Can you help me understand some social subtleties? - Mothering Forums

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Old 05-09-2008, 09:37 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I feel totally exhausted by trying to negotiate social situations, doubly so with my kids in tow. Confused by lots of social cues, social rules--I just feel lonely because it seems like there's this mysterious list of rules everyone else knows about, or like everyone else got the script except me. I'm 99% sure I'm on the autism spectrum (aspergers). I would love some feedback or help with understanding some things that would help me out with relationships/friendships.

Issue one--is it normal for most women to talk behind other women's backs, or complain about other women? I get confused a lot in friendships because it seems like everyone always talks smack about everyone else. Is it just a way to relieve stress? But it seems like everyone does it. And if they do, how can I trust people?

Issue 2--Compliments. Do you like compliments? They make me very uncomfortable because it feels like an evaluation. I just want to hang out and enjoy the moment. It's hard for me to get and give compliments. I do try to give compliments, but it always comes out very awkward for me. :

Do you have any tips?
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Old 05-09-2008, 11:18 PM
 
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Originally Posted by babblingbrook View Post
I feel totally exhausted by trying to negotiate social situations, doubly so with my kids in tow. Confused by lots of social cues, social rules--I just feel lonely because it seems like there's this mysterious list of rules everyone else knows about, or like everyone else got the script except me. I'm 99% sure I'm on the autism spectrum (aspergers). I would love some feedback or help with understanding some things that would help me out with relationships/friendships.

Issue one--is it normal for most women to talk behind other women's backs, or complain about other women? I get confused a lot in friendships because it seems like everyone always talks smack about everyone else. Is it just a way to relieve stress? But it seems like everyone does it. And if they do, how can I trust people?

Issue 2--Compliments. Do you like compliments? They make me very uncomfortable because it feels like an evaluation. I just want to hang out and enjoy the moment. It's hard for me to get and give compliments. I do try to give compliments, but it always comes out very awkward for me. :

Do you have any tips?
My husband has aspergers so we have some experience figuring out social situations. Of course you should take all of my advice/comments with a grain of salt and assume that anything I say is just my opinion.

Yes, it is normal for women to talk behind people's backs. Not all women of course, but it is really common. Partially I think people do it as a way of bonding. Most people need to feel some sort of "us vs. them" in order to feel really bonded and part of how they facilitate that is by gossip. Not all gossip is malicious and often even when the conversations sound really hostile they aren't really meant to be. It's not the best/healthiest way for humans to behave but I don't think it will ever change.

As far as trusting them goes: that's a hard question. I don't think it is possible for anyone to tell you how you should decide that question. For me, I tend to categorize stuff about me and my life into I don't care if everyone on the planet knows this/I only want people I can trust beyond the shadow of a doubt to know this. There isn't a lot of gray area for me. Stuff that I don't care who knows I talk about freely--luckily that is most stuff because I'm just not particularly shy. The stuff that I don't want people to know about I am really picky with. I trust my husband. I trust a few very specific people who are mainly outside my social circle. I find that most of my truly closest friends don't know most of the people I know. It's a way of protecting myself. I have talked to my really close friends and they openly acknowledge that part of the reason that they trust me is also because it would be very difficult for me to break their trust if I wanted to. Who would I tell in their life? It's not a situation that works for everyone but it works for me. People I know casually I honestly just don't really trust much.

Compliments are a weird thing. Some people like them, some hate them. I realize that sounds unhelpful. You probably are better off trying to give them consciously. It will take practice for you to get used to how to do it and sound natural. It might be a good idea to practice with a friend/partner who understands that you feel awkward. As far as receiving them goes: smile, say thank you, and then drop it. That's about the best you can hope for.

Being spectrum means things will always be harder for you, not impossible... just harder. A lot of how my husband deals with things is by realizing that people are usually telling you things that they think you want to hear, not what they really want/believe/think. It's not a conscious decision on their part. He phrases it as, "People are usually lying." In my head, as a sometimes apologist, I think of it more as "People are not intentionally being dishonest" but I can't really say he is wrong. He points out that part of what people saying what they think you want to hear is: they are not really being as judgmental as you fear. Even when they talk about you behind your back.

