Teasing Trouble

I find teasing very hurtful; this is a consequence of being unable to read people. I have to take everything I am told at face value, take it literally, because I am unable to determine intent based on anything other than the words spoken. I have to rely on people’s honesty.

This means that whenever anybody says something about me I have to assume that it is their honest opinion of me. Because teasing involves negative comments – criticism or accusations – that paint me in a bad light, that suggest the speaker thinks ill of me, I experience feelings of betrayal that cause me great pain. My trust in that person is compromised.

An example: I have a close friend, somebody I used to work with, who is like a sister to me. Yet there are people I see socially who persist in teasing me by suggesting that there is a sexual attraction or relationship between us. As a married man I have an unshakeable loyalty to my wife – strong loyalty like this is not uncommon in Aspies – not to mention the implied insult to my friend. Knowing that behavior like that would be unthinkable to me – such impropriety – I am forced to conclude that these people are being deliberately malicious.

I fail to see their motivation, unless it is to cause me hurt. Yet when I challenge them they just say that they are “only teasing” and lay blame on me for not humoring them, for not joining in their childish games. They appear to assume that I can distinguish between this teasing and serious talk. Am I supposed to feel flattered that I can pass to this extent? Would they “tease” somebody in a wheelchair about their more obvious disability? I believe that  less visible psychological conditions like autism, because they’re not obvious like many physical conditions (I prefer not to refer to disabilities – we may be defined by society at large in terms of our impairments but I would rather focus on our abilities than dwell on those things that are difficult or impossible to achieve through accident or the roll of the genetic dice), are considered less real, less valid, as if these people believe that we could choose to think and act in a way they consider “normal”.

Small-mindedness; unthinking, petty, vindictive cruelty. And for no better reason than their own amusement. I may be no saint myself but at least I would not intentionally cause someone pain. I would feel remorse and apologise if I was brought to understand that I had unwittingly done so. I would not try to pass it off as “only teasing”: I would feel as hurt because I had hurt them.

Teasing. It is in the same vein as bullying in my book. And I have no truck with either.

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10 thoughts on “Teasing Trouble

  1. When people "persist in teasing me by suggesting that there is a sexual attraction" they are usually considered flirting with you. When you said she was like a sister it only adds credence to my point. Flirting is a good thing. If you cheekily flirt with a member of your own sex then it shows a comfort level between friends.This constant teasing is a character trait. The people find it funny, so I would suggest that it is in fact part of their sense of humour. If I can spin it around. The opposite of what you are describing is having a self-deprecating sense of humour; one where you are "teasing" yourself. They no more mean malice, on themselves than they do on you.It maybe that self-deprecating is easier to spot because it's not directed at you. But do you take the words at face value here.While I understand you (more so than at the beginning) you must try to understand us. A great proportion of the British sense of humour is based on casually flirting and taking the piss out of each other. Well at least my sense of humour is!

  2. Thank you for writing your blog. I am married to a man recently diagnosed with Aspergers and, together, we are bringing up three children and feeling our way through a relationship and family with Aspergers in the mix. Reading your blog helps me see my husband's perspective more clearly. I haven't come across too many blogs from men with Aspergers (and even less from partners of people with Aspergers in the UK) so it's good to see this blog out there.

  3. Funnily enough (no pun intended) the only times I have discovered that anybody was flirting with me have been when my wife has pointed it out to me. I just can't read the signals. She finds it amusing which I guess shows that we have a strong relationship built on mutual trust.

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  5. I used to be able to get along with some internet friends who considered teasing a legitimate way of socializing, like the predominate way of making conversation being to start a relatively arbitrary debate that was just substantive enough to hold the participants’ attention, and then get into flamewars as soon as the substance of the argument has run its course, insulting each other right and left, and sometimes pretending to get offended because you can think of a really good comeback and you need to sound offended to have an excuse to use it, and other times getting into a rut with complaining that someone has offended you all the time as if that were the serious side of the conversation (feelings? it was just a debate – don’t be such a wimp). Those manners don’t transfer well to internet discussion boards where it isn’t already considered a normal, fun conversation style for the people hanging out there. And when you’re out of the habit of finding that kind of teasing fun and funny even though sometimes you do get worked up enough to mean it when you’re telling someone in an over-the-top way that they’re absolutely wrong about the point they’re making, you could find the same jokes hurtful in another context when they used to be funny to you even when they were made at your expense, because you were comfortable assuming the tone of voice implied in the comments thread was more tongue-in-cheek than an earnest attempt to make you feel like a loser.

    But having gotten into finding that tone fun for a while, and preferring being treated like “one of the guys” in that respect to being continually pushed out of the debate with weird “you’re probably right in the way that women are always right about certain things men will never understand, but being a guy, this is what I think…” compliments, which is boring as flattery goes, especially when you realize it’s a convention and not an indication they actually think you’re right, because they’re saying it in a formulaic way and ignoring the substance of whatever they claim to think you’re right about, I sometimes worry about whether my tone is too aggressive on the internet and being unnecessarily offensive. What if I go too far, trying to get a good punchline in when other people could easily find that tone unpleasant and also find my remark a cheap shot, rather than a random act of cleverness and self-congratulation for having found an opening to use the kind of original witticism you would only self-publish on the internet where there are no editors. It’s just one of those grey areas in deciding how to read between the lines when you’re not talking face to face, and you might not even know the person you’re exchanging messages with well enough to have a good guess for how they mean any of the things they say that seem at all vague. And you worry about just how badly that can go, when you know you could talk yourself into believing “it’s no big deal” when you were just trying to be informative in a cute, not-so-self-serious way, and your sarcasm was intended to be self-deprecating, but came across as self-important and rude instead by accident, or the fact that you weren’t engaging in a tongue-in-cheek flamewar led you to slip into a more serious style of writing rants and thinking that was a way of sounding clever, and somehow you went from “knowing better” like a skeptical adolescent, to acting like a know-it-all before anyone was convinced you understood anything.

