Friday, August 13, 2010

Why I am a socially awkward geek


Stage One: Excited Yammering

"Hi I heard you like Mudkips!"
"OMG I LOVE MUDKIPS! They're so like, blue!"
"Yes! And water Pokemon are the best!"
"I love Lapras!
"Yes! Lapras!"

Stage Two: Running Out of Steam

"So, um, I had a sandwich today..."
"Oh, cool. What kind?"

Stage Three: Person Says Thing Which Most People Would Have No Problem Responding To But I Have No Idea What in The Hell to Say

"There's a great sandwich place near my house."

Stage Four: Awkward Silence

[agonizing 30-second pause which seems more like 30 minutes and I am wondering if the other person hates me now because I didn't engage their sandwich thing, and now I'm not sure where to put my eyes so I end up staring into space and looking like I am about to start drooling and then I suddenly realize that and I get all self-conscious and stare at my shoes instead]

Next is the stage which is sometimes referred to as "repairing a conversation". This is the stage people with Asperger's are notoriously bad at. I am no exception.

Stage Five: Desperate Attempt to Salvage Conversation by Blurting Out Whatever is in My Head

"Did you know James Buchanan was probably gay? He was the president right before Lincoln. Some people think Lincoln was gay too because he shared beds with other men, but he probably just couldn't afford a bed. Also he had syphilis. But everybody had syphilis back then."

Stage Six: Panic Over Other Person's Lukewarm Response Coupled With Even More Desperate Attempt to Pull Conversation Back to Common Ground

"So anyway! Mudkips! Yes!"
"Mudkips are cool."
"One time I caught a Mudkip and named it Fart."
"Hehe. Fart."

And that's where the conversation usually dies its final, painful death. This is why I have learned to associate a) mainly online, and b) mainly with other socially awkward people, because those conversations go more like this:

Person 1: Remember Thundercats?
Person 2: I never watched Thundercats. I liked TMNT a lot though. And Captain Planet. Everyone says Heart is a sucky power but I think being able to command whole herds of buffalo to do your bidding would be pretty badass.
Person 3: Hey guys I made spaghetti
Person 4: [randomly quotes Cracked article]
Person 2: [still yammering about 80s cartoons]
Person 3: This spaghetti sauce coulda been better, I don't think I used enough oregano
Person 1: Man I usually just use sauce from a jar
Person 4: [still quoting from Cracked]
Person 5: The poop, it was HORRIBLE!
Person 2: Nice

I made that transcript up, but just barely. It probably sounds like a horrible trainwreck to anyone with a remotely organized brain, but it is normal conversation for me. So if you ever try to engage me in conversation, and I end up staring blankly into space, it's not because I'm not listening. It's because I'm trying to think of a response that is appropriate and doesn't involve poop or Thundercats or randomly blurting out something about gay dead people or things I see out of the corner of my eye. This can take me an alarmingly long time, because I have to sift through all the contents of my brain like an unsorted toy box. The socially-appropriate response is in there, but it's usually underneath many piles of plastic dinosaurs, and often by the time I find it, enough time has passed that the response is no longer socially appropriate:

"I bought new shoes today!"
[almost a full minute passes as I sift through possible responses: I wear shoes too, I haven't bought new shoes in like five years, remember light-up sneakers?, non-sequitur Simpsons quote involving shoes, dude remember Thundercats, cool what kind of shoes... yes! That one!]
"Cool, what kind of shoes?"

But by then it is too late. I have already been staring into space, looking puzzled, for a full minute, and the other person has either wandered off or has begun to wonder if I am experiencing some kind of temporal lobe seizure. Or they just think I am retarded. Usually that one.

This is compounded by the fact that I frequently cannot decode what a person has actually said until several seconds after they say it. My actual hearing is fine, but someone has clogged my ear-to-brain tubes with their internet porn, or something, because the words get stuck on the way there:

What you say: Do you want a sandwich?
What I hear: Djoowamma sawitch?
My response: [30 seconds of unresponsive staring in which it does not occur to me to go "What?"]
My brain process: Someone is making noise with their mouth. They are talking. Are they talking to me? They are looking at me. Shit. What did they say? Dew in the subway? Jew on the sub-witch? No! Do you want... do I want what? Person is holding a sandwich. Do I want a sandwich!
Me, feeling as if I have won a gameshow: Yes! I'll take a sandwich!! :D

This is if I am lucky enough to be continuously in the same room as the person talking to me. If they say something as I am walking by, I may never respond. This is why I hate it when store employees say hello to me. By the time I realize a person has spoken to me, and figure out what they said, and figured out how to respond, they have long since walked by, and I look like a big fat jerk.

