Friday, February 27, 2009

Only scary people and crazy people talk to me

When my spouse, H, goes to the gym, she doesn't go to socialize; she just wants to work out and go home. But strangers -- usually men -- interrupt her workouts to talk to her. H is a friendly person, but she feels that she's at the gym on business -- to complete her workout -- and it breaks her concentration when people interrupt her. Besides, she's not all that comfortable talking to random people in English.

It's been a problem for a long time. She's tried lots of ways to avoid it: avoiding eye contact, wearing headphones, etc. Nothing seems to work. People still interrupt her workouts to talk to her.

I don't have that problem. When I go to the gym, only scary people and crazy people try to talk to me.

I suppose I need to explain that. See, I look more or less like this:
I don't wear shades in the gym, but I don't need shades to look intimidating. My default expression is grim and affectless. It's a look I've actually cultivated over the years, because I'm uncomfortable talking to most people, and I've found it keeps strangers from approaching me.

This is even more true at the gym, because I tend to frown when I concentrate on a task (such as lifting weights) and I'm semi-angry when I lift anyway. (I motivate myself in part by thinking of each rep as a contest between me and the weight I'm lifting, and the weight always wins in the end, which kind of pisses me off.) And, of course, I'm about six-and-a-half feet tall and weigh over 250 pounds, which some people find intimidating in itself.

So I'm not very approachable-looking at any time, and especially not at the gym. But other scary guys will talk to me. By "scary," what I mean is big and strong. The largest guys at the gym have no problem talking to me. There's no one at my particular gym who has quite the same combination of tallness and heaviness that I do (AFAIK), but there are guys who are more muscular than me and guys who are stronger and guys who come close. Dudes like that aren't scared of me. No reason to be -- we're sort of peers in bigness. We say hello to each other (remind me to write about the Alpha Male Nod sometime), and sometimes they'll ask me to spot for them or whatever. (And I'm fine with that. I'm not an actual misanthrope, I'm just uncomfortable sometimes.)

The other kind of people who'll come up and talk to me -- pretty much the only normal-sized people who will -- are mentally ill people. I'm serious. If there's a crazy person in the room, it's like they zero in on me right away. I think what happens is that I attract their attention with my size -- people generally seem to notice when I walk into a room -- but then instead of being intimidated, they see right through my facade of scariness and know that I won't be mean to them.

And I won't be. I can't be, really. I don't know how to be mean to people who aren't mean themselves. So crazy people come up and talk to me. And talk. And talk. And talk. They seem to know I won't hurt them, or even be rude to them, unlike a lot of people. And once they start talking, I have trouble getting away. I don't know how to get rid of them. I can get rid of almost anyone I want to by looking scary and/or being minimally responsive (usually I have to work harder at not getting rid of people I don't want to get rid of), but that doesn't seem to work on mentally ill people. Not the talkative ones, anyway.

I think I actually have something in common with them in terms of seeing through facades. Being mildly or borderline Aspergian, I tend to miss some cues in social situations. And I think some of the cues I miss are deceitful ones. When I meet -- or see on TV -- mean people, dishonest people, insincere people, and so on, I often see right through them, even when they fool many other people.

I don't think it's because I have some special insight. In fact, I think it's actually probably the opposite. I think people like that must be giving off false cues that convince many neurotypical people of their niceness, honesty, sincerity, etc. Since I simply miss many of those cues, I see something else, sometimes something that just seems a little "off," but often something that screams to me things like "Mean!" "Liar!" "Phony!"

So I've always been largely immune to people like salesmen, preachers, psychics, and politicians (not to say that all people in those fields are phonies, by any means), and I've never been able to understand how other people are able to trust some of them. I often find myself thinking, "Don't they see? How can they not see?" It's purely instinctive -- I couldn't tell you why I see a particular person that way -- but I'm pretty confident in my accuracy (even allowing for confirmation bias).

I wonder if that's just me, or is it something common among people on the Asperger's/autism spectrum...?

1 comment:

  1. "And, of course, I'm about six-and-a-half feet tall and weigh over 250 pounds, which some people find intimidating in itself."

    Nah, not intimidating..... I just think; "TIMBER"!

    sgallan ;-)


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