Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Friends With Men

Sometimes I get an email that releases my inner cynic and I have to remind myself afterwards that (A) men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life and (B) lots of women have dear, platonic friends who are men. Even I have a few, collected gradually over 20 years.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,


I just found your blog the other day and have been reading through it almost obsessively. Thank you for doing what you do. Already it's helped me!

Perhaps you have already answered this kind of question, and in that case feel free to refer me to where ever you did, or copy and paste; I won't be offended.

I am a social person, and actually am moving in a few weeks from [big city on the west coast of the USA] to Virginia, so I will be needing to make friends, both male and female. I am wondering how to properly make friends with men without losing the feminine touch of 'receptivity' as it were.

I have on SO many occasions honestly tried to make platonic friends with males strictly, honestly, and completely for the sake of having another friend (see, I like having guy friends because then I can hang out with ppl who are much more laid back than the average girl, and so I have someone to watch football with and who will kill spiders. What woman doesn't?) However, the potential-platonic-male-friend reads my pursual of friendship as a manipulative desire to have his babies and wash his dentures when we're older. And then he runs.

Completely - from ever talking to me again if he can help it, when he doesn't even know if my APPARENT attention might be welcome, before he gets to know me, before he knows that I just want basic friendship....and [once was] is even rude enough to walk away mid conversation.

There is about a milisecond when I think I might have accidentally flirted with the potential-platonic-male-friend, but I certainly am NOT a flirt, actually, I'm terribly cautious about not flirting - touching thier arm, giggling, too much smiley eye contact are things I just don't do unless I really like a (already my friend for a while) guy, and even then I have to consciously muster the strength and creativity to do so. My already platonic guy friends (whom I have asked) ardently say that I'm not a Flirt. So why do these new men think I am?

Is there a proper amount of "sitting back" for women to do in strictly platonic relationships? I really want to be pursued in a romantic relationship one day, and I really don't want to be the chaser - but for heavens sake do I have to do that when the friendship is just starting out? When I'm not even interested in them romantically because I don't know them? How could they possibly think that I want to marry them when we met five seconds ago, or a month ago, even? How am I supposed to maintain known platonic friendships with guys without making them feel that I yearn for them desperately? Is pursual in itself flirting?

I realize too that this is something men deal with often, and even in my own experience I have thought that a "just wanna be friends" guy is actually trying to have MY babies:) However, I'm still nice to him and don't drive him away, and then we end up being the platonic friends that he wanted in the first place.

Men are so cryptic. Please help me!

Thanks so much,
Friends with Men

Dear Friends with Men,

I just got your message, and I will ponder it at length. But my first response is that men don't really know how to do the female friendship thing. In general, men are not interested in making platonic woman friends once they leave college. Occasionally they make friends with women colleagues, but that is because they are thrown together every day and at work men are forced to interact with women as if they were guys.

It is a million times easier to make friends with women, and even that is hard after college, unless you can find women who have very recently moved town, too.

Hopefully more later in the morning after I have slept on it. But I am afraid the heart of the matter is that post-college American men in general aren't that interested in platonic women friends, and they will almost always take friendly overtures as sexual interest. Yes, that is certainly depressing.

Grace and peace,

I am sorry to say that, after pondering the issue at length, I completely forgot about this email. And the only advice I have to add to it is that my reader might want to consider a controlled environment in which men will be more-or-less forced to speak to her. Her workplace should provide this, but if that proves inadequate, there is night school. I taught writing classes for three years, and it was always awesome to see when a classroom of random strangers turned into a group. Community gelled.

When you have an authority figure like a teacher calling the shots, men simply cannot assume you are talking to them because you want them. I bet Little Theatre would work too, as there would be a director and a stage manager. (My ex-thespian husband, whose platonic female friends are mostly over 50, adds that it really helps if there's an age gap, though.)

I cannot adequately underscore how different life is after high school or undergraduate university. My guess is that women who have many platonic men friends collected them before they graduated, or share or shared the same workplace, or met them through AA or other Twelve Step groups. In many, many cases, the question of whether they were ever going to be a couple was settled so long ago, the women have forgotten there ever was one.

