Yesterday saw some comments and one email about the challenge of being friends with men. This is an area rife with problems because commonly held social expectations have fallen down and the similarities between men and women are stressed to the expense of the differences.
Also the culture of divorce and the elevation of motherhood high, high above fatherhood has left many men spooked about losing their hearts, youth, children and, as some of them never cease to remind us, wallets to women. Meanwhile, the internet has the potential to wipe out any sense of mystery around sexual relations and therefore half the allure of women. I imagine some men may decide that they are better off completely dividing sex from marriage, and just have a lot of female buddies, one or two of whom serve as "friends with benefits."
Naturally I implore you never to become a "friend with benefits." If anecdote is to be believed, it is not that unusual for girls, particularly in very poor, western, male-dominated communities, to trot around to indulge the sexual whims of male friends they admire. I hope the anecdote is not true; it seems to be a theme of contemporary rap music, however. I suppose the girls (if they really exist) are telling themselves they are having fun.
Dear me, what a way to begin a post about friendships with men. Sorry about that.
Well, to tell you the truth, I did not have any real male buddies until I was 18. Although I socialized with boys, I could not say that any (except my one-year-younger brother) was a friend. And not all the men I socialized with, in the highly-charged environment of the teenage wing of the pro-life movement, were my friends--at least, not good friends. One of the boys was a genial bully. Another boy fought with me pretty constantly about feminism. Of them all, I socialize with only two today although I exchange friendly greetings, when I see them, with the boys who are now priests. And I pray for the two who have died.
Being a Catholic teenage girl around Catholic teenage men taught me one important life lesson: Catholic conservative men are afraid of feminists, feminism, Catholic feminism, Catholic feminists and anything that reminds them of such people and things. You can be as pro-life as Mother Teresa, and as politically active as Dorothy Day, and as philosophically brilliant as Elizabeth Anscombe, but if you say "I'm a feminist", you might as well shave your head and stick a nose-ring through your septum.
Of course, a lot of Catholic conservative men, like a lot of non-Catholic or liberal men, are jerks who feel personally insulted when they discover that some women, particularly women their own age, are smarter than them. Oh, the horror. But there we get into the whole subject of male competition. Men compete with men, and when called upon to do so, compete with women, and get annoyed when women change the rules or, in fact, win. Life must have been so much easier for men when they did not have to compete with women at all.
I'm trying to see it from their point of view. I hope they try to see it from ours.
Anyway, men don't hold much mystery for men, and from what I see, their friendships tend to consist in getting together at least once every three months to do something or drink beer and insult each other. (Married men friends bring their wives to dinner parties, and hopefully their wives get along, despite completely divergent politics or whatever, and have a high tolerance for the men's in-jokes, college memories and anecdotes about people the wives have never met.) When I was in the pro-life movement, there as certainly a lot of doing something and of the boys insulting each other and of various boys insulting me because for a whole year I was apparently next door to being a guy. I was apparently "not really a girl girl", an insult that has haunted me for over 20 years.
Oh, oh. In my mind's ear I hear my mother. She is saying, "Why have you allowed that foolish young man to blight your life?"
Me: It not a question of "allowed." He just did.
Aged P: It's been twenty years. Get over it.
Me: Do you think it's because I insisted that a woman could be Catholic and a feminist?
Aged P: I think he was angry because he saw himself as an intellectual but it was all for show, and your arguments threatened his view of himself. Men are hothouse plants. The slightest cold breeze and pffffffft.
Me: What if I had kept my mouth shut, and just written everything I thought in secret, and deliberately looked and acted like what the boys obviously though a Nice Catholic Girl should look like?
Aged P: Seraphic, you have a wonderful life with a husband who loves you for you. Don't look back. Lot's wife looked back, and now she's a Middle Eastern salt-lick.
Me: But I'm trying to advise my readers here. They want to have male friends, but on the other hand, they want to encourage eligible men to consider them more than friends.
Aged P: What about maidenly distance? Don't you usually harp on maidenly distance?
Me: Oh, yes. Thanks.
If you want to men to think of you as a woman, and not just one of the guys, I highly recommend wearing visual cues and establishing some clear boundaries. If you must wear jeans, wear fashionable ladies' jeans with fashionably girly tops. Wear women's clothes, not unisex clothes. If you must cut your hair, make sure it's not a man's haircut. Carry a handbag or bling your knapsack in a way a guy just wouldn't. (You can be sporty and do this too. I have a Hibernians Football Club t-shirt--studded with rhinestones.) Make some parts of your life, like your bedroom, completely off-limits to your male friends. This is not a chastity thing here; it is a mystery thing.
Meanwhile, if a guy asks you out on something that sounds like a date, but you are not sure if it is a date, I know no reason why you could not ask, "Is this a date or a friend thing?" In fact, I don't know why you could not ask "Is this a date or a friend thing?" at every invitation, so as to jog the male mind to remember that you are, in fact, a girl. Indeed, if he asks, however jocularly, "Does it matter?", you could say "Of course it matters! I'm a girl! I need to know!" Confidence and good cheer, that's the ticket.
Anyway, I hope this is helpful. As for men telling you long sagas about the girls they are in love with, don't pretend that they are girls and give them advice or make girl-soothing noises, unless you are old enough to be their mother. Suggest they talk to someone old enough to be their mother. Suggest they talk to your mother. Suggest they write to me.
Don't be a man-your-age's mother. If you feel like being flirtatious with the poor schnook, say "But Scooter! How can you possibly think about other girls when you're here with ME?" Whatever you do, don't sit there being nice. Men occasionally tell me some surprisingly frank things about what they think of women who catch their attention, but "She's so nice" has not been one of them.
Since I think it is important, I will reveal that B.A. fell in love with me when I was sitting in a very handsome drawing-room wearing a deep blue, knee-length shift dress and pearls listening to an elderly man tell salty anecdotes about a famous Oxford don. I had a terrible cold, but I sat up straight and my company manners were perfect or, at least, correct for an Edinburgh drawing-room. I was sooo lady-like, I am sure I did my mother proud.
Always bring a nice dress to Europe, even if you're backpacking, in case there is a party.