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Article: How was your day?

I'd like to draw your attention to yet another aspergers article;

How was your day?
on Asperger Square 8

I can really relate to this one. It's the bane of my existence.

My wife and I have discussed this question over and over. It's the subject of a lot of pain for us - and silent resistance.

Problems with the Question
There are a lot of problems with this question. For a start, how do you describe a day. It wasn't my day... it was everyone's day. We all shared it. Then of course, there's the problem of "what answer could actually fit the question?". The best one word answer I can find is; "Good."

The problem with this answer is that it often provokes further open-ended questions; "oh..., what was good about it" or even worse, it encourages the initial "how was your day?" question to be asked several more times during the course of the afternoon, or dinner.

Problems with my Day
Most days, are unremarkable for me. I go to work, do mostly dull work and come home. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my job. It's just that the things I find interesting or funny (an unexpected pattern in computer code, a silly comment by a Microsoft reviewer or a passer by whose umbrella blows inside out) aren't funny or interesting to most other people.

Sometimes I'll say something about my day, expecting it to be dull and lifeless and my wife will give this little excited response. I'll look at her quizzically (not so that she'd notice) and then expand on what I've said, realising that she actually found something interesting. The problem is, that I really don't know which parts of my day are interesting to people and which aren't. All I can say for certain is that most of what I find interesting - isn't and some of what I find uninteresting - is.

Then there's the bad days. If I have a bad day, I just want to shrink inside myself and forget about it. The last thing I want to do is talk about a bad experience. The problem is that I can't reply "terrible" if I've had a bad day. That will only invite lots more questions.

There's a myth around that says that aspies can't lie. We can. The problem is though that lying preys on our minds. We can't do it well because we're always conscious of the conflict it causes.

So... on the one hand, I've had a terrible day and I'm really depressed about it. It's the sort of problem that will take me days to analyse, rebuild and recover from. I certainly don't need any more mental stress and in fact, my mind is churning away on it but in the background. I'm trying not to think about it directly.

On the other hand, I've been asked how my day was. If I answer truthfully, then I'll be badgered to provide all the details (and it will come back to the front of my mind again). If I answer dishonestly, then I'll be adding stress to my mind because I'll be creating a "lie complex" which will torture me for days. Whichever answer I give will cause pain.

So I just grunt...

or I give a non-committal answer... "oh... same toilet different sh***" (this answer doesn't go down particularly well).

or I pretend the question wasn't asked and try to change the subject...

and hope that the question won't be asked again today.

Conversational Keywords versus the Chronological Discussion
If I've got something to talk about or something of interest, I don't need a trite phrase to convince me to say it. I just blurt it out (usually regardless of how off-topic it may be). Sometimes when my wife is talking to me about something, she'll say a key-word which trips a memory. She could be telling me about her day at the shops and mention a washing powder. This will remind me to tell her about a funny incident that happened at work with the photocopier toner spilling (and hence washing being required).

I'll hold up my hand to interrupt her for a second and tell her to ask me about toner when she's finished and then I'll apologise for interrupting and let her continue.

Ten minutes later, she'll ask me about toner and I'll tell her the story. It will be good that she'd asked specifically because I'd have forgotten that I was going to tell her by then.

If she'd asked how my day was, the incident wouldn't have been mentioned because it was an afternoon incident and my memory is strictly chronological (unless I have a keyword to jump to). She'll ask how my day was and I'll often start thinking about getting up, showering, catching the bus etc... (not saying anything because I know that stuff is all boring). I'll often get to the point of making my morning coffee at work - which is where my first social activity occurs. I'll telll her all of the conversations that occurred and then stop.

There's too much to review, and most of it's boring. So, my wife never hears about the afternoon.

Expectations of Counter-Questioning
The flip side of all of this is that I'm often told in argumentative tones... "You don't care because you never ask how my day has been". That's right. I don't.

Just as I blurt things out when I've got something to say - I don't expect to have to invite anyone else to say things. I shouldn't have to ask how her day has been. After all, if something interesting happened, then it should be a "given" that it will be "blurted out" at me.

Similarly, since being prompted to talk about my day is so uncomfortable, I don't see why I should be trying to make other people uncomfortable by asking them. It certainly doesn't come naturally to me - so there's no chance that I'll think to ask about someone's day without prompting.

These days, I have a rule that says. "when asked about your day, respond as briefly as possible then ask about their day because that's what they really want". It's kind of like when someone asks how your meal is, not because they care but because they want you to offer them some. (and that's a whole different discussion).


