It’s hard to make friends when you’re a grown up. Plenty of neurotypicals struggle with it, it’s certainly not just autistic people who find building new friendships hard.

The problem with building friendships, is that you have to invest time and energy in people, in the hopes that you will like them, they will like you, and that that investment will translate into a meaningful relationship.

I have problems with building friendships. I cannot see the subtle stages. I don’t know when there is a change in tone and it’s appropriate to suggest moving from a casual acquaintance to a deliberate meeting.

It’s not that I don’t have friends, I do. I have wonderful, warm, brilliant friends. I have male friends and female friends. I have friends who put a lot of time and effort into coming to visit me. Friends who see the true me. Friends who find my occasionally bizarre turns of phrase, stimulating and entertaining. Supportive friends who I support in turn.

The one thing they all have in common is that getting to that level of friendship was not an easy organic process. It was stunted and interrupted by my masking. It leapt forwards in fits and starts as I tried to work out when to accelerate and when to back away.

My mask, the mask I wear to look like everyone else; the mask I wear to hide my autism from the world; the mask I have spent a lifetime perfecting, gets in the way of building friendships.

My mask will tell you that I’m fine, when I’m lonely. My mask will keep you at arm’s length, when I’m seeking intimacy. My mask will show you a bland version of a person, instead of an insight into my sense of humour and my daftness.

My mask protects me, but it also distances me. It’s more than the everyday, “When do I show them my eccentricities?” That most people will have, it’s, “When will I peel away my face and show them that I’m not one of them at all?”, “Will they be someone who understands autism, or will I need to invest more time and energy in educating them?”, “Will they think I’ve been deceptive by not revealing everything about me straight away?”

The ridiculous thing is that I’ve failed to build a truly likeable mask. Of course I have, it’s a misnomer. How can you be a truly likeable fake? I think too hard about the appropriate responses, I rely too much on scripts, it means I can communicate well and quickly, but not authentically. Friendships need authenticity.

There are important social skills to learn. Personal hygiene is one of the most important. Allowing the other person time and space to speak is a good one. Not invading someone’s personal space. Filtering your words through the eyes of kindness where possible.

Ultimately I don’t want friendships with people who love small talk. It won’t work out with people who don’t share my interests or general viewpoints on things that are important to me. I don’t need more confusion in my life. I like a discussion, but if any of your building blocks are based in hatred of anyone or anything, we’re not compatible.

Just because I’m not great at building friendships, doesn’t mean I would accept anyone as a friend. In fact, with less social energy to spend than most people, it’s even more important that my friendships are enriching and worthwhile.

If I say that I’d like to see you, it’s a truth. If I say we should do something sometime, it’s a truth. If you don’t say it back I will assume that that’s a truth too.

It’s been three years since I moved to a new area, and I haven’t succeeded here yet. I haven’t found that holy grail of friendships. The person who understands, who doesn’t need constant contact, but is happy to meet for a coffee every week or two to put the world to rights.

There are many people who I know to chat to who I like but haven’t been able to translate that into more. There are people who I knew long ago who I would love to know again, but fail to communicate that.

There are no set rules. Vague plans to do something at some point may need pushing for, or may be a gentle let down. I don’t know which so I can’t pursue either. What if I push too hard too soon, and something that could have been, dissolves instead?

Friendships need bravery, and it’s my mask that carries that, not me. But she always looks so independent and distant.

Then there are those virtual friends that I’ve made over the years. People I’ve chatted to casually, people I’ve shared secrets with, people who I’ve laughed and cried with. Real people, not just words on a screen. Some of the people I am most emotionally close to, most vulnerable with, I have never met. I don’t see those friendships as less worthy. They are more real and intimate than the small talk thrown at acquaintances.

One day I’ll be able to combine the two. Someone will run up and say, “Let’s be friends” and we’ll run off together to look at beetles and point at clouds and drink wine amongst plant roots. Or sit at a kitchen table and talk about the everyday, I do that too. I’m not completely interesting. Not yet anyway. But I’m working on it.

