The ingredients of friendship

I think it’s useful to think of friendships as having several ingredients, each of which can be cultivated. The list below was handed out, by me, at a recent meeting of the Queens discussion group.

Foundations of friendship:

1) Companionship: Enjoying each other’s company. Companionship has two main aspects: (a) liking each other as people, and (b) one or more shared interests: activities you both enjoy, or topics you both enjoy talking about. A shared sense of humor helps too, and for many people (not everyone) is an essential part of companionship.

2) Emotional sharing / openness / intimacy. Emotional support, sympathy, mutual understanding and acceptance, especially of traits that are not usually shown to other people. These are often major areas of difficulty between autistic people and NT’s, due to the mutual empathy problem. On the other hand, meeting other autistic people in a support group can give us a head start, with each other, on this dimension of friendship.

3) Doing favors for each other: Favors should be small at first, small enough that you won’t feel ripped off if it’s not reciprocated. Favors can gradually get bigger as the friendship deepens.

4) Comradeship: An emotional bond formed by facing common challenges together. Extreme example: war buddies. More common example: Teammates on a sports team. Another example: Political activists working closely together for a common goal. Many autistic people have never experienced comradeship. Many of us tend to be clumsy, hence were never wanted on anyone’s sports team.

Close friendship additionally requires:

5) Caring about each other’s well-being. The more you both care, the deeper the friendship.

6) Trust. (Up to a point at least, but not total trust – e.g., one should never share bank account passwords! And one should never relinquish one’s right to mental privacy.)

Pitfall: Many autistic people have a tendency to be prematurely trusting. Upon getting burned as a result, some of us then go to the opposite extreme of jumping to nasty conclusions about people. What we need is the middle ground of “Love many, trust few”: Prepare for the worst, by taking reasonable precautions and asserting boundaries, but be slow to jump to negative conclusions about specific people.

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