My Life With Asperger's

How to live a high-functioning life with Asperger's.

The meaning of a smile

In love, How do we know if a smile is true?

One of the biggest problems of Asperger people in love is that we can't tell a false "salesman" smile from a genuine nurturing smile. One smile is delivered for the benefit of the smiler; it's essentially predatory and self-serving. The second is delivered for us, the smilee. It's true, open, and giving.

However, without the mechanism for instinctively evaluating other people's facial expressions, we may use the wrong evaluation criteria. You see, the salesman is often loud and expressive in her expressions, where the true friend is much quieter and more reserved.

In the absence of working instinct, we may choose the salesman's louder signal as the better one simply because it gets through to us where the subtle signals (those that are really true) are totally missed.

The result can be disastrous, when it comes to romance.

When we respond positively to the salesman, we are in essence accepting her pitch. In commerce, the message might be:

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Look at me, I smile and make you feel good, so you will buy your next home from me and I will get a big commission.

In love, the message might be:

Look at me, I smile and make you feel good so you will fall in love with me and buy me things and give me the life I know I deserve.

There is nothing for the recipient of the smile in either of those messages. In contrast, a true message, delivered in the realm of love might be:

Look at me, I smile because I love you and I want to make you happy. When you look happy, I feel good inside.

That message implies a strongly positive and essentially equal exchange for both parties. Laid out in that manner, no rational person would choose to be in the presence of salesman smiles when he could choose a true smile instead. Unfortunately, when people smile at us in real life their expressions do not come with honest interpretive guidebooks. We have to judge with the tools at hand, in our heads; heads which are all too often inadequate for the task.

How do you recognize the genuine smile; how do you tell the person who is true from the one who sees you as a resource to be used, enjoyed, and discarded?

The first tip is that real smiles are not this black and white. Everyone has a mix of salesman and true lover within them. Even the hardest hearted salesman will give a true smile every now and then. And the truest and most nurturing person in the world will still succumb to moments of greed. So it's a balance; we want to find a person who is mostly true.

So what do we look for?

In some cases, we can look for sudden and dramatic changes in the other person's indicated mood. A true person, when feeling a strong emotion, will not be able to change their feelings, or their display of feeling, suddenly.

A salesman or trained actor will display any emotion required, at the drop of a hat.  That's a skill that comes from one of two sources:  In the case of an actor, it results from years of careful practice.  In the case of someone else it may indicate a narcissist, a sociopath, or someone who is simply totally superficial.  Needless to say, none of those latter things are good attributes in a potential mate.

The "trueness" of a person whose signals change suddenly and dramatically is open to question. Tread carefully if you see this.

Another clue comes from the smiler's other behavior. A true person will display a consistent positive attitude toward you whatever you do, within reason. A salesman, in contrast, will only like you as long as you are doing what she wants.

Ask yourself the question: Is she nice to me all the time, or only on her terms? If you suspect the latter, be wary.

Finally, you can look at the requests that accompany the smile. Are they self-serving, or altruistic?

Think of mom, who smiles and says, Smile for mommy . . . I get so happy when I see you smile! That's altruistic, and a fair exchange.

Now think of the salesman, who smiles and says: Please will you buy this refrigerator? The smiler's sole purpose is to sell a refrigerator and earn a commission. To the smiler, the recipient is nothing more than a source of money and a strong back to carry home his purchase.

Requests in love can be complex, but with careful observation, a pattern can often be seen.

Remember, there is always a balance. Some smiles will always be self-serving, even in the best of people. What we want to do is weed the totally or mostly self serving people out of our lives while keeping those that are true close.

Here are a few other thoughts:

True love, and the smile that goes with it, is not manipulative or controlling. True love is unconditional.

True love does not appear overnight, or after two dates, or even after a month. True love builds over time. A true person may not smile much in the beginning but smile more as feelings develop. A salesman smiles more in the beginning, and less later as your feelings develop because her purpose has been achieved and the smile is no longer needed.

True love, and the smile that goes with is, does not hurt. If a person smiles at you, and you wince inside, or wonder, what's next, be very, very careful.

I wish I could say, read these rules and avoid the pain I've been through. Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. As a realist, the best I can hope for is that you'll feel the same hurts I have known, and read this story, and have a flash of insight that perhaps keeps you from being hurt the next time.

As my farmer friends say:

There are some men who read the manual.

There are a few more who learn by watching.

And then there are those who have to pee on the electric fence themselves.

Which kind are you?

John Elder Robison is the author of Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger's, and Be Different, Adventures of a free-range Aspergian.

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