I’ve been thinking a lot lately about not being liked. To be fair, this has been on my mind most of my life. As an unidentified autistic person growing up in a neurotypical world, I often didn’t feel like I belonged or fit in. I could easily make friends, but it was like once we got to know each other better, they didn’t like me or I wasn’t as interested in the friendship.
Now that I know I’m autistic, it makes a lot more sense. My autistic identity helped me understand why I had a pervasive feeling that I was weird and different: because I am different.
When I found out I’m autistic, I think I also subconsciously thought my new understanding would lead to me having an easier time belonging and making meaningful friendships now that I understood what caused the difficulty. It didn’t automatically do that.
What I’ve been thinking is a difficult truth to swallow: What if the reality is that I will continue to not be understood or liked by most neurotypical people?
Yes, I think we can have nice communication and connection on a surface level, but I will most likely always struggle when the relationship moves to a deeper level. I think the struggle will go both ways, as it has my entire life. They will struggle to understand me and accept my way of being. I will struggle to feel understood and belong. I will be frustrated by some of their neurotypical ways of being as well (such as thinking/behaving in incongruent ways, dancing around a topic, etc.).
Accepting that I will most likely not belong, fit-in, or be liked can quickly become a depressing fact. It also grates against our culture of toxic positivity and always seeing the good. However, I’ve been thinking about it in a different way. What if it is freeing? What if acknowledging the struggle is the key to it not FEELING like it’s such a struggle? What if I accept the truth and flip my expectations/hopes on their head?
My whole life I’ve been wanting understanding, connection, and belonging. I’ve been striving for that. What if I instead accept that those things won’t be the common outcome with the majority of people I meet? Maybe I won’t be so sad and disappointed. Maybe I’ll see the reality in front of me more.
And maybe if the disappointment isn’t in front of my face, I can accept people more fully for who they are. Instead of getting lost in my pain or frustration, I can simply say, “Well yes, this is how it is. Look at this interesting human. Let this human be their kind of human and you put your energy elsewhere.”
FURTHERMORE, maybe it will prevent some burnout. Maybe I’ll see things for what they are and stop trying to contort and distort to make a friendship work. Maybe I can put more of my effort into relationships where I do genuinely connect.
While I may have difficulty having a sustained relationship with MOST people, there are people with whom I click. Maybe if I stop wasting so much energy on relationships that aren’t a right fit, I’ll be able to find and nurture the ones that do.
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