Meanwhile, I beg you girls--I beg you on my knees--to stop thinking that men are just like women. Unless they are priests or monks and/or have "deep-seated homosexual tendencies," young women are to them first and foremost potential mates. This is completely natural, and nothing to cry about. Once you are married, or pregnant, or over 37 or so, you will not find this as much of a problem, if problem you think it.

My guess is that it is much, much easier to be platonic friends with twenty-something guys when you are my age, e.g. too old (or almost too old) to be sexually interesting to twenty-something guys. Again: age gap. And since Nature, like Auntie Seraphic, has a double standard, the best age gap for platonic friendship is when the woman is way older than the man. Many a sixty year old man has gone googly for a twenty-something girl. Only very rarely does a twenty-something boy go googly for a grandma.

Finally, women-who-prefer-the-company-of-men, I wish that you would stop thinking that men are so much better than women. Yes, I realize that women can be absolute bitches. I know that. But the simple fact of the matter--and it is a great tragedy, and probably a result of the Fall--is that women want to hang out with men more than men want to hang out with women. Have some dignity.

P.S. Lots of women watch football, even American football.


Anonymous said...

"women want to hang out with men more than men want to hang out with women"

This is sort of true, but many a man will try to hang out with a woman, or women, in the hope of finding a mate and on the *pretext* of friendship. It's possible that some of your correspondent's previous male friends fall into that category, though of course that may be unfair and inaccurate.

Meanwhile, your correspondent has moved from the "laid back" west coast to the Old South (Virginia), where manners, outside the new suburbs, can be rather more formal, or so I've been told. Perhaps this, as much as the change from school to the post-college way of life, may affect men's willingness to believe that she just wants friendship. Perhaps an American, or better yet, a Virginian, might have something to add?


p.s. A good place to meet men for friendship is groups like hiking/outdoor clubs.

Julie said...

If you like to watch football, then seek out people who like to watch football. If your alma mater has a football team there is probably an alumni club that hosts game watches in bars. That's pretty much all my local alumni club does. Football is the easiest thing on earth, you can sound people out with it in any setting -- sports are one step away from weather on the appropriate conversation scale -- and then you have an automatic premise for setting up a party or a group outing to a bar or getting invited along. Plus people who are established in a place and like football usually have a network of people who they watch football with. Have you ever played fantasy football? etc.

I'm trying really hard here in the new year to not go obsessing over "does he think I think he thinks I love him?" Personally, I have no idea if men start thinking about babies (?) if I walk over and introduce myself at some e.g. coffee hour. But I do know, if I'm being honest, that my mind shoots off in romantic directions when a man comes over and talks to me. So on the principle that I can control myself and not others, and given a situation where I want to make friends, I'm going to try and make friends by being friendly. I guess here in the new year I'd rather just have the disastrously awkward conversation after the fact than spend all my energy trying to out maneuver someone.

A lot of the Virginia detail depends of course on where in VA. Around the DC area there is a lot going on. But the rest of the state, I understand, is much more (stereo)typically Southern. I haven't lived in Northern Virginia in a long time, but the way I remember it is that there are a lot of structured clubs/activities; there are a lot of (young and youngish) people who move to DC, of course, for their careers in law or politics or whatever, and so even the social activities tend to be kind of business like and oriented toward people who are new in town and not necessarily "settled" or planning to live there forever.

Kimmy said...

Speaking as an american (albeit married) thirty-something gal, I can absolutely second the idea that young single men really will have no use for platonic friendships with young single women. Yet, slightly older married or single men (starting at 40) will happily receive or pursue platonic relationships with single or married women who are at least ten years their junior (according to my observations).

The setting is important too (like Seraphic said), as I have successfully made a number of dear male friends in my Bible class - who I'm not sure I normally would've had two words for outside of that particular environment. But generally, I think separation in age is what makes these friendships work, since any males my age, in that same class, seem to be totally unavailable to friendship.

Also, I know it's not just the factor of me being married that helps because I have two single female friends (exact same age as me) who are also in the class and are just as platonically close to those same male friends as I am.

Anyway, hope this helps. And to Seraphic: Just found your wonderful blog a couple days ago - and even though I'm not a single, I just love reading all that you have to say! I hope you'll permit me to comment now and then. Keep up your awesomeness!!

Kimmy in Denver

Seraphic said...

Thank you all! Clio, perhaps I should stress that is is women who want to hang out with men as FRIENDS more than men want to hang out with women as friends.

