Autistic people can have friends

One reason I started writing this blog is that I got tired of seeing social skills programs teach autistic people that they have to become normal in order to have friends.

It’s not true. There are a lot of autistic people who have friends without becoming remotely normal. Oddness and friendship are entirely compatible.

You can be autistic, seem autistic, and have friends who like you and enjoy your company.

Some people won’t like you, and that’s ok. Not everyone has to like everyone.

Some people will dislike you because they are bigoted against autistic people. That’s not ok, but it doesn’t have to ruin your life. Ableists don’t speak for everyone. Those people aren’t your friends. Other people can be.

You’ll probably always face ableism. Trying to be normal probably won’t make that go away; accepting yourself probably won’t make that go away either. You don’t need to change the whole world in order to have friends.

You can have friends as the person you are, in the world as it is now.

Teasing friends

Submitting anonymously: 

I’m autistic, and I’ve learned to tease my friends as a social skill. I think it’s ok to tease your friends a little bit, but sometimes I think I go just a little bit too far.

My friends don’t say anything, though. The teasing has become sort of mechanical and ingrained at this point, but I want to learn how to not tease my friends so much. 

Do you know how I can cut back on teasing my friends?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing is to make sure that your friends know you care how they feel. And to make sure that you’re paying attention to how they feel.

It’s ok to tease your friends so long as you’re both enjoying it. Making fun of one another in good-natured ways is part of a lot of friendships. What’s bad is to make fun of someone in a way that actually hurts them. If it hurts them, then it’s not friendly anymore, even if you didn’t mean to hurt them.

One rule of thumb is: don’t tease your friends about things they’re actually for-real painfully insecure about. That just ends up hurting. 

It’s also important to pay attention to their reaction. If your friends are enjoying the teasing, they’ll likely respond back. If they’re not, they’ll likely not respond, or look upset. If they’re not actively looking like they’re into it, it’s a sign that you’ve probably crossed a line and hurt them. If that happens, back off and maybe apologize.

That goes double if your friends tell you it hurts them. A lot of people who either like hurting others or don’t care how people feel use fake-friendly teasing as a cover for being mean. When someone expresses hurt, they say things like “I was just kidding, don’t be so sensitive.” Don’t do that. If your friends are hurt by something you said about them, take that seriously and apologize. Everyone makes mistakes that hurt other people sometimes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big deal.

It also might help to ask your friends what they think. Eg, by asking one of your friends something like “I think I’ve been going too far when I joke around. Do you think I’m upsetting people?”

Anyone else want to weigh in? How have you found ways to be kinder in your interactions with friends?

Teasing friends



Submitting anonymously:

I’m autistic, and I’ve learned to tease my friends as a social skill. I think it’s ok to tease your friends a little bit, but sometimes I think I go just a little bit too far.

My friends don’t say anything, though. The teasing has become sort of mechanical and ingrained at this point, but I want to learn how to not tease my friends so much.

Do you know how I can cut back on teasing my friends?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing is to make sure that your friends know you care how they feel. And to make sure that you’re paying attention to how they feel.

It’s ok to tease your friends so long as you’re both enjoying it. Making fun of one another in good-natured ways is part of a lot of friendships. What’s bad is to make fun of someone in a way that actually hurts them. If it hurts them, then it’s not friendly anymore, even if you didn’t mean to hurt them.

One rule of thumb is: don’t tease your friends about things they’re actually for-real painfully insecure about. That just ends up hurting.

It’s also important to pay attention to their reaction. If your friends are enjoying the teasing, they’ll likely respond back. If they’re not, they’ll likely not respond, or look upset. If they’re not actively looking like they’re into it, it’s a sign that you’ve probably crossed a line and hurt them. If that happens, back off and maybe apologize.

That goes double if your friends tell you it hurts them. A lot of people who either like hurting others or don’t care how people feel use fake-friendly teasing as a cover for being mean. When someone expresses hurt, they say things like “I was just kidding, don’t be so sensitive.” Don’t do that. If your friends are hurt by something you said about them, take that seriously and apologize. Everyone makes mistakes that hurt other people sometimes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big deal.

It also might help to ask your friends what they think. Eg, by asking one of your friends something like “I think I’ve been going too far when I joke around. Do you think I’m upsetting people?”

Anyone else want to weigh in? How have you found ways to be kinder in your interactions with friends?

pobody said:

Another important thing to keep in mind is everybody’s mood at the time you want to tease them. People are generally more open to teasing when they’re happy and relaxed. If someone is stressed out or having a bad day there’s a bigger risk they won’t take it well. Sometimes you can lighten the mood by cracking a joke, but it can be hard to gauge whether it’s going to go over well. Something you think is innocuous can always be taken the wrong way, but especially if the person is already on edge.

Going hand-in-hand with this is tone. People sometimes think they’re saying something nicely but for whatever reason it either comes out or is received as nasty. The same remark can sound fun and jokey or rude and snarky depending on very small changes in voice, facial expression, and body language. Keep in mind too, even if you say something ostebsibly harmless in a nice-joking way, if the person is in a bad mood they can still take offense.

Sometimes when people are really hurt by your comments they’ll go quiet and act hurt, but sometimes they will lash out and mean-tease you back or even start a full-on argument. If you notice the joking has taken a harsh turn, try to think if you touched a nerve that might have set them off. If you did, and you apologize, it might inspire them to apologize back (it might not. Some people are too proud to apologize. This can lead to bigger problems.) This isnt to say if someone is mean to you that it’s your fault, but in some cases both parties do need to review their actions.

thoughts on dating while autistic

Anonymous said to :

Hi! I’m autistic, and I’ve never dated anyone, although I have been asked out before. Truthfully, I’m terrified of dating or being in a relationship, because I’m almost 18 and I’ve never even kissed anyone before, and I’m embarrassed!

I’m a pretty attractive girl and very good at hiding my autism, so people are interested in me at first, until I totally mess up flirting because of my social awkwardness.

Can you tell me what dating/relationships are like, so I know what to expect/how to act? thanks!

realsocialskills said:

I can’t answer this directly because dating and relationships are different for everyone. They aren’t about scripts; they’re about building something with another person that works for both of you. I don’t know what they will be like for you. That is something that you will figure out as you get more experience.

