I remember my days in high school with more than a little bitterness. My adolescence was in the late 60s and 70s. This was post sexual revolution. We can thank the pill, Playboy, and Helen Gurley Brown for that. (“Do” or “Don’t” and “How much” really have NOTHING to do with a girl’s niceness.)
I was surrounded by young people coupling up. (Figuratively and literally.) Everyone had a bf or a gf and those who didn’t were working on it. (Of course I didn’t notice those who were likely in as much pain as I. We tended to curl up in a defensive ball or hid.) I was defeated before I even started. Didn’t have a clue how the social game worked. Had a reputation as a nerd I couldn’t shake. Things changed a bit after I left high school. Not enough for a happy heart but barely enough to survive.
One fine day in Houghton, Michigan at a computer science summer camp for high school grads, I wrestled with a girl for about and hour, trying to get her clothes off. She wrestled back. The whole time she and I both knew that if I were serious it would have been no contest. But she trusted me not to push too hard and I would rather have hurt myself than hurt her. Her clothes stayed (mostly) on and she could have said no or screamed at any time. (We were in a wooded area not far from a heavily used sidewalk. The risk of getting caught was part of the thrill.) It was a lot of fun for both of us.
Another time at that same summer pre-university camp I finally lost my virginity to a girl. For some reason she was most anxious to pop her cherry. I had no complaints – she was kawaii and moe and very intelligent. Everything worked out to mutual satisfaction. She said she was planning to enter Michigan Technological University next year. Thought this virginity business was something she wanted to get out of the way. I guess I felt honored for such a choice as the students there were 90% male and she had her pick. In any event she was cheerful and friendly the rest of the camp and was a far better programmer than I ever would be.
In both the cases above, the girl had approached me. Taken out of a toxic environment and leaving my reputation and expectations behind, did this success mean I could be desirable??? Completely counter to my life experience. Hell of a “teachable moment”. Would never have gone after them on my own for fear of rejection.
I was that kind of guy. I didn’t push things. Even at my horniest, I still didn’t push things. At the time I saw this as a defect but one I was stuck with. Those girls who did not see me as an egg headed freak saw me as a “nice” guy. Hear “Lets just be friends” often enough and you start to feel neutered. Nice wasn’t what turned the girls on. A certain level of aggression and self interest was what did it, of dominance. They were looking for the Alpha male or as close to it as they could get. Guys who were not-so-nice were the often the ones who were always smooching in the hallway or making out at the drive-in.
I mentioned before the times I came close to suicide and seeing this in high school was one of my “triggers”. You could have told me anything about how great my future would be and it wouldn’t have made any difference. The heart wants what the heart wants. Love. Affection. Validation.
Here’s an example that hopefully won’t set off too may triggers for my readers. Lets say you are a teenage boy. Every time you ask a girl out on a date, something bad happens. (Not an uncommon occurrence for a boy with Asperger.) You get laughed at. You get strange looks. Might even receive anger. You become the butt of many a joke as other people hear about it. After this happens a few times…
a) You stop asking girls out. Fine. A common response to repeated failure is to stop trying. If it hurts badly enough you don’t ever try it – even if it might just work out. You have a skewed notion of the risk to benefit ratio.
b) Every time you see a couple acting lovey-dovey in a movie or read it in a book, you relive the trauma of rejection. Seeing it IRL it hurts ten times as much. It tears you apart. There is no purpose to life without it. It was what your heart wanted and couldn’t have.
Some people can just shake that sort of thing off. I saw guys who were constantly rejected out of hand by girls (and later women). It didn’t phase them in the slightest. They assigned no emotional value to it. Their theory was to swing at every ball that was thrown their way and eventually they’d get a hit. Being rejected didn’t cut them to the core of their being because they had enough ego in other areas to compensate. Having a minimal sense of self worth, a small setback in an area that involved my heart made me want to die.
I had to approach getting what my heart wanted in a way most people would consider unnatural. Took decades and is still a work in progress
“Learning” to be attractive to a girl was an extraordinarily difficult curriculum. To a kid in my situation it came glacially. Even basic grooming was alien to me. Didn’t learn that I should wash my hair until high school. Never thought of weightlifting or martial arts to keep away the bullies. Clothes were mismatched and might have been stylish 40 years ago. Steep and long learning curve.
I still feel like an alien from a distant star, trying to figure out the complexities of emotions and subtle signals that dominate human relationships. I learned to interpret body language as an adult by algorithm while everyone else mastered it instinctively as children. I do many things by algorithm that most don’t even think about. Combined with inability to do small talk, it can make me seem aloof and cold.
I “learned” fashion, I “learned” grooming and I “learned” conversation. Even flirting can be “learned”. When not in public socially these things have zero value to me. (The older I get the less they mean again.) I learned how to look sexy, talk sexy and act sexy. That algorithmic chart is still there, just so deep in the background I’m not aware of it.
I never did master small talk or all the little meaningless (to me) things people do to communicate. I tended to zero in on the smartest woman in the room and offer her someone a bit more intelligent and easygoing than the character she is trying to gently fend off. (I have the knight in shining armor routine down pat.) Or a guy who just wanted to talk of things of substance. There is no topic of substance I can’t talk about.
If I don’t find someone simpatico, parties are horrid affairs for me. I’ll leave. Or I’ll go for long walks while my wife flits and small talks and gossips with her friends. Or I sit in a corner and desperately try to keep my mind busy. It isn’t just the Asperger’s. It is also the ADD and my fundamental introversion. God bless the smartphone!
I am much better at written communication. Usually there is a subject being discussed and not random noise. I have time to run my computational engine. I can think and slowly coax feelings out that for most are lying right there on top. In person, when confronted by someone who is highly emotional I vapor lock. Mind goes blank. The more important the person is to me, the blanker my mind goes. In writing I can stand back, assess and analyze. I may still not come up with a useful response but at least I can process.
In the end, my heart never got exactly what it wanted. I met a woman who took advantage of me – but I still managed to get something back to make it worthwhile. I met a woman who would have been my ideal mother or big sister but as a lover it couldn’t last. There were a few one night stands, remembered fondly. There was a woman who had my heart and I thought I had hers – but she said she couldn’t handle the commitment. Then there were more pleasant one night stands and brief lovers. And a few very strange experiences. Pleasant for the acceptance and affection they represented but sad for the lack of continuity.
Instead of what it wanted, my heart got little doses of what it needed. Not quite enough pain to kill me but many times damned close. Over time what my heart wanted changed, glacially.
And then I was married (30+ years now) and we had two children, something I’m not going to discuss online.
My heart still wants things I can never have. Different things from 40 years ago. But I am still getting dribs and drabs of what it needs. With the Asperger’s and depression and ADD somewhat under control, life isn’t so bad.
But the heart will never stop wanting what it wants.