I agree that men love to hang out with women when they are trying their luck or when they are trying to spend as much time with one of the women as possible without having to risk rejection by asking her out. But in general, I have discovered that boys' night really is boys' night, no girls allowed, thanks.

Incidentally men who aren't into the whole chastity thing have no problem sleeping with women friends--"friends with benefits"--and therefore their sexual interest alone, no matter how nice they are, should not be mistaken for true love. As the infamous Rules points out, there exists the lazy man who has absolutely no problem succumbing to the wiles of attractive Ms Wrong, just so long as he never, ever has to commit.

To pre-empt chivalrous Catholic men who will, in a starry-eyed fashion and flying the banners of their virgin-whore complexes, leap in the combox to tell me that all NCGs are safe from such heartbreak because no NCG in the HISTORY OF THE WORLD has ever had premarital sex, I will point out yet again that you save yourself a lot of guesswork if you simply refuse to have sex before you are married.

Crabby Today said...

I usually post under a different psuedonym, but this particular issue makes me so very very crabby, and I'd rather keep that particular vulnerability a bit more private, if possible.

My beef is as follows: Why on the dear Lord's green earth would I want to MARRY someone who found my most basic qualities (aka, the feminine ones) utterly unappealing to be around day-to-day? What the heck is so wrong with me that I'm totally worthless in the eyes of all these men UNLESS they (seemingly at random) deem me worthy of actually marrying them? Why the devil do they WANT to marry a girl if they don't like being around girls? None of it makes an iota of sense to me at all.

Wanting to be around them on a reasonably frequent basis is not the same as "invading" guy's night. I'm not asking for a girlfriend level of chumminess here. They could have plenty of guys' nights and still be friends with me.

I can't even articulate how furious it makes me to be told that as far as the majority of men in my life are concerned, I'm just sort of inflicting my pitiful, irritating presence on them, and I should just be ok with that.


Seraphic said...

Sigh. Look, it's not that men-past-college have a problem with women per se (except when they do). It's that men usually find women complicated, and being around us all the time can tucker a fellow out. It may be like how sometimes, when you are living abroad, you just want to go somewhere where everyone speaks English.

Women are particularly confusing and tiring we they look totally hot but just want to be one of the guys. This can get extremely annoying and frustrating, too, especially for men who aren't married and therefore don't have much of a sexual outlet.

Just as women very often love to get together and talk nineteen-to-the-dozen and drink and shriek in perfect female solidarity, so men very much want to be accepted by other men, as men together, and just BE men together, with no women around them to giggle and wink and yet arm wrestle them and beat them at darts or whatever.

Then you have the men who simply want a girlfriend or a wife and are sick of "let's be friends" from yet another Single woman, and would rather be friends with guys, thanks.

Putting up with our confusing and often frustrating womanly ways (like mind-reading and expecting men to be able to read minds, too) often takes true love and very likely the grace of the sacrament of marriage.

Anyway, sometimes men do enjoy making platonic friends with women, so it's not about misogyny. It's about balance and cheerful acceptance that they would never want to go to bed with us, either.

And men usually do enjoy our womenly ways if they come with sex (or the possibility of sex) attached, let's face it. It isn't the femininity that bugs them. It's the pseudo-masculinity.

Finally, men do not need friends the way that women need friends. Women are actually programmed to make friends. Men are programmed more to co-operate. They love to feel part of a group, but not in the same way women do.

Being a girl's girl, I just do not understand why women are so interested in making friends with men when woman are so much better at conversation, feelings, advice, and being funny without being crude.

As far as I am concerned, men are for looking at, dancing with, occasionally flirting with, having babies with, working with, cooking for, getting to fix stuff, saying Mass and mothering, if you can get away with it. Sometimes they are interesting to talk to, but what do they know about history, politics, etc., that equally educated women don't?

Bottom line: men just aren't women.

Seraphic said...

Anyway, I am talking about men-as-friends here, not men as co-workers, colleagues, mentors, students and employees. Most men I've met have had absolutely no problem being on a formal, professional, collegial wavelength with women. It's when women are unprofessional in professional circumstances (sharing our FEELINGS, etc.) that men often get uncomfortable.