But I can tell you some related things:

It’s ok to be embarrassed. Figuring out dating is embarrassing for most people. That doesn’t mean that you can’t date or have relationships. It just means that you will be embarrassed sometimes.

Flirting is at least sort of embarrassing even when it’s working. Figuring out whether or not someone is interested in you is at least somewhat embarrassing for almost everyone. Flirting is a way to make the process of figuring it out more pleasant than embarrassing.

Flirting effectively is a bit like learning to play the violin — just like initial attempts to play the violin sound terrible, initial attempts to learn how to flirt tend to be acutely embarrassing. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. It just means that there’s a learning curve.

Also — it’s not unusual to be 17 and not have kissed anyone yet. Sometimes the way people talk about teenagers can make it sound like everyone is dating and having sex, but it’s not true. Some people are, and some people aren’t. Both are ok. A lot of people your age haven’t kissed anyone. And the people who are kissing others also get embarrassed and unsure of themselves.

(It would also be ok even if it was unusual. It’s ok if some things are harder or take longer for you than they do for most people.)

Many of the skills involved in romantic relationships are the same skills involved in friendship. And one of the most important skills involved in friendship is figuring out how to tell whether you like someone, and whether they like you.

Figuring out whether you like someone can be hard for a lot of autistic people. Among other reasons, a lot of us are taught that we have to be friends with anyone who will tolerate our company. That’s not how dating works and it’s not how friendship works either.

If you don’t like someone, you shouldn’t date them. If you don’t like spending time with someone, you shouldn’t date them. If you’re hoping that they will change dramatically, you shouldn’t date them. It’s only a good idea to date someone if you like them and enjoy their company as they are now. You can’t build a good relationship with an imaginary person.

Similarly, it’s important to only date people who like you. People who are hoping that you will change, or who want you to act nonautistic all the time, are not people who like you.

You can’t become nonautistic to please people who find autism repellant, and you aren’t going to be able to hide autism from them forever. It always becomes noticeable sooner or later, because autism affects you and your experiences and impairments matter. You are who you are, and your disability is part of that. And that’s ok, because disabled people can date, and we can do it well.

The most important thing to know about dating and relationships is that, in good relationships, the people involved like and respect each other. Respecting and liking yourself is an important part of learning to build a mutually respectful relationship. Liking yourself helps you to like others; and to tell whether others like you. Respecting yourself helps you to learn to treat others respectfully; and to understand whether or not the ways others are treating you are ok.

From the way you phrased your ask, I think that you might be having a lot of trouble feeling ok about yourself as an autistic person. I think that it would help you a lot to work on understanding that it’s ok to be autistic, and that you can be a fabulous autistic human being.

It sounds to me that you think that you have to pass as non-autistic to be dateable. You don’t have to do that. Autism doesn’t prevent kissing and it doesn’t prevent love.

A lot of autistic people struggle to feel worthy of love and friendship. A lot of us feel repulsive a lot of the time. We’re often made to feel that our thoughts, feelings, interests, and body language are disgusting flaws. But they are not. We’re ok. Being autistic is ok.

We are beautiful. The way we look and the way we move and the way we think is beautiful. Autistic beauty is real, and there are people in the world who appreciate it.

We are often taught that, unless we learn to pretend that we’re normal, no one will ever like us. (That’s the basic message of the Social Thinking curriculum, for instance). We’re also often taught that we’re not allowed to make mistakes. A lot of us feel like every time we make a social mistake, it’s showing that we’re deeply flawed and hopelessly unworthy.

That makes dating really hard, because everyone makes acutely embarrassing social mistakes as they learn how to date. (And often even after they have a lot of experience.). It sounds to me like you might feel like you have to earn the right to date by never making any embarrassing mistakes. You don’t. If that was the standard, no one would ever be able to date. It’s ok to be fallible and embarrassed and unsure of things. You’re ok.

There are people who will appreciate your beauty. There are people who will find you attractive. There are people who will love you.

You can learn how to date, and you can do it as yourself.

Ask disabled friends how to handle disability related things

Anonymous said to :

I have a friend who has a speech impediment. When we meet new people they often have a hard time understanding her. I can understand her about as well as I understand most people, but I’m not really sure what I can do to help. I don’t want to talk over her or act like I’m a translator.

realsocialskills said:

It depends on what your friend wants you to do. Different people with speech impediments have different preferences.

I don’t know what your friend wants in those situations, but they probably do.

You can say something like: “I’ve noticed that sometimes when we’re interacting with new people they often have trouble understanding you, and I feel like I end up excluding you from the conversation. Are there are things you would like me to do in those situations?”

It’s likely that they know, and that you will be able to do what they suggest. Some possibilities:

  • You interrupting people who talk over her
  • (Eg: “Susan was saying something.” or “Susan, what were you saying?”)
  • Interpreting for her sometimes (*if* this is what she wants; some people do)
  • (Eg: “Susan said that the mushroom sauce is better at Delicious Restaurant”)
  • Interpreting more subtly, by asking her questions
  • (Eg: “Susan, did you say that we should go to Delicious Restaurant?”)
  • Or any number of other things

tl;dr Your disabled friends are probably a better judge of what would help them than you are. If in doubt, ask.

organizing fun gatherings

Anonymous said to :

Ever since my depression got better, I been doing more leading in get-togethers. Like inviting people over to my house and suggesting what we’re going to do. But I feel like people don’t have as much fun at my activities as those led by my other friends. I take a lot of input on what we do, and I tell funny jokes.

Is there anything else I can do when leading a group, formally or informally, to help people relax and have fun?

realsocialskills said:

I think you might be pushing yourself too hard.

If people are having fun and liking your get-togethers, that’s success. You don’t have to be the best or the most fun for what you’re doing to be good enough. It’s not a contest, and it’s ok if you’re not as skilled at throwing parties as some of your friends. It’s a skill set that you can develop over time.

That said, from the way you’ve described things, it sounds like your gatherings might be happening this way:

  • You invite people over
  • They come over
  • You spend time deciding together what to do
  • Then you do the thing together

If you’re doing it that way, it might be making your gatherings less fun than they could be. Negotiating with a group about what to do isn’t very much fun, and it can set the tone for the gathering being less fun.

