“Can I be really honest with you? I absolutely hated every minute of that party. I hated the awkward mingling in that room when we arrived with so many people crammed in. I didn’t recognise anyone and everyone was talking at once so I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. I hated being squashed onto that table and having to think of things to talk about with the same few people for two hours. And I hated when the music started. That was the end of the night for me. I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, I got fed up of saying pardon, I didn’t want to dance. I just hated it.”
These were Ethan’s words the morning after a 40th birthday party last weekend. I know such things aren’t his cup of tea. I knew he was unlikely to enjoy himself (although every now and then there are social engagements that he enjoys - but he has to be in the mood and ideally there should only be one or two other people that he is speaking to at any one time, no interruptions between speakers and minimal background noise). I felt slightly nervous in the run up to this 40th birthday party. It was going to be full of friends from school whom I hadn’t seen for years and I really wanted to enjoy it. I was worried that he’d be rude, disengaged, a miserable presence or that, even if he wasn’t any of these things, I’d be on edge all night waiting for one of these behaviours to manifest itself.
The fact is, he was none of these things. He chatted to people, he smiled, he even danced briefly when backed into a corner. He didn’t even moan privately to me (not even when I took too long to say goodbye to everyone and we missed our taxi home!). No-one, not even me, would have guessed how much he was hating it.
Amidst my demands for him to tow the party line, come along to events he hates and to SMILE and converse his way through them (mostly for my sake but also for his – when he’s made the effort, it does boost his self-esteem, he does feel more a part of things and it does lift his spirits, as long as he knows he can sit down by himself in a dark room afterwards!) – but amidst all this effort from him, I wonder if I would – if I do – do the same for him. Would I give up one of my precious evenings to play computer games with him if it would make him happy? I switch off if he starts talking camera-angles and lighting effects in films and I’ve never been to a technology show with him.
To be honest with myself, I suspect that, rather than meeting him in the middle, we meet ¾ of the way along, in my favour. Maybe immersing myself in something he likes and I hate for an evening would give me a valuable glimpse into his world. After all, it’s us who are meant to be good at adapting isn’t it?!