The unexpected horror of social niceties

Anyone who is more familiar with the inside of a book than the outside of a vacuum cleaner will know the horror with which I anticipated the arrival of a New Friend who had not been to the house before. Worse still, not my new friend but RT Teen's. If it had been my own friend I could have warned them about the house being 'creatively messy' or the cats re-enacting Game of Thrones key scenes or the dog and his incredible butt-dancing trick.

When it is the friend of your children though, you can regret not being more like other people - and this side of you suddenly being revealed to the world (i.e. the new friend).

So it was that myself, RT Teen and Custard the cat (House Targaryen) set to with the housework. We busied and we bodied and we did what we could in a short time, even though we had known he was coming for a week.

Me and Custard polished windows and fought the fur corners, RT braved the new vacuum cleaner and discovered that it blew as well as sucked. House Tyrell and Stark had a nee-naw contest in the hall, practising for when they had a proper audience later.

Then, finally, they were here and I readied myself to be nice and friendly and not scare another new friend to the family. Best face on, make sure to show less teeth, lock all available cats in the kitchen and try not to let the dog out as soon as the door is - Oh...

So, the lad and his dad fought their way in past he dog and that was when I realised: the dad was also coming in. He was coming in! Right in and through the hall and into the living room! And he was looking at stuff!

I followed him through to the living room and, despite my horror, invited him to sit down. No, he would stand. Which meant I had to stand because I'm short enough already and I hate sitting down and talking to a person who is standing up. Except that as I stood there, my toes decided to go in and out of joint. So I was trying to talk and listen and not gurn at the man as he told me...lots about himself and his work and all the things people tell each other.

I stood as he talked and joined in somewhat, all the time wondering if he was staying for the full visit. And how long was the full visit? And was he going to eventually sit down for the rest of the afternoon?

And if he did, what would happen to Rupert's walk? Or our trip to the shop? Would I end up taking the dad to the shop and on the walk? Was it acceptable to make him go?

All the while, on the window, House Stark is desperate to get in but won't meow because meowing is for southern cats who can't stand the rigours of the wall. But I'm trying not to look at him because you can't shove your visitors out of the way just because the cat wants in.

It was no good, I cracked and let him in, instantly becoming the Crazy Cat Lady as I scooped him up and presented his dark, battle-chiselled ears to the new visitor, describing how tough he thought he was, compared to how tough he actually was.

This did seem to do the trick and the dad decided he would leave and come back later. Once out he trotted up the path, still talking and I am there at the door, closing it-closing it-closing it, until I was fairly sure it was the right moment to close it altogether.

He chose this moment to call back, cheerily and happily confident of a reply, 'Nice to meet you!' just as I slammed the door shut without any chance to catch it in time.

I turned back to House Stark and let him into the melee waiting for him in the kitchen. He found Tyrell and they re-started their politics and I finally got to the shops.

One good thing is that, after all this strain and excitement, I had nothing left with which to scare the New Friend and he is still ensconced happily downstairs.

His dad is coming back later to pick him up...


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There's no such thing as a rhetorical question!

I hate rhetorical questions. Like a hole in the path they're just waiting for you to go wrong and put your foot in it.

We're meant to know when someone is asking a rhetorical question. We're meant to understand that people ask questions which don't always need an answer. But why ask a question if you don't want an answer?

Rhetorical questions all hinge on the listener realising no answer is necessary. To understand that you need an amount of common knowledge and the ability to stop yourself opening your mouth and answering the question before the rest of your brain catches up.

Like most aspies, I love answering questions - knowing the answers to things is the part of a conversation I can do. So it's second nature to wait for the chance to take part. If someone says something obvious, how am I meant to know, in that split-second of reaction, that they aren't really asking a question? How am I meant to realise in time that they don't need my help?

I'm used to being the person who asks obvious questions - obvious to everyone but me - so when someone else does the same, I don't mind answering. But when it turns out they didn't expect an answer you're back to seeing the face change, the pause as they process you jumped in where you weren't wanted and the shift as they try to claw back the conversation to the direction they wanted it to go.

