Smoking. Drinking. And motorcycling. Those are a handful of the ways I’ve found are easy for me, as an adult, introvert, and an autistic, to engage in social interactions. It was different when I was a kid. Sure, I was hella shy, frankly intimidated to the point of extreme anxiety over even the idea of initiating a conversation with a stranger, but when you’re packed into he same classroom with thirty or so other kids for eleven years, the environment by it’s very nature encourages social interactions to occur at some point simply as a matter of statistical probably; once that threshold had been crossed it was much easier to me to say, “Hi!” And the same is true of any job I’ve worked for simply as a function of sitting at the desk next to someone.
As an adult, however, it’s a lot harder to find environments where you can have these interactions, situations that are conducive to folks like me. But some situation, by their nature, encourage it. That’s where smoking, drinking, and motorcycling come in.
Let’s start with smoking. Walk outside. Find the smoking area. Light up. Maybe the “area” is simply twenty feet from the front door of a convenience store. Nearly every time, without fail, another smoker will saddle up beside you, maybe ask for a light, and next thing you know you’re talking about a construction project down the road. Smokers tend to gravitate to each other, especially in a world where fewer and fewer people smoke actual tobacco. Once one of you finishes the required exchange is made and you both go your separate ways.
Drinking is similar, except now you’ve added what one old friend called, “social lubricant.” Someone’s one or two seats down from the bar from you. Maybe something’s on the television. Maybe you like their shirt. Whatever the causative agent, a conversation begins and you’re rolling. The likelihood of an interaction triples outside in the smoking area where a love of spirits and smoke facilitate engagement.
When I started motorcycling in 2005 I experience the same ease when it came to engaging with other motorcyclists. I’d be stopping somewhere after riding for an hour to stretch my legs. I’d pull up next to some other bikes. Next thing you know the owners and I are talking abut our bikes, our ride, and sharing tips on the best roads to hit. This would happen almost without exception (the only one being that fifty percent of Harley riders, in my experience, would intentionally act like I wasn’t there because I was riding a foreign sports bike, not an American made cruiser).
The commonalities between these things were:
- The initial situation was based on a shared interest.
- The shared interest encouraged physical proximity of a long enough duration to encourage conversation.
- The was a clearly defined way to end the interaction and move on.
All of these traits made these types of interactions relatively easy for me. But I’m struggling to find other things like that. My dad used to encourage me to start going to church, but I said I wasn’t a person of Faith anymore. He said go anyway. I don’t think he understood that I absolutely do not feel comfortable in social situations where I can’t be myself; it feels like pretending and is not something autistic folks do well (fuck, I think it makes us ill). Maybe I could join a club, right? But the thing is, I get bored of maintaining a singular focus on a single subject too long. For example, yeah, I loved motorcycling, but if the conversation with a fellow enthusiast stuck to bikes for more than fifteen minutes, I’d head to the bathroom or politely say goodbye, wish them well, and get back on the road. That’s one thing I don’t have in common, a need or desire to fixate on one or a handful of subjects: I want to explore as much as possible.
I’ve realizing there’s a lot more I want to explore, here in my own words, about my experience and thoughts on loneliness and social isolation. So I guess I’ll be doing that for a week or two more as I’m trying to work myself into a rhythm of writing every day.