A thread about interest and intent

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A thread about interest and intent

Post by Hirundo Bos on Wed Mar 29, 2017 7:21 am

In one way, I've figured out so much over the past two or three years, and in another, I'm still confused by many of the same questions. Maybe one reason is that behavior change isn't really something you figure out, it's rather something you need to change by action… I don’t know. Problem with taking action is that I still don't know even where to start.

There are still some unknown factors in my life that makes my actions not lead to many sexual or romantic interactions, and I'm still not quite sure what they are. I am aware of a couple of things though.
I'm thinking they are also the kind of things that impact my other social interactions, so they're worth looking into anyway… but then, I ask myself, do I really need to justify wanting sex and possibly romance? Maybe I've got one of the main issues right there… anyway…

One factor I've been thinking about has to do with being interested in people. Or rather maintaining an interest in people over time. I… see myself, so often, fall out of the rhythm of back and forth. In a text exchange, I will wait longer and longer before I reply. In a conversation, I'll fall back to either passive listening or monologuing about myself, my go-to topic for autistic monologue. I'm pretty sure I'm not doing my part of the reciprocal work that goes into building a connection, and without reciprocity, the connection will tend to fade.

"Interest", of course, is a key word with autism. My attention tends to be intensely focused on one particular thing. It will often be something internal, like a train of thought, because my inner landscape is so much more familiar to me. And attention, once fixed, is difficult to shift… so when I ask a question, for example, in a face to face interaction, I think so hard on the act of asking that I have a hard time focusing on the reply. Especially if they answer something different that I had thought when I was mentally preparing for the next step of the conversation. (If I learned how to not plan so far ahead it would probably help.)

So it's not that I'm uninterested in people. Quite the opposite. I believe the driving force behold my sexual, romantic, and social desires is mainly curiosity. There's so much going on behind every other person's eyes, and there's something so beautiful about that. But in social interactions, my attention is on simply making it work, so I forget how to be interested in people as soon as I actually get the opportunity.

In text exchanges, I think part of my long response time is that I take some time to process a text or message I've received, and then replying starts to grow as something I ought to get done soon, which raises the bar for getting it done until it becomes too high.

Another part is a habit I picked up when I had more problems than I do now with boundaries. Waiting a while before replying became a strategy I used to reduce the intensity of the exchange… either because the other person was to intense, or because I was. But I have other ways to regulate intensity now, and other ways to be aware of boundaries, and don't really need that habit anymore.

So what I want to do is train myself to be more open to input, to expand my repertoire of responses beyond simply asking more questions, to train myself to respond faster, to not have to compose a written reply the way I'd compose a non-fiction text like this, not have to think about it all that hard… those are my goals when it comes to sustaining interest.

My brief exploration into improv theatre suggests that these are the exactly kind of skills they work with, so that might something to do more of…

As an exercise in faster communication I'll take a break here and follow up later with some thoughts about intent. That is, when I interact with people, just like I forget to be interested, I also forget to intend things. Which may be another reasons my interactions aren't going places all that much.
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Re: A thread about interest and intent

Post by Hirundo Bos on Fri Mar 31, 2017 10:24 am

Nuance of feeling
I'm beginning to learn how to parse my different feelings around liking and attraction. I used to experience almost any kind of attraction as just a huge lump of anxiety. A feeling that I really ought to approach, and intrusive thoughts about why I shouldn't, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness from the squeeze between intent and inability.

The anxiety was such a dominate feeling, that as soon as I did not feel anxiety around a person, it was as if I was feeling nothing at all. Or maybe it was emotional exhaustion, that nothing-feeling, I don't know. Or maybe I actually didn't have much feeling beyond anxiety. In any case, when I was in relationships it brought on another kind of anxiety, because it seemed like my commitment to them was then a lie. (My problems with sustaining interest in people may be related to this.)