Anyway, why is any question deemed rhetorical? In this world of almost infinite possibilities, there is every chance that the obvious thing you are asking about might not happen or might have a different answer. And even if the answer is wholly obvious, I'm still going to answer it, if only because my brain spotted the question mark before my social graces detected the self-satisfied-smirk of the rhetorical question.

Is the sky blue? I'm going to answer yes, with the proviso that it is blue to us, but perhaps not blue to the whole world and not blue from every direction because the sky is a complex amalgam of stuff what stops the universe falling in on us.

Is the Pope a Catholic? Well...I'm assuming so, seeing as it is one of the job requirements but as I've had many jobs where I stretched my qualifications and just thought I could wing it, I won't absolutely state my reputation on all popes being Catholic because you never know what might happen on the spur of the moment.

And if you ask me, Am I right? not expecting an answer, then you have only yourself to blame. I will give your question serious thought and then explain my opinion in as much detail as I can before you unexpectedly have to leave.

So, as they say, be careful what you ask for. You may think you are asking a non-question that doesn't need an answer, but there is always someone somewhere who can prove you wrong.


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Aspie Empathy and the Cabbage Effect

I know people get upset and it is sometimes necessary to be there while they're upset, rather than hide in the next room - especially if you are the reason they are upset. But then we come down to the usual rigmarole of understanding the upset (which is fine, I understand you are upset) as opposed to knowing how they feel (how on earth do you feel?).

I have a vague idea of how I would feel if I was upset like you are, I just don't understand how you feel in this situation. How you feel and how I feel are different things and my own perceptions cannot be trusted.

So many times I've been caught off-guard by people reacting oddly to things which have no effect on me. What are they doing now? What are they talking about? Hadn't we finished with that? It didn't bother me, why did it bother them?

I know what it's like from the other end, with others not understanding why I react as I do, so you would think this might make me more sympathetic when the roles are reversed? In theory, yes: I realise you can be worried when I'm in blythe spirits. In practice though?

Well, in practice it can be very hard to link up the knowledge that you are upset and the understanding that you are upset when I am fine, with the ability to connect with your feelings in a way that helps me to see how you are feeling.

Let's call it the Cabbage Effect: I know cabbage is very nutritious (the knowledge), I know that I don't like cabbage and you do (the understanding) but I have absolutely no idea how anyone in their right mind could really enjoy cabbage (the ability to have a deeper understanding).

Cabbage is green and full of good stuff which helps our bodies thrive yet I would rather languish on my bed, too weak to turn on the computer than put any cabbage in my mouth. Let me crawl to the cabinet and pop vitamins, let me eat something, anything else, let me do whatever it takes not to eat cabbage ever again as long as I live.

Even watching someone enjoying cabbage is not enough to convince me on this emotional level, leaving me with a logical knowledge of what another person thinks and feels without an emotional belief that it's possible to feel that way. I tend to think they have been brainwashed from an early age and don't know any better.

In terms of a deeper understanding of other people's feelings, this cabbage effect is key: I see them react, I hear their words, I watch their tears or anguish and I know they are saying what I need to hear. But instead I feel that if they were to react differently, as I would react, then we could talk.

There is a mismatch between realising how people feel and behave and understanding why their feelings and behaviour are different from mine.

The cold aspie, the heartless aspie, the unfeeling, non-empathetic aspie, the one who can watch you cry from behind the door frame and be gone the next time you look up. I am this person.

From my end, I have to train myself to trust others to behave as they must and treat them with kindness even if I have no idea what they are going on about. But from your point of view, friends, family and best beloveds, you must also know that your aspie is trying to be as empathetic as they can bear.

Just because they look at you so wary and pat your hand from so far away doesn't mean they don't care. A hand reaching out to pat you as if you might bite is still a hand reaching out. It might be tentative but it still counts.


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