Thursday, August 05, 2010

Pervasively strange men - what's not to like about them?

In the space of a few days I've met three men who could be all strong contenders for the title of The Strangest Man in the City, on the basis of looks, behaviour or a combination of both. Is it something about me, or is it the life that I lead? I'm left in admiration of the courage of one of these gentlemen, another has left me laughing out loud at unexpected moments (does he mention that to all of the women he meets?). The other man was a lovely person to know for a while. This is not as ordinary as it sounds - remember, I have been a misanthrope for as long as I can remember. He reminded me of a man that I used to work with a long time ago, but truth be told, I never really knew. That's another story, and a rather boring one.

After a while of reflection tonight, I think I can explain to you what it was about this young man that made me feel as though we were actually sharing a little part of our lives this afternoon. Not long into our conversation he shared with me some of his current disappointments with life, and something from his past too. I told him that I had had similar experiences in my past. He also told me a bit about his young relatives, who were having the most wonderful time playing with my child. He told me about a problem that one of those kids had experienced. He didn’t recount these sorrows in a pathetic way or in a way that felt manipulative. It just felt like he was being honest and open. He was an unusual young man who likes to share. In hindsight, the conversation we had was similar to conversations that I have had in the past with other mums, at places like playgroups or children’s birthday parties. He spoke about the kids the way a mother might speak about her own offspring. The difference was that today I was talking with a single, childless teenage man who has a learning disability. He was not another mum, and this personable young man didn’t have that layer of giggling, attention-seeking, social climbing nonsense that so many women seem to wear like a fashion item. I find it interesting that a man who is not able to do arithmetic with single digit numbers has such a beautiful manner of socializing. Our probable thirty or forty-odd points of difference in IQ did not feel like an unbridgeable chasm. I noticed it, but it didn’t seem to matter much at the time. He had no problem keeping up his end of the conversation. With some autists, asking a question is like dropping a rock down a very deep well. You never know how long you will have to wait before you hear a sound. Today’s conversation was not at all like that.

I guess some people might describe the young man that I met as a person with lots of empathy, but I hate that word, it is such a crude oversimplification of a thing that is not at all simple to understand. This man’s style of sharing was not simply a willingness to share information about one’s own feelings and situation. One can share things without evoking any feelings of emotional connection. I know autists who just love to tell people at length about their own problems and problems in the world that they feel bad about, but with my people the sharing is generally not a warm and touching experience. In my experience there is always much darkness and anger when the autists that I know talk honestly about issues and concerns, and the listener is often expected to get a bit dark and angry too, and if they don’t, the speaker might also get angry with the listener. You’re not interested? Well GET INTERESTED! This is not the type of sharing that helps to build relationships, unless you regard an angry mob as being a group of people enjoying a relationship. I do this “let’s get angry together!” autistic thing myself, even though I know well how tedious it can be. Even today, my side of the conversation took on a bit of that style at one point, when I was getting a bit fired up about a perceived injustice. It’s just the way I am.

So, I am certain that this young man was not on our spectrum. He was not an "angry young man" even though he had been bullied when he was a school student, like all kids who are different. I think this man is an even more rare type than our type, but I don’t think he feels isolated. He spoke about his girlfriend a few times. Lucky man. Lucky girlfriend.

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