I had this problem not only with attraction, but with all kinds of emotions. Everything was too intense for me to know nuance. Everything was a lump of frustration and fear.

But over the past four-five years, I've gotten enough of a handle on my anxiety that I'm beginning to parse all those different feelings. I'm beginning to see nuance, to feel more specific things. My boundary-sense, for example – the feeling when I'm either threading close to someone else's boundaries, or when someone else is threading close to mine – is now a very specific shade of anxiety that I'm able to act on. The same goes for that specific shade of frustration when I'm communicating with someone and sense that we're talking past one another.

When it comes to attraction, I've experienced some feelings lately that are almost too specifically nuanced. There's 1) been people in my proximity that have had several traits I consider attractive, and I've noted the presence of those traits, but I haven't felt the attraction as a real emotion. I've been unable to for example fantasize about kissing them. And this I've interpreted as not actually being attracted.

Then there's 2) been cases where I've felt the attraction, but not felt any intention to act on it. Because for one reason or the other, acting on it would be off the table. Some were in a relationship that I assumed was monogamous, some were people I only knew in a professional setting. Some were people that I assumed just wouldn't be interested. (Or that I assumed might be interested if not for my own preference of non-monogamy.) And in all these cases, I've been able to more or less enjoy the crush, without being bothered by that intent vs. inability squeeze. Intent has simply been removed from the equation.

On the other hand, except for a couple of Twitter crushes, I've hardly ever had the feeling 3), where I've both been attracted and intended to act on it. And so, there's still not a lot of sex or romance in my life, and even platonic attractions appear hard for me to act on. And this is probably also related to my problems with sustaining an interest.

Now, there are things about the feelings of 1) and 2) that makes me think they're not as clear-cut as they appear. When they appear, they're always accompanied with a rather noisy inner monologue. When I'm theoretically-but-not-viscerally attracted, I repeat their theoretically attractive traits to myself, over and over, I take not every time those traits appear, I wonder almost fascinated about why I'm not feeling attraction, and I ask myself how I would react if they were to make an approach on me… if they were to kiss me, would I enjoy it anyway? If I were to enjoy it, would that feeling be real, and true, or would I just be lying to us both?
And when I am attracted but don't intend to act – I get most of the same inner dialogue plus I repeat to myself over and over all the reasons why I shouldn't act.

When my head spins around like this, there's usually some hidden anxiety at the root. The fact that I never get to feeling 3), and always come up with reasons not to act, some of which are just based on assumption, does also support the suspicion that I don't experience as clear a nuance as I thought, and that I am in fact still quite anxious about approach.

I suspect a main factor in my anxiety is this: That I am afraid to even intend to act.

I'll take another break there, before I try to figure out what intention does and doesn't mean.
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Re: A thread about interest and intent

Post by Hirundo Bos on Tue Apr 04, 2017 7:10 am

Sexual intent
I'm not exactly surprised to discover that my sexual intentions scare me. It was one of the very first discoveries, in fact, years ago now, when I started forming some thoughts in my head about why it was so hard to find a partner.
One of the images I started out with was the way I imagined sex when I was around three or four years. I used to tell myself stories even then, create narratives in my imagination, and one of the narratives required babies… and I had just learned where babies came from, so I tried to insert that into my story. But being four, I didn't understand sexual intent. So I tried to make it work without intent… and came up with a scenario where the future parents were walking around naked, and then, well, tripped and fell into a coital position.

It's not unusual as a childhood thing I guess…

but I started to think of how my adult fantasies weren't all that different. As a (younger-than-today) adult, my sexual fantasies would still involve some fadeout or workaround when it came to sexual intent. They would just be doing it, without the lead up. Or in other fantasies, the initiative would come from the person not representing me. In my erotic writing, I could never really get anywhere, because I allow a protagonist I identified with to display any kind of sexual intent.