So if you ever meet someone who appears to be an idiot, it is quite possible they are experiencing some kind of mental process like I have outlined above. Or maybe they are a self-absorbed ass. There's really no way to tell. It may not be exactly reassuring to know there is no way to immediately discern whether someone is an asshole or just experiencing some kind of cognitive dysfunction, but um, yay neuroscience?


*It occurred to me on rereading this post that I made it seem like I really, really like Thundercats, and now probably everybody at NEUC is gonna come up to me and be like "So! I heard you like Thundercats!" and then I will have to explain that I've never seen Thundercats in my life and it's just sort of a meme for people who were kids in the 80s to be like "omg remember THUNDERCATS?" except most of the people who read my blog weren't born in the 80s and wouldn't get that which means they also wouldn't try to talk to me about Thundercats anyway so I don't know why I even brought it up. And now I've said Thundercats like 75 times in this post and I will probably get an inordinate amount of blog hits from people looking for information about cheesy 80s cartoons and actually my blog is mostly about navel-gazing and they will be sad.


Whimsy said...

I read this post and I laughed.
Not because I find it odd, or weird, but because it was like seeing my conversations in somebody else's writing.

Thank you for writing about this, for I, too am a socially awkward geek. ^_^

I have quite a time in group conversations, but I REALLY like hanging around with people. It's just hard for me to put myself in a conversation where I'm not yammering on about something that has no point, is about Harry Potter (my Thundercats), or is just plain weird.

It's hard for me to just walk up to somebody and start a conversation, which is why, although I remember you from NEUC last year, I don't think I actually spoke to you.

I am going to NEUC this year, and maybe I shall break through my social weirdness to actually speak to you. One can hope.

I think that I have slight Aspergers as well (compounded with ADD, so that's really fun), although I've never been diagnosed.

Anywho, I've rambled on enough.

I'll let you alone now.


Elisha said...

You actually did talk to me at NEUC! You were next to me at the ATC and duct tape funshops, and you told me about Nerdfighters :) (I have a pretty oddly specific memory for events. Now, remembering stuff I need to *do*, on the other hand...)

Looking forward to seeing you again soon!

Anonymous said...

I have broken myself of most of that. I did it by strategically forcing myself to engage in conversation with everyone I meet. That required me to keep a lot of useless information on tap at all times so that I had something relevant to say no matter what the subject was. Seems like a good skill set to have, right? Unfortunately now I can't stop myself from pontificating about everything to anybody. To combat this I have started trying not to speak as much so that I don't dominate a conversation, but that has led me back into the awkward downward spiral (possibly why I didn't end up talking to a lot of people that I wanted to at NEUC last year). Someday I'll be able to have a nice normal non-committal conversation about current affairs with somebody...


Whimsy said...


Oh, I did, did I?
Huh, must've done better than I thought.

Ahhh, I talked about Nerdfighters...Yeah, another one of my dangerously nerdy pastimes. XD That would explain it.

Can't wait for the conference this year, it's coming up soon! (yay!)

(The captcha code on this is "grawars" which seems like something a dinosaur would say. That was a totally relevent piece of information.)

Marilou said...

I was born in '92 and I loved Thundercats! I don't remember much, though, because I was pretty young when it was on Cartoon Network.

Reading this, I thought, "Yes! I'm not alone!" I definitely go through the first four stages almost every time I have a conversation with an acquaintance/sort-of friend. When the awkward silence comes around, I just let the other person think of something to talk about. It's easier for me that way.

Phoebe said...

This is definitely familiar to me!! This even happens with people I consider friends....when I have run out of things to say I just stare into space and eventually say something completely and utterly rubbish.....*sigh* also includes lots of “”

Phoebe said...

This is definitely familiar to me!! This even happens with people I consider friends....when I have run out of things to say I just stare into space and eventually say something completely and utterly rubbish.....*sigh* also includes lots of “”

Anonymous said...

I'm a "neurotypical" guy reading your post to try and understand what might be going on with one of my students. It didn't help much, but laughed harder than I have laughed in months.

If nothing else works for you, you might try comedy or writing books or something.