Don't be so eager to please

Apparently girly aspies are far too eager to please. From nursery through to marriage, we're the ones who hide our difficulties behind a veil of smiles and trying-too-hards. We're the girls who slot in where everyone else would like us to be and this eagerness to make ourselves good and true and kind and perfect is what is supposed to mask our Aspergers.

Well, let's ignore for a moment the absolutely abhorrent message buried in a shallow grave in this whole scenario - that to be a girl is to be a creature made to please everyone else, no matter who this mass of everyone else might be - and move onto the masking.

So, you have Aspergers and you are a small child of 4. As a girl aspie you have a super-power: you have the ability to run into your school years without anyone knowing you are on the spectrum. From the age when children still have trouble holding a pencil or tying their shoelaces, us girls are able to not only mask our needs well enough to fool a whole world, we are also doing it on purpose.

Yes, as a girl aspie we are meant to be so eager to please that we can mask our true nature under a bouquet of smiles and curtsies. Any 4 year old can do that!

Do you feel some sarcasm leaking out? Do you feel some anger too? Hold onto it, you might need it later.

Fast-forward from this 4 year old maelstrom of mood-management to the little girl who has just turned 10 and understands the world a lot more. She can look at Susy and Chloe and know they know things she'll never know. And then she'll get distracted by the repetition of 'know' and go to tell Chloe and Susy in great detail why this is fascinating and remember too late about not doing that kind of thing.

Our 10 year old is a lot more aware of pleasing people. She now watches for the teacher's face changing, or her classmates noticing her doing something out of the ordinary. She watches all the time. And she watches quietly, even when she's being loud.

You might see her running about, shouting, playing, being part of a group but a person who looks more closely will see how this little girl's eyes travel from side to side as she runs: she is checking that all is well, that she does the right thing. And if she gets carried away and does the wrong thing, she will try to realise in time and cover it up before anyone has noticed.

By this age, life is more complicated because those other 10 years olds are also more aware and they sussed in nursery that our 10 year old was different. Good different or bad different? Her true friends don't care that she's different but with other people there is a tangible ping to her, as if at any moment she might do something incredible and terrifying.

You go forward, she goes forward and we find ourselves looking at the 16 year old girl. She is now well-versed in fitting in. How good she is! How practiced at walking into a room and not doing anything that might single her out as apart from the group. And yet her every step is tempered by the knowledge of many other steps where it didn't go as planned and she was suddenly the centre of attention.

This 16 year old might be outgoing but she's more likely to be quiet. Yes, I'm generalising. But again, just like the girl running in the playground, outgoing or quiet your aspie girl grows up watching the world to see what it might do and what she should do in return.

She chooses her words carefully, when she remembers, and has a tendency to sound stilted and formal. Or she forgets to choose them and sounds like herself and doesn't realise this is okay.

She is charming, odd, good at unusual things, bad at what everyone can do or just very bad at doing anything with an audience. She can tell you facts you never even knew there was a question for and completely forget to bring her lunch to school. She looks at you to see what you are going to say, sometimes forgetting to listen to you say it. She is adept at avoiding the angry teachers and at making friends with the stern, scary ones everyone else hates.

(For what it's worth, stern, scary teachers actually appreciate children who know fab facts and can tell when students are trying to be ordinary).

In essence, she is herself, right there on the spectrum with all kinds of amazingness which goes unnoticed by most and can be filed under quirky. Yes, she is quirky, but you know what?

That 16 year old is still in nursery. She has spent all these school years learning about other people and the way the world works as well as learning about her school work. Or at least she tried. Want to know why she couldn't do her lessons? Want to know why she went through a phase of meltdowns so big she had to be sent home? Do you? Well, maybe you should have found out at the time instead of sending her home or having a meeting without her parents present.

She went home to her sanctuary and all was like the blessed fall of cool water after a long, summer's night. She tilted her face on the way through the door and saw the light shine just so on the front windows of her house and she was safe again. She left behind all the pressures and went home to where she can breathe out and go to her room.

And this girl grew and knew what she should do and say and still wanted to go home. She still wanted to have meltdowns too, and sometimes she would. Not always a people pleaser, but always watching, waiting, seeing what they do and what they want so she won't be in danger today.

The assumption is that girls are expected to be eager to please, that it is in their make-up or their upbringing to please others. But perhaps it's just the way they react to danger?

Girls are often expected to be quiet more than boys and if you have an aspie girl who is working her frilly socks off to be the same as other girls, she'll learn that people want her to be compliant. Also, girls figure out that compliance can mean being left to get on with your life, which is peaceful.

Let me smile at you and nod and agree to whatever it was you wanted just so you turn around, right now, and leave without asking me for anything more. I might not do the thing you wanted, I might forget, or say I forget; I might frustrate you and anger you and make it worse for myself, but in the end you will accept I was trying and leave me alone more often. People who try to please are left alone and then they have a pocket of time to be themselves so I'll try to please and when you are not looking, drift off into that place where you cannot ever go and wouldn't be allowed if you were able.

