Captain Awkward is a really great advice column and sometimes opinion blog, if you’re not already reading it I highly recommend it. Not so long ago she got a question from a woman who needed advice about what to do when her engineer boyfriend invites her to events with his work friends and then makes no effort to steer the all-work-all-the-time conversation in a direction she is remotely able to participate in. Normally the comments at Captain Awkward are great but this time they went right off the rails. Apparently it’s meeeeeean and terrible and some sort of anti-nerd bigotry to say that engineers are in fact capable of observing such basic social niceties as including your girlfriend in the conversation when you invite her out with your friends and ought to do so.
Yes, autistic people all along the autism/aspergers spectrum exist, may plausibly be over represented in the tech industry, and are not deliberately being rude when they can’t tell that someone is bored by a particular conversation. That’s not even slightly what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about are the lazy fucking assholes who throw actual autistic people under the bus when they use them as an excuse to ignore such overbearing social expectations as giving a shit about their date’s happiness. The vast vast majority of asshole engineers are not autistic, they’re assholes.
“Engineer” is just a job title, it’s not a fucking diagnosis. Having the patience to deal with a compiler not cooperating in absolutely no way whatso-fucking-ever prevents you from giving a shit about your partner’s happiness. Enjoying the sense of triumph when you finally get your code working correctly in absolutely no way whatso-fucking-ever prevents you from giving a shit about your partner’s happiness. Spending a weekend playing with a new framework or library in absolutely no way whatso-fucking-ever prevents you from giving a shit about your partner’s happiness.
You know what actually does prevent you from giving a shit about your partner’s happiness? Being a lazy, self-centered asshole. Engineers in general are perfectly fucking capable of noticing that their partner is bored to tears by a conversation they’re being actively excluded from and changing topics to include them. The problem is that some of them are too fucking lazy to do that, so they hide under the excuses of “you can’t expect engineers to be social” or “you’re saying it’s not okay to be a nerd!” or “this is just how I am and it’s unfair to expect me to change.”
If that’s just who you are, then who you are is an asshole and you need to fix your shit. That’s not a refusal to accept people as they are, that’s a refusal to tolerate shitty fucking behaviour. If you invite someone to an outing, you goddamn well include them in the conversation. If you don’t care about them enough to include them, why the fuck did you even invite them in the first place?
The idea that engineers can’t be expected to be even halfway polite is in fact incredibly insulting. I’m a fucking grownup, not some spoiled child who will throw a tantrum if you make completely reasonable demands of me. Excusing me from basic politeness is saying that I am such an incredible fuckup than you’ve just given up on me. Some people are certainly that big of fuckups, but if you wouldn’t tolerate that behaviour in a chef or a teacher or an actor or a bus driver or a writer or an accountant, there’s no reason to tolerate it in an engineer just because they have a different job title.
Again, being a lazy asshole is very very different from being an autistic person. “Actually can’t tell someone is bored without that someone saying so in words” is very different from “doesn’t care that someone is bored and can’t be bothered to even but forth the tiniest bit of effort to change topics of conversation.” Not everyone is good at noticing that someone is bored. That’s different from being an asshole. Not everyone is good at finding a topic of conversation that everyone can participate in. That’s different from being an asshole. Not everyone is good at talking with people they don’t know well. That’s different from being an asshole.
Everybody messes up sometimes. I’ve accidentally insulted people’s interests and failed at including everyone in the conversation and I have no doubt I’ve bored people who were too nice to tell me that they could not possibly care less about whatever technical detail I was rambling on about. Assholery isn’t people who try but make mistakes, it’s people who don’t think they should have to try and who can’t be bothered to make even small changes when someone tells them they’re unhappy. Using an example the letter writer from Captain Awkward provided in the comments “The last time this happened was a winery trip that involved a 2-hour long car ride to and from, plus 3 hours at the winery, which was JUST work talk. The entire time.” Seven hours of actively excluding your date from the conversation is not an accident, it’s assholery.
The sort of self-centered dicks who pull this shit are probably beyond my help so what I’ll say is that if someone tries this shit on you, tell them to go fuck themselves. You deserve better than some assclown who thinks their job title excuses them from giving a shit about your happiness.