Let’s be honest, I was never much of a one for dating. Not to disparage my own morals and reputation, it just so happened that most of the..scrub that, ALL of the relationships I’ve ever been in began as friendships. Take the Husband – we’re both Psychiatric Nurses, and we met when I was placed on his ward as a student. We were both in other relationships at the time, but were part of the same shift work-and-pub -based social group. Through working together in very tense and challenging situations, and through socialising as mates, we got to know each other extraordinarily well in a non-contrived manner.
Dates, when I did go on them, were hugely anxiety provoking And full of questions:
what shall I wear/what does my outfit say about me?
what shall we talk about/what if we’ve go nothing if common?
where shall we go?
what if they don’t like me? What if I don’t like them?
do I try and play it cool, or try to be funny, or just be myself, but what happens if they don’t like me….etc
So obviously, by the time I realised that the husband was going to become The Husband, I was sincerely grateful to be done with the whole dating thing for ever.
Or so I thought.
When you have children, for the first few years, they socialise with the children of your friends. These could be friends that you’ve known for years, or friends that you’ve made more recently through baby groups and playgroups. Either way, they are people that you’ve begun to build a relationship with because you have shared experiences, chatted, assessed and approved of them through conversation, and because you both chose to take the relationship further. The question “would you like to meet with the kids for coffee/in the park” is the parent/toddler equivalent of asking someone if they fancy going for a drink sometime.
Then your little offspring become sentient, independent beings who begin to strike up their own friendships. These are usually very intense and based on different criteria from your own carefully honed social networks – you may look for people who share your views on parenting styles/home cooking/politics, your child is more likely to be bonding based on who likes the same colour toy cars as them. Either way, you are no longer the boss of your little one’s social world. Their independent friendship forming continues through pre-school, and by the time they reach reception, little one will be plaguing you with “can Theo come for tea/can I go to Grace’s house/when can we go to soft play with Liam…?”
As Melon is autistic, we have bypassed the process above. She has never shown the slightest bit of interest in developing her own social networks. She’s happy to play amongst other children, tolerant of sharing toys, accepting of hugs, and generally enthusiastic about going to the houses of my friends’ children. But she never really interacts with them, won’t ask them questions or respond when they speak. She has remained at the stage where I select and initiate most of her social interactions.
Then came school.
7 weeks ago some kind of curtain lifted in Melon’s mind, and she began to become increasingly aware of the children around her. She began to learn their names, to call for them by name, to approach them and initiate contact through hugging and hand-holding, and to use touch, leading and basic 2-word sentences to tell them what she wanted them to do. And Melon has made a friend, a little girl who is neurotypical, who is so taken by Melon that she has named a large doll (who has been in her room for years but never had a name) after Melon.
And tomorrow we are going on a play date. We’re meeting at a soft play in the morning. And suddenly all those old, dormant anxieties are back: what shall I wear? what shall we talk about? What if they don’t like me?
Plus there’s an added pressure that if I mess up, I will either have sabotaged Melon’s fledgling attempts to build a friendship, or I will be forced to continue awkward social situations for the next however many years with someone who thinks I’m a complete twat.
So, if you don’t mind, I’m of to shave my legs, pluck my eyebrows, agonise over an outfit, and formulate some handy discreet flash cards with ideas to get us talking again if the conversation dries up.