Sex and the Socially Awkward

A self-identified “Aspergian” blogger has penned an an open letter to women, pleading for our mercy on behalf of awkward men everywhere. I imagine many women will dismiss it as privilege-soaked and condescending, get angry and perhaps rant, then move on without thoughtfully considering the sincere question at the heart of it. But I think there’s some important stuff to unpack here, not the least of which is the very real pain of isolation behind these words.

So, Awkward Men everywhere, let’s talk about this. I can’t speak for all women, but I can tell you what I have learned in my own struggle with social anxiety and awkwardness. Who knows? Maybe we can help each other.

You begin your letter with an analogy, to try and explain to women what it’s like for men who struggle in their search for sexual fulfillment.

“Ladies, I ask you to imagine, for a few minutes, that you have a deeply rooted biological need to play chess. Something about moving around a bishop or a rook gives you the highest possible pleasure and satisfaction. You can have some of this pleasure playing against the computer or watching others play chess, but there is no decent substitute for playing with another human being. As often as you can – maybe every day, maybe a few times a week, you ask people to play chess with you, or you try to join in a game.”

First, let’s clarify something here. Women don’t need to imagine this scenario. There may be some quibbling around the edges over the exact degree of difference due to the difficulty of seeing past all the cultural baggage, but women need sex, too, and there is certainly a significant number of women in this world who are similarly frustrated over their lack of sexual prospects. It seems that what you really mean when you say “women” is “women I find attractive and wish to have sex with”.

I think your chess analogy only sort of works, and I’d like to try to help you think around it. I get that it is useful for people on the autism spectrum to try and apply sets of rules to social situations, in order to help them navigate shorthand that they don’t naturally understand. But doing this is necessarily reductive, and can blind you to the real solutions to your frustrations.

Instead of comparing sex to chess, let’s pull back a bit to a simpler construct. Let’s say sex is the chess board. It is the field of play, rather than the action itself. There are many different games that can be played on a chess board, which suit different personalities and their goals. For the purposes of this analogy, let’s say that good, old-fashioned picking up people in bars is chess. Those of us who struggle with social cues and come off as awkward in person are not going to be good at chess without a lot of trial and error and patient strangers. The problem, of course, is that strangers do not owe us their patience. We can certainly ask for others to put themselves in our shoes, but we must also put ourselves in theirs – there are understandable reasons why women in bars are extra sensitive to behavior that falls in or near the “creepy” category, and other understandable reasons for women to avoid giving direct feedback with their rejections. You and I might agree that it would be wonderful to live in a world where people were always explicit with each other, but for most people that world would be a nightmare.

So the answer is to stop trying to play chess, at least until you get some experience under your belt and learn to be less awkward. Just because most of the people in the world meet and hook up in bar culture doesn’t mean that everyone has to. Try playing checkers instead. Try to find women with similar struggles to your own. Instead of hanging out in bars, put up honest ads in personals sections and on dating sites. Spell out your need to have things spelled out. Find other awkward humans in online communities or at in person meet-ups and get to know them – I’ve heard MENSA is a great place for the awkward to find each other.

You’re right when you say that confidence can be very attractive. But, as an Aspergian, you can’t fake confidence. At some point, you’ve got to stop trying to be something you think women will find attractive and just own what the fuck you are. Yes, that’s a lifelong struggle. And part of that struggle is realizing that owning what they fuck you are will get you rejected. But it will make the acceptance you find so much more valuable when you do find it, because you will know it is an acceptance of you – as you – and not an acceptance of something you’re pretending to be. At this point, what do you have to lose?

Along this journey, you’ll meet some crazy characters. You’ll likely drive away most of the “normies” you’ve been trying to pick up in bars. You might have to re-assess your expectations regarding the types of women you will consider dating. If you’ve got an idea in your mind of “the perfect mate”, against which you compare the women you encounter as you go through your life, knock that shit off. Shed your expectations and really learn people. I get that it’s natural, when you feel deprived, to think of sex as an economy, and women as the holders of the most precious resource in that economy. But at the end of the day, we’re people, just like you. We contain depths of complexity and individuality, and that’s the place to start. If you need to, give yourself permission to stop trying to date for a set period of time, and just work on getting to know people outside of the transactional economy of sex. If you cannot separate the idea of transactionality from your conception of social sexuality, you might consider utilizing the services of a sex worker to meet your needs.

This will not be an easy journey, and even if you do everything I suggest and become a totally awesome, fully-realized, confident human, there can be no guarantee of sexual success, because even though it might look like it from the outside, sex is not something you can earn. There are no short-cuts to real fulfillment. But, when it comes down to it, the struggle is where humanity lives.