32 thoughts on “Friends

  1. Thank you for sharing, being a grown up is never an easy process and add autism to the mix I imagine it’s harder still.

    I have a few selected close friends , who I will cherish for the rest of my life because we make an effort, even though we may only meet once or twice a year or at important events like birthdays, we connected at some point. My best friend I met at the age of 16! She gets me more than anyone else and I’ve had other friends come close but they have long since gone, you will understand that friendships evolve as we grow as people. Through work friends, to friends of friends to people who just click with us. That doesn’t happen often but people are in our lives for a reason whether it be for a year, or ten years! I’ve had friends based on where I am at that point!

    Lately I’ve had more prove of that than ever before, when I put faith in a friendship which for whatever reason is now over really before it’s begun and unfortunately neither of us did anything wrong, but friendships need watering and time spent, like you said and we just couldn’t give each other that! It’s a strange transition moving on from a friendship that was a big part of my life for three years but I have great friends who I know will always be there for me!

    You will have different friends throughout your life!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Definitely. Building friendships is always an investment in time and effort, with no guarantee of comparability at the end of it. It’s just that much more exhausting when the social side costs more.

      And me too 😊 I’m very lucky that chance threw them into my path and that they were willing to see past the mask.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It doesn’t help when you get the occasional narcissistic looking to take advantage of your strengths and exploiting your vulnerabilities. Something I didn’t figure out until I was 29. There’s plenty of people like that out there. I don’t bother anymore. If a friendship doesn’t work, you finally work out when to quit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is true. Being able to spot genuine from fake is so hard. My main rule is “look at the actions, if they don’t match the words they’re not real”.


  3. A friend visited from overseas recently and asked if she could take a rest at my place. That put me at a spot because not only does that disrupt my daily schedule, I wasn’t sure for how long she wanted to stay, and due to my autistic and introverted nature, I really am not comfortable having people at my place, especially since my flat doesn’t have separate rooms for privacy. I was wondering how I should respond. In the end, I just told her the truth: I am not comfortable. She knew I am autistic and I am glad she didn’t take offence with my bluntness. I did feel bad but am glad at the same time to have a friend who has an open mind and accept my flaws.

    I like what you said about virtual friends and agree that their friendships are not any less worthy. In pre-internet days and before social media existed, they would have made great pen pals. Friendships may not last forever and this is not necessarily the fault of anyone, some people just come and go, but I think this is every more reason for me to treasure them when they appear. All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great. Being able to have that level of honesty and understanding is true friendship. Well done you for taking the leap and expressing your needs. It’s not easy! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have heard quite a few women bloggers with autism say that they have masks. I never did, because it was so obvious when things got too loud for me or my persistant off-gait worsened with fatigue. I am grateful to say that I have one very good friend, and hope I will always have one really good friend, maybe two.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this! I can definitely relate 😊 Love, love, love this post 😊😊

    Oh!–Hey girl 😊 Nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award – (*if/when* you have the time) ❀️

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Me too – it’s awesome to know you! ❀️ I think we even started our blogs like 2 weeks apart lol πŸ˜‰πŸ˜ŠπŸ’ž


  6. I was moved by this beautiful piece of writing which well captures some of the challenges my ASD husband Ken has dealt with all his life. Late diagnosed, he still struggles with forming and maintaining friendships and counts me, his non-aspie wife, as his only close friend. We started a conversation-style blog to help sort this and much more out. We welcome others to join our conversation!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Your post is incredibly interesting to read about how friendships are developed for Adults with ASD.

    We are running a social innovation campaign in Australia to increase awareness about the benefits of structured social skills programs for preteens and teens with High Functioning Autism. There is now research based programs that have amazing results in helping them make and keep friends.

    We believe that the development of these skills in their teenage years when socialising is at it’s most confusing point in anyone’s life, is extremely important in helping them to develop and maintain friendships in later life. I’ll drop a link below to and example of a social skills program that is researched based and would love some of your feedback.

    Many thanks in advance!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I will check it out. Thank you for your comment. Learning social skills is definitely important, as is learning how we socialise and creating social opportunities based on autistic rules 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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