Guns, Drugs, and Brains: The Picky Guest

Happenstance is a funny thing.  This week I talked with a friend and coworker about TJ’s recent Asperger’s diagnosis and he nodded approvingly.  Somehow, our conversation shifted to him telling me about a dinner party he and his girlfriend hosted.  He’d cooked a pot of chili and was annoyed that one guest in particular wouldn’t eat it because she had an “onion allergy”.  The hosts offered several other options, bet the guest turned them all down, citing one allergy or issue or another.  Finally the guest concluded that “You’ll just have to buy me mac ‘n cheese.”  My friend was a little put out, but he complied.  He was going out anyway to get drinks, so he picked up some box mac ‘n cheese.

I had to stop him when he started going on about how her complaints were “picky, unreal bullshit”.

“Well, some people have sensory issues.  It’s not fun, but it’s real.”  I explained how TJ has several issues with certain foods, textures and sounds, and how it’s not something you just “get over”.  People on the spectrum have this problem in one form or another, and if you observe some of the autistic characters on television, it’s almost common knowledge by now.

He said, okay, it’s real, or at least possibly real, for this woman.  But if she had all these issues, she could have let him and his girlfriend know beforehand, right?

I said to him “Sure, that would have been good.  But it’s not that easy.  She might be afraid that if she opened with that, she wouldn’t get invited at all.  It’s hard because you don’t know how people will react to all that.”

Him: “Okay, sure, it’s not easy, but she wasn’t all that apologetic! She did say she was sorry, but -” he interrupted himself and sheepishly added, “She does have Aspergers, by the way -”

OH REALLY.” I gave him the shame eyes so hard and man, he felt it. It was clear as day.  He kept backpedaling but with a little less steam.

Him: “Her apology was just kind of flat. Like she didn’t mean it, but knew that it was something you were supposed to say to make someone feel better. Like a sociopath sort of thing…”

Me: “So, now you’re comparing autistic people to sociopaths.  That’s… wow.” I once again received the shameface.

I asked him, “All right, if there was a midget – a dwarf – at your party, and they said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry to mention it, but I need a phone book to sit at the table with you’, would you think he was rude?”

Him: “No, but that’s something you can… physically… see..”

Me: “So does the fact that it’s a mental issue make it less meaningful than a physical one?”

HIm: *sigh* “No. It doesn’t.”

I tried to explain it from someone who has sensory issues’ point of view.  “If you went to a party and they said ‘Hey, as a party game, we’re all going to rub our faces raw with sandpaper’ and they called you rude when you declined…”  Because it can be that horrible to someone with these issues.

I didn’t get my friend to agree with me.  I’m not surprised – he’s not the agreeing type.  But I did cast a large shadow of doubt across his ever-retreating arguments, and that’s hopefully enough to get him to reexamine his position.  If not, I will slap him with a fish, because he is wrong wrong wrong.

Addendum: Could the guest have done something more to apologize or notify my friend of her issues? In a perfect world, yes.  But the world is full of people like my friend – jerks – who are going to judge you for being picky without seeing your sensory issues as real.  So do you put them all out there immediately with the threat of people turning you away from the get-go? Do you keep quiet and hope your issues won’t come up? What if you’ve never successfully handled such a situation before? What if there’s no one there to teach you or take your side? What if you’ve been rejected and turned away so much that you stop worrying about what people think? I wonder if this last one is how my friend’s party guest felt.

TJ has a pretty good method for these types of scenarios.  Because she has been vegetarian and vegan for much of her life on top of her other food issues, she’s used to annoying – sometimes infuriating – people with simple food requests (when she was a kid at a sleep-over, the parents served her sausage and eggs.  When she requested toast instead they flipped out).  When she goes to events these days, especially if it’s hosted by new people, she’ll say, “I’m vegan, so I’ll eat beforehand in case there’s nothing for me to eat. Please don’t be insulted if I don’t eat anything.”  This may not be for everyone, but it works for her.

3 responses to “Guns, Drugs, and Brains: The Picky Guest”

  1. lismk says:

    I can understand your friend feeling imposed upon, but I also agree with you that if he was aware of her diagnosis, even a quick internet search would have been enough for him to realize that she’s probably not rude, imposing, or a sociopath *eye roll*. Most likely your friend was venting, as we all do from time to time, but this is an excellent example of the need to step into someone else’s shoes for a moment and consider another’s point of view. Really enjoying these blog posts — always give me a lot to ponder!

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