Friday, June 10, 2016

The Paradox of Intelligence

The Paradox of Intelligence

Or: Why Smart Kids are Often All Alone

So when I was in college, once, in a (rather common) fit of despair I asked my psychology professor why I couldn't seem to get the other kids to talk to me. Something to that effect.

His answer was "They're scared of you because you're so smart."

I never in a million years would have expected that. I didn't consider myself smart or not smart.... Just me. I didn't understand why someone would be scared of someone smart.  I have never been able to dumb myself down because I have never been able to understand what about me is so "smart," what smart IS, other than a recipe for not making friends easily. I have never had a great grasp of how I come across to others. It's one reason I can be relatively un-self conscious in many situations, such as doing the open mic the other day where I wrote and read a poem on the spot. But it leaves me not understanding when I'm liked, either. It spares me from a lot of the bad and all of the good, this lack of the ability to understand how I am perceived by others. It can be very isolating.

So after another day where yes, I socialized, and yes, I had several engaging conversations,
I realized something when I was at the library tonight. I was sitting in a chair, engrossed in reading the newspaper. Someone I know who works there said "Hi." That might not sound like much, but it was huge. I am a very social person, yes. But I start and intitiate EVERY. SINGLE. CONVERSATION. I can count on one hand the number of times people have said hi to me first, started a conversation with me first, or acted happy to see me before I started trying to entertain in order to be liked. I spend every day giving my all to make other people happy and engage with them. Very few people return the favor, and it kills me inside.

I watch how easily people interact at the public market. I watched, on the bus home, how easily a woman got into a conversation with the bus driver. And I think of how I still can't feel liked, and I still can't like myself, because in every instance I'm the one putting in all the effort to create these interesting, novel connections I have every day. I don't doubt that there are many people who genuinely enjoy talking to me when I start the conversation. But I do doubt that I can fully enjoy these interactions back, because all of the energy I use to start them and to wonder if they really want to talk to me wipes me clean. I have nothing left to truly take in their energy. And I'm sick of it. The anxiety it creates in me is ridiculous. The empty hole in me is seldom ever filled, even despite a ridiculous amount of effort on my part to "put myself out there."

So maybe my psychology professor was right, all those years ago. But I don't know how to dumb myself down. I don't know how to talk in the easy breezy cover girl way that other people do. I don't know how to look like I'm not trying (because this is what people want, casual and easy). I only know how to try harder. But the interesting, ironic, awful secret of social interactions is that often, the harder you try, the worst your result. People sense when you're trying too hard, and it scares them off. They don't understand it, so they scatter. So where, then, does that leave me, and the many other intelligent, warm, wonderful but a little off the beaten path Aspies and non-Aspies out there?