free time being hurt and ignored. It takes time to attract quality people into your life, but the first step is valuing yourself enough to put aside the people who are causing you pain.


Anonymous said...

Hello. I have a 17 year old dd with AS. I am beginning to realize that I, too, may have shadows of this syndrome. This particular post was very helpful to me. I was wondering if you have ever given thought to how NTs view bending the truth and not following through in what they say.

I am almost completely reliable and have always thought this was a good thing. Recently though, I've realized that MOST "typical" people in my life are unreliable and expect others to be unreliable. It somewhat explains one why I so often feel disappointed in people.

Why don't NT people feel the need to follow through on their word? Why is it socially acceptable to "forget" to return calls or show up at a party that they have agreed to attend; continually change plans, agreements, and situations, without discussing with all those involved?

Have you found ways of comfortably dealing with this issue, or do you refrain from striking up friendships with unreliable people?

Thanks so much for your blog!

SavedAspie said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment. Let me recommend two books (see this post for links How to Handle "Typical" Unreliable People):

1. That's Not What I Meant!
2. You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation
(both by Deborah Tannen)

I don't know why most people don't feel the need to be honest and reliable.

I DO know, however, that it is so "normal" to be dishonest, that when I answered a psychological eval question "I never lie" with "true of me all the time" the person who interpreted the test told me it most likely indicated I am putting up a front. I asked why that would be- I really DON'T lie. He said that everyone (of normal psychology) lies and that if one says they don't lie, they are either of abnormal neurology (such as autism) or they are trying to pretend they never lie so that they will look good to others (thus, they are putting up a front). Very weird, IMHO.

Personally, here is the way I deal with it:

1. I do not "depend" on "typical" people. I make plans but typically have a backup in mind "just in case." I enjoy their company, but don't rely on it.

2. I keep in mind that "typical" people often say they want to do something, go somewhere, make XYZ agreement, when they don't. In many cases, they are making subtle hints that we (if we were typical) would pick up on and realize that they weren't going to follow through.

3. I really don't "plan" too many things anymore, because "typical" people are too fickle, and they don't feel the same sense of obligation I do about things. If I say I'm coming, then I'm coming no matter what it takes. If I say I'll do XYZ for you, short of death and dismemberment, I'll do it. Most people aren't like that. They'll go with the best thing going, and when something better comes along, they'll forget they made plans with me.

4. If I do "plan" something, it's a common area event- by that I mean, it's something like going to a museum or a race, where I can still enjoy myself whether everyone comes or I end up by myself. My "social calender" isn't as full as it used to look, but my interactions are much more enjoyable.

5. Finally, and this has been the HARDEST part of my walk, has been realizing that people just don't like being around me too long. I'm too honest, live too clean a lifestyle, and I don't watch a whole lot of junk. In other works, I'm pretty boring, and my lifestyle condemns others (especially other Christians). Even though I'm learning to season my words with grace, and I'm getting better at social interaction, I've accepted the fact that until I make people feel good about themselves when they're around me, and until I squelch any embarrassing habits I have, I'm going to be alone more than I want. The good news is, I don't want to be alone forever, and that has inspired me to change over the past few years. I'm still rough around the edges, but ask those who have known me- they'll tell you I've come a loooooong way.