Thursday, 5 December 2013

Friends with Men

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.


RichieDynasty said...

Hi Auntie! :)
Before anything. when i went to Europe, I did bring a dress but since it was really REALLY cold--almost everyday was -2 degrees, I had no choice but to wear three layers of clothes every single time. I am also not the girly-girl type. I have a lot of guy-friends (and believe me one of them recommended me to read your blog!!). I find it quite interesting how they can actually be competitive with anyone and yes, I must agree, they like to compete with women too!! Before i had a dilemma when it comes to wearing the appropriate clothes when i hang with the guys, but now that I am a bit more "aware", I kinda know what should be worn, and I guess, when it comes to being frank with them I tend to be scared sometimes (is this a date?! or a friend thing?) but of course, to those guys which I am very close to I can easily tell/ask them anything. :)

Seraphic said...

Europe is indeed terribly cold! And damp! That's why I had a cold.

If readers come to northern Europe between 1 October and 30 April, I recommend they bring a WOOL dress and a pashmina scarf.

Kate said...

When I travel, I usually bring all dresses and maybe a pair of jeans. Knit dresses are so pack-able, and I can dress them up with jewelry or scarves. I wear skirts and dresses most of the time at home anyway. My male friends decided years ago that while I'm definitely feminine, I'm in no way girly.

I absolutely refuse to wear sporty attire aimed at women however - the NY Yankee colors are navy and white. Why would I wear pink?? Not only that, the women's fan clothes are usually on the skanky side, so I stick with my boring t-shirts....and a cute skirt.

tiny therese said...

Sometimes men can be weird about responding to the question "Is this a date or a friend thing?"

Woman: Is this a date or a friend thing?

Man: Would you like it to be a date?


Man: You can think of it as a date if you want.


Man: Well I guess it's a date.

Withmycupoftea said...

Ha, I've gotten that before.
Me: So just to clarify, is this a date?
Him: Uhhhh, I guess it could be if you want it to . . .


Gregaria said...

Girl: Is this a date?
Guy: Well.... I guess it could be if you want it to...
Girl: Do *you* want it to be a date? Is that what you intended when you asked me?

Just an idea.

Sheila said...

I think the "do you want it to be a date" question is just insecurity. I'd answer, "Well, I'd still go even if it was a date, if that's what you mean!" Because I think that's the question on the guy's mind, if he asks that.

In The Big Bang Theory, there's a bit where our hero (a huge nerd) finally gets up the nerve to ask the girl out. She assumes it's a friend thing, and keeps asking where everyone else is. At the end she asks, "Was this supposed to be a date?" The poor guy answers, "Oh, no ... when I date a girl, she KNOWS she's been dated!" But he just didn't want her to think he would plan a date and have it go that badly. Guys really do put a lot of themselves on the line when they ask a girl out; especially if he's shy, it's nice to be encouraging and be sure to tell him afterward that you had a good time (if you did).

Pearlmusic said...

I wouldn't say it is absolutely necessary to determine if it is going to be a date before you go out with the guy. This can cause unnecessary tension, raise expectations, put too much pressure on you or the guy and take away all the pleasure and kill the budding romance. The more neutral the first going out together is, the better (at least for me). It holds some mystery and excitement of something unknown to be unveiled.

I'm a strong advocate of things going on at their own pace, no matter if we've just met the man or if we are moving slowly from friendhip to romance. However, I have also been troubled by men who couldn't determine what they want from the relationship for way too long. In this case my suggestion would be not to have the DTR talk (this can end up in an unnecessary drama of throwing accuastions against one another and it is a big deal to keep it classy), but rather to pull back as gently as you can, stop being available like you two were exclusive, have your own life and feel free to date someone else.

Maria M. said...

Pearlmusic, my life experience confirms your advice 100%!

The few times I've been in that more-than-friends-but-less-than-dating purgatory, I have been *so* tempted to initiate a DTR conversation. In hindsight, I am SO GLAD that I didn't! (thank mom for the good advice) I find that, in almost all cases, the guy in question is not just shy, needing a push, wanting to date you but unsure of how to proceed, etc. There is something real and big preventing him from moving beyond Buddies Who Hang Out Constantly. As in, he's gay. Or he has a girlfriend already (didn't he mention?). Or he's just not that into you. So yeah, having a DTR is just an opportunity for humiliation and hurt feelings--"Oh no, I thought we were just friends! Sorry! Didn't mean to lead you on!" If a guy wants to be more than best platonic friends with you, he'll make that clear. Or *he'll* initiate a DTR.

As far as ambiguous dates are concerned, I personally like to avoid asking for clarification. While its really nice to know beforehand, I feel like it's a little heavy-handed to flat out ask. In my experience, if you're not sure if it's a date, it probably is (again, hindsight is a beautiful thing!). Obviously, if you keep going out on Probably Dates with a guy, you may soon find yourself in the situation mentioned above...