Wednesday, February 4, 2009

One Aspie and Autist Contribution to the World - More Honesty


The article "Guys, Are You About to Be Dumped?", by Bob Strauss, shows an incident in which tact and subtlety were taken way too far:

"Recently, I went out with a guy for a second date," says Melissa from Chicago. "Before this, I tried to give him all the tell-tale signs that I wasn't interested, but he persisted: He wouldn't stop calling, he wouldn't stop asking me out. So just to get him off my back, I agreed to go out one more time.

"During the date, to continue to show him I wasn't interested, I brought up every taboo subject I could think of, and tilted my views toward the radical side: feminism, politics, religion, marriage, etc.", says Melissa.

"When he dropped me off, I very clearly leaned toward the door away from him, and hopped out of the car as soon as possible to avoid the terrible ‘good night kiss.' After that, he finally figured it out!"

We'll never know just what kinds of "tell-tale signs" Melissa tried to give him, or whether he was an Aspie. On the other hand, as Strauss himself points out, "[G]uys aren't very good at picking up clues."

Faced with a guy who apparently wasn't good at picking up clues, Melissa did the wrong thing. She actually agreed to his requests.

Melissa might have thought that her behavior on the second date would have turned him off completely. Unfortunately, she was mistaken. Only her avoidance of a good-night kiss convinced him that she wasn't interested.

If I were still on the market and had a date like that, my interest would have been piqued. I admire people - especially women - with strong opinions and the courage to express them. And I would have interpreted the discussion as a sign that she felt comfortable enough with me to talk about these things.

How ironic that Melissa did all this precisely to cover her lack of courage. All she had to say was "Thank you for your kind offer, but I'm not interested. But good luck finding the woman of your dreams!" She didn't want to actually say it - but she wanted him to know it anyway.

What if he remained interested in Melissa and never got her hints? Did she think it would get easier as time went on? When was she going to break the bad news to him - the day before the wedding?

Maybe we Aspies can help. We know what it's like not to get a hint, and we practice our honesty skills.

Let's look at what he was doing. He was asking Melissa out. Note the operant term here. It means that a question is being posed, to which there can be more than one answer. When someone asks you out on a date, s/he understands that the answer can be either "Yes, I'd love to" or "No, thank you."

Maybe, just maybe, the person is a grown-up, and he'll accept "No" and move on with his life. If he doesn't, let that be his problem. As a last resort, that's what the police are for. It's certainly not fair to just assume that a given person won't take "No" for an answer.

In fact, it's not fair to either side. Melissa wasted a lot of her time, money and tension, some of it in the company of the very guy she wanted to avoid. She might have also put her reputation at risk, if the guy spreads the word that she has bad dating manners. Maybe she didn't mind that. Problem is, she wasted his time and money too. Perhaps worst of all, she also treated him like a baby who can't stand to hear the word "No".

Some people defend the practice as "letting him down easy". Next time you need a Band-Aid removed, is that the approach you want to take? Trust me, removing a human being feels much the same way - just more intense.

MUDs (Multiple User Dimensions, or Multiple User Dungeons) have different kinds of characters, such as Thieves, who have high Dexterity scores and are good at sneaking past guards and monsters, picking locks and stealing things, Fighters, who have high Strength scores and are good at killing tough monsters, and Magic-Users, who have high Intelligence scores and are good at using magic powers. The different kinds of characters need each other; none can succeed alone.

You might say this world is like a great big MUD. NTs may have high Tact and Subtlety scores, and are good at building connections among various types of people and communicating subtle nuances. Aspies and autists have high Honesty, Directness and Firmness scores, and can be good at enforcing boundaries and nipping one-sided "relationships" in the bud.

Strauss says "My advice to my fellow single guys? Maybe take a hint and bail before things get that bad." A good piece of advice. Here's another one: Maybe tell the other person straight out when things aren't working, just in case he doesn't take your hint, precisely so you and he can bail before things get that bad.

Don't thank us: we're happy to help.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Some good advice!

I think you learn that the hard way really - I used to be 'too nice' or perhaps 'too unsure of own feelings' to be able to let someone down very easily, but I've learnt that directness is really the best policy, and am far more in touch with what I'm feeling too!

Mama Mara said...

Absolutely: this is where NTs have a lot to learn from their Aspie/Autist peers!

I think NT women in particular have difficulty with being direct because they have been taught from a very young age that it is a horrible thing to hurt someone else's feelings.

I've known "Melissas" who are so averse to conflict and possibly hurting another person's feelings, that they'll date these guys they don't like for months, making both of them miserable.

Maybe Autists/Aspies ought to hold seminars on directness for women like Melissa. Could be a goldmine.

StatMama said...

This is a reason I have a difficult time with NT female friendships. There is SO much decoding of body language and subtle hints that other NT females are very adept at picking up - but which are lost on me. And many guys! I very much appreciate kind honesty from others. There is a line between honesty and brutality, and it's not terribly hard to find it.

Very good post, Jeff!

Steve Foerster said...

I think there may be something cultural at work here as well. My observation is that Caribbean women are much more direct than American women, whether to show disinterest or interest. Even as an NT guy it's a trait that I well appreciate in my Caribbean wife.

Jeff Deutsch said...

Thank you very much, all of you!

Mara: Excellent idea for seminars (and/or a handbook) on directness.

NT women seem to have this problem more than men. However, I have seen more than a few NT men go to extreme lengths in a (futile) effort to avoid conflict.

In fact, the Sexual Assault Crisis Center (410-222-RAPE or 410-222-1716) in central Maryland has put out a very good sexual assault prevention pamphlet, "When No Means No!" As they point out, you should "Be clear and direct. If you want the person to stop, there is no better word than 'NO.'"

StatMom: NT women probably have very high expectations wrt picking up on things. Another female Aspie acquaintance of mine told me that it's why the bulk of her friends are men.

Interestingly, most of my friends (who are all female - and mainly NT) have mostly male friends themselves.

Steve: You may be on to something there. One thing I've also observed firsthand is that black women (at least in the U.S.) are much more direct. (I believe Adella is black, is that right?)

Jeff Deutsch

Anonymous said...

Reading this, I couldn't help but agree with you! People need to be honest with each other. If you never open your mouth and voice what you want/don't want your never going to get anywhere.

I swear it's my biggest pet peeve. I'm just a big honesty junkie. Okay, there's a line - be honest but not rude. If you are scared of hurting someone, there are ways to let them down easy.

I think sometimes though (and this is just my opinon) women are taught to be silent, to never be mean or hurtfull. Because of this, we often hide behind the facade of "politness" when we really should be standing up for ourselves.