Friendships are a complicated thing for autistics. We don’t always know when someone is a friend and when they have stopped being a friend. Often times, we find ourselves in unrequited friendships, where the other person is not interested in a friendships with us. No matter your age or diagnosis point, all autistics struggle with friendships because they exist that murky, grey area that is socializing.
Believe it or not, your difficulties with friendships will not end when you “get older”. In fact, most humans find friendship to be more difficult to attain and retain the older they get. Our friends in our early years are friends of convenience. Folks who live near you, go to school with you, and may even be family members. As we age, we are busier and no longer find ourselves in just one place all day long. Our responsibilities grow and we have less and less availability to just “hang out”. We find ourselves with less friends and less time to make them.
Shockingly, our desire for friendships does not change as we age. No matter how old we get, we still get lonely and seek out the company of others. What does change is that rather than wanting large groups of friends, in adulthood, we find ourselves seeking quality over quantity. The problem with that is that quality friendships take time to develop, and time is one thing there is never enough of.
The solution to this complicated problem is actually quite simple. In order for quality friendships to develop, we must create the space and time for them in our lives. Literally, it means scheduling the time and finding the right spaces for quality friendships to develop.
Much like we prepare the garden soil for planting vegetables, we must prepare our lives for cultivating friendships. Here are few ways to start creating the time and space for quality friendships in your life:
1. Sift for Gold: Take an honest look at who you are currently and the kind of human you would like to be. Now look at the people you spend time with, respect, give your energy to, and connect with on social. Sift through them for the ones that bring value to your life, they are gold. The rest of the crew is just taking up space and energy in your life and you’ve got to clear them out. With those folks gone, you have begun to create the space for new, better quality, friendships to exist.
2. Do Things That You Enjoy: This may seem like an oddly selfish way to develop friendships, but it REALLY works. If you get out in the world and do what you love, two things happen for sure. First, your energy level rises, and humans are naturally attracted to other humans who give out positive energy. Second, you will find yourself surrounded by other people who also love what you love, making it fertile soil for the forming of friendships.
3. Appreciate the Differences: Each person in your life brings something with them that is half the reason you connect. This makes each friendship unique. Make sure you stop to appreciate what each of your unique friends brings to the table. We are all better when we pause to appreciate difference.
4. It’s Okay to Outgrow a Friendship: Knowing when to let a friendship end is tough, but essential. As we evolve and grow as humans, others around us are doing the same. We all evolve at different rate and in different directions. We feel our friendships shift and disappear when we evolve away from each other. This is perfectly natural and part of being human. We may grieve those friendships, but it is important to let them go without much resistance. When we do, we save our energy for better things and create space for a new friendship to arrive.
5. Make It a Priority: In other words, if you are truly wanting quality friendships in your life, you need to do a little work. Friendships will not develop if we aren’t prioritizing them in our lives. Friendships require some dedication. It essential to feed friendship with new experiences and conversations or the friendship flame will die. Make tending to it a priority.
When you use these tips consistently, cultivating your ‘Friendship Garden’ will be a whole lot easier. But remember, all gardens need to be tended regularly. Don’t forget to occasionally do some ‘weeding’ to keep your prize friendships healthy and growing.