My friend had a party before. She suggested I invite my own friends, but I didn’t feel like it. This is partly about not really trusting them. Will anyone really care to come?

I was gone for three years. Very few people in the US chose to stay in touch with me. I didn’t try that hard, and they tried less hard. I acknowledge this might be because I was not able to really form relationships that well, and there may be little bond between us. Or I chose people who could not bond. Or nothing.

But also, I didn’t want to manage more. I didn’t want people from different parts of my life to come together and force me to have to juggle those different parts at the same time.

I am aware that many situations that I encounter I am looking at now with fresh eyes, and so there are fairly routine and ordinary experiences that are more cognitively demanding than I might expect. I am working pretty hard already.

But my friend is a professor at the college I attended, so some of her friends are people I have some tie with already. Not all of them, because many of the faculty who were there when I was a student have retired or even passed away, but also I have known my friend for more than 20 years, and gone to her parties for that long, and people return. So it wasn’t that I didn’t know anyone.

Socially, I felt more successful than usual. Not that I typically look back on social situations and feel I didn’t do well. I tend not to assess my social performance. Maybe I ought to. It’s more than they frequently feel like an unpleasant chore that needs to be done. Something like dusting.

I had actually not realized that before–that I actually do not enjoy a lot of social situations. They are often these things that I do in order to give the appearance of normalcy, or so that the people I do care about don’t feel neglected. I think this happens because juggling my own feelings inside and trying to carry on in a sort of normal way is just so difficult that I feel drained afterward. I just don’t end up actually forming connections that often. Occasionally, I do. Very often, they are things I just survive.

I did also notice there were off-putting things I might have said in the past in moments of discomfort that I did not say this time. It was interesting to realize that I knew, in fact, what those moments might have been, although when I did do them, I didn’t feel aware of it. Apparently, some part of me was. Some part of me understood, “I don’t feel safe and I am now going to push people away.”

I also had time to reflect as I was talking to people what made some conversations with more pleasurable than others. Some of it was how much they were interested in talking about me, and whether there was a sense of give-and-take. When someone holds forth, it’s pretty dreadful. But I also realized a lot of it is simply eye-contact, and whether someone checks your responses as they are talking.

There is one person I talked with who really did not make very much eye contact, didn’t take turns very much in speaking, and it occurred to me that there was nothing wrong with what she was saying. It was perfectly interesting. It was the sense of being a part of what she was saying that made the difference. She looked sort of around people or between people. There was almost the sense that she might be looking around you eyes rather than directly at them.

I think that has happened to me in the past. I learned no one could really want me or be interested in me, and so avoided having to confront that question by not looking.

It turns out this sense of message of not being interested in other people. In some people, it can look like holding court, and in others it just creates a sense of boredom.

I might have been especially attentive to this because my friend’s adult son is autistic, and he had invited some of his friends, whom he knows through a group that creates social opportunities for adults on the spectrum. It gives perspective when you move from a conversation with someone who actually can’t and does not know how to make appropriate eye contact or how to take turns in a conversation with someone who chooses not to for other reasons.

I have a theory about how this has impacted me–my preconceived of not being someone who could be wanted. Other than maybe I have bored people when I did try to talk, not because I having nothing interesting to say to anyone, but because I am afraid to make eye contact at comfortable intervals.

I think I had to be able to manage my painful emotions well enough to understand in a conscious, declarative way why I have them. My feelings aren’t wrong. They are providing me with information about my world, but the disconnect between my felt world and the world I thought about were so far removed from each other that I could not make sense of what I felt well enough to proceed with life in a coherent and organized way.

What was missing for a long time were the tools to do this. I spent far too long trying harder. One of the important pieces was actually being able to use safe people to help me calm down, instead of trying to do everything myself. I did a lot of just breathing, just trying to help my physiological self. However, physical proximity to someone who feels safe is immensely powerful. It just gives a huge leg up, even if the physical proximity is pretty remote: a memory even. I am sure therapy is supposed to do this, but it didn’t. But I think I also made myself safer by being better at relationships.

Anyway, what it means to me is that in the past, something like my conversation partner might be feeling bored never got worked out, because the sense of being unwanted triggered a traumatic state that shut down my prefrontal cortex. Either I ran away, pushed my conversation partner away, or avoided taking that information in altogether.

What I am getting at is that when I can keep my mind engaged long enough to know that my parents didn’t want me and this is, experientially and sensorially, this is how that felt and looked and sounded when they didn’t want me, then I can respond to the present situation in a more effective way.

 

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