Now round up those checkers and start playing… 

6 thoughts on “Sex and the Socially Awkward

  1. As the gentleman who wrote the original piece, I wanted to thank you for a thoughtful reply and, if I may, to address a few points.

    First, I realize why people may consider me a “self-identified” Aspergian. I’ve read that many people read about Asperger’s Syndrome (now Autism Spectrum Disorder) and simply say, “Hey, that’s me!” In my case — you have not said otherwise, but I sense a need to note — I’ve had two psychologists independently test and diagnose me.

    Second, I absolutely agree with you, that whether a woman wants anything to do with me, or how much, is her business. My purpose was only to present my side and to ask for assistance from those who are willing to give it. Again, you did not dispute this either, but I know that my tone sometimes can convey a message I do not mean to convey.

    Third, I apologize if I sounded condescending in any way. I hate condescension more than any other treatment, and being deliberately condescending is the last thing I want to do.

    Lastly, I always am trying to improve my understanding of the other point of view. I understand women’s points of view only in a rudimentary sense — from what I can tell, being approached by so many men is like being a Human Resources professional and having to look over applications from people who clearly aren’t qualified for a job — but, anyway, I’m willing to learn and grow. Hearing a little more of the other side always is useful to me, and I’m thankful that so many women are willing to teach me.

    • Hi, J.W.!

      So, just to clarify, I called you “self-identified” because I had not previously seen the term “aspergian” to describe someone with Aspergers, and I didn’t want people to think I was being flip and inventing terms. My intent was not to question your diagnostic status.

      I didn’t think your post was condescending, but in the current reactionary climate around these topics, I could easily see it get misconstrued in that way. That’s a big reason why I felt compelled to respond.

      You have a great attitude. I’m happy I could add to the conversation.

  2. Hi Carrie, I wanted to make a quick comment about your response.

    I don’t have aspergers, but I’m fairly socially awkward. There’s no shortage of possible causes, I moved around a bunch as a kid, I spent way more time than I should have in the lab, a general shyness around NEW people that has always been there, etc. Regardless, I am who I am, like you I can’t speak for all the awkward, but cw’s post realized the situation is similiar.

    So my first point of contention is this. It’s not just women I want to have sex with, it’s literally all people I don’t know, but it’s ESPECIALLY women I feel attracted to, probably because of nerves. I’m working on this, really hard. Not to find a woman that likes me, but to not feel like I’m going to say hello, or drop into a conversation and listen as the record scratches and everything…stops.

    So what I identified with, in regards to the original open letter’s analogy, was not a biological need to procreate, but a biological need to be social.

    I’m not a total basket case, not by a long shot. People who know me are shocked and don’t believe me when I talk about the problem I described above. I’m certainly not shy with people I know, and if I’m with people I know, interaction with strangers becomes much more natural because I talk to my friends when I feel nervous. It is literally, the act of meeting new people, any people, not just women I want to have sex with, often leaves me fighting anxiety.

    So, I get this, and yes, I’m working on this. I joined meetup, and yes, my very first meetup, my first group, three years ago I sat there like a wallflower until someone noticed me….I’ve since become one of their more active organizers. I since met people in other groups, and I force myself to introduce myself, though I can still be a little quiet around groups of new people. My presence was missed at something last week, but the host mentioned it to me, and just knowing that made my day in a way that I’m not sure you understand.

    I’ve looked at pickup culture, and yes, it’s very much advice written by nerdy guys, for nerdy guys, but most of whom take a tone of disrespect towards women I don’t agree with. I, however, went looking for very specific questions, because I have a very specific problem. There is good advice among the chaff, I feel, like Steven Erdman, who mainly talks not about how to flip some imaginary “fuck me” lever in women (which is a nice way to say being harassing, verbally abusive, manipulative and demeaning), but about how things we as men do, inadvertently, to creep women out, how to start conversations, and how things like body language and posture affect the message you send. Good stuff, and it applies if you are trying to meet people in general.

    Realizing the person across from you is a person, and not a sex receptacle is an oversimplification of the problem, but I will admit that is an aspect many men need to work on as well, but it’s part of a larger problem. It comes out of this insecurity about what it means to be a successful male, and the problem isn’t just bound to men. It is a cultural thing that should be changed, that men need sex with women for other men, women, or even themselves for validation.

    A while ago, more in terms of the Isla Vista shooting, I told a story about a girl I went on a date with who spent most of the evening telling me about some very personal issues in her life, and feeling embarrassed about that offered me a one night stand. I turned her down, it felt manipulative, like I was taking advantage if I were to do it. She responded by telling me if I didn’t have sex right then I’d be “friendzoned”, and asked if that happened a lot.

