I’ve been writing about and sharing my life online on-and-off since I first got a LiveJournal account around 20 years ago (sometime in the year 2001). One of the things I liked about LiveJournal was that you could filter your audience because there was an actual community there, and you could learn about others and make friends as much as others could do the same with you. I’m still good friends with a number of people I met through various LiveJournal communities, though few of us still use LiveJournal. The advent of other, shorter social media platforms moved us away, and so now we generally interact on Facebook and/or Twitter instead. It seems unsurprising to me that many of the friends I made during those years I was active on LiveJournal (or the MOSH message board I was active on prior to LiveJournal—for fans of the Doug Anthony Allstars and/or Good News Week and/or Australian comedy) turned out to be neurodiverse just like I am (I wasn’t diagnosed until mid-2017, after my youngest kid was diagnosed, and my talking about my experiences sometimes has helped others learn about their own neurodiversity, or they were exploring diagnosis around the same time I was). Why? Because when autistic (and some other neurodiverse) people share their experiences, others share their own experiences, and they connect and become friends. Neurotypical people usually get offended with this kind of sharing and think we’re being selfish or self-centred, turning the topic on ourselves, and may eventually distance themselves from us.
Being undiagnosed autistic for much of my adult life, I didn’t understand why I was different, or why it was easier for me to connect with people online than it was offline. Why writing was an easier way for me to connect with people than talking to them. Carefully curating my thoughts in the written word was easier than understanding that sometimes it took my brain a while to process what someone was saying before I could then process how to formulate a response that the person I was speaking to would understand and accept. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, why becoming an improviser was such a game-changer for me, because suddenly I was learning skills that could help me move past that hurdle, and actually meet people who appreciated the authentic thoughts that immediately jumped out of my mouth, even if (and sometimes especially when) they weren’t things that neurotypical people would’ve thought to say.
As such, I spent the last few years (pre-pandemic) meeting new people in person and making friends with more people who weren’t necessarily neurodivergent like me (though I did meet other neurodivergent improvisers as well—autistic, ADHD, dyslexic, etc). When I moved to California, I think my Facebook friends list was around the 400-ish mark. I’ve more than doubled that in the last 6.5 years, and that is primarily because of finding community in improv, and travelling to improv festivals around the country. Are we all besties? Of course not. But I’ve definitely found more mutually-interested friendships through improv—people I love to read in my feed, and who interact a lot with what I post, too. Being my authentic self when I post anything online (like here or on social media) has also allowed connections to form and grow that might not have otherwise. Because when you’re authentic, the people who like that authenticity and who you really are will find you, and then you can truly build a genuine connection, rather than building a friendship on lies because you’re pretending to be someone you’re not. Trying to stay true to my authentic-self has been a struggle over the years, but I’m glad I’m at a place now where I feel safe enough to not hide who I am, because the authenticity has helped me find a community of people who support that authenticity. Even people I went to high school with but didn’t know me that well in high school have been communicating with me more often as I share my experiences online, which is kinda wild to me as someone who barely talked and always felt like an outsider in high school (I mean, undiagnosed autistic, I’m sure that’s unsurprising).
This is, naturally, a really welcome change from the self-doubt that comes after being labelled as selfish and self-centred just because my preferred style of communication differs from neurotypical people. I’d prefer not to think about how often I’d been labelled as selfish just for asserting my boundaries, or miscommunication, but it ate at my psyche for years before I learned I’m autistic and started learning about what that meant and talking to people about it, so there could be less room for miscommunication. It’s also allowed for a greater appreciation of differences, and respecting other people’s boundaries, too. So when I write, even when I write a lot about myself and my experiences, it’s first writing for myself—as a way to gain more understanding about myself, and secondly for my friends—so they can learn more about my experiences, and, like the quote above, perhaps respond with sharing their own similar experiences, so I can learn more about them in return. This response is more common from my fellow neurodiverse friends, but that’s understandably because it comes more naturally to them. This is actually the best way for me to get to know someone, because I suck at asking questions of people I’d like to get to know better, since I’m a little afraid of accidentally asking something too personal they’d rather not talk about, or I don’t know how to narrow things down to something conversational because as an autistic person, small talk does not come naturally to me. Unless I know we share a special interest, I may just draw a blank. Not asking questions does not mean I don’t want to get to know someone better, it’s just not natural to me. That’s another reason LiveJournal was so good for me—I could get to know other people easily by reading what they wanted to share about their lives and not have to ask awkward questions.