Bev said…
Good post; thanks for linking to mine. I like your take on reciprocity: why ask a question if you wouldn't want it asked of you? I have always preferred that people not "do unto others" when dealing with me. Often what I want or need is not what they would guess at all.
Anonymous said…
Hi Gavin, I've been following your blog for a few weeks now. I wonder if you'd be willing to speak about friendship and/or close relationships from an Aspergian(?) point of view? What is it that you want most from the people that are close to you, and what advice would you give an NT trying to befriend an Aspie? Also, do you happen to give public lectures?
Anonymous said…
Hi Gavin, I've been following your blog for a few weeks now. I wonder if you'd be willing to speak about friendship and/or close relationships from an Aspergian(?) point of view? What is it that you want most from the people that are close to you, and what advice would you give an NT trying to befriend an Aspie? Also, do you happen to give public lectures?
LizzieK8 said…
"You don't care because you never ask how my day has been". That's right. I don't.

Don't care? Don't ask? Both? This made me chuckle as it's so true...generally I don't care and I don't ask as it'll invite small talk I don't want to participate in.
Anonymous said…
The part in the punultimate(?) paragraph about `you don't care´ is so true! I've heard that from my ex quite often.

BTW, today was a terrible day, but I would've still replied with my default answer - `Normal´. Mostly because I realize that no big events occurred that are somehow different from stuff that happens from day to day - subjective reaction is what makes a day good or bad. Today it wasn't that the people were worse than usual. It was just that I was more tired and vulnerable to their words and questions and demands . . . (Besides, it's Friday.)
Nachtus01 said…
Its kind of funny. All my life I think I have hated that question. I always known why as well, but it never really registered that this was a point of contention for me.
I was going to write more in this comment about it, but now, I think instead I will write my own version of how it works for me. In some ways, I know it will be similar, but still different. Good read. Thanks.
BlogStalker said…
I would have sympathy for this position if my aspie hubby hadn't turned on the charm before we got married and then turned into this person afterwards. What I wonder is what we now do about it. If you are determined to say that your feelings about this are valid, it's NT's who must adjust, I wonder why aspie's are interested in us or feel justified in subjecting us to a life of loneliness. I don't feel much like going the rest of my life without intimate coversation and interaction from my husband because it's now an irritation for him. This is a very serious issue, the kind that damages relationships very badly. Do you feel any responsibility? It's hard to express the tone of my feelings in a written post, but I want to say that I have a lot of respect for you and enjoy your blog a lot, I'm not blowing off steam, I would love a solemn answer.
Gavin Bollard said…
The comments against this post raise a few important points, particularly "who should give in an NT/AS relationship".

I'm not answering this directly here because I think it needs a bit more thought and discussion but I'll post on the topic as soon as my thoughts are clear.
Anonymous said…
Regarding blogstalker's post, I also have noticed my Aspie friend can turn on the charm when and where it is convenient or expeditious to do so. And just as readily refuse to acknowledge the existence and importance of other people, including family members, when something else seems more interesting. The behavior is far from consistent. My Aspie friend says over and over, "I am not accountable". It definitely relates to blogstalker's question, "do you feel any responsibility?" I'm looking forward to your comments Gavin.
Anonymous said…
personally speaking, "turning on the charm" when I really have to takes HEAPS OF energy. I am completely drained, sucked dry having to do small talk. and then of course with family I can "afford" to be more easy-going, no pressure.
it may also be personal that I don't ask questions about how others' day went, but I enjoy listening to their stories and experiences if they are willing to share, vent, go on and on. I never ask questions, I don't want to pressure for more than freely offered. of course, often taken for lack of interest. takes a while to communicate your openness this way.
as for the "how was your day question", I often just say "cold", "hot", "windy", or "do you reall want to know?!" colleagues can be trained not to take offence in a few weeks. and then if I want to say something, I will anyway. but not if asked explicitly.
Anonymous said…
I've enjoyed this conversation, both here and on Bev's blog.

The accountability thing starts when they're kids, I think-- I know my Aspie son was always told at school that things were not his fault and he wasn't held responsible. He's repeated this excuse word for word to us as if he could then do anything he wanted--but we haven't bought it at home. I know that sometimes things can't be helped. But I don't think that he has the right to be purposefully mean/wrong/neglectful and hide behind an excuse. Maybe I'm wrong about this.
China said…
I hate that question too, and "How are you?", and "Are you ready for Christmas?", and "Did you have a good weekend?".
I realize they don't really want to know as much as they feel the obligation to chat and relate. I, too, prefer to save my energy for the important stuff and like to listen more than share. My husband is the one who gripes about how I don't care and don't encourage him - and I'm supposedly NT.
BTW, a good answer for "How are you?" or "How was your day?" is "UN-BELIEVABLE!"
That can mean good or bad and usually stops most people from following up. If they do ask, "What was unbelievable?" just say, "Oh, you wouldn't believe it." and end with a shake of the head and a big sigh.
I enjoyed reading this post simply because it offers a rather mundane example of AS. So often, people want me to provide dramatic examples of how my experience differs from theirs. The truth of the matter is that most such examples aren't dramatic at all; they are part and parcel of everyday life.