    I maintain that it was the right choice, and that treating people with respect should be a given in our society. I’m not against a one night stand, certainly not, but hearing about her troubles wasn’t something that put me in the mood. I made the point though, to try and shed light on what a young man might feel and that is, “If I respect the woman, I don’t get laid and am criticized or emasculated. If I take advantage of her I do. What benefit is there in being a good person?” While part of a larger narrative, the immediate response, from a woman, was to say that I really just needed to get laid.

    This isn’t that conversation, and I really don’t want to talk about Isla Vista or get into any kind of pissing match. What’s important, is that there’s a constant push that seems to incentivize the behavior we know is wrong, and a push to silence any attempt to voice a complaint about it, even from groups that would benefit from that conversation.

    Specifically, yes, you said you owe no stranger your patience. I’m not sure I agree with that in its entirety, because I think we as people, “owe” perhaps not patience, but the understanding that the person attempting to communicate with us is a human being. That needs to happen on both sides of this really.

    I understand women have very real reasons not to engage with men who might appear “creepy” and have attempted to engage with them. You might think that there’s nothing to be gained by being explicit with each other, but instead, can I ask that before you nuke you set an explicit boundary? Something along the lines of “I understand this might be difficult for you, but you doing XYZ is really making me feel very uncomfortable , and I’m not interested.” Allow them 5 seconds to course correct, because honestly, I think that’s all you need to see the difference between a genuine but klunky attempt at communication and someone trying to exert privilege, and if you still feel uncomfortable, nuke away. Call them a creep, tell them to fuck off, be loud, get noticed, whatever makes you feel safe and gets your message across, but give someone a small chance to feel respected and save face.

    Now to the awkward guys, and I might cross post this response to the original author: Do your homework. Check out Dr. Nerdlove, check out Stephan Erdman, find POSITIVE SOURCES, because you are likely doing something wrong. You don’t have to learn everything overnight, but be aware of things you are doing, such as skulking about because you’re too shy to introduce yourself, and be aware of the message your non-verbal communication sends. Be polite, be nonthreatening, treat women like people, and give them the opportunity to treat you like a person back, even if it’s just to express non-interest. Realize that social skills are not natural for you, and that you have to work on them, and that you’re going to fail, sometimes miserably, and that’s okay, take it as an opportunity to grow. Find people who are “like you”, that might be a little more receptive to the problems you face meeting people.

    • “This isn’t that conversation, and I really don’t want to talk about Isla Vista or get into any kind of pissing match. What’s important, is that there’s a constant push that seems to incentivize the behavior we know is wrong, and a push to silence any attempt to voice a complaint about it, even from groups that would benefit from that conversation.”

      Yes. The cultural landscape is full of contradictory behaviors, and I think mainline feminists do themselves a disservice not to look at the ways large numbers of women continue to encourage the kinds of assertive male behaviors they see as threatening.

      “Specifically, yes, you said you owe no stranger your patience. I’m not sure I agree with that in its entirety, because I think we as people, “owe” perhaps not patience, but the understanding that the person attempting to communicate with us is a human being. That needs to happen on both sides of this really.

      I understand women have very real reasons not to engage with men who might appear “creepy” and have attempted to engage with them. You might think that there’s nothing to be gained by being explicit with each other, but instead, can I ask that before you nuke you set an explicit boundary? Something along the lines of “I understand this might be difficult for you, but you doing XYZ is really making me feel very uncomfortable , and I’m not interested.” Allow them 5 seconds to course correct, because honestly, I think that’s all you need to see the difference between a genuine but klunky attempt at communication and someone trying to exert privilege, and if you still feel uncomfortable, nuke away. Call them a creep, tell them to fuck off, be loud, get noticed, whatever makes you feel safe and gets your message across, but give someone a small chance to feel respected and save face.”

      So, when I said the no one owes you their patience, I didn’t mean that in the ideal sense: I would love to live in a world where everyone was always honest and open with each other and we could give each other the benefit of the doubt. The problem is, we don’t live in that world, and I’m all about finding practical solutions that can be implemented immediately, on an individual level, without relying on society to change.

      Is it wrong to ask for a chance to course-correct? Not at all. But open letters on the internet are not likely to result in the sorts of sweeping societal changes necessary to allow the dynamics at work in those interaction to be softened. So if you’re serious about becoming a more effective social creature, you’ve got to take a hard look in the mirror and get to work owning yourself.

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