Dealing with Awkward People

How difficult it is to deal with awkward people! Or at least, people who are predictably awkward but vary their behaviour so you don't see the warning signs until it is too late.

I find it very useful to have ways to behave in certain situations. We all learn it growing up, how to behave when x, y and z happens. And then, as an aspie, we tend to learn it again once we are fully grown and are forced to realise that x, y and z also become x.1, y.3 and z.10.

Learning and growing are a lifelong commitment for me and I feel very strongly about improving the way I deal with other people. I do try to avoid cringe-making or sorrowful situations, even if I don't always succeed. Learning is still vital, even if it sometimes feels never-ending!

So how does it happen that an awkward person or a tricky relationship can still surprise, even years after we have realised or admitted to ourselves that this is not an ideal situation?

I think it comes down to two main areas:

1. My own inability to recognise behaviours as similar when to other people they are obviously almost the same and

2. Other people's ability to use my diffuse coping mechanisms against me.

Number 1

For instance, I might be well aware that Awkward Person takes offence at the little things I say or do, so I try extra hard to say or do the right thing. Then they take offence anyway and go off on a tangent, listing what I have done wrong this time.

To me, this seems like a whole new situation. If only I had kept my mouth shut/expressed myself more readily. If only I had realised they were upset! Yet what I don't see is that the Awkward Person is just doing the same old act of taking offence.

What seemed like a unique situation of them being upset because I (fill in blank of whatever the flippin heck I did this time) is in fact their standard reaction to a certain point in a lifelong scenario of Being Upset. I just happen to be in the frame at the same time as they feel it is time to be offended again. Do you see?

Number 2

And here we have the crux of the matter when it comes to the responsibility of the Awkward Person in their relationship with me, the aspie: I am easily confused and distracted and less likely than others to recognise a pattern of behaviour at the time it is occurring. If a person is truly Awkward, then they know this about me and understand they have free rein to create what seems a new situation to me but which is, to them, a familiar scenario.

If I am unable to see the pattern, or only liable to understand it after the event, then the Awkward Person is safe in dealing me a dog-eared set of cards as I will only see the pattern on each individual card without realising we are playing with a marked deck.

I am easily manipulated because in many ways I am used to getting things wrong and so in a specific situation I am also more likely to take the blame. I will judge each situation on its own merits, struggling to see it is very similar to others from my past. I may not see the similarity until the kind of heart point it out to me and even then I will have to hold it up before me to make sure.

I am an easy target, in other words, a person who can be relied upon to judge as I see at that time and not necessarily judge the Awkward Person and their marked deck in the way that I should.

Readers, I am not here to be downbeat about it. I have learned that the people who stick around in my life are mostly the kind of heart who wouldn't dream of using my own nature against me and who view my general befuddlement as amusing at best and exasperating at worst. They don't see my fuddled nature as an opportunity to trick me.

Unfortunately it is rare for any of us to have a life free of at least one Awkward Person and I am still learning how to cope with them. I am trying to understand the roles of Numbers 1 and 2 in this process but I have come to an important realisation: there is a rule Number 3.

Number 3

It is not my fault, readers. That is my thought, at the end of dealing with the Awkward Person. And I am training myself to make it the question I ask at the start of each tumult. Is it my fault? Am I really to blame? And, perhaps more importantly, Do I want this in my life?

I count myself lucky to have the kind of heart who I can turn to and ask, Is this my fault? and then be scolded lovingly for asking.

As for the Awkward Person, I wish them the wisdom to ask the same questions of themselves.


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Aspies only see your ears...the handy reference tool

I would like to stand up and say that it doesn't matter what you look like to an aspie. When it comes to making a judgement, your appearance, in terms of attractiveness (or lack of) is less likely to matter to the aspie than other things. There, now that we're all feeling warm and fuzzy and ever so politically correct, I need to also say...

Appearance is everything to your aspie and you will be categorised by it in a way which rivals any enhanced computer profiler. The categorisation may have a random element, but to your aspie it makes perfect sense.

People are attractive and unattractive to aspies but they are liked, loved and loathed on the basis of a first impression. However, the after-effects are more lasting than for non-aspies who might be willing to let the facts filter into any future relationship.

The unforgiving aspie will not forget that you were grumpy when they first met you. They will assume, rightly or wrongly, that your grumpiness is a lasting quality, only partly hidden by the efforts you make later to appear happy and friendly. As far as the aspie is concerned, you are Grumpy.

The forgetful aspie may not remember your name or what you told them about coal production in the developing world, but they will remember you spit when you talk and put you on a No list. It won't matter after that, nothing will change things, even if you learn to speak dryly.

The kind aspie will realise you didn't mean to spill your drink over them or knock them when you were eating together but will forever consider you clumsy and a space-invader. You may become friends but notice the aspie keeps their distance, ready for you to spill or knock, even if you never do it again.

