Getting and Keeping Friendships by Jane Strauss

Especially on-line I have often been asked by younger Spectrumites how they can make friends. I have the possible advantage of having been labeled in middle adulthood, and not spent my early years in Special Education, where the authorities often keep students separated and, based on what some of my friends have said, teach dysfunctional “social skills.”

I still am in touch, 50 years later, with a friend from grade school, and have friends from High School, College, and a variety of points in my life.   I have successfully raised 4 kids on spectrum to adulthood and they have found their places in the world. Unlike many in the world, I have been divorced only once, and have maintained long-term romantic relationships as well. That said, I have come up with several skills and behaviors that I recommend, based upon my decades of experience.

            There are five main rules here:

  1. Take part in activities you like, if possible outside of your room. If you like gaming, do that. If social fear means you have to start online, by all means do, but look for gaming groups, conventions, clubs, meetups, so you can meet people in the real world.   In high school, my friends were also involved in Orchestra, theater, art, Scouts, and folk music groups. We started out with interests in common, and were able to build interaction and relationships on our commonalities. In college, I made friends with people in Outing Club, as I liked climbing, hiking, and camping. It’s best to try to get involved with a group that meets on a regular basis – weekly, monthly etc, or as with performing groups, at times more often.
  2. Do not take part in something you do not like to do, JUST to meet people. One example is going to bars, if you don’t like drinking alcohol or being around people who do. I have found that doing that, leaves me unhappy and sets me up for failure. If you like doing the activity, then you will be more likely to enjoy going. When you enjoy it, you will be more likely to look happy, and people will more usually approach and want to meet people who are smiling. I met both my partners through science fiction activities which I enjoyed.
  3. If you do not understand something a potential friend does or says, ask them what they mean. There is nothing so sad as losing a potential friend through a misunderstanding.
  4. Remember that getting to know someone does take time. Even if it feels to you as if you must become best friends in a week or two, this is not realistic. Try to let them take the lead on getting together. This does not mean that if you will be going someplace fun that you think they might also like and want them to come along, you don’t ask. It does mean that you might not succeed if you think you should be together every day or even every week when you have first met. They have other people in their life and it looks like stalking if you try to monopolize their time. That can get you into trouble.
  5. Be nice to people. You never know where other friends may come from. Sometimes “popular” people may be imitating others, or saying mean things about them behind their backs, saying that they are “just joking” and you think that joining in will make you popular too. It won’t. It will just make you as mean as they are. Try to find people who are kind to others, watch what they do, and copy them. In the long run they make the best friends, to you and to others, and are models for how you can be a good friend too. And, being nice to your friends is a good start to keeping them, over the long term.