Engineering belonging.

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I recently had a chat on Twitter where we discussed the value of belonging and how it can be a better goal than happiness.

I mentioned i found it a better goal because it was easier to engineer. Someone asked me how. So I figured I’d write a blog post.

I’d say that I ‘belong’ in that I have a friendship group around me who are like family. They play a huge part in looking after me. They are folks who see the value I bring without thinking less of me because I need support. They understand my spiky profile.

I am the kid of the group. Not the youngest, not the least mature, but the one who needs the most day to day care and support. My friends joke it’s like having a 5 year old to look after. With all the same joys and challenges.

When I was in hospital recently the drs kept assuming one of my friends was my dad! He’s only 5 years older than me though other people in the group are 30 years older than me. There’s a 20 year age gap between the youngest person in the group and the oldest.

Our friendship group is all professionals relating to IT or law. We all met on online forums back in the early 2000s and all slowly moved to Romford to create a small cluster around a specific street.

Over time, the cluster grew. Slowly including wider family members. One of the people who does my support is a friends mum. She was a navel nurse and when she retired she also moved to Romford to join the group. She was always very good at helping me so in the end she got a part time job as a carer. It wasn’t intentional, it just kinda happened.

Another member of the friendship group was taking me to lots of events, and then ended up getting setup so he could support me via access to work. It wasn’t intentional. Just building on the foundation we had.

The group has worked in such a way that I made 1 major friend, and via them met a dozen more people and connections. I’ve also repeated this process. Making a new external friend and then being a gateway into the group for the new person.

We don’t share finances. We all have our own flats / house and we’re all financially independent. But we do share our lives with each other.

The group is distributed with relationships between the group members. For example two of my friends have been partners for 15 years and share a house. Another friend is their lodger, and there’s also a spare room that’s used by other friends who are visiting or if I need somewhere safe to hide for a few days. My boyfriend is part of the group, and I enjoy the occasional gentle sexy time with other folks. Variety is fun.

We got here slowly at first and then quickly. As people started physically relocating to be close to each other the cluster grew. A new person joins the group every few years.

This wasn’t ever designed as such, but the situation was engineered. I carefully chose where to move to when I got a job for the BBC. I made 100 small decisions to enable this situation to grow.

I also appreciate I am lucky. I am by far the most impaired person in the group, but I am also one of the highest earners. The fact I can offer a room for free to someone else in the group makes it easier. My flatmate is an engineering student. He’s right at the start of his career and we’re coming together as a group to support him through the first difficult years.

Importantly, my friends don’t treat me with pity. They love me as I am. We find the joy in life together.

It’s not always smooth sailing and in the last month the group has had a massive challenge with my illness. But we work together. Sort it out and overcome the barriers. We are a group of engineers and we engineer life so we can all thrive.


Spaced Out & Smiling is about exploring the fun side of Autism, and trying to understand what it means to be Autistically Happy.

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