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This is my friend, Pog, the alien killer

For people who are meant to always take things literally and so, presumably, often at face value, aspies make some very interesting friend choices.

Growing up, my mother was very careful about who I brought home as a potential new friend. I was very keen to please, so if she didn't like the look of someone, I took her advice and drifted away from them. By the time I was a teenager, I was making more of my own choices regarding friends, but I was still very much swayed by the opinions of others.

This is natural, when you have less confidence in your own abilities. You don't want to make the wrong choice and if other people seem to know what's going on and understand things better, you're inclined to listen to them, What happens, though, when you're older and have a free rein?

When I went away to college, I made three very different friends. A bubbly blonde, who revelled in male attention and knew the dark secrets of hair and make up; a straight-as-a-dye student teacher, who wouldn't wear long shorts to work because she felt they were too provocative; and a free spirit, who smoked things she shouldn't and whose boyfriend serenaded her with his guitar, in public.

It sounds like one of those dating games, doesn't it? Only for friends instead of lovers. Which one will you choose, Amanda? Do you always want to have your pulse on what's happening in the world of romance and fashion? Do you want the steady friend, who knows the clear difference between right and wrong? Or do you want the retro hippy chick who confuses and enchants you with her reckless self-empowerment?

Well, of course, I chose all of them to some degree. I ended up sharing a house with the bubbly blonde and we became fast friends. It was she who instilled some small fashion sense in me and tried to explain the ways of people, men in particular. I stayed friends throughout college with the student teacher, who always made me feel comfortable because we shared a similar background and so already spoke the same language. But the one who has stayed with me all these years is the hippy chick.

She was like no one I had met before, you see. She didn't care what people thought. I couldn't get over this one. Imagine, going through life, doing what you wanted and not looking over your shoulder! I was fascinated and appalled. She smoked things. Not in my company, she knew how I felt about it, but she made no apologies or secret of the fact. And she was relaxed about life at the same time as being a deeply conflicted person in a lot of ways. I guess it's safe to say there was no chance of me getting bored when I knew her.

At first I thought we wouldn't get on as well as with others. We seemed polar opposites. But then I saw her laughing gently as my blonde friend described a social situation where she had been the star. I realised my hippy friend thought this kind of competitive living was meaningless - something we had in common.

It continued like that, you see. We seemed like polar opposites, but over time I learned that I was not exactly the person I always thought myself to be. My black and white thinking, my literal take on so many things, was shaken by her and her liberal views.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a horribly strait-laced person with a blinkered philosophy; I was simply trying to figure out the world and, through my friend, discovered that life could be many things at once, that there was no wrong or right way to do things.

She showed me how to be more open, even though I couldn't really match her on that one. And she showed me how she led a life as free as possible, while always feeling desperately left out and lonely - that I could identify with.

She left college without completing her degree, the strain of needing to fit herself into the degree system too great when measured up against her own view of herself. I was still quite by-the-book then and I wondered how she could make such a mistake with her life, to give up on the degree just because of a temporary feeling.

Now, I totally understand her need to walk away and have done it myself, many times. Another thing we turned out to have in common.

I describe this shining girl in such detail because to me she was shining. I saw these facets of her which opened up so many new ways of thinking to me and helped me become the person I am today.

One day, my mother visited me at college and wanted to meet my friends. After she had met and talked to my hippy friend she said she was surprised at how she seemed less than I had described. That's not a direct quote, but she was unable to see what I could in my friend. She seemed smaller and quieter in real life than I had led her to expect.

I was completely confused by this, as my friend was a large part of my life and, as she was on the cusp of leaving college, I was already feeling the gap she would leave in my life. I wondered how my mother could fail to see her as I did.

It's simple really, isn't it? Those aspects of a person that make a good friend, to an aspie in particular, are not going to appeal to everyone. But to aspies, a friend is a different beast anyway, because we have already made an effort in accepting them into our lives before we have even properly decided what place they might have there.

For them to walk in and be accepted, they must have something that sets them apart or appeals to us on a particular level. It's not just a person we can get along with, talk to or laugh with: they need to touch us in a way that other people do not manage.

If we are social aspies, we'll count ourselves as having lots of friends, but even the social ones will be able to tell you which ones are the close friends. For those of us who struggle with relationships, good friends are gold dust and we appreciate them all the more.

To me, my hippy friend was a key to a different way of thinking and, therefore, a new life. To my mother, she was a skinny little woman who didn't have much to say. I imagine if they had spent more time together, my mother would have described her as a nice girl who needed to settle down.

Aspies see people differently. I don't mean we look more deeply, or have some higher way of judging a good friend. We just appreciate different things about them. We might crave someone with a like mind who can make us feel like we belong, or someone with a very different mind who can show us a new view of life.

We might become friends with people who are wholly unsuitable and worry those close to us, simply because the new friends listen kindly while we talk. We might make friends with a person who barely speaks and seems to bark when they do, because we see the other look, behind the eyes and know them. Or they change their voice to speak to us and we know that means they make an effort not made for anyone else.

We might make friends with someone who is universally detested by everyone we know and, when asked to explain why we want to be friends with them, we shrug and say, 'Because they want to be friends with me.'

We may see the inner light in someone who is dismissed by other people, the spark that gets our attention and makes us take a second and third look, wondering what lies beneath.

Or they may be completely different with us than they are with others, just because they appreciate us as we appreciate them - surely the basis of a true friendship?

I was reminded of all of this the other day, when I went to college to collect RT teen. He waved and smiled and laughed at someone going past the car and said, his voice full of warmth, 'That's David.' I had heard him describe David many times, a class mate and friend of his and, right there, readers, I was back at college with my mother meeting my hippy friend.

David in my imagination was a funny, dynamic, arty type who had full conversations with RT teen and played a big part in his college days. David who walked past the car was pale, withdrawn, averted his eyes as soon as he saw me looking and barely acknowledged RT teen's greeting.

I glanced across to see how RT teen took this almost-brush off and he was still entirely happy and smiling at his friend, so knew then that this was normal for David and not a brush off at all. Also, my aspie-dar was humming on a high setting as David walked past, which explains his sudden turning away when he saw me and his muted response.

RT teen saw the David he describes to me and the friend he's made over the past couple of years. He saw the real David, the one he has laughed with and talked about everything with. It was left to me to see the David the rest of the world sees, as he drifts along, hoping no one notices him.

I smiled as we drove home, thinking of my hippy friend from so many years ago and of how, even now, I'm learning from the time we spent together. Thanks to her, I can look at David and accept that he is much more than he appears to be, because RT teen knows the truth of him.

All our friends, whether hippies, bubbly blondes, alien killers or Davids, are in our lives as a way of supporting us and opening up new worlds to us. It sometimes matters what other people think of them, but usually it is up to us whether we see them as good friends and why.

Sometimes, you need your aspie-ness turned onto the sideways glance to see someone in the right way and know that other side of them.


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