I have a neighbour who was thanked by her male professor for being the only woman in his class who did not come to him crying and asking his advice regarding her personal life. She was shocked that women did that, and said she never did because she had FRIENDS to talk to.

sciencegirl said...

I am annoyed because my comment earlier did not post, but it was about football anyway. The SuperBowl is coming up, so you should be hearing about parties for that soon & can make a lot of friends there. If you have a big screen TV yourself, host your own party and it will be great fun. I have no big TV, so I am dependent on the extravagant expenditures of others.

Friendship is one of the few aspects of life when people really get to choose exactly what they want, and I think that's a wonderful thing. It's arbitrary, and it's supposed to be. You can't pick your family, and most people can't even pick what kind of person they find attractive (I mean not just sexual orientation, but liking blonds, rugby players, or snarky hipsters). I like having male friends, so lucky for me I work in a field with loads of men at work who talk to me about work and all the cute things their kids do. I really like having friends outside my field. Not everyone wants to be friends with a scientist or with a woman or even with an incredibly gorgeous, unspeakably delightful female scientist like yours truly. I have found that rather than pursuing friendships with disinterested men or women, it is far more fun to make good friends with the weirdos who are interested in me! Lessons of 7th grade never die.

It sounds like the letter-writer is really nice & fun, and I'm glad she is so friendly. I'm sure she will soon make great friends in her new town. There are probably people right now noticing how much fun she is and hoping to get to know her better.

Ellie said...

One day I was complaining to my older brother about a guy I to which I had given the "just friends" speech. His short and direct response was, "we're guys...we never want to be just friends".

I think he had a point.

Nicole Margaret said...

I think it's very sad that girls don't want to hang out with girls. I remember being confused in high school that girls frequently said that they get along better with guys and really didn't like girl-friends. They usually admitted this to a group of girls. I was always insulted and wondered why nobody else was--including the person admitting this.

Ironically, because a lot my girl-friends have gotten married and are in a different phases of their lives...the people I keep in touch with most from college are boys. Living a plane ride away probably helps keep the friendship strictly platonic. And I'll admit...my friendships with these guys are more activity and common interest based. I do not call them up when I need to have a heart-to-heart.

Additionally, I live in an area where there just aren't a lot of single people period. Most of the single people I do know are men. I'd love some close female friends. For a long time, I had no choice to be friends with just guys. So I think that sometimes, it's just not easy as saying "no" to co-ed friendships. I think understanding the boundaries and potential messy-ness are important.

KimP said...

If "Friends With Men" is coming to the Richmond, Virginia area, please contact me and I can hook you up! We have a Catholic Singles group that usually has a Super Bowl party. It a great group to hang out with because its emphasis isn't on dating, but just spending time doing fun things with people who share your faith and values.

Also, it should be known that LOTS of southern American women LOVE football. I'm one of them. (War Eagle!)

As for being friends with Southern men: this could be a whole book. But let me just say that I believe most Southern men would be pleased, flattered, and maybe a little confused by a woman being friendly, but I don't believe for a second that they would rude. And they enjoy women who love football. You are going to love it here!

The Crescat said...

where to in Va... I can always use another gal pal. :-)

Anonymous said...

PS. The nightclub scene I described was a pretty large event, filmed and posted online, so I'm confident that I'm not mentioning anything that was private in any way.

PPS. I'm pleased to note the endorsement of Southern men that Kim posted since I began writing and trust that none of them would rudely flee a woman speaking to them.....While I cannot comment on Southern football culture, as a Canadian I do feel compelled to apologize for Neil Young's most unfair portrayal of those men living on the better side of the Potomac!


Anonymous said...

Ooops... I hope it's not a computer glitch, but only the closing lines of my post are showing.



Anonymous said...

Just wanted to add, in defense of those women who say they have some difficulty making friends with other women: it's, er, complicated for some of us, especially those who are Catholic and/or have intellectual pretensions but do not regularly meet other Catholic women with similar interests.

One of the reasons I have found it hard to befriend other women was that we were often miles apart on matters like sexual ethics, abortion, foreign affairs, politics, contraception, men, and, well, almost any thing else you care to name. I was seldom actually ostracized for not sharing other women's opinions on these matters, but obviously there were whole areas of conversation in which I couldn't take part freely without the risk of offending someone.

