Around 8 months ago I met a friend who has a very similar perception as I have in regards to having autism and Asperger's. Since this friend was multiple years ahead therapy-wise, I learned a lot from that friend about myself.

One thing I learned was that apparently neurodivergent persons have no real relation to strangers while having a great willingness to give and sacrifice a lot for those close to them. Much more than neurotypicals usually would/can commit to (or sometimes even want to receive).

The problem here is neurodivergent people can't empathize with neurotypicals and vice versa. So my scope here is as limited as anyone's.

So since this commitment1 isn't usual, as I know now, I can empirically understand that I never will get back what I want to give. This was the main reason for ALL my relationships failing, as I got so jealous since all the little things I expected as a matter of course, were never returned and I didn't feel wanted.

Even as I realized that it was me making our commitments and bonds too strong and not the others making them too loose, it didn't stop the emotional pain, as the awareness of this sadly doesn't change the emotions of promise and the following disappointment. This made me get to a point where I decided with myself not to expect anything from anyone any more.

I've been going this way for 3 months now already and this has prevented almost any disappointments in this time frame. But I also realize I'm starting to not care about friends any more. I was a very loquacious person, but I just start getting bored, asking myself "Does it even matter, speaking up now? I won't be understood anyway." And that's definitely also not where I want to go.

So tl;dr:

As a neurodivergent person that is committing a lot for their friends and emotionally expecting this to be returned, how can I handle the fact that this commitment won't be returned?

I would like the answers to be backed up by approaches of others in similar situations or of experiences made with someone in my situation.

1An example: taking a 30 minute drive in my car just to bring a friend a 1€ snack he mentioned he would like to have, but didn't have the time to go pick one up.

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    "The problem here is neurodivergent people can't empathize with Neuro-typicals and vice versa." Really? – user288 Aug 7 '17 at 17:38
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    @Hamlet I have Asperger. Personally, I find empathy a very weird, scary, almost telepathic concept. I certainly have sympathy, but I'm told than neurotypicals may feel their knee hurts if they see a child falling on their knee, even when on TV. I will feel for you (empathy), certainly if I like you, but I will not feel with you. – gerrit Aug 30 '17 at 18:28
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    @Hamlet I suppose I do have empathy in the example of Male participants … will walk a mile-long obstacle course in high-heel shoes to give men a sense of empathy for the female experience. but I'm not sure if that's really empathy. – gerrit Aug 30 '17 at 18:52
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    @gerrit Physical pain is a weird example. I've certainly seen guys flinch when other guy take a crotch shot but I don't think I'd ever felt physical pain when seeing other people in pain. I do, however, feel emotional pain when I hear about people suffering, particularly in my case when hearing about parents losing a child. – Catija Sep 27 '17 at 14:51
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    @Beofett: I totally aggree, I for example have the impression that even some specific things, I'm much more sensible in as neurotypicals, as I "specialized" on it. But still, its an active process for us, and I allways feel like "simulating" the behavior I learned, while others just act that way anturally. – dhein Sep 27 '17 at 17:27
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have Asperger Syndrome. I can count my close friends on the fingers of one hand. Until I met my partner by sheer luck, when we were both in our 20s, I had a desire to form a romantic relationship but no clue whatsoever how to go about it. (The Wikipedia article on flirting was less useful than now, and most NTs probably wouldn't consult it when seeking romance.)

My close friends are all more or less on the spectrum. That's not because we actively sought each other out; it just turned out that way. Somehow I only form or retain friendships where this is the case. Perhaps there's also an "as-dar", autism/asperger-radar.

Twelve years ago, a young man in the local Autism Club said that he had had several romantic relationships with NTs, which all broke down, but that the AS-AS relationship he was in at the time held. He recommended us aspies to seek out other aspies. At the time I felt it was unfair, because (at least according to my knowledge at the time) the AS gender ratio was not in my favour. Ultimately I was very lucky to meet my partner, and I believe what he said was true: AS-AS relationships work better than AS-NT ones. I've seen that in myself and in other aspies, although my observation may be clouded by observation bias and I have no solid evidence to back it up.

