|Azure Jane Lunatic (Azz - bolt of blue - infovore) (azurelunatic) wrote,|
@ 2013-02-08 12:33 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||gender, rants|
Now, I have sympathy for terror of social interactions. I can't even know what it feels like to be on the spectrum, because as far as I know, I'm not (I was just raised in a society so unlike mainstream for the first five years of my life, and I was unplugged from it enough subsequently that I felt like a very sad and angry Vulcan stuffed into a school of Earth children).
The situation described in the woman-in-tech's entry was an instance of targeted, malicious, knowing harassment that took easily tens of hours to prepare. There is no way that the person doing this was unaware that he was doing something deliberately mean -- whether just "for the lulz", or as revenge, there's no indication. This was not a chance encounter that could have been intended well but come off as creepy. Furthermore, it wasn't even a name-and-shame: she described the situation, but didn't try to identify the (pseudonymous) perpetrator, which she could have done. She focused on describing the situation and actions, identifying those as bad and harmful, saying that people should not do those things and suggesting ways that the community could support people who have had this done to them -- and did not even hint that the internet should try to locate and punish the person responsible for harassing her.
Pro tip number one, based on this situation: if you are a person who will just randomly/impulsively drop into "hack mode" and spend an hour, or two, or ten, on a project, and you know you do not have good social skills, especially not good social skills with people of the gender you'd like to date: if you notice you spent more than maybe an hour preparing a "surprise", run the idea past someone who is not you, ideally someone whose social skills are better than yours. I say this as someone who is capable of monofocus/very intense attention, and who has creeped people out in the past with the best of intentions. Getting a second look at some of my "great ideas" would have been really helpful a few times.
However, the commenter seemed (from his very brief statement) to have severe anxiety about any interaction at all, lest it be misinterpreted, and he be named-and-shamed.
It is true that brief, off-the-cuff interactions can go very quickly and badly wrong. I really wish the world had a lot more support to adults (on the spectrum or off) for teaching and practicing the basic social skills that people are expected to pick up naturally in childhood. (It turned out that I was lucky enough to not be on the spectrum, just badly underexposed to kids my age that I could relate to, and underexposed to the dominant local culture. Once I got more practice being social, I got better at doing it, because I am wired to have good interpersonal pattern recognition.)
When a quick social interaction goes wrong in a way that doesn't involve anybody touching anybody else, and I'm the one who fucked up, I have two major reactions, both of which are likely to make things even worse.
1) Conclude that this person will hate me forever, and nothing I can do will make it better, so I might as well not even try.
Don't apologize, because maybe I don't know what I did wrong, or maybe I do and I know I can't fix it. Go away immediately. Avoid them forever. Voluntarily exclude myself from gatherings that include them -- or their friends, because naturally they will have told all of their friends about how creepy and awful I am, and their friends will naturally believe them and hate me just as intensely, forever. Resent them for not giving me a chance.
2) Conclude that this person hates me/is angry with me. I cannot stand it when people hate me. I must make it better. How to make it better? I know! APOLOGIZE. THEN THEY WILL LOVE ME OR AT LEAST FORGIVE ME. IF THEY DON'T FORGIVE ME, APOLOGIZE UNTIL THEY DO.
It is not the end of the world if one person has a bad impression of me based on one interaction, and if the interaction is bad, the shorter the better. If the apology is longer/more intense than either my action or their reaction, or both of them put together, it will probably make it worse. I am thinking in particular of that guy at that convention who did something that the lady found creepy, and then followed her around for the rest of the convention trying to apologize, which made things exponentially worse. Even if he'd had the best intentions in the world, the ratio of contact-to-apology was bad.
Realistically speaking, people are overly forward, creepy, and weird to each other all the time, and a short interaction where the person being creepy apologizes quickly and then goes away appearing regretful but not devastated, and then is around in a polite but distant fashion later in the course of whatever else they're doing, it's ... actually sort of a normal social interaction. I could not possibly remember every random person who has inspired me to side-eye or chide them about their behavior in a public space. Seeing someone who's annoyed me or creeped me out being non-creepy to other people in my presence reassures me that not all of their interactions with the world are bad, and makes me inclined to consider the possibility that they could have been having a bad day. If my only experience with them is bad, though...
I could not possibly remember every person who my friends have complained to me about, much less hold fresh burning hatred in my heart. Sometimes there are situations where offenses against my friend are like unto offenses against me, but the vast majority of social fuckups are filed as "ugh, don't do that again!" and not "THIS FUCKO IS THE WORST KITTEN-KICKING THUG IN THE WORLD!!!" With two exceptions, I hold that everybody I've met probably has the capacity to learn from their mistakes and contribute usefully to the world, even if I've personally decided that I'd rather that they do it somewhere other than around me and mine.
(Exception number one is a predator and a rapist, who knowingly isolates women from their support systems, convinces them that he's the only person in the world who likes them and is worthy/safe for them to be around, and then rapes them, with or without drugs. Exception number two thinks the pain of others is terribly funny, and has extended this in slightly different criminal directions than the first. I wish that they'd both forget to look both ways when crossing the street.)