So one of the first steps, when I started forming these thoughts in my head, was to cautiously allow first myself, then the world, to know that I would like to have sex from time to time. Or maybe not so cautiously, because I published it on my blog with my name and full face attached, then advertised the blog post on Twitter. And was really surprised when it had been out for a day or two, and no one had yelled or called me disgusting.

As exposure therapy it worked. I'm not so afraid anymore to talk in the abstract about wanting sex. My fictional characters are also able to take some initiative or other, and my erotic stories actually work out rather well. But showing or even having intent in an actual interaction with someone is still a bit beyond my comfort zone, or so it seems.

***

Now this is where my fear about intent makes me afraid to write on, because writing means I have to show people it exists. It's as if even when it's only in my head, my intentions are inappropriate. As if they could somehow leak out beyond my subjective consciousness and cause pressure or at least inconvenience to others... as if merely thinking "wouldn't it be nice if X" is the same as expecting or demanding it to happen.

There are at least three parts to that fear. 1) is that this is how anxiety works, by blowing things way out of proportion. 2) is that it's how autism sometimes work, where I can't quite imagine the minds of others, and don't fully grasp how they're different from my own. And 3) is that like many anxieties, it does have a certain root in reality.

I might, for example, show my "wouldn't it be nice if" through body language, in ways that would make others uncomfortable. And if it's too present in my mind when I interact, it can make me too oriented towards sex, it can make me inflexible about it, in a way that would be unappealing or creepy.

I remember, back on the old forums I posted a question about why one shouldn't approach someone with a purely sexual intent, or participate in a social activity with the single goal of finding a sexual partner. The answer I got was that you can't really plan for the outcome of an interaction you have with another person... their own intentions may well differ from yours, and it's pretty objectifying not to leave room for that. And besides that, my own intentions might change along the way too. And besides that again, I'll enjoy myself a lot more in a given social setting if I have interests beyond the prospect of sex.

That question is what I'm afraid to bring up again now, because in my anxious mind, asking it might imply that I did go around being singleminded about sex, which I don't think I ever did… or that I try to justify potentially creepy behavior, which I don't think I ever would… or that I'm trying to rules-lawyer the concept of creepiness, which I wouldn't, but I know there's a lot of people who do, and I don't want to trigger memories of those people.

And while these concerns may have a root in reality, the way I obsess about them suggests there's a lot of anxiety hiding behind.

The question about intent I would have liked to follow up with is… when sexual intent is not a big part of an interaction from the beginning, at which point does it actually become a thing? I mean – people do have sex, so I suppose that at some point, there must have been intent?

I already kinda know the answer. The answer is that it isn't black and white. There are so many degrees of nuance between singlemindedness and no interest at all. Not the least of which is thinking "wouldn't it be nice if"? Starting an interaction thinking "wouldn't it be nice if"… participating in an event thinking "wouldn't it be nice if"… that's not being singleminded, it's rather exactly how these things tend to go.

In practice, though, I don't seem to allow myself the "wouldn't it be nice if", or any other degree of nuance. I'm so afraid of the singleminded intent that I seem to be going to the other extreme: Withholding any kind of sexual intent from the interaction. (And isn't that kind of objectifying too? To make it all about my own fears around intent… if I assume that my interest would automatically be an inconvenience, I erase the fact that the other person just might be interested in me…)

I know that when I'm in a social setting, I hardly ever look at someone and think "wouldn't it be nice if". And when I'm talking with someone that I would in theory find attractive, I feel completely uninterested in making any sort of move. And while this might mean that maybe there aren't any wouldn't it be nice if-people in the room, or that I'm just not that attracted to the person I talk to… it's so pervasive in my life, that as I've said before… I suspect there's some sort of anxiety at work.

