Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why I Don't Like Parties

Once a year, NSU's Center for Psychological Studies holds its annual spring formal. Thinking that it would be a good opportunity to meet people, make friends, and at least try to establish a social network around here, I decided to attend this one.

It was a mistake.

While I started this blog to cover autism-related issues and not my personal life, the event served to remind me of exactly why I don't usually go to parties. Seeing as many of these issues are faced by many autistic people throughout the world, thus providing a good bit of overlap, I hereby present the Top Five Reasons Why I Don't Usually Go to Parties... in ascending order.

(5) I'm allergic to tobacco.

In and of itself, this isn't that much of a problem, but it means that even second-hand smoke can be an immediate health risk for me. This problem can make getting in and out of buildings (especially when people like to smoke immediately outside of them during their breaks) annoying, but only restricts me from a fairly small proportion of parties.

(4) My alcohol tolerance is subject to existential debate.

Simply put, I can't drink. There are three separate medical reasons for this, but again... it's not that big of a deal.

(3) My dietary restrictions are manifold and annoying.

It kinda puts a damper on your enjoyment of a party when you can't eat the party food. None of my dietary restrictions are crippling on their own (my allergy to shellfish, for instance, will often prevent me from eating one or two dishes on a buffet), but the cumulative effect is worse.

Of my dietary restrictions, only one is due to a sensory issue or a personal preference, and that's the fact that I can't eat spicy food. Given that I was recently told not to eat spicy food (among other things) due to gastroesophageal reflux, that item's status as such is debatable.

My other dietary restrictions include my aforementioned shellfish allergy, intolerances to mushroom and pineapple, and a variety of other similar problems.

(2) I get rapidly awkward in group social situations.

I have almost no real social instincts, so I have to rely on conscious decision-making processes. This is fine one-on-one, or with kids -- both involve keeping track of a fairly small number of things.

When I'm dealing with two other people, however, things get a bit more complex. In addition to monitoring and making decisions based off of my interaction with one person, I have to keep track of my interactions with two separate people. If this was the only problem, it wouldn't be that bad, but I also have to keep track of the interactions between the two other people I'm dealing with. As such, I'm making decisions based off of three separate social interactions -- mine with person A, mine with person B, and person A's interactions with person B. This makes it roughly three times as hard as one-on-one interactions.

Fortunately, I can handle that.

Three other people, however, is stretching it. In that set of circumstances, I'm actually dealing with six sets of interactions (me/A, me/B, me/C, A/B, A/C, B/C) and that pushes my limits.

Four... results in considerable awkwardness. I'm decent enough at hiding it, but I have to use methods based on artificial heuristics and selective attention, and that leads to me making far, far more of the stereotypical autistic social mistakes.

(1) My sensory issues prevent me from enjoying anything in that environment.

As autistics go, I have fairly minor sensory issues... which is really just a way of saying that I don't have problems with day-to-day life. I can't eat spicy food, for example, but there are plenty of non-autistics who have that problem.

Where my sensory issues tend to cause problems is with certain smells (I can't stand certain air fresheners) and loud noises. It's the latter that's relevant.

My sensory issues mean that certain things, notably including the music played at the volume used at most dance clubs and concerts, is literally painful to me. The general volume of music in the dining area for the CPS formal this year was close to the former.

In other words, I couldn't even step foot into the dining room. I eventually bought some ear plugs, but that meant that I couldn't participate in the dinner conversation... or even socially interact at the table.

And what's the point of a social event if you can't socialize?


  1. Be glad. I frigging HATE parties.

  2. While I'm not one to go to a lot of them, they are good opportunities to meet people.

    I have problems meeting people.

  3. Hey Alex. It's your high school friend, Dan the Dating Coach. I read your article and I have some thoughts for you.

    Instead of asking yourself why you dislike parties, you should instead ask yourself why you do like them! If your goal is to make friends and establish a social network, what good is it to focus your mind on why you dislike parties? You're only making it more likely that you won't go out.

    You're a smart guy. You know there are parties out there without smoke and loud music. I personally distaste both as well, so I go to places that don't have it. You also don't HAVE to drink alcohol.

    Finally, using your disability as an excuse to not go out is very limiting to you. In fact, your disability should be the very best reason for going out simply for the fact that it will give you experience practicing your social skill set.

    Who cares if you're awkward? You won't become socially savvy overnight. It takes practice. Isn't being awkward for many night worth having lots of friends and networks in the end?

  4. Dan,

    Were it not for number one, I'd agree with you. Unfortunately, the problem becomes one of figuring out which places are like that and which aren't. It is very discouraging to go to a party only to find out (at most ten-twenty minutes after you get there) that you literally can't stay there.