There is one problem, though — he’s got this habit of asking me to help him with personal needs. I honestly wouldn’t mind the asking (even though I would say no) if it wasn’t done so creeper-ish. He’ll say: “What I really need is someone to help me shower. I mean, in theory even a friend could help me — it’s not that difficult.” When I tried to explain one time why that was not something I was interested in, he stopped and said he didn’t mean me. But, still, I should not have to explain to friends why I do not want to help them shower.
Joe makes other requests that make me uncomfortable. For example, one time at my house he asked me to hold the tissue while he blew his nose (yes he is THAT impaired mobility-wise). He said: “I’m asking this because I know you’re a mom and can handle it.” Well, yes, I am a mom, but that doesn’t mean I want to wipe my friends’ asses and noses. Plus, what Joe doesn’t know is that I have a massive mucous aversion. It’s my thing. I hate it. It’s instant gag-inducing for me. But on this occasion I sucked it up and thought of pretty little trees and helped him blow his nose because hey I can suck it up once to help someone who can’t even blow his own damned nose.
Adding to the complexity, I have a special needs son myself who has severe autism. My son’s father and I chose to place him in a residence (we see him regularly) when he was young because we watched his paternal grandparents work themselves into early graves caring for their severely autistic daughter (my son’s aunt). They had no lives, no family, and it wasn’t good for the sister either. We wanted to be our son’s parents, not his therapists or caregivers, so we made this choice. And so I worry that perhaps I’m more sensitive to being asked to do stuff like help a friend on the toilet or shower, and I hear about how others are being all helpful, and worry I’m being the jerk here if I don’t help out the same way.
But it’s just… the subtle comments here and there are getting creepy. Like once he mentioned how another female friend helped him on the toilet and told him he had a nice ass, which I didn’t care to hear about. And when we were talking about how Joe is finally moving into his own assisted living apartment, out of the nursing home that’s really geared more toward people with intellectual impairments, he said one of his friends told him it was great that he was moving because he could finally get laid. That may be, but I’m just not someone who likes talking about sex with men I’m not married to… especially men I feel are hitting on me and trying to get me to help them take a shower.
I’m starting to feel like Joe’s a manipulative little creep and not this perfectly nice guy with mobility issues I originally thought. I’m not really close enough to the other girls in our social circle to ask them if he gives them creeper vibes too (I am also afraid they’ll think I’m an asshole for picking on poor, disabled Joe), but it’s beginning to feel gross and coercive and manipulative. How do you suggest I handle this? — Not Into Helping My Friends Shower
The guy gives you the creeps. You feel grossed-out and manipulated. You also feel guilty not only because Joe is disabled and can’t blow his own nose or wipe his own ass, but because you have a son whose special needs you can’t fully meet on your own. I’m sure that alone is a bit of a mind-fuck, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re projecting guilt you might feel over your son’s situation — not that you SHOULD feel guilt, but as a mother, I could understand if you did — onto Joe. Caring for Joe isn’t the same as caring for your son or your other children. Joe is not your responsibility. Blowing his nose and wiping his butt and giving him a shower is NOT your responsibility, and if doing any of those things — even just holding a tissue to his nose while he blows — makes you uncomfortable, then don’t do them. And don’t put yourself in situations where you will be asked to do them.
Perhaps avoiding situations where you may be asked to help Joe do things you are uncomfortable doing means avoiding Joe completely. Maybe it means limiting your interactions with him to group events and activities instead of one-on-one time in your (or his) home. Maybe it means sitting down with him and telling him that you are uncomfortable discussing personal topics with him, like your sex lives and how he showers or goes to the bathroom. And if you aren’t even comfortable broaching that conversation with him, maybe Joe should be downgraded to a casual acquaintance — someone with whom you share some mutual friends, but not necessarily a close one-on-one relationship.
Distancing yourself from someone who gives you the creeps doesn’t make you a jerk. But staying friends with someone you find manipulative out of guilt or a sense of obligation IS kind of jerky. It doesn’t do you any good and it doesn’t do Joe any good. And being a friend to someone with special needs won’t make you feel any better about your role as a parent. It won’t erase whatever guilt you might feel as a mother. You have to tackle that on your own; you have to exclusively reconcile whatever feelings you have about your autistic son and the choices you’ve made in caring for him. Of course, you can’t completely compartmentalize those feelings and they will inform your parenting and lifestyle choices. But be careful about letting the feelings you have regarding your son inform the kinds of friendships you make, especially in terms of friendships that ask of you more than you’re willing to or comfortable giving.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.