I have, at times, used Facebook similar to how I used LiveJournal. Utilising filters to make sure I’m not sharing certain things with a certain audience if I want to share something too personal or vulnerable for everyone. But with an audience of potentially over 1000 friends (compared to ~100 people I friended on LiveJournal), I don’t always get it right when I’ve added new friends to lists, or created new ones. Sometimes I’ll see someone react to a post and think, “Why are they on this filter and can see this?” At one point it was one of my uncles who I hadn’t included in my “Family” list who was reacting to my “Friends EXCEPT Family” posts, and I ended up leaving him off the Family list because he’s that Cool Uncle type who I’m actually okay with seeing posts I might’ve been reluctant to share with other family members for personal, religious, or political reasons (I have a 2nd cousin who I probably should allow the same benefits to because we have a similar wavelength on political ideologies, but I generally auto-add every family member to that “Family” list).
More recently, about a year ago, I created a filtered list of people who knew someone I was about to block (let’s call them Mx Blocked). I did this so I could have some freedom to say what I wanted without worrying it could be shared—accidentally or intentionally—with Mx Blocked, because I didn’t want Mx Blocked to know anything I was thinking about in private spaces—I blocked them for a reason, and I’m allowed to have boundaries. Then I noticed people who knew Mx Blocked reacting to some of my filtered posts, and realised they hadn’t been filtered out because they must have unfriended Mx Blocked prior to my filter creation. There was a part of me that wondered why they were no longer connected, but I didn’t bother to ask, because it was none of my business. It mostly just threw me because I thought I was being careful, but at the end of the day, I figured I could trust people not to talk to Mx Blocked about me if they were also not connected on social media. You may wonder, why didn’t I just instead unfriend everyone who knew Mx Blocked? Now, I did unfriend some of them, if I had no interest in staying connected. Others were people I liked, who’d been nice to me, and they didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t cut people out of my life just because they happen to know someone I don’t get along with. I don’t use an extreme filter for everything I post on Facebook, and some of those connections still react to my unfiltered (but still not public) posts.
Everyone has the right to put up boundaries that help us feel safe, which in my mind is the whole point of having privacy filters—I wish more social media had that feature (rather than a simple choice between a public or restricted account, like Instagram and Twitter; and where public accounts can still be viewed by blocked users if the blocked user isn’t logged into their account, or creates another one). Of course, there’s still not 100% security to prevent an unintended audience from reading your words if you put them out there—just look at what happened to the Parler data that users didn’t expect to be exposed. Computer savvy people can access just about anything. All we can do is our best to recognise our own limits, and be aware of the risks. Those risks are why I generally do not accept friend requests on Facebook from anyone I have not met in person and/or interacted with in a significant capacity online.
I’m getting off-topic (hey, I’m autistic, my brain wanders). What I’m trying to say is that my “audience” is very different now than it was when I was active on LiveJournal. On LiveJournal, I didn’t really have any connections with people I’d initially met IRL (in real life). Sure, I met a bunch of them in person later on, but that’s not the same. Over time, I’ve written some fairly long posts on Facebook, and people will suggest, “You should share this stuff on a blog.” And so that’s what I’ve been trying to do more of, but in such a public sphere as WordPress, where anyone can come across my writing, there are more limitations. I can be personal and vulnerable, but only to a certain extent. I might be writing for myself and my friends—because I share the links on my personal Facebook (and may still limit the filter settings, depending on the topic of the post; I also don’t always crosspost links to Twitter, if I don’t want to draw too much attention from readers the entries aren’t for), but I’m also acutely aware of other people potentially coming across my blog.