And as for looks, well, I can't say my facial blindness ever got in the way of recognising a good looking newcomer (funny that). Neither did it get in the way of noticing obvious flaws in a person's looks (my God! those nostrils!).

I won't judge you on your looks, though I will remember if you are particularly handsome or noxious. I will judge you on how you treat me or your dog or your child. And I will categorise you as handsome Jose or glamorous Gloria or 'Normous Nostrils. (Yes, unfortunately, but it makes people easier to remember).

You will be categorised as man with bad trousers, woman with whistling laugh, interesting teeth, exciting hair, false nails, strange, strange fake tan or staring eyes.

It isn't so much a judgement as a filing away of people based on how they look; a handy reference guide for those of us who find it hard to remember people as a whole package. It doesn't just apply to newcomers either - I'm sure if you ask your aspie to describe people they have known for years, in one sentence, there may be some surprising revelations.

I tried this on myself just to be sure and realised that I think of two people as Demon Bunny and Miss Priceless. These are the shortened versions - the longer descriptions would give me away and I have to leave the house sometimes.

So there is the difference: rather than judging by appearances, aspies often discount most of the appearance and judge on what catches their attention. It's not usually meant as an insult but it's better not to share most of these observations. (NB: Most child aspies positively love sharing these observations).

It means that people can be disliked or feared for hopelessly random reasons, when compared to actual threats faced. It also makes for some interesting friendships as deciding you like someone for a particular trait is one of the ways aspies end up friends with wholly unsuitable candidates.

The main thing to remember is not to be upset if you turn out to be Angry Ears or Ruffled Eyebrows on the aspie categorisation table. Better to be on the table in the first place and know you have been noticed and judged worthy of remembering.

In the end, it is more important to understand the category is just the first checkpoint into a friendship with your aspie. Taking offence at being Mrs Wobbly Dress is not going to help you get any further into the aspie world. But it may help you understand why people smile when you meet them.


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An Aspie's Mini-Guide to Other People

I've put together a little guide on how to react in social minefields. It's by no means all inclusive but it might help you in the future. All learnt by the kind of experience which only seems funny after the event - or right in the middle of the event, if it's highly inappropriate to laugh.

The Elderly

When Aunt Agatha tells you about her bad knees/aching feet/dodgy hip this is not the time to explain the effect of extra weight on the aging body or to expand into an informational discourse on obesity in modern society.

a. Smile in what you hope is a sympathetic manner and make kind noises (remember they shouldn't be the same noises you make when the dog has hurt his foot).

b. Say how sorry you are and try massaging the affected part of her body. This has the advantage of helping people discover they have more mobility than they first thought.

c. Tell Aunt Agatha that thinking about physical ailments makes you physically sick, then run off to the bathroom and stay there until she leaves.

d. Refer her to your mother who is good at pretending sympathy.


Your sister's obnoxious child is ripping leaves off your potted palm and has locked the cat in the fridge again. Do not pull the child outside by the ear or tell your sister she has spawned direct from a small, dingy room in hell.

a. Tell your sister you sprayed the plant with toxic chemicals as it was infested with arachni-larvae which like feasting on tender young flesh.

b. Remove the plant and stand over the child for the remainder of the visit, giving them a fair but firm expression.

c. Ask your sister to leave as you have a terrible stomach upset and may need to change clothes (this is a last resort as sometimes family will stick around out of sympathy and then you're back to hiding in the bathroom and imitating the sounds of an embattled digestive system).

d. Refer them to your mother and go out, anywhere, until they've gone, taking the cat with you.


Your best friend comes to you with romantic problems. Do not tell her exactly where she is going wrong, how she always had bad taste in men or that if she never grows up she will end up having the same crisis again and again.

a. Listen quietly and sympathetically without judging (I'm sorry, apparently this is the right approach. No, I don't understand it either).

b. Explain you have limited experience in affairs of the heart and offer to take her to your gaming club as they always need more women members there.

c. Load The Sims and show her how to manage romantic situations, including any alien encounters she might have in the future,

d. Refer her to your mother who will most likely tell her exactly where she is going wrong, remind her of her bad taste in men and then tell her to grow up, before giving her a hug.


Your neighbour keeps parking their car in your space, or blocking your drive. Do not call the police on them to avoid direct confrontation or have a meltdown on their front step.

a. Forge a medical parking badge and put it in your car, then explain you have clients who need to see you at short notice. This should shame them into behaving but be prepared to explain what medical services you offer (IT support does not count, sorry).

b. Pay local hoodlums to hang around by their car, leering at it. Eventually they will crack and park it in a locked garage somewhere.

c. Use their car to rest against as you work on your laptop in the street, connected to their WIFI. Once you've downloaded the full series of Apoctica and her Many Admirers, you can go back inside - until the next day.

d. Stand and stare at heir house at midnight every night until they move home.