Also, if you don’t pick the activity in advance, there will usually be someone who wanted to hang out who doesn’t want to do the activity that the group decides on. That person usually won’t be very happy, and that can make things less fun for everyone.

If that’s how you’re doing it, your gatherings are likely to become more fun if you decide on an activity in advance, like this:

  • Pick something that you and some friends like
  • Invite them to come do that thing with you
  • People who want to hang out and want to do that thing will come
  • People who don’t want to, won’t come
  • There won’t be any tiresome negotiation phase of the gathering
  • No one will be stuck in an unanticipated activity that they don’t enjoy

Some examples of activities you can decide on in advance:

  • A game night (either a specific game, or whatever games people decide to bring)
  • Going to the new Exciting Movie in a series you like
  • Going out to dinner together
  • A dinner party at your place
  • Getting together for movies and popcorn at your place (better if you pick the type of movie in advance, or maybe even the actual movie)
  • (Here’s a post about things some people like to do at Halloween parties)

In any case, organizing fun gatherings is a skill, and you’ll get better at it as you get more experience. You don’t have to be perfect or the best for your gatherings to count as successful. If you like them and most of the people who come like them, that’s success.

tl;dr Picking an activity in advance and inviting people to do it is likely to be more fun than gathering a group of people and deciding together what to do.

conflicting access needs

Anonymous said to :

I communicate best by writing (email, text, etc) and have a hard time with methods of communication that are voice-heavy (Skype calls, phone calls) because I have auditory-processing problems. Several long distance friends do better with auditory communication and worse with writing. But they speak really fast/garbled/quietly, so I can’t understand them sometimes. I end up avoiding them because it’s too frustrating for me to ask them to repeat every sentence, but I don’t want to. Please help?

realsocialskills said:

A couple of options:

Ask them what they think

  • Is their need to use voice methods of communication on the same level as yours?
  • Would they be able to use text for you sometimes?

Use typing for repeating:

  • It might be less frustrating to use Skype than the phone if you make good use of the typing feature
  • Would it work to use text to ask them to repeat things, and have them repeat it in text rather than voice?
  • That might make communication easier for both of you

Use something higher quality

  • If sound quality is making them hard to understand, it might be a problem you can solve
  • Different video chat services do things differently
  • It might make sense to try several and see if some are more comprehensible than others
  • If you can upgrade your internet, it might be worth doing
  • Getting better headphones might also help
  • It also might help if they get a better microphone instead of relying on their computer’s internal speakers
  • If you have access to a landline, sometimes the audio quality is better than on a cell phone

Use an interpreter.

  • You might be able to use something like Sprint Ip Relay to make TTY calls over the internet. 
  • There’s also a thing called ClearCaptions that’s a captioned phone service that live captions calls. You have to be willing to swear that you’re Deaf, hear of hearing, or otherwise phone disabled. (I think that having auditory processing problems that cause you to avoid using the phone ought to count, but I don’t know if they think that, and I don’t know how much they investigate.)
  • There are probably other options along these lines that I don’t know about. If anyone knows of good options, please comment or send an ask.

Use emailed videos

  • Maybe they could email you videos instead of emailing you emails?
  • Then you could watch them more slowly and repeat stuff
  • Like video email more than video chat
  • And then you could maybe respond in the way that’s easiest for you, which might be text

tl;dr Keeping in touch with friends can be hard when you have competing access needs for forms of communication over long distances. There are some options. Scroll up for details.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What have you found works for long distance communication between people who find speaking easier and people who find speech difficult to understand?

abuse doesn't always involve sex or romance

Anonymous said to :

A question about emotional abuse: Is it possible to be emotionally abused by a friend or somone who you aren’t romantically involved with? The person in question isn’t in my life anymore but when I think back to our relationship it seems abusive to me.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, it is definitely possible to be abused emotionally (or otherwise), by someone you aren’t romantically or sexually involved with.

Friends can abuse friends. It’s not rare, and it’s often not taken nearly as seriously as it should be.

For some reason, most conversations about abuse seem to assume that abusive relationships are romantic (and that the abuser is male and the victim is female.) But abuse happens in all types of relationships, and among people of all genders.

Abuse isn’t romance gone bad. Abuse is someone pervasively mistreating and harming another person. 

when you want to be friends with someone

anonymous asked: 

I need advice. There’s a girl at my school that I really like and I want to be her friend, but I’m so awkward! She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

She’s an international student from Somalila and she’s Muslim (I’m REALLY interested in learning about Islam) but neither of us are ver forward people, and it’s hard for me to make friends.

How do I approach her and talk to her without it being too weird? I’m also very religious but I don’t want her to think the only reason I talk to her is because she’s a Muslim, and I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. Advice?


How do you know her and know that she is nice? However that way is, it’s probably a way you could get to know her better: Eg: Do you have a class together, or do an activity together? Can you talk to her at the thing? Can you talk to her immediately after the thing?

It’s also ok to say explicitly that you think someone is nice and that you’d like to get to know them better. (I’m not totally sure how you do that without risking sounding like you’re hitting on them, but I know it can be done.)

Can you invite her to do a thing? If you’re both students it’s generally socially acceptable to ask if they want to eat together in the dinning hall. Especially if you both usually eat there. (If she is very religious she might not eat there. But a lot of religious Muslims do).

You also might try friending her on Facebook. That can be a good way to offer connection without too much pressure. (Among other things, it can result in stuff like you noticing and commenting on each others statuses and inviting each other to events.)

Be careful not to hang your interest in learning about Islam on her. It’s great that you want to learn about Islam and it’s great that you want to be her friend, but they’re different things. If she wants to talk about that, that’s fine, but be careful about connecting them too much. And, don’t assume that being friends and having fun together will necessarily mean that she wants to teach you about Islam. It might, and it might not.

not a date

Anonymous said to :

I have a coworker who enjoys many of the same things I do, like superhero movies. They’re male and I’m female. How do I ask them to go see the next superhero movie with me and make it not seem like a date? I’m romantically involved already and I don’t want there to be confusion, but there’s nobody else to invite to make it a group thing.

realsocialskills said:

You could say explicitly that it’s not a date. I feel like that’s awkward and probably not what people usually do, though. (Not sure why; it seems like it should be the default way of handling this, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t.)