I’ll give a few specific examples:
a) Other WordPress users who encounter my blog on the WordPress platform. I hadn’t really been prepared for this when I shifted from a self-hosted WordPress site to WordPress.com, because I didn’t realise there was a way to easily discover other blogs. That’s not how I’ve used WordPress in the past. Though I do welcome this other audience, if they’re people who find meaning and connection with my posts.
b) Potential future employers. I write here under my real first name. This blog is connected to my LinkedIn account, and though I have yet to share anything from this blog to my LinkedIn, I do have plans to do so when I write posts that are relevant for me to share there. There’s also a link to get here from my GitHub profile. Knowing there is a chance potential future employers may come across my blog of course impacts the content I choose to share, and helps me decide how I frame my narrative. Who would want to hire a complainer, for example? Fortunately for me, I do keep an overall positive look on life anyway, and prefer to focus on lessons learned rather than feeling like a victim, even when I’ve been one.
c) A woman who is/was jealous(?) of me because of my relationship/friendship with an ex-partner of mine, because she felt possessive of him, even though she was fully aware of him being polyamorous. While he was trying to be an ethically open and honest polyamorous man by talking to her about me, when he and I were briefly involved in 2018, she stalked my Instagram for a little while and tried to contact me (by lashing out in jealousy; so I blocked her because I had no desire to engage with someone who wanted to be abusive toward me when she didn’t even know me). According to said ex-partner, it sounds like she might be reading my blog here now, even though he’s told her we’re not getting back together, and I’ve also said as much on my blog. Apparently she obsessively thinks otherwise. It’s weird, but not that surprising. It reminds me of another woman who was obsessed with my “friendship” with a different ex-partner because she wanted to be with him and was jealous of our blossoming relationship, even though she had no proof he and I were together. I’m honestly a little embarrassed that I even know what she was thinking about me, because back in that time in my life, since it was obvious she was attracted to him, I occasionally checked her public tweets. (Side note: I have a few examples of these embarrassing times of checking certain people’s public social media accounts, but it’s not healthy and I’m glad I took myself out of that cycle). I think the insecure side of me got a little thrill over the fact that he chose me over her, even though it was really obvious he was not attracted to her at all. Part of my curiosity also stemmed from wondering if she was trying to understand what our relationship was, or if she suspected something was going on with us, considering he’d wanted to keep our relationship a secret. Actually I recall she almost caught us holding hands in a mall once, and/or saw us having dinner together just the two of us, which in turn led to us being more cautious in public. To be honest I also felt a little sad for her, at how much she seemed unable to move on from her crush, and wasn’t able to accept that he knew how she felt and didn’t feel the same way. She eventually removed me as a Facebook friend, which I think was a very healthy decision for her to make, regardless of her reasons behind it. I have no idea what she’s up to these days, but I doubt she’s busying herself by checking in on me. I don’t get any random visitors to my blog from the country she lives in. I barely, if ever, get any from friends who live there when I share my posts on Facebook! (I’m studying data analytics; of course I’m checking my site stats—I’m curious about my audience and number of visitors, because I don’t usually get anywhere near as many comments as visitors, and I don’t know when Facebook algorithms hide the links from my friends’ feeds).
Whilst I don’t recall ever checking up on the social media or blog of someone a crush appears to be interested in more than me, I can understand what it’s like to be curious, wondering, “What does he see in her that he doesn’t see in me?” This sort of questioning, however, isn’t really helpful. It’s a drain on your self-esteem. If someone doesn’t seem interested in you, finding out about other people that person is attracted to isn’t the solution. If you’re doing it to try and shape yourself into someone they will be attracted to, then you’re just going to waste your time. Even if you did manage to get your crush to change their mind, you’d wind up hating yourself and/or resenting them because you can’t be your authentic self for them to like you. Try and move on and find someone else who is actually attracted to who you are. If, instead, you’re doing it just to compare yourself to that person and either denigrate yourself or them, then you’re filling your head with unnecessary negativity, which isn’t attractive or conducive to having someone find you attractive—whether it’s your crush or someone else.
Also, obsessing over another person to the detriment of everything else isn’t attractive. If someone isn’t telling you to go away, or stop what you’re doing, it doesn’t necessarily mean they like it. Sometimes it just means they have poor boundaries and don’t know how to assert them well, because they’ve learned it isn’t nice and/or safe to say “No.”