    People often justify teasing in a way that’s intended to flatter their own cleverness or the relevance of the substantive part of a remark that came across as a cheap shot that was merely rude. As if it’s dishonest to be more polite, yet if they add a double edge to that retort when accused of having made an inappropriate remark, they mean “I’m real, and there are enough other people like me that you can’t afford to not treat this side of me as normal, because it’s exactly what I know I can get away with, and I know because other people do it and get away with it too, all the time.” And depending on what effect they want to have on you they can keep their options open when insisting they had a right to be snarky about criticism of some kind, to make a point of saying something critical in a harsh way, and plan to be able to play it both ways depending on their mood or the situation – that either it’s unrealistic to be so sensitive about something in particular, or it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to care about your own feelings in the first place.

    And if they want you to be more emotionally receptive in time for them to be especially cruel that way with emotional abuse, they can start with the angle that you need to be told these things, that they’re being protective by warning you what the world is really like, and once they can tell you took the bait they proceed to the next line that in fact they don’t even like you and they have the right or the ability to get away with treating you badly, because you’re a burden and they’ve earned a right to hold somehting against you, or just because no one else is going to bother helping you, therefore your social isolation and dependency makes you easily entrapped in an abusive relationship. If that gets boring to do in a convincing way, they can even get into a stupid sing-song rhythm of alternating between those sides of a dichotomous logic trap as if that were clever, or to make fun of you for the fact that it works against you even though it doesn’t even sound clever, therefore you must be especially pathetic to be in a position where they can get away with talking to you like that.

    • I think that bullies use the term “teasing” to try to excuse the fact that they are causing hurt and to shift blame onto the victim: if they are “only teasing” then it’s somehow your fault for feeling hurt.

      Hogwash! No excuses: if someone does something that hurts another person then they are in the wrong. They need to apologize, not weasel out of their responsibility by pinning blame on their victim.

      • I agree, it doesn’t work as an excuse. But sometimes it could be worth pointing out in connection with an apology, that in that instance you may not have meant something to be hurtful, and you got into a bad habit of expressing observations about irony as if you were on the winning side of a debate that made you look clever by comparison with whoever happens to be the butt of a joke. Because sometimes people point out a type of irony that is situational when trying to be informative, for the benefit of someone who is in that situation and has good reason to be unhappy about it; if you use the clever-sounding way of expressing that, it could accidentally come across as mean-spirited when you were actually assuming that the information contained in the witticism would do that person some good. Of course it’s worse if someone comments on your situation that way because they’re too annoyed and impatient with you to think of a more sensitive way of saying the same thing.

        But not all things that come across as harsh criticism were meant as anything other than accurate constructive criticism. I have difficulty exchanging drafts of papers with people who are willing to help me revise papers before I try submitting them for publication sometimes, because it bothers me that every time they have something helpful to say I end up feeling foolish about having gotten something wrong that needed correction, and if they offer too much advice I regret asking for their help, but if they offer too little or include too many compliments, I worry about preferring flattery to good advice when I would have done better to take the time to learn how to do more rigorous work on a report before trying for publication. That’s something I find you have to be your own task-master about (seeking out honest criticism before submitting to a peer reviewed journal) because the formal peer review process relies on volunteerism, but people you actually know might be willing to spend more time on looking at your work than someone who was contacted by the editor as having the bare minimum qualifications to take on the piece work of reviewing a particular article to see if it merits publication.

        And there is always a risk of someone using a scientistic mannerism to try and tear apart an argument because they disagree with one particular and are trying to make you look underqualified to have an opinion on the subject by twisting things around and making the rest of your ideas look unsubstantiated so that your contributions will be dismissed by others who had been listening to you as mere amateurism – then you really have to be able to trust your gut to know the difference between honest criticism and hair-splitting, and it’s likely that if someone tried that move on you, they’d be able to confuse you about just how many of their insults were pretentious if they managed to find any substantive flaws in your work before they decided to try that on you.

        Whereas if you can at least handle a detailed critique of a draft from someone you know is sympathetic with you personally, you know better than to assume they’re being dishonest in order to discredit you as an expert with a competing opinion (that conflicts with an opinion of theirs they feel strongly about). But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t burn out or get into an emotional argument, from having tried to have a substantive correspondence about complex arguments, and finding out that you just couldn’t handle the way someone told you they thought you were wrong about something. Sometimes, that turns out to be something you can put behind you later.

        But if you feel too thin-skinned to make enough use of the willingness of other experts to share honest feedback with you about whether your ideas make sense when you try to make a case for an original hypothesis or to correctly interpret a formal hypothesis test, sensitivity to remarks that have a “know it all” feel to them but are in some meaningful way an informative piece of feedback can feel like a liability that makes it harder to work well. That’s even more true of team work and other kinds of informal but planned collaboration, where you took on certain goals that involved being able to work with people under pressure, and then started taking pragmatic problems too personally because of the way you were interpreting the informative feedback and opportunities for miscommunications or being surprised with how someone decided to interpret a goal you set together when they implemented it.

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