I think it might work to mention your partner. Maybe along these lines?:

  • “Hey, that new superhero movie is coming out, and my partner hates those. You want to go see it?”

Anyone else want to weigh in? How do you make it clear that something isn’t a date?

when joking teasing is a trigger

Anonymous said to :

Having grown up with abuse, and having been in an abusive relationship after that, I have a lot of trouble dealing with “normal” teasing. I was used to being accused of all kinds of terrible things out of the blue. So if, for example, I accidentally take something that belongs to someone else, and they say, “Haha, you just wanted it for yourself!” I want to cry and beg forgiveness. I’m terrified and I can’t laugh. I feel I can’t ask people not to tease me, but I don’t know how to deal with it.

realsocialskills said:

It’s ok to be bothered by this, and it’s ok to tell your friends not to tease you.

Playful teasing is only friendly if everyone likes it. A lot of people don’t like it, and a lot of people don’t do it. It’s entirely possible to be friends without insulting or teasing one another. If someone teases someone who they know hates it, that’s not a joke anymore, it’s just being mean. It’s not ok to be mean to other people for fun.

It’s ok to say “I don’t like jokes like that; please don’t say things like that to me.” You don’t have to explain in order for it to be ok to tell people to stop teasing you. Continuing to do stuff like that is already a jerk move, even if people don’t know your history. Not liking it is a good enough reason.

It’s also ok if you do want to disclose (and for some people, it might make it more likely that they’ll take it seriously and realize how important it is not to make jokes like that with you). But you don’t have to disclose in order for it to be legitimate to insist that people stop. If you do want to disclose, it’s usually better if it’s not in the heat of the moment, but when you’re relatively calm.

Most people don’t want to say intentionally hurtful things to their friends. Some people realize that some people find playful teasing hurtful, and will readily stop if you tell them you don’t like it. Some people don’t understand that some people don’t like it, and will probably have to be reminded several times before they take it seriously. Some people are mean and will keep saying things like that to you even after you say to stop, and some people might even start saying them more because they think it’s funny that it bothers you. Part of the solution to this might be to make sure you’re hanging out with people who care about treating you well, as much as possible. Having friends who are kind makes life a lot better on a number of levels.

A possible script for disclosing:

  • “Hey, I know you weren’t intending it but playful teasing and joke insults really scare me. Too many people in my life have accused me of ludicrous things in order to hurt me, so I have trouble telling when it’s a joke and I tend to freak out. Can you please not say things like that to me?”

Another possibility: finding ways to tell whether they mean it or not:

Think about the person you’re with, and what’s likely to be their intention:

  • How well do you know the person you’re with?
  • Have you seen them joke insult people before?
  • Have you seen them actually aggressively accuse people of ludicrous things out of the blue?
  • If you’ve seen them tease people in a way intended to be friendly and haven’t seen them make horrible baseless accusations out of the blue, they’re probably not trying to hurt you
  • That doesn’t make it ok, and it doesn’t mean you’re wrong to object
  • But it does mean that they’re probably not trying to hurt you, and you’re probably not in any danger 

Look at body language:

  • This isn’t possible for some people who get scared in this situation, but it can work for some people
  • Look at their face: Does it have an angry expression, or do they look happy?
  • Look at their hands: Are they held in a way that looks angry or violent, or do they look like they’re just socializing?
  • Think about their tone of voice: Did they sound mad? Was their voice raised? Or are they talking in a tone that seems more friendly?
  • (Many people have a specific tone of voice that they only use for teasing or joke insults)
  • Are they looking at you in a way that’s demanding an answer?
  • If their body language and tone of voice doesn’t seem aggressive, they probably didn’t mean the words they said aggressively either.

Check how other people are reacting:

  • Do other people seem to notice the offense you’ve supposedly committed, or are they continuing the conversation they were already having?
  • Does anyone look mad, or do they just look like people socializing?
  • Have other people in the group stopped what they’re doing to look at you, or are they continuing as they were?
  • If other people in the group don’t look mad, or don’t look much interested, the teasing was probably meant as a joke rather than a serious insult or accusation

Another possibility: using a standard script to create some distance:

  • It can help to immediately change the subject when someone says something like that
  • If they were just joking around, they will likely be receptive to the subject change
  • Changing the subject can show you that you are safe and not under attack
  • It can be hard to find words in the moment to change the subject
  • It might help to memorize some subject-changing scripts and use standard ones every time this happens
  • Then you won’t have to think of something to say in the moment while you are freaking out
  • Which scripts are most effective will depend on you and your group
  • (This post on deflecting fight-pickers has a lot of subject-change scripts.)
  • You can also change the subject back to what people were talking about before
  • Eg: “So, you were saying about the cats we’re all here to talk about? What do you think about the fluffy ones? I see your point about their hair getting matted easily, but they’re so pretty and soft.”

Another possibility: asking what they meant:

  • Sometimes you can defuse fear by asking people whether they mean it
  • ie: “Do you really think I was just trying to take it for myself?”
  • This can be awkward, but it can also be effective
  • Whether or not it’s a good idea depends on your friend groups
  • Some people might get offended and sarcastically say yes, of course they think that.
  • If you can’t read sarcasm when you’re scared, this might backfire
  • But when it works, it can work really well

It would probably also be a good idea to work on having perspective when other people are angry at you. Your friends and people close to you will be angry at you sometimes. That doesn’t always mean that you’re in danger or that they are going to hurt you. It also doesn’t always mean that you have done something wrong. Finding anger more bearable will help you in a lot of aspects of your life, including when people tease you. If anger is less terrifying, teasing will also be less terrifying.

tl;dr Teasing is only friendly if everyone likes it. Doing it to people who don’t like it is mean. It’s ok not to want to be teased or insulted, even as a joke. It’s ok to ask people to stop. Some people will take that request seriously and some won’t. (Everyone should, but not everyone does). If teasing scares you because you have trouble telling the difference between real insults and joke insults, there are things you can learn to look for that make it easier to tell the difference. It also helps to learn how to keep perspective in the face of other people’s anger. Scroll up for some more concrete information.