He points out that if you are uncomfortable with how people talk smack to keep in mind that in some sense they are probably testing you to see how you will respond. If you refrain from being catty at all and you indicate some level of discomfort with you it will taper off around you. It will probably also increase the level of trust that people feel towards you.

I hope this helps somewhat.

My advice may not be appropriate for you. That's ok. You are just fine how you are and I am the right kind of me.

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Old 05-10-2008, 11:12 PM
 
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Women often talk about other women, but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. If you're with women who are doing that you are very normal and healthy to not trust them. Best to choose friends who do not tear into people who are not around.

If you don't want to compliment someone, don't. There's nothing that says you have to. If I compliment someone, it's because I really want to - then it isn't forced. DH is all flowery and profuse with his compliments of me. As a result, I don't believe anything he says. If someone compliments you, just say, "Thank you." Accepting it like that is good because if they are serious, you have respected their opinion. If they're phony, you don't have to worry about it anyway.

You sound perfectly normal (as in healthy) to me.
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Old 05-12-2008, 04:35 PM
 
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Originally Posted by babblingbrook View Post
Issue one-- women ... talk behind other women's backs

Issue 2--Compliments...
First, compliments. My grandmother said taking a compliment politely is part of good manners. She got tired of my self put-downs. She'd compliment my hair and I say my hair was too curly. She'd compliment my dress and I'd say I hated it (because I did, I thought it was ugly). She told me to shut up already and just say thank you! It comes across as self absorbed if you can't just accept a compliment graciously. And if you get the vibe that the compliment is less than sincere, I guess you still just say thanks. Unless you're Miss Manners and can think of some sly, witty comeback.

Women gossiping- I think it's really normal. I agree with the above, it's about bonding. It's really primal, because it's how we learn about each other. But it can turn from information gathering and bonding to poisonous attacks, and that I'm not party to. I'm perfectly aware that my girlfriends talk about me when I'm not around, as I do the same with them. I talked with the others about my closest friend, and we all agree she's a control freak who has her husband and kids on short leashes. I still think she's awesome. And no doubt they've all agreed that I'm a disorganized slob who lets her kids watch too much tv.

I was the cabin mom for dd and three girls last year and one of the girls was the poster child of poisonous gossipers. I don't think she could say "hand me that hair brush" without adding, "OMG, did you see Lauren with Steven? She thinks she all that!" or whatever incomprehensible offense.

Someone moved my effing cheese.
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Old 05-12-2008, 04:51 PM
 
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Not all women talk behind other women's backs.... I think it is easy to get caught up in our cultural (maybe primal) desire to spread the word or check in with friends about other friends... that to me is normal... it is the gossip that isn't. Gossip is talking about someone in their abscense in a negative manner... in order to stir things up, or make oneself look better, kinder, more together. I do not gossip and I do not hang out with women who do... it is inauthentic, mean and like you said.... you can't trust that these women are your friends. A little banter back and forth about friends lives is different than gossip.

Complients from these same women can seem inauthentic and fake. It is this type of person who you can't trust and why would you hang out with them anyway???? Compliments from friends is entirely different.... you have to practice recieving
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Old 05-12-2008, 07:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you! I really appreciate the insight of each of you ladies. I feel like I have more tools in my psychological toolbelt.
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Old 05-12-2008, 08:40 PM
 
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Hi babblingbrook. I struggle with the same stuff as well. I agree, it is very exhausting. I find it very difficult to process other people's words and actions, and then have to think out how to respond. Compliments are weird. They CAN mean a great deal to me, but usually I just feel intensely awkward. Like you said, evaluated-- it's kind of a conundrum, because I don't want to be invisible or ignored (well, not always, anyway), but I don't like being looked at or feeling judged in any way. And I don't really know how to respond. Even just a "thank-you" manages to come out all awkward. It's taken me awhile to realise that anything I have to "push" out comes out awkward, which ends up being most everything I say. I think.

So, yeah... just commiserating.

Weirdo Mama to amazing Aurelia, age 9 & Ember Roslyn, age 3!
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Old 05-12-2008, 08:51 PM
 
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I disagree that gossipping is "normal" and "everybody does it so it must be OK." Yes, many women do that, but certainly not ALL, and I tend to distance myself from individuals who do a lot of it. I don't mind talking about other people, chit-chatting about what they're up to, but not in a harshly negative light or saying anything I wouldn't say to the person's face.