In my 20s and 30s, I was hungry enough for female friendship that I usually ignored the problem, but as I grew older I grew more impatient and less willing to sit silently while others attacked some of my most cherished beliefs, which they did quite freely, even knowing that I disagreed.

In the end I found that while it was possible to have one on one friendships with women whose views differed radically from mine, it was too painful to "hang out" with them in groups. Someone was always getting angry with me. (I especially cherish the memory of one discussion of that cretinous pseudo-historical documentary on witchcraft, "The Burning Times.") Among men, on the other hand, even when they disagreed with me, I found that they were willing to hear me out without taking personal offense.


The Crescat said...

KimP... please tell me more about this single's group in Richmond, Va. I am frequently in that city visiting friends. I went to VCU. Thanks.


theobromophile said...

Former Virginian here: Southerners love their football like Alaskans love their hockey.

Now... Seraphic, why the shot at women who have man friends or get along better with men than with women? I'm sorry, darling dear, but it's not my dignity at issue in this debate: it's yours. Maybe you've internalised some nasty things that men have said to you. Maybe you've mostly tried to befriend men who are just not really that evolved. But that is YOUR issue, and implying that we have no dignity because (heaven forbid) men as well as women happen to enjoy our company is completely ridiculous.

Seraphic said...

Okay, both Clio and Theobrom have taken this somewhere else.

Look, I don't have problems with women who easily make men friends. If you enjoy being one of the guys, and it doesn't cause you any grief or loss, that is great. Why not? If that's who you are, that's who you are. Being perpetually one of the guys can get in the way of ever being taken seriously as a potential wife, but this is not always the case.

The one thing is that women find it insulting when women tell us that they "prefer the company of men" as if men were so much superior to women. And, indeed, being the first woman CEO of SuperMegaMaleTron does not make a woman ontologically superior to a beloved mother who sews for a living. The first woman to play for the National Hockey League, poor woman, is not a better player than the best players on the Canadian Women's Olympic Hockey Team. Au contraire.

I understand that it can be a challenge being friends with women, especially if you are counter-cultural. Female friendship often thrives on consensus. Some serious diplomacy comes in handy from time to time.

But if you chase after men for ANY REASON, whether to be your husbands, boyfriends, lovers, adopted brothers, adopted sons, bestest friends or any other deep emotional relationship, it shows a lack of dignity.

Bottom line is that reader wanted to know how to make men her friends, and I said she can't. You can't make men do stuff they don't want to do or feel stuff they don't want to feel.

Seraphic said...

Incidentally, reading quickly and then putting the worst spin on what I say, taking it as a personal attack, is uncharitable.

Seraphic said...

And I really don't get your personal attack, Theobromophile.

Jennifer said...

"Being a girl's girl, I just do not understand why women are so interested in making friends with men when woman are so much better at conversation, feelings, advice, and being funny without being crude."

I have not found this to be universally true. The majority of my close male friends (none of whom are Catholic or indeed even religious) are gentlemen who would rather die a thousand deaths than fart, burp, curse, or make coarse jokes around women. Most of the deeply satisfying conversations I've had in the past...oh...25 years have been with close male friends. Ditto some of the best, smartest, most heartfelt advice. They are my band of non-family brothers.

I love my women friends (several of whom self-identify as either Catholic or Episcopalian) too, but among those women friends are more than a few who can't have a conversation that doesn't involve gossip, details of their sex lives, the reality show du jour, and/or the f-bomb. I haven't met hordes of these paragons of womanly conversation and advice that you mention. Not for lack of trying, God knows. Some, sure - but not nearly enough of 'em to provide empirical evidence that women are *better* at advice and conversation or less crass than their male counterparts.  

When the chips are down, I don't prefer my male friends because I'm not a girly girl, or because I think men are superior to women. I prefer them because they are the ones who've been dependable and who understand me and love me anyway, and who do not mortify me with crass conversation. I've had less success in this regard with women, not because women are less than men - I think that's just the way things have shaken out in my life. I've certainly not bothered to artificially skew the male to female ratio of my friendships by only or mainly seeking out male friendships.

I've said this before, but I think it bears repeating: we're not all like you. Not everyone is a 'girls girl' - whether by accident or inclination. And seeing something through the very subjective lenses of your own experience and personal preferences isn't the same thing as a universal truth.