Tag Archive | friendship

Human as a Second Language: “Definitely” means “never”

The other night I was out for dinner with my friends Critter and Varmint (Aspie-positive NT life forms) and we got to talking about the many ways humans have of wiggling out of commitments.

One of these ways is the use of the word “definitely,” which, after some extensive observation, I have concluded actually means “never.”

We should definitely ... never mind.

We should definitely … never mind.

And combined with any or all of the words “should,” “sometime,” “check it out,” and “try,” you can be sure that the get-together you’re discussing (or the hairdresser/book/movie/whatever that you’re recommending) is just not going to happen.

For example, if you’ve met someone in a social situation and get to that point in the exchange where you’re negotiating another get-together, and the person says “Yes, we should definitely try to get together for coffee sometime,” you can rest assured that coffee will not be had and that person will forever remain an acquaintance.

This can be puzzling and downright hurtful, and especially so for Aspies, who, to put it bluntly, live in a world of misunderstandings and frequent rejections. It can be tempting at this point to become angry at the other person, and to take such a blow-off personally — in other words, to condemn the other person and to assume this is a reflection on you personally. To explain why this is not actually a valid or useful response, I will borrow from the teachings of The Big Bang Theory and of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), of which I am a huge fan.

This definitely sucks, but I shall accept it as a social convention.

This definitely sucks, but I shall accept it as a social convention.

First of all, there is no hard-and-fast rule stating that the other person must get together with you simply because you want this to happen (that’s the CBT rational thought, there). NTs are not as direct as Aspies can be (sometimes this is a good thing and is known as “manners”) and will often find a softer way of saying, albeit obliquely, that for whatever reason, they’re not interested in or able to commit to getting together with you at this point.

Second, the whole “we should definitely get together sometime” thing is actually part of a social convention that a lot of NTs follow. This is something I’ve seen often on The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon (arguably an Aspie) is quite often stopped in his argumentative, insist-y tracks by being told that certain things (e.g., the giving of birthday presents, or attending dull faculty wine-and-cheese parties) are simply non-negotiable social conventions and he needs to suck it up and play nice.

In this instance, the use of the words “definitely,” “should,” etc. is the NT’s way of signalling that your social exchange is coming to an end and it’s time for you both to go find someone else to talk to, or change the subject.

The subject of what constitutes an acceptance is a bit more complicated (OK, a lot…) but briefly, for the sake of comparison here, I would say that the suggestion of a date, time, and place (“OK, how about next Thursday at The Wobbly Duck Cafe? Does 2:30 work for you?”) and the exchange of contact information are signs that the other person is interested in furthering your acquaintance. (Needless to say, you can really overthink this, as Sheldon infamously does on the episode called “The Friendship Algorithm.”)

So, your two lessons are: first, know when you’re being blown off. Your clues are the use of the word “definitely” and the presence of any or all of the words “should,” “sometime,” “check it out,” and “try.” This is your cue to stop asking and move on.

Second, know that encountering the dreaded “We should definitely try to get together sometime” is not something you should take personally or use as a cudgel to beat either yourself or the other person. Rather, you are engaging in a social convention in which another person is trying to let you down gently. Let them. And find someone else to have coffee with.


You can definitely over-think the whole friendship thing. Let's try not to do that.

You can definitely over-think the whole friendship thing. Let’s try not to do that.


“Despite a desire for friends…”

“Despite a desire for friends, [people with Asperger’s have] difficulty in initiating or maintaining close relationships.”

— From Asperger’s Society of Ontario website, “Common Traits” page.

New Year’s Revolution

I’m not normally one for New Year’s resolutions (why should we follow through on promises made in January as opposed to any other time of year?) but, as I am an early-January baby, this time of year does usually lead me to reflect, at least briefly, on The Year That Was and What May Come.

Two things leap out: a) I need to stop wasting my time and energy on people who aren’t my friends and never will be; and b) I need to spend more money on my hair.

The latter is a no-brainer: I hate going to the hairdresser and I realized last week that this is actually obvious. Long story short, I looked in the mirror after my latest slap-dash twenty-dollar special at the probably-not-licensed lady down the street and went, “This has to stop. I look like Ward Cleaver.”

Son, we need to talk about your hair.

Horrified (in the way that only the abruptly enlightened can be), I presented myself shortly afterward at an upscale-ish salon recommended by an acquaintance who has a cute little pixie cut and humbly pleaded “Please fix it.”

She did. It took all of half an hour, cost less than I had feared, and, judging by the compliments pouring in, was bloody well worth it.

Lesson learned.

As far as the second bit goes, last month I read a sobering little post entitled “30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself” and was gobsmacked by Thing No. 1, as follows:

Stop spending time with the wrong people. – Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you.  If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you.  You shouldn’t have to fight for a spot.  …

This ties in nicely, as it happens, with Rule No. 6, from The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, by Dr Temple Grandin and Sean Barron, about which I wrote early in December 2011 – that rule being “Not everyone who is nice to me is my friend.” It’s a very hard lesson for Aspergians (and non-Aspergians, I understand!) to learn, but an important one to keep in mind as we stumble through life.

As with the hair revelation, I suddenly realized I have been engaged for many months now in yet another of my futile, exhausting struggles to make friends with a couple of people who are, alas, completely uninterested in being friends with me. (Again, a very Aspergian thing to do and the core of our Aspergianism, if you will – the intense desire for friends and the terrible difficulty of acquiring same.)

OK, so what do I do with it when I catch it??

The details are not particularly germane here, but suffice it to say that my overtures (invites to dinner, a walk, a movie, an evening of board games, coffee, a beer…) have been consistently rebuffed with things like “Sorry, I’m busy,” “Sounds fun – can I take a rain check?” and “Sorry, I can’t make our date – something’s come up” (in one case, the “something” being an urgent need to help clean out someone else’s garage) (I am not making this up).

For whatever reason, that little blog entry was like a bonk on the head – finally, I get it: all of these little blow-offs are a polite way of saying “I’d rather eat boiled sloth excrement than hang out with you.”

Unlike many Aspergians, I am blessed with a small circle of friends. They know who they are, and they don’t do the things I mentioned above. No sir. We hang out, we do things together, we see movies, we eat meals, we go on expeditions and trips. When we say we’re going to do something, we do it unless someone has had to call the undertaker or has an actual internal organ dangling out of their person. We give each other kicks in the butt as necessary, and compliments and strokes that actually mean something. They ask after things that are important to me, and likewise; it’s a two-way conversation.

Hiya, "friend." Can you do me a favour?

Sure, we email and text, but that is not the extent of our friendships – rather, it’s just an extension of it, a bit of icing on the tasty, satisfying cake that is Being Friends.

Anyway, I’m sure I don’t need to go on at length about what friendship consists of — you get the point. And (having apparently lost track of it for a period of time) I now do, too.

So, with all that in mind, in with 2012 – bring it on. In with decent coiffures and onward with the wonderful, life-giving friends I already have. Out with “man-cuts” and sharky, vapid people who only get in touch when they want something.

And while I’m at it, out (at last!) with CBC Radio One. It sounds like radio written by social-work students. Enough already.

There. I’m done. Happy New Year, everyone!

Ahhhhhhhh. Peace at last.