Don't look at me that way I hate, don't raise your voice, don't disapprove of me because disapproving feels like danger and I need to be safe. Don't expect me to be like the others, yet I can't ask you this last thing. I try to seem like the others, just so you won't look at me, and shout at me and disapprove of me, so I have to accept that you want me to be like them and do my best to seem that way.

It is logical and, despite the pictures of butterflies and aliens, and alien-butterflies and my endless knowledge of the two - despite this I am logical and I know if I smile and say yes, then life is quieter and I can carry on being safe.

Later, when I'm not 4 or 10 or 16, it might occur to me this wasn't the best plan, that perhaps it wasn't as logical as I thought to fit in just so. By then, maybe I'll have the courage to be myself all the way through from the middle to the outside? Will I still be eager to please?

My dear world, of course I will, so long as it suits me.


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Forgive me if I seem to stare...

Forgive me if I seem to stare but what you don't understand is that Other People, this tribe so different from how I feel, are endlessly fascinating to me. You may think you are ordinary, even a little dull, but to me you are better than an afternoon at the museum.

Other People are like education but with ice cream, learning the fun stuff like what they do when they argue (in public! joy!), or how they raise their kids or what they think is a good idea for tea. I like to see the way their face changes when something annoys or amuses them, I like to watch them as they think to themselves and don't know anyone sees.

Yes, it is creepy, I am creepy, but then so is the whole world. At least I am honest when I say I watch you and, take this as a compliment, I learn how you behave so I can behave also.

This is a good thing. To learn to pass along the street and not worry the people going by, to behave as those around me behave so that, in life, I can be friends with them and move through the world with the minimum of friction and the maximum chance of having fun.

It is good to watch, and yet I know it worries people. They feel uncomfortable, predated almost. I remind some part of them of dark places and cold nights with eyes unseen waiting for dinner. I remind myself of that too, at times.

Take it in good part, Other People. I watch you because I am fascinated. You are so amazing! I want to see what makes you tick. I want to see what you do when you are being yourself. I don't want you to see me though.

Let me not rattle your nerves with my unwavering stare. Instead, pass by as if I wasn't there and go on your way, unaware of me moving to let you by or turning a little as you brush on and into Canned Goods.

I leave with a lift in my step and a little more knowledge and you leave in innocence and only here for the shopping. This is as it should be.

And if we should ever meet in what is laughably known as real life, I will pretend not to stare and we might be friends. Don't worry, I'm quite safe and so are you.

Now, do that thing again when you laugh. Yes, that one, right there.


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Why I'm still saying No.

"I've got too much on," I explain. Or at least I think that explains it.

There is a moment of considered silence, the kind where you know the other person is deciding whether to say what they think or let you away with it - again.

"Like what?" they ask, obviously determined to pin you down.

"Well, I had that thing last week," I say, waving my hand at the event which I spent 4 weeks building up to and am still coming down from on the other side.

Their face twitches like a fly landed on their cheek, except there is no fly. The fly is me, the one in the ointment, in the doorway, in the line of sight. That fly buzzing around, the one they need to keep in one place long enough so they can -

"You can still come," a sideways triumphant gleam. "That thing was last week, it's been eight days, you're not too busy!" Done, dusted, you're coming. Right?

"No!" I refuse, not even knowing how else to refuse than saying No. If I can fully explain myself, in person and face-to-face then it still isn't sorted because my explanations don't fit the standard Reasons to Avoid or Depart that most people keep in their head.

"It took a lot of doing," I try, clenching my hands and starting to pull faces. "That thing last week, it took a lot-"

"It was last week!" Exasperation sets in, as usual. "Last week," they empahsise as if I am five. "This week, you're not busy."

Busy is so relative! I'm not actually doing anything much, no, but I feel busy. The sense that I have lots of different parts of life clamouring for attention is very strong still, the come down from being stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and officially busy last week hangs around into this week too. I am still busy because I feel busy.

While I'm casting about for a reason they will understand and accept (other than No, which seems like an invitation for more pressure to say Yes), they take their chance to ice the cake.

"Anyway," they shrug, as if I am already gathering my coat to come, "it'll be fun!"

I stop in my tracks, not moving, frozen in disbelief that they could use the F-word in this way.

"Fun?!" I splutter, incredulous.

"Yes!" I get a happy face, oh joy. "You enjoyed yourself last time, after all your moaning!"

Last time I managed not to leave early, you see. It's always a mistake to show weakness by not walking out when you want to. Stay the full time one week and people expect it every week; don't run out crying one week, they decide you had a great time; don't beg to be taken home; they know you've finally got over your funny little social thing.

Don't refuse to come in the first place? You will be asked, pushed, pressured, kicked into the car and driven to the damn thing whether or not you explain yourself or claw, pitifully, at the window all the way there.

No, I want to say. I want to back away and say NO until it's listened to, a word with rights, an answer that is acceptable because it's the only one I can give.

"Hurry up then, or we'll be late."

They walk out the door, leaving it open behind them, confident I'll follow.

"No," I whisper, then decide whether or not to pick up my coat.


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