Your work colleague outperforms you and also talks about you behind your back. They think you need to come a long way to reach their level and aren't afraid to let your boss know this. Do not, I repeat, do not! hack into their life online and send them into a spiral of disrepair they will never escape without professional help. (You should save this for the very special people in your life).

a. Explain to them how much you admire them and ask for their help on a regular basis. This should ensure they are so bloated with pride they end up doing your job as well as their own, thus solving the problem of your performance and freeing you up to do more important things while at work.

b. Make friends with their friends using the unusual charm you keep for emergencies, then leave them socially isolated and unhappy in the workplace.

c. Fix your boss's computer/life problems/mother's rental agreement issues and become the golden child at work, untouchable by any colleague, however talented.

d. Stare at them from across the office, wherever they are and from wherever you are, at least ten times a day. Keep your face blank and emotionless (yay for aspies!) and watch their nerves shred. When confronted, say you were thinking and didn't notice where you were looking, then temporarily stare at someone else to prove the point.


Your significant other wants to move the relationship forward. Apparently this means living together and combining all aspects of your life, like putting up with their love of soap operas and having Sunday lunch with their mother every week. Do not end the relationship on a whim or state, in a high and fraught voice, that they are allowed to use your spare room and their mother can come over as long as you are OUT.

a. Talk about your feelings (I am so sorry! Yes, this is what is supposed to happen! I know!) Be prepared to write them down first as it's easy to forget what you were going to say when you have no real intention of sharing.

b. Talk about their feelings and point out where they are going wrong. Once you have them crying in the middle of the rug, explain how to fix things and bask in the glow of having used logic appropriately and also avoided their mother ever visiting you again.

c. Introduce them to anime/sci-fi/Game of Thrones/Discovery Channel and make them watch everything you love. No getting out of it. Keep it up until they can't remember ever watching anything else. Then wait to see if they discuss moving in again.

d. Don't keep the cats out when they come round (I realise this is very specific advice but it can also be applied to your dog or dogs, the neighbour's small children, your embarrassing family members or a hired troupe of circus artistes).

e. Consider explaining the next stage to you is updating your relationship status to 'It's Complicated' on Facebook.


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Aspies are Fools

April Fool's Day is an invention designed to make a certain portion of society feel like they should know better than to get out of bed in the morning. Once people pass an age when eating worms is fun, playing April Fool's tricks is more an exercise in willful cruelty than a lighthearted joke.

This April was no different, with 'funnies' going on all over the internet (and yes, some are funny) and lots of fake statuses on Facebook (no change there then). I was drawn in more by the statuses as it's natural to read them and think they're really what people are thinking and doing.

I expect it seems silly to the less gullible that I wouldn't automatically think of April Fool's when I was reading these things. I did. I reminded myself of the date before I logged on but forgot as soon as I was immersed.

It's very annoying as my first reaction is to believe the status, then the second reaction is to realise they're not being serious. My third reaction is to feel ashamed that I was caught out again, even though no one knows.

I hate that feeling, the creeping shame that I got it wrong on such an obvious, elementary level. It's not because I'm full of pride,  I don't mind laughing at myself. It's more to do with all the times when it happens accidentally, when other people say something and I don't realise they're either joking or lying and I get taken in.

Again and again, readers. How many times do you have to be gullible before it wears off? Does it ever? Would I want it to?

I often think of myself as cynical when it comes to some parts of life but when other people open their mouths and say something, I tend to believe them before I think it through. It's as if the words tumbling from their lips form their own kind of reality. It is true because it was spoken.

Then I have to backtrack and remind myself that people often say things that aren't true. I know this is not news, but still I expect others to tell the truth. Knowing that people lie and then applying that to the person standing in front of you are two different things.

Yet it happens so often I should be used to it. I don't mean I'm surrounded by liars, or that they are all false friends. Perhaps it's easier to say I often feel surrounded by people who massage reality, to try and get it to do what they want.

Also, they assume everyone else does the same and see nothing wrong with blending truth and lies. If I am taken in, it is my fault.

This is the accepted wisdom. Just as on April Fool's Day, there is a type of Buyer Beware running through life where the liar, the naysayer, the flimsy-worded malcontent who would have you treat them as a friend, thinks that if you believe what they say then it is your fault.

Doesn't everyone bend the truth? Therefore if we believe everything we are told, we must be fools. Somewhere along the line it became a given fact that people who take everyone as they see them and expect honesty are gullible and naive, whereas those who twist their words are people who live in the real world.

This real world of which you speak, it is nothing more and nothing less than real. Words cannot change it and small, imperceptible lies won't change it either.

I am a fool who thinks each new person may be honest, even though I know many people are not. I am still gullible after all these years and can be taken in by soft voices and smiling faces. I am naive and believe that people can be my friend, right here and now, because it feels like friendship.

Each day may have a breath of April Fool's to it but it's far better to live this way than to be always struggling in a morass of what is and is not true. Lying, to yourself or the world at large, is a lifelong commitment. Being a fool comes naturally and makes every day feel like new.


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