Dealing with isolation at school

Anonymous said to :

What do I do if my friends are rude to me constantly but they’re my only friends and I literally cannot make friends with anyone else cause I have a v v v small school and they’re the only people around my age? It hurts a lot and I get overlooked a lot and when I try to say something I get ignored or told to shut up:

realsocialskills said:

A couple of things:

These other people at your school might not be your friends. People who dislike you and are mean to you aren’t actually friends. Friends are people who you like, and who like you back. Friends are people who respect you and who you respect. Friends are people who are, generally speaking, nice to you (no one is perfectly nice all the time; everyone is mean or obnoxious occasionally. But people who are intentionally cruel are not friends. They’re bullies).

If people don’t like you, don’t want you around, and are mean to you, that’s probably not something you can change. It’s not usually possible to persuade people to be your friends or be nice to you if they don’t already want to.

Something you can sometimes do is assert boundaries. Sometimes if people are nice to you sometimes but not other times, you can limit your interactions to contexts in which they are nice.


  • If students in your school are nice when adults are looking and mean when they’re not, it might be best to limit your interactions to closely supervised settings (eg: hang out with them in the lunch room and not outdoors during breaks) 
  • Some people are nice in mixed-gender grounds but mean in single-gender groups, or vice versa. If you notice that pattern, it might be worth paying attention to the gender composition of a group you’re trying to hang out with
  • Some people are nice one on one, but mean in groups. It can sometimes be worth making a point of hanging out with those people only individually.

That said: Being isolated at school is horrible, but I think that being socially intertwined with people who are mean to you is a lot worse (I’ve experienced both). I’m not you and I can’t tell you what you should do - you are the best judge of that. But, from my perspective, I think you would probably be better off seeking friends elsewhere. That’s probably possible even if you’re in a small school.

Friends don’t have to be people who go to your school. Friends don’t have to be your age. Friends don’t have to be people you see in person. There are other ways to have friends.

I’m assuming that you’re a teenager and that you don’t have very much control over your life right now. I don’t know which of these suggestions are realistic for you, but probably some of them are:

One option you almost certainly have is to make friends online. Internet friends are real friends, and can be much better friends than people you know in person who are mean to you. If you take those relationships seriously as friendships, it will probably substantially improve your social life. One good way to meet people online is by participating in a fandom. If you really like something, finding other people to talk to online about that thing can be a good way to make friends and have fun interacting with people. If you’re being actively bullied at school, or if your parents are hostile, it’s probably best to do this in forums that don’t require you to use your real name. (Eg: Tumblr is likely better for this than Facebook.)

Another option is to join a club or group that takes you out of your school, or to take a class outside of school. For instance, many people enjoy the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts. (Unlike Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts is a secular organization and is not actively hostile to gay and trans kids.) It doesn’t work for everyone, but some people who are very socially isolated in school have a good time socially in the scouts or in other clubs.

If there is a community center in your area, you might be able to play a sport or take an art class. It doesn’t have to be a class specifically for people your age - it can be really, really good to meet people of a range of ages, especially if you have trouble connecting with people your own age. If you find a group of people doing a thing you like, you’re likely to have more friends than if you’re just relying on people who go to your school.

If you’re in high school, taking college classes at a local community college might also be an option. That might be both more interesting than what you’re doing at school, and a way to meet people who don’t go to your school and might be nicer than you. (It doesn’t always work that way, but it does for some people.)

Another option is to volunteer. Is there a cause in your area that you care about? It might be worth finding out if there’s anything that you can do to help them. Again, that could bring you into contact with other people who care about the same things you care about, and it might be something people with power over your life would approve of. Volunteering to visit elderly people might also be something you could do. There are a lot of isolated elderly people who don’t use computers who want social contact, and some of them are really awesome. Some groups that match people accept teenagers as volunteers. (Again, not for everyone, but this is a good thing for some people.)

If you’re religious or your family is, there might be things you can get involved in at your place of worship that you’d enjoy and that would expand your social options beyond kids your age at your school. If you have a youth group that is largely populated by the same kids who are mean to you at school, it might be better to get involved in something else. For instance, there might be a social action or charitable group that you could join. Or an all-ages study group. (Definitely not for everyone, especially not if religion is something you’re unpleasantly coerced into participating in. But can be good for some people.)

tl;dr Mean people aren’t good friends. It’s usually better to seek out the company of people who are nice to you than to try to make friends with mean people. Even if you are young and go to a tiny school, there are options for finding friends. Scroll up for some ideas.

Anyone else want to weigh in? How do you cope with being surrounded by mean people at school? How do you find friends?

When your friend group always votes to do things you hate

Anonymous asked:

What do you do when people keep wanting to put stuff up to a vote when it comes to like, group activities, but it always results in you doing stuff you don’t like or have no interest in?

Is it okay to protest or be aggravated when this keeps happening?

What do you alternatively to pick what to do besides voting? What do you do people vote for stuff that you’re uncomfortable with or make you miserable?

Is it okay to ask that stuff you can’t handle be left off the table?

realsocialskills said:

It depends somewhat on the situation. I don’t know what kind of situation you’re in, so it’s hard to say exactly. But here are some thoughts:

It might help to proactively invite people to do an activity that you’re interested in:

  • If you know what you want to do, it might work better to ask people if they want to do that thing with you
  • That will likely get better results than getting together to hang out, then deciding what to do
  • It helps to be very specific
  • It can also help to name a time in the near future, but not immediately, so that it doesn’t become a negotiation about what the group will do right now

For instance: 

  • “Hey, I’m going to see the new Awesome Explosions and Loud Car Chases movie when it comes out next weekend. Who else is in?“
  • “I’m having a board game night next Tuesday. You’re all invited. Let me know if you want to come.”
  • “Today is going to be the longest day ever. Too many tests. I sure don’t feel like cooking. Does anyone want to go get tacos later after we’re doing with finals?“
  • “I found out that the Incredibly Nerdy Museum has an exhibit about my obscure interest. Anyone want to go see it? I’m thinking I’ll go on Friday morning.”

