My Blindness Towards Social Cues

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I want to explore something very important about my personality, though I am not sure how it ties into my OCD or any mental disorder. However, it is something I live with at all times and is almost always a source of frustration. Except when it’s funny. Otherwise, frustration.

I cannot read social cues. It is an almost complete blindness I have. I’ve looked back at my entire life, and I can pinpoint times where this has been an issue as young as twelve years old, and I assume it has been with me for life. This is hard to measure, as it is a blindness—I don’t realize I missed glaringly obvious cues sometimes until years after the fact.

I suppose I should start by describing myself socially if I can sketch out such a thing with brevity. I’m an outwardly friendly person, I feel I may come off as overcompensating in this area—but the friendliness, I know, is sincere. I don’t understand what benefit it would ever have for me to be unfriendly to people. For sure I’ve been in fights with people very close to me, but from my end of things, I tend to end those quickly.

I am horribly shy when it comes to small group settings, or if I am close to the person. I am shy even in relationships—well after they’ve progressed into the long-term, where such shyness should be gone. I happen to be able to speak to large groups, especially if I have some sort of script.

This all makes sense. Because I am blind to the meaning behind what people say, I make sure I present a reaction that is friendly. Otherwise, I remain silent as I am often not understanding anything other than the strict words coming from others. I can comprehend words, but when directed at me I cannot comprehend any of the social undertones—what the person is trying to get from me, trying to give to me or propose we share. So I am frozen, shy to make any move. I cannot stand the thought of coming across as awkward, though I absolutely know I do all the time to almost everyone. Or so I think.

When in large groups, I don’t see the groups as individuals. As well, I don’t have to worry much about their reactions and my riffing back and forth with them. Maybe this makes me a poor public speaker, but I only find myself speaking to large groups in monologue form. Mostly business-related, but there have been other occasions as well. Point is always I come very prepared and don’t stray from my own script. Maybe there’s some OCD in that, but not much.

However, one-on-one is where I fail miserably.

Many of the strongest examples come from the world of love or potential love. Which makes sense itself, as that is the strongest and most complex social back-and-forth. SO I will give an example—one that has hurt me to think about at times, and other times I’ve found so absurd I’ve laughed.

I liked a girl in college. We started off as friends and it progressed a slight bit to being… what I’d call fast close friends. I lived at home at the time, and she lived in the dorms of our school. She invited me over for dinner, and I came by. She had asked her roommates to leave for most of the evening so it would just be us two. She’d cooked us a full spaghetti dinner. She put on the game for the baseball team I followed at the time. At some point during the evening, she took me to her room. She showed me pictures of her—growing up, silly pictures. She accidentally happened to have a photo of her bare ass, and embarrassingly showed me that and passed by it quickly.

I had my dinner with her, we talked about photography and film (we both majored in film.) I then thanked her for dinner and was on my way home.

I’m not going to stop there with any other thoughts, because I had none. We remained good friends through college, and even wrote each other letters1 after she moved hundreds of miles away from me.

This was in the mid-nineteen-nineties. I wasn’t until about—and there is no hyperbole here—eight years later that I realized… this night was a date. I had no idea. I had no idea for the better part of a decade after. I just did not know. I actually liked her, this was not a situation of being hit on by a friend whom you wish to remain just friends. I never asked her out solely because I don’t have that capability2.

Now, searching backward from there I realize this is not at all the first time this has happened. I’m no great catch (especially once you find out about my mental disorders), but I suppose I’m normal enough in all the relevant categories to have people like me. And they have. And I did not notice. I’m not talking about not noticing subtle hints that fell to the ground too subtle. I mean girls have literally asked me out and I did not know they were asking me out. For some of these situations, I can’t even remember what I thought. I certainly didn’t dislike any of them—in fact, I’m often one to have crushes. At least at a younger age, I was prone to such.

So that’s… social blindness. I don’t know where it fits into my whole mental make-up.

But I assume at this point I’ve hurt people with it. Which really brings me down.

As well it almost scares me: what am I missing that is going on right now? Could I be missing the opposite—something nefarious? I tend to be paranoid so I may have that part covered. Am I missing out on friendships?

What is it you all are saying? Because quite frankly, I’m not getting it!


1 Hand-written, this was before she had email and I preferred handwritten letters to friends even though I was on the internet well before anyone I knew.  [BACK]

2 I’ve asked two girls out in my life. I’m 43.  [BACK]