Before I begin this tirade, I should note that I have not had an official diagnosis as a high functioning autistic person, but I believe, based on a lifetime of observation, that I have all the traits of what was once defined by the American Psychological Association as Asperger’s syndrome. My personal research into autism includes reading books by subject experts including but not limited to people variously on the spectrum as well as many documentaries devoted to people on the spectrum. There are some traits I’ve observed as being relatively common for those on the spectrum, traits that aren’t necessarily exhibited by the neurotypical world. That being said:
The three neurotypical traits I (fucking) hate:
Trait #1: Lying and Deception
When I was eight or nine, maybe ten, my dad, brother, and I were out in the alfalfa field getting ready or having just finished moving the water pipes. My brother and I were standing near the little creek that sneaked onto our side of the property for about ten feet before zigging back onto the neighbor’s. A truck heading down the long gravel road to the farmhouse behind our property stopped and a man and two kids jumped out; the older was a boy about my age and the girl a few years younger, maybe my brother’s age. They proceeded to run through the field and stood on the other side of the fence, smiling and introducing themselves. Me, being so extremely shy was a bit taken aback by their boldness as I would have been more than satisfied with a curt hand wave from a hundred yards or more, but they were unfazed as they introduced themselves. And then the strangest thing happened: They started lying.
I don’t exactly recall what they were lying about, only that whatever it was they felt the need to fabricate about was pretty obvious fraught with bullshit. Like, “We just drove up in a magical levitating car,” or “We’re millionaires,” or “We have super powers.” Regardless of the specific deceptions, I recall clearly that there was no way what was coming out of their respective mouths was in any way objectively true and that, at least as near as I could make out, they were acting in this completely unnecessary manner to ingratiate themselves on us (neighbors with children our age being far and in between any chance to have a nearby playmate was an automatic, “Yes!”). And yet—and yet they carried on happily as if this was normal, acceptable behavior. It was quite literally the first time I became consciously aware that other people actively, and even gleefully, knowing engaged in dishonesty.
I’ve never quite understood it. I mean, yes, I understand why people lie, but my Vulcan half doesn’t understand the need to lie. In the forty or so years since this first conscious encounter with dishonesty it’s been my firm belief, supported by research and observation, that healthy, balanced, and mutually beneficial human relationships thrive on honesty; dishonesty, lying, and deceit generally only have short term, one-sided, benefits (although it is one thing that makes It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia so goddamn hilarious!).
Take for example online dating. As memory serves, nine out of ten people reportedly lie on dating profiles. While this behavior may lead to more hits—which can be quite effective if the only goal is a one night stand—for those seeking long term connections the foundation being built is weak by design. Me? I have, over my lifetime, probably been on four or five dating sites and never once have I lied. To what end? Why would I want to portray myself as something I’m not in order to attract someone who’s looking for someone else? It makes no sense. It’s unproductive. And it’s just plain stupid: when I’ve dated women who I’ve met online, who have somehow fictionalized their profiles to get my attention, well, the first cracks in the relationship always started where their idealized portrayal of themselves didn’t match reality.
When I read about or listen to the lives and experiences of higher functioning autistic folks they, like me, seem to have an unblemished love affair with the truth. Lying on a dating app or on a job application simply isn’t in our blood. Even exaggeration feels uncomfortable. Case in point, when I was in the third grade I was going steady with a pretty girl who was infatuated with me. And we were pretty serious, as love affairs go at that age: given Return of the Jedi had just come out I’d wear a black leather glove on one hand as my early Skywalker Cos-Play and she had her hair up in buns like Princes Leia. She, her best friend, and I would play on the swing set during recess. One day she asked the penultimate question, “Who do you like better, me or my best friend?” Guess what I said without skipping a beat? Yep, you got it right. I’d had a crush on her friend, who rode the same bus to and from school every day, since the first grade, so I unwittingly killed that relationship with one, unmodulated word.
I’ve been like that all my life and it’s been a trait I seem to have in common with other high functioning autistics. Tangentially, the idea of the so called “white” lie can make us brake out in hives.
We also tend to “overshare”, which is to say that once we’re comfortable in a social situation we’ll talk honestly and at great length about whatever subject is currently holding our interest. My old blog is a classic example of oversharing. Indeed, in many respects I needed that outlet. Honesty and oversharing seem to be the norm for those of us on the spectrum.
Side note: That’s not to say I haven’t engaged in obfuscation, omission, or one or two white or even blatant lies over my lifetime. In one notable case I lied through omission in order to get laid (I knew full well the girl wanted a long term relationship while I didn’t). I’ve obfuscated in my professional life in order to maintain the status quo. And I’ve said some outright lies, in one notable case, after someone had spread gossip without considering the ramifications of their words (I thought, “Well, if they can why can’t I?” I didn’t get anything out of it, short or long term, and ultimately found the experience ineffective if not downright disgusting).
Many neurotypicals, on the other hand, lie as if it’s second nature. Some more than others, for sure, but it does seem to be the norm if not the rule. It can be fucking infuriating to someone like me. Fine, someone feels the social need to lie about how their day is going or what they do for a living, but when someone holding enormous power or responsibility lies and those lies negatively impact others, it pisses me off. Don’t these people care that their words have real life consequences for others? Being truthful, to me, isn’t just about having personal integrity, it’s about engaging with the world in a productive manner benefiting everyone. I know, I know, many neurotypicals will say I’m just being naive—but am I? Imagine a world built on honesty instead of deception, what a beautiful place that would be. Deceit, in my view, only has a place in warfare (something we, as a species, must outgrow) and board games.
