Lately I have told myself how thankful I am to have the amount of friends that I do, and that most of them are legit. It's a great feeling, because somehow I'm merely an occasional eccentric who puts his foot in his mouth, or a live representation of a television caricature at worst. When I consider how difficult it has been historically for me to make friends, this sort of thing makes me that much more thankful.
Moving to a different state was hard enough, as I chronicled before. I did not know anyone in the Triangle; in fact, I only had Lindsay as my NC connection and she was nearly two hours away in Roanoke Rapids. I knew that this could potentially lead to me actually recognizing that I was alone, something that Aspies often worry about but I had become unfazed by through my own introversion. How was I going to meet people and potentially make friends, and even more so, find places to explore around Raleigh, Durham, and surrounding areas? I decided to take the route that was perfect for an Aspie like me who likes predictability and more homogeneous settings: the social website Meetup.
Living in Philadelphia, I still had my network in Levittown and the college friends I kept in touch with had remained around Pennsylvania and Maryland; I also had coworkers and other professional associates who were part of my generation. I didn't think I had reason to join Meetup back then. This time I decided it was worth joining for people with interests. The part of North Carolina I live in consists of many young professionals and graduate students who relocated from other states, just like me. Maybe there were groups specific to those types, and I made note of that as my top priority. I next added my interests on the site, like most people, which included autism. Found an Aspie group as well.
My concern about the autistic community is that we can easily lose ourselves in the online world without actually going to meet people. C.S. Wyatt, whose The Autistic Me is among the best blogs I have read, produced a great post on a person, a "lonely Aspie," who was spending nearly $200 weekly on camera chats with females and game forums. An expensive habit. What Wyatt says is advice that is tough for us to give our fellow spectrumites:
His friendships and his "relationships" aren't real. They just aren't, at least not in my view. He argued that his friends were as real as mine. "[you] don't have that many followers or friends," he pointed out to me. "I have 700 friends on Facebook and over 1000 Twitter followers. You don't."
I was at a complete loss for words. Yet, because I can't keep quiet when I should, I reiterated my belief that to make real connections, you have to leave the virtual world.
Lonely Aspie didn't like my advice. He didn't want to meet strangers at concerts, parks, or elsewhere. He didn't want to use Meetup.com or Facebook to find groups with interests similar to his. He actively resisted my suggestions, and seemed set on spending his money on games and cam girls.
It's possible this person would not join Meetup due to the requirement of meeting in person. I guess I can understand that, but with my own story (and my own issues with empathy), I am not certain why someone feeling lonely would not want to use that as a network to make friends. If I'm the only one at an event just stalking there, hoping to see someone for conversation, it doesn't feel right. Okay, sure, I'm like most guys who will occasionally attempt to pick up a female at the bar. However, it's not an easy game when you're going off looks alone (it's cocky, but I believe myself to be a fine looking yuppie); this is what makes online dating much more productive. Same goes for groups meant to make friends or professional connections. Wouldn't something as organized as a social group be easier?
I guess my relief is that I found an easy way to make friends, and got out of the inevitable shell the best way I knew how. It's why Meetup, Facebook, and OkCupid are great for autistics looking for professional, social, and dating connections, but sometimes we get so scared of embarrassing ourselves in person that we turn away. It's rather dangerous if we trap ourselves.
Besides, social media can help promote worthy causes.