There is a darker way this situation could be read, in terms of jealousy, polyamory, and emotional abuse (e.g. with triangulation), that could even come up unintentionally, especially if at least one person involved is codependent and/or monogamous, but that would be too much for me to go into here, and not really the point of this blog post. Needless to say, knowing this woman might be reading my blog doesn’t really have any impact on what I decide to write about. My ex-partner she’s obsessed with beta reads the majority of my blog posts before I publish them, and there’s plenty of reason why he and I remain friends, while she’s left wishing she had the kind of connection he and I have had.
d) My ex-husband’s… “arch-nemesis” (I can’t think of a better word for him than that). Now, I’m not 100% sure if this guy is checking up on my blog, but beginning around the middle of December, I did notice a significant number of hits to my website here from (probably) a single visitor from the country this guy is from… and the first page hit was a 14.5 year old blog post about my wedding day and honeymoon. I can’t think of anyone else in that country who might want to take so much interest in my blog posts, and given I’ve seen evidence of him stalking my ex-husband in pretty extreme ways, I expected it was likely he’d show up here at some point, trying to find dirt on my ex-husband (as if I’m going to share that sort of thing in public online). It is a little disturbing that I’ve had this many relationships with people who attract the attention of that level of stalking that they’re interested in what I have to say, but this one takes the cake. I didn’t learn about this guy until I was already divorcing my ex-husband, but seeing how they kept escalating their issues with each other while I was trying to protect myself during the divorce process made me think I really dodged a bullet with my timing of the divorce. Yikes! I have next to no interest in writing about my ex-husband on my blog beyond what I already have, so if the guy is still stalking my ex-husband, and now me as well, I guess he just likes wasting his time. I can’t imagine he’s going to find what he thinks he’s looking for by reading my blog. People get divorced, dude. It’s quite common. Doesn’t mean we want to air all the dirty laundry about why a marriage failed. Besides, my ex-husband is perfectly capable of making himself look bad without my interference. If this guy is reading my blog, I highly doubt it’s because he’s curious about the awesomeness of the person who chose to end a marriage with a man he despises. I don’t get the impression that’s how people like him operate. It’s sad, really, to think that someone would hate another person so much that they become obsessed with this level of stalking.
Even if you don’t think you have any enemies, I think it’s good to be conscious of how your words could be twisted by someone who means to do harm to you or someone you know. Especially if you’re sharing them in a place that is easily found in public. I write with that in mind. As I’ve said before—I may not like my ex-husband, but I don’t wish to bring harm to him. Also it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if my ex-husband has found my blog by now and is also reading. I can’t discern where my American visitors are looking from, and I have far more American visitors than any other country, because that’s where a majority of my friends and I live.
e) (Other) people I’ve blocked on social media. Now, this one I am least certain on because I currently have better things to do than spend my time trolling the Internet to try and figure out if they are reading my content here, but given my own embarrassing past experiences with checking up on people’s social media when they want nothing to do with me (e.g. an ex-partner who ghosted me), I understand the mindset of why someone might want to do that. So I’m not going to post anything in public that I’d have concerns about those blocked people reading. If I already know they think I’m an awful person, why would I make matters worse by saying something that’ll infuriate them further? If it’s someone I blocked for saying something sexually suggestive to me that made me uncomfortable, well, that’s one of the major reasons I’m reluctant to share my sexier side in plain public view. #MeToo and all that. I don’t want to be victim blamed if/when it happens again.
The Internet has changed tremendously in the last 20+ years. I started out online in my then-best friend’s parents’ Internet café, hanging out as an underage teenager in IRC chatrooms in 1997, before getting the Internet at home around the turn of 1998/9 (my mum got my family a computer for Christmas 1998). Having the Internet at home in my final two years of high school helped open up my social life (even if only online). Coming of age online taught me so much about myself, and how to protect myself from those who wanted to be malicious or mean. But finding a community in the real world opened up many more doors for me, in a way I never could’ve imagined. Shedding my insecurities afterwards has just led me to want to share more of my authentic life, and hope that somehow it inspires a few others to do the same. Yes there are people out there who will want to bring you down, but that doesn’t mean you should give them permission to do so. If I am being read by people who dislike me or people I’ve previously associated with, perhaps one day they too will learn to change their perspective on the world as I have, and let go of the animosity and other negative feelings they hold that leads them here in the first place.
I write for myself, first, and then my friends. Any additional audience is pie. Not all pie is delicious, but it gets swallowed just the same.