Trait #2: Self Awareness (or lack thereof)
When it comes to being self aware, most neurotypical people are all over the board, but most, in my observation, aren’t overly self aware. Honesty with oneself is an absolute requirement for being self aware, so it’s not surprising (to me at least) that people on the spectrum, at least those of us that can’t help seeing the world as objectively as we possibly can, view ourselves through highly polished mirrors, while neurotypicals have a more challenging time with this. True, this is a generalization, but it’s a personal observation, so bear with me.
For autistic people, who are all too often socially awkward if not completely inept, it’s a requirement that we be self aware in order to engage in meaningful relationships with neurotypicals who we often view as an alien species. Regardless of where someone is on the so called spectrum, it seems that neurodivergent adults are always examining their thoughts and behavior while simultaneously doing the same with everyone around them. We can’t relate to people if we’re not constantly translating our unique internal language to everyone else’s. And yes, it can be incredibly taxing, hence why I think so many of us require the freedom to engage in alone time whenever possible, but it does have the benefit of giving us insights into ourselves that most people could only imagine.
Being a “good” person, though, doesn’t require one to be self aware. Most of the people I love are not, in my humble opinion, particular aware of what motivates them throughout any given day. And yet not being self aware can and does often lead to interpersonal conflict. For example, if someone doesn’t recognize they’ve got a personal trigger based on an experience they had when they were twenty, they’re not going to be able to meaningfully resolve a difficulty with someone who has their head on straight or worse, with someone who is likewise unaware of their own triggers. Uncontrolled reactions lead to uncontrolled reactions. A lack of self awareness is a recipe for interpersonal chaos.
So why, you ask, does this frustrate and sometimes annoy me? Why is it one of my pet peeves? Simply this: If you don’t know what makes you tick how am I supposed to engage in a consistently meaningful relationship that’s not somehow being dictated by your ticks?
Know thyself. Anything else is fucking tiring.
Trait #3: Tribalism
I don’t have a favorite song or band. I don’t have a favorite food. I don’t have a favorite movie or book. I don’t follow a sports team and my political affiliation is unaffiliated. The people I’ve befriended, the relationships I’ve had, have been with people of every shape and form. Simply put, I don’t have a tribe and frankly, I don’t want one.
This isn’t always a good thing. One trait I share with autistics, for example, is a need to view the world as highly organized and following clear cut rules. So when I’d see someone breaking said rules on the playground, I’d speak up. Why? Rules are there for a reason. Result? I’d get called a narc. Narcs don’t have friends. As a result I’ve never had many.
I remember way back when I owned a Jeep Wrangler and had been speeding over some rough forest roads when I passed by a Forest Service employee who couldn’t do much besides jerk his head as I shot by. Later that afternoon he bumped into me at the shooting quarry where he asked if I had been the one speeding (I think we were both sure he was sure I was surely the one!). The guy I’d just met, who I’d been shooting side by side with for about fifteen minutes, turned to the agent and said, “No, that wasn’t him, he’s been with me for the last hour.” And that was that—but I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Is that what’s necessary to be included as a permanent member of a tribe? Lying? To authority figures? Not taking responsibility for one’s behavior (after all I was arguably driving at a potentially unsafe speed)? At the same time, shouldn’t it have been obvious to me at this point in my life that the tendency towards siding with one’s tribe, regardless of ethics, integrity, or reality, is necessary to being permanently adopted? Clearly, my obstinate passion for acting according to my best effort understanding of objective reality was getting in the way of me maintaining long term relationships.
And yet, I prefer not being part of any tribe if the price of membership is giving away the ability to constantly engage with the world in an honest, aware fashion. And this has many benefits. For example, I’m perfectly able to recognize when the politician I’ve voted for in the past engages in behavior I find reprehensible therefore I can easily adjust my future voting record without a sense that I’ve somehow been disloyal. I’m able to see the imperfections in a partner, friend, or coworker, and more readily accept them for who they are and adapt, as needed, to their unique peculiarities, without loosing myself to them. I’m able to examine other points of view without being influenced by peer pressure (real or imagined) and while I would prefer having a solid group of people I could count on or call up when I simply want someone to talk to or who could cat sit for a couple of days so I can go on a vacation, I choose the benefits of the freedom of not engaging in tribal behaviors over the superficial sense of belonging that I’d get by sacrificing my need to express myself as I am, warts and all, and that’s never a decision I’ve felt regret over.
And let’s be frank, there’d be a lot less violence and bloodshed on this planet if we, as a species, decided to toss tribalism in the garbage bin. If we threw away fealty for those who seem most like us we’d spend more time holding each other to higher standards; we’d tolerate a hell of a lot less from bullshit artists. By seeing ourselves, and our planet, as a singular group, we naturally look for win-wins that benefit the most and that, for me, is a goal our species should evolve towards.
Last of it: I have a friend on Facebook who is an avid member of a certain political tribe that seemingly can do no wrong while my political tribe (or at least the one he believes I must be a member of given how critical I am of his) is capable of nothing but acts of hypocrisy and evil. I hope if he reads this he’ll come to better understand why I routinely say, “I don’t have a team.” I truly don’t—unless that team is the entirety of the human race. I have not pledged my loyalty to any given group and I’m glad of it. The news I consume is critical of all tribes, including those who hold views most similar to my own. It forces me to constantly learn and often to change my views as my understanding of the universe becomes more broad and nuanced. I wouldn’t have it any other way.