The Vine: May 1, 2013
I have been friends with a woman for about 10 years now. I have known her much longer through mutual acquaintances, but we really just started having a personal friendship not that long ago.
The reason we didn't hit it off straightaway is that she's a bit…odd. Our initial social circle was mostly a bunch of 20-somethings hitting the town, flirting with boys and drinking. Probably excessively, but nothing bad ever happened. At the time I just thought she didn't really handle alcohol well because of some of the things she would do so I kept my distance.
Through some roiling realignments of the social circle (marriages, unfriendings [pre-Facebook!], pregnancies, etc.], she and I ended up spending some time together on our own. She has been perennially single, with only one long-term on-again-off-again loser boyfriend that never had a chance of going anywhere. (I won't list his rap sheet here — minor stuff but still.)
Anyway, about a year ago I was reading up on the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome and realized that she more likely than not suffers from this. She has odd social habits, such as all of a sudden declaring "I gotta go" and leaving in the middle of a social event or lacking the proper emotional responses to others. Once I read the symptoms, I couldn't get it out of my head that this explains so much of her behavior. She clearly exhibits eight of the twelve listed on the website I was on.
My question to you is, should I share this opinion with her, and if so, how? My fear is that I will hurt her feelings or hugely embarrass her by suggesting she has a condition that until recently was on the autism spectrum. I don't know if there is much she can even do about it, but just awareness might help her interactions with others. She does not have a lot of success dating because she doesn't really know how to "connect" with people and comes off as either rude, insensitive or even aggressive at times. She would call it assertive, of course. I am not a psychologist and realize she would need to see one for a professional assessment, but how would I even begin to suggest that? Or should I? Internet diagnoses are of course suspect and I fully realize that.
So, what would Sars do? I have asked my husband and a couple friends and no one knows what would be appropriate. How do you kindly suggest someone get checked for a specific condition without implying they have that specific condition? Clearly I have leaned towards not saying anything as, obviously, I have not mentioned it to her. But she's lonely, would love to have a boyfriend and is now having difficulties at work, mostly due to her personality and behavior.
I can't decide which is the bigger dick move — withholding information that could help her in the long term or potentially insulting her and hurting her feelings and being completely wrong.
I applaud your instincts here — both the instinct that tells you to save Friend from herself in social and work situations, because it makes you a sweet, concerned friend; and the instinct that tells you you have no relevant expertise in a diagnosis that, for good or ill, has become a catch-all for explaining awkward behavior.
Sars would do nothing, unless asked directly — something along the lines of "Why do you think I never get a second date?" or "Listen to XYZ story from work today — my boss totally hates me, right?" And then you ask Friend a few questions about the circumstances, food-for-thought-type questions ("Did he try to kiss you? …Oh, you 'lunged' away from him? Well, maybe lunging sent a certain message. …Aaaand you also ran inside after. Did you smile at least? …Okay, here's your problem: you're acting like you hate him." Etc.) Wait 'til you're asked (or 'til she's been complaining about a given situation for months on end and hasn't taken steps to change it). Point out a few things, if you like. But don't take your increased closeness — or her clumsy interactions — as permission to advise her to get checked out for a spectrum disorder.
Why? One, as you realize, you're not qualified. Two, it's probably hurtful; honesty for its own sake isn't always kind. Three, it doesn't do her much good. If she has a…I don't know how we group these things now, usage-wise. "Social delay," let's go with that. If she has a social delay, regardless of its nature, she has to decide to deal with it and find ways to live with it. I get that this is the behavioral equivalent of a skirt tucked into pantyhose, kind of, and obviously you don't want to hear that she got fired and wonder if you could have done something to prevent it — but whether Friend has Asperger's or is just tone-deaf, she's an adult. She needs to figure her shit out, because it's her shit. Just because you can explain it doesn't mean you should fix it. Or that it needs fixing. Our society needs to get better at letting people be, a little bit.
Can you use that symptoms checklist as a guideline for yourself, in not getting frustrated with her at times? Sure. But that's all you should use it for, in my view.
I do look forward to hearing from some folks with more experience with diagnosed behavioral delays, whether firsthand or with loved ones.
Tags: etiquette friendships