Kate, a close friend since my undergraduate days, is one of the people I have taken into my confidence about my diagnosis.
Once, I stayed with Kate and her family for a week while attending a conference near her home. During that time I shared about how my Asperger’s is a form of ’emotional deafness’. I think she understands.
At the end of the week, I gave Kate a bunch of flowers to thank her for letting me stay. She was most effusive about the gift and gushed for a few minutes about how lovely they were. Now, I couldn’t tell whether her gushing was because I had bought just the right sort of flowers that she really adored, or whether she was emphasising her gratitude to get past my emotional deafness.
In the past, my main concern would have been whether they were the kind of flowers she really liked; if I can’t tell whether the gushing is genuine, how can I know whether to get the right kind of flowers next time?
But suddenly, I realised that the point of the flowers wasn’t the flowers but the message they conveyed.
If I had chosen well, and the gushing was 100% genuine, this was a big win.
But if Kate was gushing for my sake, it was intended to communicate that she was really appreciative of the gesture. In this case, I had at least succeeded in communicating gratitude, and she in returning appreciation. This is also a win!
As I write these words, I am reminded of several occasions in the past when I have plainly displayed my disappointment that a gift hadn’t been what I had wanted. I had always assumed the business of gift-giving was about identifying what the other person really liked and giving appropriately. But am I wrong? Is it about communicating affection through the intent to give?
I also sent another friend flowers after spending time with her family. The message back was “Thank you – no need, but thank you.” I think that counts as another win!