Compliments make me uncomfortable too, but I simply say "thank you" and move on. That's really the only polite way to respond (at least THAT social rule is easy and straightforward!)

Ruth, single mommy to Leah, 19, Hannah, 18 (commuting to college), and Jack, 13(homeschooled)
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Old 05-12-2008, 09:16 PM
 
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Greetings from a fellow Aspie!

Gossip is nasty, don't do it. Social schmocial.

Quote:
First, compliments. My grandmother said taking a compliment politely is part of good manners. She got tired of my self put-downs. She'd compliment my hair and I say my hair was too curly. She'd compliment my dress and I'd say I hated it (because I did, I thought it was ugly). She told me to shut up already and just say thank you! It comes across as self absorbed if you can't just accept a compliment graciously.
Very well put! I'm awful at this. I still occasionally argue with DH when he tells me I'm pretty. I've kind of been forced to improve of late though, because right now everyone's complimenting my baby. And I can't very well accept a compliment on her behalf ungraciously--'Thanks, but she's not that cute'--now, can I? Besides, she is cute. So I'm getting in some good practice at smiling and saying brightly 'Yes, isn't she?'. I really hate the comments about how much pregnancy weight I've lost, though, partly because I still feel squishy, and partly because it means people were looking at my tummy, which makes me nervous.

I agree with rightkindofme's 'People are usually lying', as well. So much of trivial conversation is just... white noise... or a delicately-danced game of lies. I can fake it, but it makes me tired and stressed. So most of my friends are either Aspie or quiet types, and that way I don't have to deal with it!

If decomposition persists please see your necromancer.

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Old 05-13-2008, 08:08 PM
 
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I find that the subtleties and social norms of group gossip are tough enough for someone who is not on the spectrum. (I'm not but I have close friends and family who are.) In my experience, it's extra hard for those who are. My friend, who has Asperger's, often sounds like she is complaining or whining when she tries to join in and gossip/discuss negative traits of a person not present, and it sometimes makes other people uncomfortable.

There are very complex verbal and nonverbal rules governing gossip. For example, if you wish to state that someone not present has a bad habit, it is best to know in advance that no one listening struggles with that same habit. If you do realize you have committed a social blunder, you can try to rebalance the precarious scale of social favor by quickly stating that you yourself have struggled with that same issue . . . and on and on. In this type of communication, vocal tone is exceptionally important and must usually be managed more carefully than other situations.

I think the reason gossip is so complex is (like stated in previous posts) it can function as a bonding activity among groups of women. There is a feeling of solidarity, shared community and sometimes trust ("you trust me enough to confide this knowledge about someone else").

HOWEVER, I am happy to report that it is not at all necessary to be able to successfully gossip in order to benefit from the increased group solidarity. I feel gossip can become a swirling drain sucking everyone's life force away, so I never, ever say anything about someone that I would not say to their face. Instead, I often nod sympathetically while the speaker shares something. If I am expected to respond, I have a handful of appropriate stock responses prepared. (I have learned much from my Aspie friends!!!) Sympathetically intoned one-word responses that focus on your own reaction are always winners ("bummer," "I see," "oops," "ah," etc.) Saying little to nothing in response to commentary about others often eventually has the effect of making others perceive you as a wise and sage-like, if you also make sure to include a little bit of sympathy for the speaker so you do not appear to be aloof and "too good for the group."

If you find the above helpful, feel free to PM me anytime.
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Old 05-14-2008, 02:49 PM
 
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When I was writing about women talking about each other, I didn't think to differentiate between gossip and information. I was thinking about cutting other people down type of talking. I think telling each other about something that happened (such as someone is getting married, having a baby, went to Disneyland, whatever), is okay as long as there isn't a snide comment attached. I guess a lot is in the approach and the tone of voice. If we care about someone, we usually want to hear about their lives. We want to encourage, to help. I think we also are naturally interested in other people's lives. It's when we start condemning the people we're talking about that it gets bad. The condemning women are the ones you want to stay away from.
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