Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A Conversation

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.

Sarah: Flirts.

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.


theobromophile said...

I think you're hitting on the underlying problem with male-female friendships: that they can be very unidirectional.

Now, as someone who (truth be told) spent her Friday night crying to her best male friend (Married, to a woman whom he's been with since secondary school - yay!), who happily lent a shoulder to her, I don't think that one-way friendship is a necessary component of male-female friendships.

One-way friendship is also not the exclusive province of male-female interaction. I've definitely had some heartbreaking situations in which, after years of having been emotionally supportive to women, they refused to give me even a small amount of that in return.

Seraphic said...

Re: the selfish women, as my Inner Child would say, that sucks.

I'm glad you have a good cry-on-the-shoulder male friend. Married men are often more clued in, I think, because, if they weren't already, they had to learn to be.

I hope it is clear enough that I'm talking about Single women dealing with Single men and vice versa. The problems I'm trying to solve are "Why Do All the Men See Me Only as A Friend?" and "How Can I Stop Falling in Love with Men who Love to Eat my Brownies but Aren't in Love With Me?"

Sarah said...

Oh gosh. :P How'd you hear about BOL?

Anyway, the conversation didn't exactly "end" there. I wound up privately messaging Izod explaining that I didn't intend for the topic to become a debate.

After a couple back and forth messaged between us about why we feel the way we do about platonic friendships between the sexes, we kind of just agreed to disagree.

However, it's not exactly male dominated. It's pretty evenly split for the most part, though lately, we've been trying to revive the board by posting more, and the only ones who seem to have time/be willing to do so are several boys... and me.

Seraphic said...

Sarah! I'm glad you aren't mad at me for doing a gender deconstruction of your BOL chat!

(BOL left an electronic trail on my stats counter, and I was dying to see what was said.)

It does not surprise me at all that you emailed Izod to tell him you weren't trying to have a debate. Your tone was conciliatory all the way through. It was Izod who had an aggressive, debating tone. In short, Izod doesn't know how to message like a girl, with all the cues and codes and linguistic patterns we use without thinking to make sure everyone in a talk is comfortable.

Did you know that girls in all-girls schools do better than girls in co-ed schools, but that boys in co-ed schools do better than boys in all-boys schools? Why is that, I wonder.

I don't spend much time talking online to men at all--unless they have asked me for help or are apologizing for something. It would never occur to me to get them to discuss any social topic, especially on Boy-Girl stuff. Absolutely not. Definitely Girl Department.

Lemons said...

Oh, by the way, Sarah on BOL and Lemons here are the same person. I just like to keep my aliases separate, but thinking about it more, I don't really see any reason to at the moment, so no biggie.

Seraphic said...

Oh, Lemons! I did not know that was you. Really, all this pseudonymity gets confusing. I don't think it matters. But you gave me an interesting topic to write about!

Seraphic said...

By the way, Lemons, I don't know if you know that young man in "real life", but he was really rude to you and--Catholic, homeschooled, whatever--that avatar and the little violent cartoon of Neo suggest Issues.

sciencegirl said...

More like they suggest male teenager. Sadly, many of them consider online gentility to mean refraining from curse words and explicit insults.

bolyongok said...

Ah, BOL... those were the days. I was Finrod on there, btw, which caused a few 'WTF' moments. In hindsight, I should have picked a female name, but I was 14 when I joined and I didn't want to follow the trend of 'Glorfindel's Girl' (an awesome lady I really respect), by just attaching 'girl', 'Mrs' 'etc.' to the name of my all-time-fictional-love-of-my-life.
But I digress...
I've been reading the combox from the other post and this post with great interest.
I will say I had more male friends as a teen than I do now, because I was in male-dominated atmospheres, like soccer and JROTC. Then it was okay, _now_ not as much. I'm a grownup- more or less.
I have only a few male friends now. One or two I have past baggage with but we've reached an understanding and things are much better now. But the others I like to think of as references to some extent. I refer to them _after_ my hopes/dreams have been crushed regarding a different guy. They usually tell me that he was an idiot with only one thing in mind anyway and I feel better. It's not sympathy and understanding as much as it is a few-holds barred verbal attack on some guy they (usually) don't even know. They tell me (sometimes a bit crudely) I could do a lot better and I shouldn't settle.
But I don't ask these guys out to coffee, nor would they invite me. They are casual friends.
My bestest-guy-friend ever stopped being that when he got married- his wife keeps him on a very short leash.
Sorry, this is a kind of rambly comment...

Lemons said...

I've never met him in real life. But the fact of the matter is that most of the members of BOL have "known" each other for years.

So, while everyone bickers occasionally and have to be reminded to keep the spirit of charity, we usually work it out. My private message to him pretty much did consist of "dude. not cool." And his response was an apology. I think he just happened to feel strongly about this subject.

Seraphic said...

Bolyongok! You, too, know of this strange civilization?

Let me get this straight: for years and years there has been this website for homeschooled kids? Which I (age 39) could join in two seconds? Without revealing my real name? And talk to as many sheltered young homeschooled kids as I...? I thought the whole point of homeschooling was to keep your kids away from the influence of dodgy strangers! (For the record, I'm not dodgy, but I could have been dodgy.)

Seraphic said...

Lemons, I'm glad you said "Dude, not cool."

So far all the men drawn into the debate are passionate about their unfettered access to young female friendship. Hmm... IN-ter-est-ing...

Lemons said...