It might be a good idea to hang out with some of the people separately rather than the whole group:

  • Are there other people in your friend group who are into the things the group keeps voting against?
  • If so, it’s probably a good idea to arrange to hang out with those people separately, without the people who will outvote you and get the group to do things you hate
  • Even if you are all friends, you don’t have to hang out with everyone every time
  • It’s ok for some members of the group to split off and do things they like

You might need some different friends:

  • If your friends mostly only want to do things that you hate, can’t do, or have no interest in, you probably need some other people to hang out with
  • You can’t transform your friends into people who share your interests and activity preferences, but you can find people who share your interests
  • It might be a good idea to join a club for something you’re interested in
  • Or to go to some meetups about things you care about

It’s sometimes ok to be emphatic:

  • If you like a lot of what your friends like, but they also frequently pressure you to do a thing you hate, it can be ok to be emphatic about not doing that thing
  • (It gets obnoxious if you do this about almost everything they like, though. It’s ok to be somewhat insistent that a group care about what you want. It’s not reasonable to demand that they only ever do things you like when you have very different preferences).

Some examples of this:

  • “I don’t drink. I don’t want to go to a bar. Can we please do something else?“
  • “I’m not comfortable breaking the law. Let’s do something legal.”
  • “The mall always gives me a migraine. I don’t go there anymore. Can you pick something that I can participate in?“

It might help to keep in mind that you are not a democracy:

  • People can vote on what a group activity will be 
  • That doesn’t mean that they get to vote about what you will be doing 
  • You can say no to doing something, even if the group votes and decides to do a thing
  • It’s ok to bow out of activities your friend group enjoys
  • It doesn’t make you a bad friend. It just means that you’re not doing a particular thing
  • You can’t tell the group what to do, but you can decide what you will do

One of my friends keeps trying to “diagnose” me with autism, even though I’m almost 100% sure I don’t have autism. It’s getting really irritating. But I don’t know how to tell her to stop doing that without sounding like I think there’s something wrong with being autistic. Do you have any advice?
realsocialskills said:
I think there are several issues here:
  • There is nothing more private than your brain
  • You get to decide whether you’re interested in hearing someone’s perspective on your brain
  • You get to decide what you think
  • You get to decide which perspectives you want to keep hearing
  • It’s not ok for friends to keep making invasive personal comments after you’ve let them know that you want them to stop

Concerns about ableism:

  • I don’t know why your friend thinks you’re autistic and why you think you’re not
  • It’s possible that some of your reasons might be ableist. (I’m autistic, and ableism is part of the reason it took me so long to figure it out. A lot of my friends knew before I did.)
  • (It’s also possible that you’re entirely right to think that you’re not autistic.)
  • Even if some of your reasons are ableist, you’re still allowed to want your friend to stop trying to diagnose you
  • The possibility that you are being ableist doesn’t entitle others to make invasive personal comments about your brain
  • You don’t have to be perfect to be allowed to have boundaries about what aspects of your personal life you are and aren’t willing to discuss

Concerns about how you’ll be perceived if you ask your friend to knock it off:

  • I think the best way to assert this boundary is to do so without much explanation, eg:
  • “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
  • You don’t have to have a reason that sounds compelling to have the right to say no
  • And if you try to explain, it’s more likely to sound ableist whether or not it is.
  • Also, if you explain, you’re talking about it, which is exactly what you didn’t want to do in the first place
  • You don’t need your friend’s permission to think you’re not autistic
  • You don’t need your friend’s permission to decide that you don’t want to talk about this
  • Your friend should respect this boundary, even if they think you are wrong
  • Part of being a respectful friend means honoring boundaries about which personal things they do and don’t want to discuss
  • If your friend tries to insist on telling you that you’re autistic, it’s not evidence that you’re doing something wrong. It just means that they’re not respecting your boundary in this area.
  • There are no guarantees about how they will react, but it’s likely to go better if you assert your boundary in a matter-of-fact way without arguing about it

Good luck. I hope that you and your friend are able to work this out.

Do you think it’s okay to have friends that you disagree with about political issues? I have a close friend that’s much more conservative than me; most of the time we avoid talking about politics, but he listens respectfully when I call him out on something, and even though I’m gay, Jewish, and non-gender conforming I feel very safe around him. Sometimes, though, I feel like I shouldn’t be friends with him, because I would be supporting his problematic views. Thoughts?
realsocialskills said:
Yes, It’s absolutely ok to be friends with people you disagree with about important things.
The only alternative would be to be friends only with perfect people. Which isn’t a realistic option. Everyone is wrong about something important, and it’s not necessary to demand perfection as a precondition for legitimate friendship.
You get to decide what’s dealbreaking for you and what isn’t. You’ve decided that your friend’s views aren’t dealbreaking for you. That’s a decision you get to make; no one else gets to decide that for you.
You’re not supporting his views by being his friend. You’re supporting the idea that, despite his views, you like him, and that he is worthy of your friendship. That is not the same thing. 
Other people also get to decide what’s dealbreaking for them and what isn’t, and it’s important to respect that. (Eg: It’s probably not a good idea to invite this guy to come along to something like Nehirim where most people there are there specifically to be in a space that has a positive outlook on gay people and Jews.)
It’s also important not to pressure friends for whom some aspects of his worldview are dealbreaking to be like “he’s a great guy, really! You should hang out with us some time!”.
It’s also not ok to lecture them on the virtues of tolerance and imply that there’s something wrong with them considering his views dealbreaking. They get to decide they don’t want to be around people with certain views. You have every right to be his friend; they have every right not to.
tl;dr It’s ok to be friends with people who are wrong about important things. It’s ok to decide what’s dealbreaking for you and what isn’t. So do other people. Don’t pressure people to spend time around your friends whose views are dealbreaking for them.