By sharing your routine experiences, you are adding to the ongoing dialogue of the challenges those of us with AS face. So, thanks!!
Anonymous said…
Eeyore, you wrote:" I enjoy listening to their stories and experiences if they are willing to share". And yet you also write that you are "sucked dry having to do small talk". Do you see the problem here? There's something inherently one sided in your perspective. It's really a challenge to find oneself, as an NT, involved with an Aspie. (I'm talking about adults now). You enjoy listening to others, but feel sucked dry if others wish for you to reciprocate. It can't work like that.
Anonymous said…
When we were first married my husband thought the phrase "what did you today?" was the same as "how was your day?"

It didn't sound the same to me. To me it sounded like, "did you do anything today?" I suppose I was a bit sensitive to anything that sounded remotely like criticism. Now it makes sense. He doesn't ask me in that fashion anymore because he knows I don't like it but I can see how to an aspie those two questions are essentially the same.
Damo said…
my answers are one worded and generally the ultimate conversation killer. "fine" or "meh".

But essentially if you don't want the answer don't ask the question.

As for "being out there" yes it takes energy and thats very much an introvert trait. extroverts gather energy from people. Introverts create their own in "downtime". We need our caves. But when we want to play, ohhh boy, we'll play. Tucker ourselves out and then go back to our caves. I suppose we're rather like puppies. all or nothing.
Paul Anderson said…
As the last comment, I find "meh" saves me a lot of bother.

I *HATE* being asked "how was work/college". Absolutely despise being asked. A lot of my family use it regularly when communicating with me; as it's the only subject they can use to converse with (which in my head just shows they don't know me), however as most of my extended family only converse with me via Facebook, Bebo, Twitter or other social networking sites, what will happen is this: I won't answer or reply to their comment until they send another one without asking.

My logic towards my hate for this question is this: *IF* I had experienced a day of work or college of either extreme of good or bad, you would have heard about it by now, as I'd quite happily tell you without any prompting. If I haven't mentioned it already, it's because it genuinely was a "meh" day at work/college.
e said…
Great thread!

As for turning on the charm, I think it might have to do more with prompting or cues or, as someone else said, key words. I know for me, there can be something really subtle about a person or a situation or topic that "turns me on", and I am able to communicate and take part in a social situation. Other times it is something in my own head and everything seems to fall into place to enable me to have the interaction with others that another time I might not be capable of having.
I don't think the charm is manipulative. Instead look at it as being blessed with a glimpse of the person who more often than not, is locked up.
Anonymous said…
At work, people will ask me "How was your weekend?" My standard reply is "Great. I did nothing." That usually puts an end to it.
Andreas said…
This is really interesting. For me, I have always reflexively answered "Fine, thanks. How are you?" I never really stopped to think about it.

I can remember a few times I noticed it was odd. One day, in high school, I was really feeling sick, so I went to the office for a note to go home. I saw my friend's mom, and she said "Oh, hi, how are you?" I replied "I'm fine; thanks, and how are you?" While she was telling me about her day, I started wondering if it was inappropriate for me to say I'm fine, when I'm actually sick, or is the question just a social nicety. (I can listen and have a an inner monologue, simultaneously, so I was still paying her attention, haha)

I have realized that if I really care about you, I will almost NEVER ask how you are doing, or even randomly say "Hi", when we are out of touch. Those actions feel a little like necessary superficial niceties. I will, however make an effort to share amusing or interesting things with said individuals but the empty chit-chat is a no-no. Although, I can be forced, and I will be polite, since I'm extroverted. (That is probably that 'charm' some have mentioned.)

It's funny, the few people I've mentioned the idea of me being on the spectrum are always in complete shock (save the 2 that I mentioned after we had a small falling out, haha. I didn't approve of their vigorous agreement, haha). I realize that I am incredibly well adjusted/trained.
I kind of use ASD traits against themselves. I naturally (compulsively) follow etiquette, so I don't notice many of the issues that others experience.
When I observe ASD behaviour I usually have the "familiar yet it's inappropriate" feeling.
Andreas said…
Random insightful thought!
You mentioned the idea of Chronological thinking and Significance/Priority as the alternative.

(These are observations I made before I had even heard of the AS spectrum.)
Growing up, I always wondered what it was that made a conversation interesting to others. I tried countless permutations, in order to find that 'perfect recipe'.
Various amounts of:
Vocal Tones (for enhanced enthusiasm)
Hand Gestures
Facial Expressions
Sounding more excited
More Detail
Less Detail
Using Cues and Waiting for Comments (that reciprocal stuff, haha)
Shorter versions
Specific types of stories (subjects)
Stories that relate to the speaker

There are many other things that I actively experimented with. Yet, there were some people that I could just not impress, despite me trying to mimic their structure.

Now, I will pay attention to see if they aren't speaking in a chronological manner. You may have shown me the key!

(Also, from the comments I'm becoming more aware of the importance of "speaking to relate". I was vaguely aware of it, but I hardly imagined it meant as much as they stated AND was used in casual conversation. I always reserved it for deep conversation.
My bag of tricks is growing!!!

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