Well, now I feel a need to defend BOL a little. It's a strange dynamic we have, there, I admit. But the fact is that the Catholic world is small, and everyone has met at least *someone* as one of the only ways to know about BOL is through word of mouth (as of right now, we don't even come up on google.) I heard about it from a boy at church, who knows so and so, who knows so and so, who knows him, who knows her.

Most of the current adults (if not parents) are members who joined when they were as young as 13, and that was back when everyone was only in middle school and high school. But many of us have become quite close, and their correspondence has meant as much to me as some of the friends I have in person. (something I'm sure you understand having met your husband online)

Most of the adult members have met up with each other, in fact, Izod has met almost 60 members. My count is significantly lower, unfortunately.

And of the couple that pop up (like you) that we don't know, we are extremely wary. And we have some pretty strict mods and admins who are quick to ban people who don't provide sufficient background.

You don't have to post this one since it's not really related to the topic. BoredOnline just means a lot to me and the other members, and we're trying to get more kids to join to save it from totally dying off, and we're trying to solve the problem of all these vets like me and Izod who are over 18, graduated, but just never went away! lol. So I just didn't want people to get a bad idea of it because they don't understand it.

bolyongok said...

The origins of BOL are the Seton boards, so there was (might still be) a high percentage of Setonites. Originally some people (self included) posted threads that were not directly school related. Then the founders of BOL created the Bored, announced it on the Seton boards and we packed up enmasse and moved over. I was active on it until sophomore year of college when I started meeting enough people IRL that I started to forget I had an account there.
As far as security goes, yeah, it's pretty open access. But I know that plenty of parents (my own included) would complain at length and occasionally ban their children from 'time wasting' on BOL. And I think that there are enough older teen and young adult members on BOL that they police their board fairly well. I don't really know though. Haven't been on in ages...

AveLady said...

Cool! BOLers! Finrod, I remember you! I was... sheesh I don't remember anymore... penguin something? desertpenguin or kewlzerpenguin probably. I wasn't on terribly long.

Anyway, if Izod is Izod_Folger, I have to give the poor fellow a defense: I do know him in person (we went to the same college for a spell) and he's a perfectly good-hearted guy. He is blunt like that in person and it's a fault, but his voice/body language are not aggressive in real life (I think many people, guys especially, come across that way on the internet very easily). I know that the vouching of one disembodied internet person for another doesn't do much good, but I wanted to say something. I don't know him that well, but I can say for him that he has plenty of friends - guys and girls - and is rather fiercely loyal to them , which might explain (though not excuse) such a strong reaction. Plus, I know he's into film so I would guess his avatar is some character from a movie he's interested in... but that's neither here nor there. Sorry for the tangent, but I just had to put in a little character defense.

Seraphic Spouse said...

No need to defend BOL, dear Lemons. I am sure it is a generational thing. The principal of a super-private, super-strict parent-run school for girls told me that the parents wanted to control what boys their daughters met. I said, "But the girls will just talk to the boys in the bus station." Nowadays, girls will just talk to boys online. It is the way of the Young!

Bolyongok, thanks for the background.

I would like to make it clear, given the recent horrible crimes perpetuated on women and children through the internet, that I knew two of BA's friends from phone conversations, and indeed spoke to BA himself on the phone, and googled BA and his friends madly, before I met BA. (One of his former students, a Wiccan, listed him as one of her favourite lecturers ever! BA's googlable friends were both very active in the Catholic Church in Britain.) Meanwhile, another of BA's friends (a long term reader) kept sending me BA's photograph and gossipy bits of information about BAs dating past.

Being safe with your heart (and your very life) on the internet is a very interesting topic, and maybe I will blog on that tomorrow!

Seraphic said...

Um, absolutely no-one would know who I was talking about if BOL hadn't been mentioned in this comment stream. I deliberately didn't name it or link to it. I was judging the conversation solely on the conversation, in New Critic fashion, noting the differences as theories of gender have laid them out (not so New Critic).

As I assume Izod is not this young man's real name, I assumed it would do him no harm to bandy it about on my blog.

Live by the gun-toting avatar, be judged by the gun-toting avatar. But at least now I have learned about an interesting sub-culture website.

Seraphic said...

Last point. The beauty of the internet is that, if the writer doesn't provide a photo, you judge them solely by what they say and how they say it. You also judge them by what images they choose to represent themselves. Class, ethnic group, race, citizenship, sometimes even (as in this case) their real name--all unknown.

AveLady said...

All true, Seraphic. And I wasn't sure it was a good idea for me to bring up anything personal about the fellow at all here, but since Lemons still chats with him and I happened to know good things about his "in person"-ality... it just seemed unjust to be completely silent on the subject.

Lemons said...


Don't worry at all about *my* thinking badly of Izod. I don't think any less of him because of this. Disagreements happen. He cracks me up most of the time and I generally think he's pretty darn awesome. :) I'd love to meet him someday.

It's cool to see some more BOLers here! :)

Emma, long-time reader, rare commenter said...

This is crazy - to run into BOLers reading Seraphic! While I was not active on BOL, my sister (TheresaMF) and I were very active on it's predecessor The Bored and before that The Seton Boards. Great short history Bolyongok! Your earlier alias (Finrod) sounds familiar, were you around in the early days of the Bored history before the transfer to BOL?

Seraphic, indeed as Lemons said the Catholic World is small and when it's a Homeschooling Catholic World that gets smaller still. So it's basically a game of "degrees of separation" - you're bound to know someone or someone who knows someone when you gather us together online!