I was charmed to see, on an internet chat room I had to sign up for, one of my Single female readers (yay!) trying to get a discussion going about whether men and women can be friends. She said that from now on she was going to spend more time with female friends.
Now this was a site for the homeschooled, so I was surprised to see that the avatar for the principal male conversationalist (age 22) seemed to be himself in Matrix bug-eyed sunglasses pointing a pistol at the reader. As I stared down the barrel of the gun, I thought, "Way to go, homeschooling!"
But what I found fascinating about the conversation were the different ways in which female Sarah and male Izod communicated:
Sarah (avatar of Mad Hatter--interesting as women often say/think they are crazy): Introduces topic. Undercuts its importance by saying "Just a discussion topic... fell free to take it where you want."
Izod (avatar of self with gun): Aggressively writes "Namely?" (Is he cool or what?)
Sarah: Stalls for time. "Namely what?"
Izod: Asks for clarification. (Better, good boy.)
Sarah: Explains. (Good girl.)
Izod: Asks another question; one Sarah basically answered in her first post. (Not so good.)
David (a new male interlocutor, age 17, avatar of sports game): Pretends to have realized Sarah is in love with him. (Typical male humour.)
Sarah: Chastizes David, but ends with a conciliatory :-) emoticon.
Izod: Launches into a pseudo-philosophical tone ("false assumption"), talks of quite a few close friends who are girls, and he knows they aren't interested in more than friendship with him because they said so. (Ha! And if not, why not? How does "their type" differ from him?)
Sarah: Points out Izod has had to have that discussion, though. (Good girl, Sarah! You're on track to what you're trying to say.)
Izod: Basically agrees with what Sarah said in the first place, but strangely sounds like he is arguing with someone.
Andy (third guy, avatar of Frodo): Says he would say something (is he in on a secret?) but Sarah would kill him.
Andy: Flirts back. (I am liking Andy. Andy sounds like a funny guy.) Ends with 'smiling devil' emoticon. (Interesting!)
Izod: Argues some more. Cites a chaste visit with a now-married woman he was raised with to knock down a straw argument.
Sarah: Expresses self-doubt. (No! Don't do that! Too many women do that, this saying "Oh dear, this breakdown in communication must be MY fault.") Links to ME. (Women like the support of other women, none of this Lone Cowboy stuff for us, and I'm happy to help.)
Izod: Reproduces a few of my quotes and reads a lot into what I wrote. (More straw-man arguing. I was not, for example, talking about "boyfriend-girlfriend" arrangements. That's a whole other topic.) Asks Sarah (rather nastily) if she can think for herself.
End of conversation (so far). Sarah was the only woman to take part.
This conversation was the most Mars versus Venus thing I have seen in a month of Sundays, right down to Sarah's make-you-feel-better emoticons and the mouth of Izod's gun. (If I had to choose between chatting with Gun-Man, Sports-Boy and Frodo-Guy, I'd go with Frodo-Guy, personally.)
People love to talk. In general, women use conversation to exchange practical information, work out ideas and create bonds. In general, men use language, not to bond, but to compete. Interestingly, in her conversational adventure, Sarah encountered two typical male responses to women: flirtation and you're-wrong.
What I don't get is why Sarah introduced the topic in what seems to be a male-dominated forum in the first place. The only reason to bother to say "I'm gonna hang out with girls more and guys less" to men is to see if they say, "No, don't go, we'll eat you up, we love you so" like the monsters to Max in Where the Wild Things Are. Some of my male dinner guests seem mildly affronted (and sometimes envious) when I take off with all the women at the coming of the port.
I don't really have a problem with men and women being friends. I have a problem with men and women being Bestest Buddies in a way that prevents women from meeting and being courted by men who might want to marry them (e.g. falling right smack into "Older Sister" mode so often they forget how to present themselves as eligible, marriagable women).
Izod's female friend example was a now-married woman he was raised with. Well, duh. Of course there is no problem with that. What is a problem is when you (a Searching Single) wake up at 35 and realize that you have have had ten Best Male Friends, eight of whom have dropped you because now they're married, and two who keep crying to you about the girls they love.
I remember, after listening for weeks to an ex-boyfriend obsess about the girl he eventually would marry, telling him that I was unhappy that so far I still hadn't found the right man.
"Maybe you should try women," he quipped.
Stunned, I burst into tears just as he said "Oh, uh, sorry, I shouldn't have said that."
No, he shouldn't have. It seared my soul. But that is the kind of dumb thing young guys do say because, in general, they just don't have the emotional-verbal skills. But girls do, which is why they make better friends. And no doubt why men want girls as friends.
The question is, why do women want men as friends, and is what men friends provide actually enough for a Single woman? What if she's the one doing all the hand-holding, and they're the ones saying, "Why not try women, hyuk hyuk?" I have friends who had rude awakenings about friendships with needy seminarians or male religious who, the minute the girls needed a shoulder to cry on, were suddenly cautious of their "vocation" and "inner freedom".
Here's another story about men, women and words: As an undergrad, I organized all-women poetry parties. They were great fun. At the first one, twenty or so women crammed into my room, drank red wine, ate ceviche, and read our favourite poems or poems we had written ourselves. We got tipsy--but we were safe. We were all girls, and it didn't matter what we looked like and how we sounded. We could let our hair down, we could risk reading our private thoughts. It was a hoot.
After some reciprocal parties, I got the idea of asking a male poet to join us. He was a nice guy, and the hostess was tolerant of my crush on him. So he was invited. The women smiled upon him, although a few didn't want to read their poems anymore. Then he read his poems, and they were BRUTAL, offensive and positively drenched in testosterone. After that, no woman would read her poems. They were all too intimidated. And when I asked the man why he had read those poems, he said it was his way of coping with being the only guy there.
Being married, I enjoy hanging out with my husband and his friends, who are becoming my friends, too, I hope. They are interesting, clever and funny. But if I really, really needed emotional support for something, and just talking to my husband wasn't enough, I know exactly what I'd do. I'd either see if a female friend was on Facebook live-chat, or I'd hit the Skype button and call my mum.
(As a mental experiment, I've just imagined turning up, weeping, at the doors of three of my husband's bachelor friends:
Bach 1: Ay, right. Ahm. Ahh... Ahm. Wouldje--I doan know--like a drink or somethin'?
Bach 2: (Look of abject horror.)
Bach 3: (Look of abject horror.)
But B.A. does have a divorced friend in his sixties, and I think he would know just what to say, which would be, "Come in and have a cup of tea, dear. Let's sort this out.")
Update: In fairness, some men try to step up to the plate when you need a shoulder to cry on. For example, my housemate Jon did his best when... Well, you'll find it in The Book.