(Social interactions can get easier over time, but not always less awkward, as this recent post demonstrates. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. I grew up before Asperger’s was a diagnosis. As a result, I had to learn my own coping mechanisms for navigating the social world. The mechanisms I taught myself, like mimicry and social scripting, helped…but they also created problems of their own. The moral of this story: find a balance between navigating small talk and being yourself. Otherwise? You’re on the hook for a long line of dead-end conversations.)
Monday morning, 7 a.m.
I make a rare appearance in the break room at work. I’m sipping coffee, trying to wake up. I’m standing in the corner hoping to avoid people, but a co-worker makes intentional eye contact and starts walking towards me. I think, “Why, god? Why?” I can’t remember his name or which department he’s from.
The protective social mimicry kicks in.
Co-worker: Dude, can you believe it?
Me: Dude, I really can’t.
I have no idea what he’s talking about.
Co-worker: You know what I’m talking about … right?
Me: Of course. You’re talking about … you know, what a surprise it was.
C: I know! Twenty-one six in, like, no time at all!
I blank out … pause … then realize that this is likely a sports reference of some sort.
M: I mean, really. It was crazy.
C: Psshh. Best-team-in-the-league? Not anymore, buddy.
M: I know, right?
C: Did you see the whole thing?
M: Oh yeah. You didn’t give up on it, did you?
C: Almost. Dude … I almost stopped at half time.
“Half time” … we’re probably talking about football. Was the super bowl this weekend? Should I make a super bowl reference? No. Not yet. Rule #1 in conversing with humans: stay vague.
M: Still, games like that … that’s what it’s all about.
C: Oh no doubt.
Yikes. He’s looking at me expectantly, but I’m out of ammo. I’m glancing at the door behind him, thinking, “He’s on to you! Run!”
I need to bait him into saying something. What do they do in football?
M: The, um, throwing game…
I pause to see if he’ll pick up the slack.
C: Seriously. It killed, you know? I mean, it was non-existent there for awhile, I didn’t think it was gonna happen, but yeah. It killed.
M: He stepped up when it mattered.
I’m assuming there’s a notable “he” involved; seems like a safe bet.
C: They oughtta shorten his last name to just “Man,” you know?
M: Yes! There’s an idea. And put a “the” in front of it. The Man.
He holds a fist up. I experimentally hold a fist up. He proceeds to tap his knuckles against mine. Oh god … have I just been initiated into a weird sports cult?
M: Wow, look at the time. I’m late for a meeting…
There is no meeting.
C: Take it easy, bro.
I flee the scene.