Attempting to keep track of every person who I have ever caused to side-eye me for various offenses against social norms and/or good taste is likewise a futile effort, although my various forms of social awkwardness and depression do try to gang up on that front, and like to replay the worst hits every time I think I'm getting ahead. One of the perpetual favorites is the time in high school when I was trying to teasingly and gently tug at a lock of the hair of this guy I had sort of flirtatious feelings for -- and managed to not tug but give a good solid painful yank. And he got very reasonably mad at me, and I couldn't explain why the hell I'd thought that was in any way a good idea. Still can't. I have since been advised that actually, the amount that my brain does this to me is well in excess of useful, and hating myself for it instead of not doing that again is actively counterproductive. The St. John's Wort helps.
A lot of feminists (geek and otherwise) before me have observed that in general, straight cisgendered men are afraid of being laughed at, rejected, and ostracized; in general, women are afraid of being raped and killed. (Queer men, transgendered people, and other people who don't conform to hetero-cisgender norms are also in physical danger, and that's without even bringing race and disability in. Intersectionality: screwing people over since the dawn of humanity!)
Fear of rejection and rejection are painful. It is not, however, equivalent to fear or risk of assault or death.
Additionally, some men handle their pain at getting rejected by lashing out angrily: verbally or physically. This gives substance to a woman's fear of assault or death when a man comes on to her, especially men who indicate in whatever subtle way that it's not going to be okay if she says no (implicitly or explicitly). The act of coming on to someone if you won't accept "no" gracefully from them, is inherently creepy. (It's okay to be disappointed and sad, as long as you're okay with it, and won't use the disappointment as a bludgeon to coerce or trap her into changing her mind. Many women are socialized into not making people upset. Don't take advantage of that. Thank her civilly for her consideration, get out of there, and go cry in the bathroom or however you prefer to work through it.)
This brings me to the actual point of all this. Rejection is fucking hard. And how do you get better at hard things? You practice. And how do you safely practice getting rejected?
When my virtual nephew was about six, he had undiagnosed, untreated ADHD, and his mother had a new serious boyfriend who was determined to be the Best Dad Ever. Mr. Best Dad Ever had no fucking idea how to deal with a kid with ADHD. He didn't even have a place to start, because it was undiagnosed. I was doing okay with the little guy, because I'd been managing kids with ADHD for just under a decade at that point. It came to me automatically, to the point where I didn't even consider that the LF might not be neurotypical.
Mr. Best Dad Ever would call the LF's name and expect him to pay immediate attention regardless of what else was going on. If the LF didn't pay attention when called, Mr. Best Dad Ever got him in trouble (time outs and grounding from videogames). The LF was distressed. Mr. Best Dad Ever was distressed. And yet I managed to somehow get the LF's attention successfully every time. (This was because I didn't actually expect the LF to pay attention to me when I called his name; I'd check and see if he was before asking him to do a thing; if his name didn't work, I'd move into his visual range and try again, escalating to tapping him on the shoulder.)
"I want to pay attention when [boyfriend] calls my name," the LF said mournfully to me. "But I can't!"
"And what do we do when there's a hard thing that you can't do?" I said. (I was grasping at straws here, but we'd got him through some pretty hard stuff at school, so...)
"Practice?" said the LF, dubiously.
"Yes. We are going to practice. I will call your name, you will stop what you are doing, look at me, say 'What?' and pay attention."
"Yaaaaay!" I cheered and clapped my hands. It was dorky as all fuck, and we both acknowledged that what we were doing felt silly and awkward, but it was practicing. And we repeated that for a couple rounds every now and then.
And you know what? He got better. He got more attentive to his name being called. Things with Mr. Best Dad Ever got better (on that front).
How can someone safely practice being rejected?
Find a trusted friend who is willing to go along with this. You will probably owe them a substantial favor. In the absence of a trusted friend willing to go along with this, see if a trained counseling professional thinks it's a good idea. (I'm not one of those, and my advice is strictly a layperson's.)
Work out a simple script, something like:
A: "Would you like to get a cup of coffee together sometime?"
A: "Okay, see you around."
Try it. Repeat it. It is an ordinary, socially acceptable request (assuming it was socially acceptable to ask in the first place; this does not cover hitting on someone you know to be monogamously involved with someone else, or hitting on someone with whom you have no prior positive social contact). It is a no-frills, simple rejection. It is a calm, easygoing acceptance of the rejection that does not apply pressure to reconsider, and does not imply anger at the rejection. You can still inhabit the same social spaces, or share an elevator, without asking why the answer was no. It's enough that the answer was no, and if it was actually not a rejection, the door's still open for her to propose a counter-offer like "See, I don't like coffee, but I know this great wine bar; are you interested?"
Practice having rejection on a low-stakes date offer be something that happens, and then nothing bad happens after it. (Treat yourself to something nice after a session, because that sort of thing is stressful as fuck.) Practice until you lose the fear. (I helped deprogram myself from a lifelong petrifying fear of klaxons rooted in early childhood trauma by playing endless rounds of Bejeweled Blitz with the sound on.) Practice until "no" is no longer actually a bad thing, just a thing that happens sometimes (maybe a lot of the time). You don't need to know why. It's probably a good reason that has nothing to do with your personality or potential attractiveness (like the seven batches of very good cookies your friend is probably getting later for going through this with you).
Being able to ask for a date, receive and accept a rejection, and then be willing and able to continue a casual conversation about any topic of mutual interest sends a signal that it is safe to say no to you. Being a person who can safely accept "no" for an answer is a very, very, very important social skill. It opens the door to being a person that it's safe to say "yes" to.