Sense of time

Recently, I had an epiphany that has reshaped how I view my friendships, how I spend my time, and how I do a lot of other things. One of the things I often relate to with other autistics is the lack of proper time perception, in that there is no time passing—or there is at least no sense of it.

From what I’ve been able to gather, allistics live as if time is limited, which is something I struggle with understanding most often. My allistic family members[1. i.e. family members I believe not to be autistic] divide their time into individual sections for which a particular activity will be placed. I tend to follow routines and prefer someone to stick to whatever time they’ve told me originally, but otherwise, time is frozen. It happens and moves, because I know it does, it is this secondary knowledge, like feelings.

For example, the last time I text messaged an old friend named L was Thanksgiving 2015. I got busy, fell asleep, and wound up doing other things. However, I feel like it was just yesterday we were talking. The time between today and November isn’t easily acknowledged or understood for me; it’s there and happened, but I have to tell myself, “Okay, L doesn’t think this way; he’s not like me,” in order to understand why he, or anyone else in his place in a similar situation, may be upset with me when I try to start chatting again.

Because of this, I’ve struggled tremendously with having and keeping friends, so I’m literally down to just a few of them. Time doesn’t rack up between when I last saw or talked to so-and-so, but it does for other people who don’t understand what time is like for me, so all that racked-up time becomes a penalty. Allistic people expect their friends to reach out to them and talk to them—to miss them when they don’t see each other for a certain length of time—so when their friends don’t, they assume that person is being a bad friend; they get upset and wind up dropping the person(s).

I lack a sense of time, but I’m reminded of it when someone emails me yet again to “follow up” on an email they sent a week ago, when I feel like it’s only been a few days. I become annoyed over this, because it literally feels like a day ago. When you lack a sense of time and find yourself in a pool of people who lack a clue of what that feels like, even beginning to try to explain it results in name-calling…”special snowflake”, anyone?

I think this is why my previous relationships haven’t worked out so well. My past significant others grew upset rather quickly when they went a certain amount of days without seeing or hearing from me, and because I appeared unaffected, they assumed I didn’t care. A great example of relationship management and I is Stitchers’ Kirsten’s own relationship management.

Why I think Sitchers is basically an autism-related show and Kirsten is autistic is a topic for another post, to be written at a much later date.

Another example of my relationship with time is my lack of comments on blogs like I used to regularly do. I still read some here and there, but I don’t always comment anymore, thus people think I don’t care…because I’ve not nurtured the relationship in quite some time. I try to be understanding, however; I try to apologise when and where possible, but I’m often met with choice words regarding how I’m not a great friend or simply don’t care.

It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I just don’t understand time as if it’s this first-nature response.

I also don’t spend a lot of my time viewing time as if it is limited. In the long run, I think this is something allistics need to understand about autistics in order to fully understand how a “true” friendship can work—and not rely on ridiculously neurotypical friendship articles using neurotypical expectations to tell a neurodiverse world how a relationship should be.

Right now, though, this is a thing that makes me feel rather horrible in terms of how depressed I’m feeling on a particular day…because while others are growing with each other, I’m not. I’m three years’ shy of my high school graduation being a decade away, but I don’t notice the time in the time-has-flown-so-fast sense, but in the oh-right-ten-years and is-that-really-what-ten-years-is?

Maybe my PTSD makes it worse…I don’t know. Either way, I don’t “miss” things or people the same way. I notice when things have changed, but I don’t miss in the expected sense.

Thus, I hereby officially refuse to consider myself a “bad” friend or girlfriend because I failed to meet a checklist of expectations. All I can do is try to understand others’ perspectives and hope they understand mine, but if/when the don’t, it’s not my fault. I’m used to people not meeting me halfway, and my all-or-nothing self instantly stops caring when the “all” drops into doubt.

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Comments on this post

I’ve always found that my closest friends and family are the ones who don’t actually care whether it takes me 4 minutes, 4 hours or 4 months to reply… they just care that contact is being kept. After all, we’re all busy people with busy lives and hectic schedules – we don’t sit waiting for an email or a text to reply to.

I really like this post and the perspective it gives me on how you handle time. I find it annoying that friends would not understand, or at least try too. Personally, I don’t feel like I value friendship in terms of if a person has replied to me in some time or not, because I still think of them the same way.

I also never expect anyone to comment on my blog. I don’t feel that to be online friends with people it has to happen, because people are busy or might not have time to read entries.

It is interesting that you refer to the feeling as having to meet a ‘checklist of expectations’. I am definitely allistic by definition, but I also don’t feel like time passes the same for me as it does for everyone else. It may just be because I get busy and I often get deeply engrossed in my own thing, but I don’t feel like the sensation is as ‘strong’ as yours.

When I realise that I haven’t talked to someone in a few months, to me it really doesn’t seem like that long, and with most of my friends I feel like they feel the same. Maybe we aren’t like other people, but they definitely don’t give me shit for not contacting them for a few months. We talk, honestly, as if very little time has passed.

But I do find myself surprised with email follow-ups. I often think, ‘Really? You couldn’t wait four days?’ It seems that either people have severe impatience, or the general expected response rate is supposed to be 12 hours or something. I recently replied to someone’s email that they sent in October, and I felt like I had to apologise because the email did sort of get lost, but they understood. It also reminds me that I have not yet responded to your email, and you asked me something about Christmas in it, which was some time ago, but to me it wasn’t all that long ago. 😛

I sent my friend Fern a letter in the mail, because I wanted to send him a photo that reminded me of him. When I did that, I only just realised that I had not talked to him in about six months. But he replied, and neither of us forgot each other.

I don’t think I have ever been bothered by someone ignoring me or not replying to me, but I do feel the same way about friendships. I don’t want to be in one where I feel like I have to check boxes instead of being myself and behaving the way I normally do with the friends I still have managed to keep.