I know for a fact that if you spoke to me in real life, you would struggle to see the person that you see over the internet. You may wonder why I don’t ask questions, sometimes I don’t even respond to a question myself. Why I sit on my hands, and what on earth is so interesting about the wall that I have stared at it for ten minutes without meeting your eyes!?
In truth, I don’t ask question because I am, more than likely, not interested in the information you would give me; I don’t answer because I either wasn’t listening, or forgot to respond out-loud. I sit on my hands because I don’t wish to start flapping them around, and it reminds me not to rock backwards and forwards; and there really isn’t anything special about the wall (unless there’s a picture squint, but I would have got up and moved it before ten minutes had passed). I will have written more words in these two paragraphs, than I would say in total in a usual first-conversation situation.
I think the first thing to point out is that I’m not intentionally rude (despite appearances). This is my way of managing, what is to me, a stressful situation. Strangers present a plethora of unknowns that could take me by surprise, so saying as little as possible means I can’t annoy them with some comment. Right?
Apparently not. Quite a while ago, Mum and I talked a lot, and devised ‘stock phrases’ that I used out and about to limit damage from either not answering, or replying an undesired way.
“Hello Erin, how are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”
As opposed to:
“Hello Erin, how are you?”
I have a rather comical example of not understanding what was required from me socially from when my sister was born. Mum was in hospital with the baby, and dad and I had gone to see them.
“Have a look at your baby sister”
“Hmm… can I have your biscuits?”
In my defence, they were chocolate bourbons (which are the best!) and better than any howling, wriggly, sticky, pink potato-looking thing that was in that cot. Hence baby was dismissed, and biscuits were given priority. This was not my social requirement. I will admit that I was quite young at the time, but I don’t think that most young girls would immediately dismiss a baby.
Mum had bought me one of these Baby Annabel dolls that cried and needed feeding all the time, to get used to having a baby. I remember the other girls in my class having baby dolls and looking after them, and playing mummies and daddies with them. I liked Lego.
Slight worry was caused when mum and I were feeding our respective babies, and after feeding, mum explained that it was time to wind the baby. She propped Emilie on her shoulder, and gave her a gentle pat… I smacked mine on the corner of the coffee table. Hard.
I had, at some point, heard of winding someone, as in hitting them, and assumed I could do the same to the baby, with the same result as what mum was doing. No consideration whatsoever was made as to the baby’s feeling on the matter, and to me, it didn’t matter. I did the job, and that’s good, yes? Well… no. It was probably explained to me at this point that you really shouldn’t smack babies on coffee tables.
I find it very difficult to see how my actions or words can affect someone else. In fact, until I acquired a boyfriend, nothing people said, really affected me. Yes, I cried when people were angry and whatnot, but that was because I didn’t know how to deal with angry people, and I was scared of them, rather than their words inducing feeling. This, along with very little skill in empathy and sympathy, meant that I couldn’t see how I could upset a person by talking to them. This distressed my sister in particular, who wanted a classic ‘big sister’, and didn’t understand how I couldn’t see that I was being horrible.
Sometimes I do say the right things (HUZZAH!), but in the wrong tone of voice, or facial expression, or body-language to go with it, making it mean something completely different.
I managed to upset a woman in Nando’s in Aberdeen this summer, totally obliviously and accidentally, by forgetting to sound happy, and using my default monotone. She was wearing the same t-shirt as me, and I found this rather cool, this woman had style! Anyway, I thought I’d said:
“Oh look! She’s wearing the same t-shirt as me!”
“And she’s sitting at the table next to ours!” (As in, “what a coincidence!”)
This is not what you hear when the same words are said in a monotone, a bit too loudly. Calum (my boyfriend) was with me at the time, and looked a little bit horrified as the woman muttered something angrily while I looked generally confused at the whole thing. If the woman with the spectacular sense of style that I upset in Nando’s ever reads this, I apologise for my monotone, it was meant to be happy.
Earlier this month, I upset my sister by giving her the answer to a question, twelve hours later than she wanted it. She had asked me which dress looked better while I was playing The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess. A much more important task than deciding something about some dress. I thought I had told my sister to wait, and that I would think about it. ‘Thought’ is the optimum word in that sentence. I had intended to reply, even decided what I was going to say, but then got distracted before the words reached my mouth. I then gave her the answer to her question the morning after, when I had given it due attention, but by that point, she didn’t want my opinion because I had upset her.
Mum often comments that I can be both in the room, and absent at the same time, simply because I can disregard everyday life so easily and concentrate intensely on something which I find more important. This change in attention can be very sudden, and a bit weird for people. I often ask mum to repeat the second part of a sentence, even a short one, because I zoned out in the middle of it as I thought of something more important.
“I don’t really understand why it’s considered normal to stare at someone’s eyeballs” – John Elder Robinson
I find looking people in the eye to be very difficult. It’s too intimate an act for me to feel comfortable with. Usually, looking at a person gives people information about mood and suchlike. Body-language and things like that. As I cannot translate body-language, I see no point in looking at people, and as I am both uncomfortable with it, and I have no need for it, I find it very difficult to bring myself to look someone in the eye for any amount of time.
If any of you have seen Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (great movie), there is a part where Flint’s father tells him to look him in the eye and say something. Flint’s eyeballs then seem to be repelled from looking at his dad’s, like bringing together the north poles of two magnets (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clzT55JVGck). This is what it is like when I am asked to look someone in the eye.
Well, this blog has gone on long enough. I hope you all have a very happy, yet reasonably sane Christmas! See you in the New Year.