Friending people on Facebook

In a work or college class setting, after how many days/convos is it considered socially acceptable to ask for someone’s Facebook?
realsocailskills said:
I think that in most situations, you shouldn’t be asking someone for their Facebook. Generally speaking, the way to connect with someone on Facebook is to send them a friend request without mentioning it elsewhere. This lets them either friend you or not, depending on what they are comfortable with.
If you think that they might not know who you are, it can be a good idea to send a message with your friend request. Like “Hi, I’m in your physics class.”
If you can’t find someone on facebook, don’t ask. If someone is hard to find on Facebook, they have probably made it that way intentionally. If they want to be Facebook friends, they will send you a request. (The except is if you are both hard to find on Facebook and you are becoming friends. Then it’s ok to say something like “So, we’re both pretty hard to find on Facebook. Should we add each other?”)
Friending people who go to your school is usually ok, and unlikely to be seen as invasive. Most people will probably friend you back (although that’s their choice, and it’s important not to be pushy about it.)
In a professional setting, it is more complicated.
Facebook blurs relationship boundaries and causes you to find out all kinds of things you wouldn’t find out if you kept things to in-person interactions. You might be better off not knowing those things. You might be better off if some people don’t know those things about you, particularly people you work with professionally. 
Some people do not friend coworkers. Some people like to keep Facebook for personal friends and keep it as much out of their professional life as possible. Some people don’t like being easily contacted outside of work. In a work context, it might be better to err on the side of not friending people, unless you’re getting to the point of interacting with them outside of work.
Rule of thumb: If you have to work with someone, and your working relationship would be destroyed if you find out they have abhorrent political views or distasteful hobbies, you probably should not friend them on Facebook.
If your job is a campus job that you can change easily, or it’s a short-term internship, then it’s probably perfectly fine and even advisable to friend peers. That’s a good way to network and build relationships, and the risks are relatively low. If you find out something that undermines your ability to work together, you’ll probably be able to tolerate it in the short term knowing that the working relationship will end soon.
If someone is working for you, you probably shouldn’t send them a friend request unless they’re also in your social circles. If they want to be facebook friends, they will friend you. Even then, consider not accepting the request. If you’d really rather not know your employees’ political views or what they get up to when they’re not at work, you’re better off not seeing their Facebook posts.
Some people basically friend everyone who friends them or who they have ever connected with. That can be ok too, but if that’s your strategy, then it’s important to be a lot more careful about what you post on Facebook.
For instance, if you are friends with everyone on Facebook and you post a lot of controversial politics, it will undermine your ability to work with people who disagree with your views, even in completely apolitical contexts. If you are friends with everyone and post pictures of yourself partying, it will cause people to see you as less serious and professional.
There are many different strategies for using Facebook. They all have merits and downsides.
Facebook is a great way to connect with people and have conversations and plan things. When it works, it’s wonderful. But it can also cause far too much connection. In relationships that should be limited, be careful about using Facebook.
What do y'all think? How do you decide who to friend and manage boundaries on Facebook?

Keeping perspective in a world that tries to take it away

When you’re marginalized:

  • No matter how nice you are, people will call you mean
  • No matter how justified your anger is, people will tell you that you’re overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing
  • No matter how polite you are, people will call you rude
  • No matter how well you explain yourself, people will accuse you of speaking without thinking
  • No matter how closely you stick to the facts, people will accuse you of letting your emotions make you irrational

This post is not about that, exactly. It’s about one consequence of living in a world where people treat you this way. You have to grow a fairly thick skin, and learn to disregard a lot of mean-spirited and unwarranted attacks on you.

The need to protect yourself this way comes at a price. The thick skin you have to develop to function at all can make it hard to tell when you actually *are* doing something wrong. And sometimes you will be. Because everyone is mean sometimes, Everyone overreacts some of the time. Everyone is rude sometimes, Everyone sometimes believes things based on what they emotionally desire to be true rather than the facts of the situation. Everyone gets outraged at things that don’t warrant it. Everyone is cruel sometimes.

And when everyone tells you that you’re doing awful things whether or not it’s true, it’s really hard to tell when you actually are doing wrong.

It’s important to cultivate friendships with people you can trust to care whether or not you are doing the right thing. Who share your values and won’t use false accusations of being cruel to shut you up, and won’t try to undermine your struggles against marginalization. Who will genuinely care about both the success of your work, and whether or not you are treating yourself and others well.

And to have friends who can trust you to do the same. It doesn’t mean that you always have to agree, or that you can’t ever do something your friend thinks is wrong. But it does mean that you listen, and take into account what one another thinks.

One of the awful things oppressors do to us is to make examining our actions difficult by flooding us with a lot of mean-spirited false criticism. It’s important that we find a way to counter that.

Is it ok to stop being friends with someone because the steps necessary to ensure their consent stress you out to the point of making you miserable? On one hand, that seems like a shitty thing to do to someone you otherwise like. On the other hand, trying to figure out what this person wants to do or wants me to do sometimes stresses me out to the point that I actually end up cutting myself to calm down. I don’t know what the right thing to do is anymore.
realsocialskills said:
Yes, it’s ok. Because your consent also matters. You do not have to spend time with people who make you miserable, even if it’s not their fault that they make you miserable.
That said, sometimes people who are far too stressful to interact with regularly are great if you limit it some.
Are there boundaries that you could draw that would make interacting with them enjoyable again?
Like, maybe only seeing them occasionally? Maybe only at activities they suggest? Maybe only online?