Uhm, so that's it for now I suppose, though I hope I'll be able to get back on this train of thought again later. I've written some thoughts about my anxieties about social interest, and my anxieties about sexual intent, and how it may appear as disinterest to both myself and others. Some thoughts about how the things are connected. Some admissions that are probably less scary than I think. And maybe I've gotten a few steps closer to get a handle on these anxieties, to give myself tasks and goals that can start to break them apart… although I don't have many thoughts yet about what those tasks might be.
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Re: A thread about interest and intent

Post by Enail on Tue Apr 04, 2017 11:47 am

I was going to reply to this, but you'd answered all your own questions by the end! So, uh, yeah, what he said!

Oh wait, one additional thought: As well as degrees between 0 and singlemindedness, there's also degrees of activity one might have those levels of intent about. One can be at "I'd like to kiss you, and it seems mutual, so I'm going to initiate" and also at "wouldn't it be nice if this ended in us having sex" and also "doing X particular act with this person is not on my radar at all (whether because I'm not in the mood for that, because they're not someone I'd necessarily want to do that with, because I just haven't happened to think about it in this context, or because it's something I'd only like to suggest with an established partner and this interaction isn't there.)" Different things that either fall under the category of sex or that are often lead-ups to it can each have their own level of nuance of intent, if that makes any sense.
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Re: A thread about interest and intent

Post by Werel on Tue Apr 04, 2017 11:54 am

Enail wrote:I was going to reply to this, but you'd answered all your own questions by the end! So, uh, yeah, what he said!
Laughing That's exactly what I was thinking. But I have enjoyed reading these and watching your thoughts progress on it!

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Re: A thread about interest and intent

Post by Hirundo Bos on Tue Apr 04, 2017 7:13 pm

Thanks. And yeah, it was mostly thinking out loud. + an experiment in serialized writing.

I do have a lot of answers in my head. I just don't always know how to access them. And then I find a clue and suddenly a lot of things falls into place. One way to find clues is to write, and work particularly hard when I sense I'm getting anxious about it. Another is tossing out a lot of questions here, and use the replies I get to deduce what I'm actually asking about... but yup, with this one, I kind of found both questions and answers by myself.

To your one more thought, Enail – "things that are often lead-ups to sex" is a category I might want to look into.

Another thing to keep looking for is how to take this from the intellectual and on to the behavioral level. Exercises for my anxiety so I can get past all the noise and have a chance to actually see the nuance. (I have some vague ideas, but not quite the words for them yet).
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Re: A thread about interest and intent

Post by Hirundo Bos on Fri Apr 14, 2017 7:17 pm

A new thought: Just like singleminded intent has its nuanced, more workable version in "wouldn't it be nice if", so maybe all the reasons not to that tend to intrude on me can find their more nuanced version in "yeah, but what about?"

Like, I talked with someone some weeks ago at a party, and felt a tiny wouldn't it be nice if, but she was pretty drunk at the time and that was a pretty firm reason not to. But then today she sent me an instant message, and I replied in a playful way and immediately felt dishonest because all these "yeah, but what abouts" popped up in my head.

For one thing... having placed her firmly in the reasons not to-box last time, I kinda still pictured her there, because mental categories are a bit inflexible to me. But there were others, like what if she enjoyed being drunk a whole lot more often than I do? What about the fact that she lives far away? And all the regular what abouts, like what if she's not really interested in that way at all, and what if she is but then is disappointed when she learns about my "not so sure about monogamy"-thing and thinks I've been leading her on, and what about etc. etc...

There are so many unknown factors when getting to know someone new, and assuming too much in either direction is... not really taking the other's perspective into account, and I think I could really profit from practicing on feeling more nuanced, more workable versions of uncertainty.

Yeah but what about?
Well, we'll deal with that when and if.
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Re: A thread about interest and intent

Post by Werel on Fri Apr 14, 2017 7:53 pm

Hirundo Bos wrote:Yeah but what about?
Well, we'll deal with that when and if.
This x1000.

I love reading these posts because almost every time, if I'm thinking of a response to the problems you're talking through, I'll find you've already arrived at it by the end. Smile
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