To come back to your question:

As an neurodivergent person that is committing a lot for their friends and emotionally expecting this to be returned, how to handle the fact that this commitment won't be returned?

You don't, because that's not quite how it works. At least not for close friends. When you need to ask this question, it probably isn't quite working out already; it may be a good enough friendship for enjoying each other's company, but not for the type of we understand each other!

And that's what I believe is needed in a close friendship, and certainly in a relationship: we understand each other, we are a match, etc. I have plenty of buddies with whom I can get along. I might go on a 3-day hiking-&-camping trip, but not on a 10-day one. When I'm around my buddies, I still need to concentrate actively on the communication, because our brains are wired differently. I know that, but I'm constantly translating. That tires me, and I feel I can never quite completely relax like I can around my close friends or partner. It's of course true in general, that people may have a small circle of close friends, and a larger circle of buddies. I can never experience what it's like to be NT, so I cannot possibly compare, but it may be that it's harder for us to form the former, because our minority status puts us at a disadvantage. Or maybe NT life is just as lonely as AS. Who knows?

I will use the word buddies for the people you describe as friends. With them, I think you need to adjust your expectations. If you enjoy shared activities, do them. If you enjoy hanging out and talking about whatever interests you, do so. But if there was a match for those buddies to become close friends, they would have already become so. If it hasn't happened yet, it won't happen either.

That's a sad and lonely thing to realise. The corollary question is: how to find close friends? Now that's a billion dollar question. Please let me know if you find out. Personally, I make about one close friend per decade — Facebook “friends” not included.

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    You know this moment talking to another "aspie" and being speechless due to one of the rare moments feeling really understood? Thanks for your answer. I would like to get into some of your statements and also have some experiences which you might find interesting but I think that would totally leave the scope of the comments. So is there any other platform we could communicate on and if so, would you be interested in it, too? – dhein Sep 1 '17 at 7:42
  • @dhein I usually hang out in a lot of aspie chatrooms on IRC, mostly between 21:00 and midnight London time (although less so in the next 4 weeks as I'll be travelling a lot). I tend to discuss this kind of stuff there, with other aspies. Wrongplanet is popular but a bit busy to my taste, I like Starlink-IRC #asperger a lot (much smaller/quieter there). If you ask for Gerrit in either of them you'll find me if I'm there and active at the moment (I may use a different nickname). – gerrit Sep 1 '17 at 9:31

It sounds like you have a couple different things going on here...

Firstly it sounds like you're struggling with feeling like you put more into your relationships than you get out of them. This is a pretty common problem people face, whether they're on the spectrum or not.

In my experience relationships shouldn't really be transactional. Keeping score almost always leads people who put a lot into their relationships to feel put out at some point. If you enjoy doing things for the people you care about, do it because you care about them, not because you expect something in return.

Also remember that you decide how much to give. If you're giving so much that you feel like the relationship is one sided, slow down a little bit. You don't have to go above and beyond in every situation.

Secondly it sounds like you're having a hard time relating to neurotypical people.

The problem here is neurodivergent people can't empathize with Neuro-typicals and vice versa.

I found this bit a little troubling, because I'm on the spectrum too, and I usually don't have problems empathizing. It may take a little more effort on my part to recognize and understand what people are feeling in a given situation, but I'm usually able to empathize with most people, neurotypical or not.

Be careful making these kind of generalizations. It may seem that way to you at the moment, but you may overcome that hurdle. Also keep in mind that if you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person. We're still individuals with a wide range of interests, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

From what I've seen conscious empathy is a skill that can be picked up with time and practice. The more things you experience personally, the more things you'll be able to empathize with.