You can't fix someone's perspective

Hey there. So, I’m wondering how I can help my sister with her self esteem. She’s very beautiful, and it’s been made clear to her by many that she is, but at the end of the day she thinks herself ugly. I get really frustrated and angry with her sometimes when she does this– it’s so clear that she’s lovely, everyone knows, and it’s obvious she is. I just don’t know what to do. I want her to see how great she is, without hurting her.
realsocialskills said:
It’s hard for me to tell from your message how your sister sees herself. You’re saying that she sees herself as ugly, and you see her as beautiful. You also say that she has low self esteem, and you want her to see how great she is. I’m wondering if maybe you’re conflating issues that seem the same to you, but which seem very different to your sister.
Sometimes people who have tremendous respect for themselves as people feel ugly. Sometimes amazing, wonderful people really *are* very unattractive by conventional standards. And for some people, it’s really powerful to come to the conclusion that don’t need to be beautiful to be ok. I don’t know how the world looks to your sister, and I don’t know what she’s struggling with. But it may well be that trying to see herself as beautiful is not what’s right for your sister at this point. And really, she’s the only one who know that; you can’t tell from the outside; you can only guess.
Your sister may be struggling tremendously with her self esteem, she may be struggling to feel worthy. But it’s her struggle - you can’t do it for her, and you can’t make her do it faster. This is something she has to figure out for herself.
It’s hard to see someone you love struggle, particularly when you think you know what would solve things, if only they would listen to you. Taking over really doesn’t help though, particularly when someone’s main problem is that they don’t respect themself enough. You can’t give someone self-respect by trying to force them to override their own judgment in favor of yours, as tempting as it might seem.
You can’t take over or direct your sister’s path to self-acceptance and self-respect, but you can support her in powerful ways. The best thing you can do for your sister is to respect the way she feels about herself now and stop trying change her. 
You can’t make your sister think that she’s great. You can’t make her think that she’s beautiful.
What you can do is acknowledge that she feels ugly, and show her respect and love as she feels this way. What you can do is be with her anyway, and show her that feeling ugly will not make you abandon her. 
Don’t get angry or upset at her for not feeling good about herself. That is counterproductive. If you express exasperation with her over this, it ends up sounding like "I want you to like yourself NOW NOW NOW you’re beautiful", which on the receiving end can be heard as “I hate you for not loving yourself more”. That is the opposite of the message you’re trying to send.
I think the best thing you can do for your sister right now is accept that, right now, she doesn’t feel great about herself. Your sister’s poor self image is not an inditement of you. It’s not your job to fix it - but you can be there for her while she figures things out, on her own timeline.
You can’t try to change your sister’s self-image without hurting her. What you can do is show her the love and respect that you wish she’d show herself.



I have a friend with depression who frequently cancels plans or doesn’t message me back, and even though I know it’s because she has a limited amount of emotional energy and not because she doesn’t care about me, I end up feeling really neglected and hurt every time. We’ve talked about it and she knows how I feel, but it isn’t getting better. I keep thinking I might have to just stop talking to her to protect myself from getting hurt, but that feels mean. What do you think I should do?
realsocialskills said:
I can’t tell you whether or not you should keep talking to this person, that’s a deeply personal decision.
The first thing I want to say is that it’s ok to decide you don’t want to spend time around someone who regularly hurts you, even if the reasons they hurt you aren’t entirely their fault. Your needs matter.
That said, I think part of the problem might be that you are expecting things from your friend that aren’t possible right now, and that it might be possible to salvage the friendship by changing your expectations. 
Here’s a dynamic that may or may not resemble what’s going on with you, between friends I’ll call Cathy and Debra:
  • Cathy and Debra are in a culture in which the assumption about how friendship works is that Good Friends regularly make and keep plans, and answer each other’s messages in a timely manner
  • Debra has major depression, and isn’t currently capable of doing either of those things
  • Cathy wants to think of Debra as a Good Friend and give her the benefit of the doubt, so she keeps trying to make plans, and sends messages assuming that she will get prompt replies
  • Debra wants to think of herself as a Good Friend, so she keeps trying to make plans even though she’s not actually capable of keeping htem
  • Debra can’t actually keep most of the plans or reply to most of the messages, so she doesn’t
  • This hurts Cathy’s feelings, because she’s counting on Debra to act like a good friend, and Debra is doing things that signal that she doesn’t really care about or respect Cathy
  • Neither of them talk about Debra’s actual capabilities, or make plans taking them into account
  • They keep assuming that, somehow, being Good Friends and trying will solve the problem
  • And meanwhile, it doesn’t, and Cathy gets more and more hurt

If this is what’s going on, I think that making stuff better has to start from the assumption that, no matter how much your friend cares about you, she’s not currently capable of doing some of the things that you currently think of as central to being a good friend. If depression means she can’t do those things right now, no amount of talking about how much this hurts you is going to fix that. If those kinds of conversations gave depressed people more abilities, no one would be depressed. 

That might mean that you can’t be very friendly to one another right now, or it might mean that your understanding of how friendship works needs to change to account for her capabilities. I don’t know which answer is the right one for you. Both are possible. 

But, as far as shifting understandings and assumptions:

Regarding messages:

  • I think your current assumption might be that replies are more-or-less automatic
  • And that if someone doesn’t reply, it’s because they’re actively withholding a reply
  • Which is the case in some kinds of relationships, but it’s probably not what’s going on when your friend doesn’t reply
  • Replies are probably really, really hard for your friend right now, and she’s probably often not up to making them
  • So, with this friend, it might make more sense to assume that not replying is the default, and that sending a reply is something hard that she does when she’s up to it
  • What if when you sent your friend messages, you assumed something along the lines of “My friend will probably like getting this message, but she will probably not be able to reply to it this time”?

Regarding plans:

  • I think it is not a good idea to keep making plans that you will be upset if you friend breaks
  • If she’s not capable of keeping plans reliably, then making them and expecting them to be kept just hurts both of you.
  • So what if you didn’t make plans, and instead only did things spontaneously on rare occasions on which she was up to replying immediately to suggestions?
  • Or what if you made plans with the assumption that she might not be able to keep them, and found a way to be ok with that?
  • Eg: inviting your friend to a group activity, and still going and having a good time with the other people if she cancelled?
  • Or making plans to go to a movie, then going by yourself if she wasn’t up to it?
  • Or planning to go over to her house, but assuming that there was a good chance she wouldn’t actually be up to it, and not making that plan often enough that it would prevent you from doing other things that are important to you?

All of that said, I don’t know what you should do, and I’m not telling you that you have to keep talking to this person. I’m saying that, if you do want to try to keep interacting with them, I think this might be an approach that could make it possible to do so and still feel ok. But it might not be. What I have suggested is not going to work for everyone, and that’s ok. It does work sometimes for some people, though.

Any of y’all have other suggestions?

aura218 said:

My friend and I have a friendship that works b/c we’re both like this. Basically, we did the meetup suggestions above. We both planned to go to group things, events, movies, etc, but if the other didn’t go or was late, that was fine. 

Another thing that worked for us was taking the friendship online. We kind of commuted our friendship to an 80% online friendship. We text several times a week, go on each others’ tumblrs to keep up with what we’re doing, and comment on each others’ creative blogs. It helps us keep up with out lives and keep that connection in a low-pressure way.