• "I do make some effort to act 'normally' in social situations," writes Ben Halfpenny. (Maskot)Source: Maskot
In nine weeks I have applied for 93 properties and attended 18 inspections.
Ben Halfpenny

12 Dec 2019 - 8:18 AM  UPDATED 12 Dec 2019 - 8:18 AM

At the end of the inspection, do you tell them that you like the place and that you’re keen to live there?  Or is that just implied as you’ve turned up? But, I don’t want them to think that I’m not interested. So, on this occasion I tell her. Her reaction is not what I expected. Almost like she found it funny. Maybe I’ve come across as being too pushy? About ten minutes after leaving I realise what I’ve done wrong. The housemates are two women and I’ve said, ‘I’d be happy to live here if you want to have me’. This is a sexual euphemism!

Being autistic is described as a social disability. Difficulties with communication and understanding the unwritten rules of the social world are a barrier to participation. I’m looking for a share house. I’ve never lived in one before. The first week is spent researching. I write detailed notes on all the things that you need to know. Leases, landlords, bonds… The next step is searching through listings. The current housemates post detailed profiles about themselves. Recurring themes are that they’re; ‘easy-going’, ‘social’, love ‘exploring bars’, travelling, and the occasional night out. And that they’re looking for someone who shares these qualities. I’m not like this at all. I assumed that they’re just looking for someone to share a house with, not to be a future BFF. I rewrite a more detailed profile.

I’ve shaved, showered, and put on my nice clothes. This is how you make a good impression.

It works, within two days I’ve been invited to an inspection. I’ve shaved, showered, and put on my nice clothes. This is how you make a good impression. The guy seems nice. After the tour he goes over a few of the details, then asks if I have any questions. I do. I have a list of questions written down. The things that the websites said you should ask. He seems surprised. After a couple of minutes I get the sense that he’s trying to get me out the front door. Soon after leaving I figure out that he was probably annoyed by the questions, and his answers swiftly became curt. I realise that there’s more to making a good impression than having showered, dressed nicely, and being polite. You need to have a good chat. You need to make a connection. They need to like you. And you need to show some emotion. I don’t know how to do any of this! This didn’t come up in my research.

Afterwards, I’m mentally drained.

I do make some effort to act “normally” in social situations. If I don’t try at all, I’ll come across as…well, I’m not quite sure. But, I assume as some variety of weirdo. I soon have another inspection. And this time I aim to try to seem ‘normal’, to have a bit of a chat, show some emotion, and definitely not pull out a list of questions. The lady who shows me around seems nice and I think I’m doing ok. Then I’m invited into the kitchen for a chat. The other two housemates are there. Having a conversation with three people, for me, makes it effectively impossible. I have no idea what to say. There are long pauses. I don’t know what they’re thinking. It must come across as extremely awkward. I am trying. When it’s mentioned that the dog has chewed the skirting board I comment that ‘the wood must taste good’. The first lady seems to find this funny. The other two just ignore me.

I don’t like to give up, but, I’m not getting any better at inspections. They’re all awkward.

I carry on. I don’t like to give up, but, I’m not getting any better at inspections. They’re all awkward. I can never seem to find the right moment to ask any pre-planned questions, and I’m too busy trying to concentrate on what they’re saying, responding correctly, not speaking too fast, or too slowly, or too quietly, making appropriate eye contact, and not stumbling over words, or making sure I haven’t accidentally said anything that may be misinterpreted as rude, to adequately identify the social cues, that I can, in the moment, that are necessary to have a good chat. I conclude that even with my best efforts I’m just coming across as a weirdo. I wonder if people have a natural prejudice towards those who are different? In nine weeks I have applied for 93 properties and attended 18 inspections. Being able to; ‘have a chat’, to say the ‘right’ things, and be liked, seems to be the password to access and navigate the social world. For me, the social world might as well be the scrambled signals of an enigma machine. I do give up.

I switch to plan B, just renting a place. I do a lot more research. I hope that selection is favoured to being reliable and financially stable. I start looking for inspections, on the first day I attend two, and submit applications. Within 24 hours I’ve been offered the lease to both of them. The search is over. And I can at least for now stop thinking about what strangers with a room to fill think of me.

Ben Halfpenny is a freelance writer. 

Finding a rental that feels like a home
Steps towards making a home – from adopting a cat to putting a hook in the wall – require written consent, putting the benefits of owning a pet or the pleasures of shaping your space squarely in the hands of a landlord.
What it is like being diagnosed with autism as an adult
There is a growing group of people receiving a diagnosis of ASD in adulthood.
The truth about surviving Sydney's rental market as an international student
As we were about to part, the agent said, “Let’s get a drink”. I was stunned and mumbled something about needing to go. I did not return his calls.
The relief of being diagnosed with autism as an adult
Instead of spitting us out, allow us in. Listen to the stories, the struggles; we don’t want your sympathy, we just want your support.