  • Note the generalization of neurodivergent was in relation to asperger. I maybe should make that clear. I'm not even quiet sure if I have autism, only Asperger's is diagnosed. But I have trouble in making clear which of my symptoms belongs to what impairmant. Also I'm not a native speaker making it hard for me to exactly express what I mean in english. – dhein Aug 7 '17 at 17:35
  • Since I don't know where on the spectrum (I read in another post of you, that you are) you are, I'll try to explain you abit more in detail what the asperger aspect here is about: "Secondly it sounds like you're having a hard time relating to neurotypical people." exactly that is one of the major problems I ahve due to aspergers. And I also just can confirm that empathy is a skill that can be learned and I'm quiet motivated to do so (what is the reason of posting OP). But that what I learn actually isn't really empathy. I never really can empathize, but I can learn patterns – dhein Aug 7 '17 at 17:39
  • patterns of how people behave in what situations. But I allways need to get to knwo people very close to study them enough to be able to apply such patterns to them. Thats also why I ahve a hard time in deciding how much to give. I need to get really close to some one and learn a lot about that person to be able to "feel" something that is comparable to empathy. So I have to put in a lot before I can realize if I even will get along with that person. – dhein Aug 7 '17 at 17:41
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    @dhein just means that those that used to be diagnosed with Asperger's are now diagnosed with autism. The psychiatric community pretty much decided that there wasn't a meaningful difference between "high functioning autism" and Asperger's. – apaul Aug 7 '17 at 19:10
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    Doesn't recognize and understand relate rather to sympathy than to empathy? I have learned that crying means sad, and I will feel sad if a friend cries because I want my friend to be happy. But that's sympathy, not empathy, and not related to mirror neurons. – gerrit Aug 30 '17 at 18:55

I haven't diagnosed by neurodivergent or something, but when I get really close to someone, I dedicated my time to help them, to the point even my parents say why I bother myself that much for them.

Similar to your story, but for different reason, I believe, I became apathetic of social activities. My closest friend didn't spend as much time with me anymore, and I kinda just give it up.

The interesting part is it turns out I'm the one who didn't ask for anything, even when he wanted to help me. He found that this is not healthy, and does not wish to bother me for trivial matter like he used to, even if I happily will do it for him.

For people like this who want to reciprocate your sacrifice, first, give opportunity to them to" pay" for what you've done. They may feel bad for not being able to repay your help.

Then, learn to assert a boundary. Define what things are fine to ask between you and them. If both of you want delivering a $1 chip to the other city as normal, then go for it. However, you must remember that they (and most everyone else) may not feel comfortable to do that.

If they are the kind of person that are not able to reciprocate your sacrifice (or don't want to), then limit on what you can and will do for them to reasonable level. You still have things to do and don't need to sacrifice that for them.

Don't stop being a nice person just because they can't commit like you do. I think people like you is the definition of true friend.

However, please be aware of emotional dependence trap. Your world does not revolve around those people, and you should not neglect your duties and well-being just for them. Do it if you indeed have spare time and resources.

  • "emotional dependence trap" Is a nice description for what I do. The thing is, thats what I usually do, making my self dependend, but I really want to, and just loose the bond if I don't do so. Maybe thats the real problem. But note, I'm not even expecting anyone to do it on even level. And also I'm very upfront with what I expect. As hypotetical example the 30 minute car drive thing, in a situation that same person would assumed be just in my neighborhood and I would ask to come over just for 10 minutes after beeing done what that person was doing here before getting back home – dhein Aug 7 '17 at 17:29
  • And then just receiving as answer "No I'm too tired I want to get home" theese are the things that are triggering me then. Since I totally can't understand why a friend ever wouldn't be willing to spent 10 mroe minutes to do me a favor. thats probably the point where aspergers comes into play. I allways would do this for my friends and due to asperger I can't really udnerstand why this should be diferent for tohers that care about me. – dhein Aug 7 '17 at 17:31
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    @dhein if that's what their answer to your request, then you know what is the boundary of what requests should you do for them. Don't do this out of revenge, but rather as a way for you to grasp where to draw the line out of irrational request. I would suspect you are "overreacting" when you drive 30 min just to bring a snack. They might just joking or does not really requesting you. – Vylix Aug 7 '17 at 18:36

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