Some of my best friends are women…Really! Well that hadn’t always been the case. For the entirety of my teenage existence most of my friends were almost exclusively boys. I attended an all boys catholic boarding school .Which meant from my foray into teenage life at 13 till I turned 18, for 8 months each year, I was in this testosterone laden environment . My high school had been established by Marist Brothers and such was their legacy that even at the time I attended , the entire teaching staff was exclusively male. An occurrence which rather unfortunately extended its reach to the ground and kitchen staff. Save for a handful of female “waxers “whose job description entailed keeping the floors well polished a task which conveniently meant that they spent most of their working time on all fours , which only tickled our juvenile fancy.
It was in this testosterone jungle that I found myself embracing puberty in , Survivor style, if you discount the fact that we all probably would have loved to get voted off the island( no this blog does not end with me coming out the closet …quite the contrary ).It wasn’t all doom and gloom though .The school itself was a beacon of academic and sporting excellence, for which I benefited from and am eternally grateful.
There were attempts made to get us to engage with the opposite sex. As the powers that be realised that academia and sport alone would not quench our testosterones desires.This meant organised social encounters with our sisters from the oestrogen jungle with often comical consequences. An expected outcome considering that they were limited but highly magnified social interactions that revolved around various clubs.
Suffice to say it was only when I got to university still drunk on testosterone and determined to make up for lost time. Unfortunately ,I was a complete novice and was not equipped with the necessary social skills that my crusade required. As a result my early dalliances were heavily skewed towards viewing most women around me as dating partners. Could you blame me. I had never really known them as friends. These escapades often proved futile and often left me feeling stranded in the ” friend zone”.
Up to that point my understanding of what male-female relationships had its foundation heavily entrenched in Hollywood movie propaganda. Particularly movies such as Brown Sugar and When Harry met Sally. All based on characters who always started out as friends but eventually fell in love. It seemed that almost every I saw a male-female friendship on the big screen, it wound up turning into romance. Very naive of me. As I was soon to learn .So that was my plan , befriend them and you will romance them. Basically these movies and most movies even today were propagating the stereotype that whenever heterosexual male and female friendships developed , the end result was usually romance.
Now this little rendezvous with my teenage self has a purpose. It is not just a flirtatious dance with nostalgia. Recently I came across a You tube video that attempted to tackle the old adage. Can men and women really just be friends. Is the idea of a pure, platonic relationship between non-related, heterosexual men and women a myth? Whilst the research was light hearted and definitely unscientific in its approach it was nonetheless enlightening.
All the women were seemingly assured in concluding that yes it was possible for platonic relationships to exist. The opposite however was true when it came to the men. Their responses were almost all hesitant but always eventually settled on the fact that no man and women cant be friends. It seemed for men the physical attraction served as the major stumbling block. An issue that was confirmed by the fairer sex when it was put to them whether they were aware of their male counterparts attraction and whether they thought their male friends would hook up given the chance. You guessed right another resounding yes. Basically the women had tried playing the ” naive ” card , but hadn’t really succeeded. This led the researcher to conclude that men and women can’t be friends.
The belief that either men are such dogs we want to nail every woman we encounter or we only befriend women as leverage to nail them , is disconcerting and the potential self loathing if true forced me to take stock. On the surface I would easily say ,I have a fair few female friends, and as I made a point of highlighting at the start even go further to state some of my closet friends are women.
From the onset it seemed to me a bit blinkered and 1950esque to say that we can’t have platonic relationships with females we are not related to. After all we work together and sometimes even share sports interests and socialize together. At the same time I will be folly to ignore my own missteps in my early university years. I believe however that I was an outlier in the minority of people who didn’t know any better by virtue of my limited exposure to women in my pubescent years.
Fortunately I have managed to successfully navigate my way through the murky waters that were the “friend zone ” years. The Robin to my Batman in that regard has been maturity the unexpected spawn of repeated failures. I learnt the hard way that hiding behind the cloak of friendship, irregardless of how it turned out in the movies always almost backfired for me in real life. (Cue Just a Friend by Biz Markie)
Almost all ending on the same fashion. The 3 am alcohol fueled call/ text . As well as the accompanying standard response , “I really like you as friend and I dont want to risk losing that”. Ah Dutch courage be damned.
What I have also learnt though is that though it may be tricky, men and women can successfully become close friends. In fact , I have often found that there are often positive benefits. (Not those benefits…that’s a whole other minefield all on its own ) to do so. Women spend the majority of their time together discussing their thoughts and feelings, and are much better at confiding in other women. Things seem to operate differently with us men. We tend to be far more group-oriented and tend focus less on interpersonal relationships with each other. During our poker nights or a friendly game of football we only ever seem to express emotions that are usually associated to our allegiances to our team of choice. Its all very grandiose and macho. Rarely do we share feelings, insecurities or personal reflections. On the off chance that we actually do, we often feel the urge to attach a disclaimer. A favourite amongst my mates being “no homo”, a colloquialism made popular by the character Riley from the Boondocks whose greatest fear is being thought of as gay upon expression of any supposedly female traits. As a result most men end up confiding in women more than their male friends. Something I am often all too guilty of.
I can not speak on what my female friends benefit from a friendship with me, but I know for me being able to confide in them is a great motivator in cultivating and sustaining these friendships. They are usually higher in overall quality, enjoyment and nurturance on average than the same-sex friendships. That being said there challenges to be faced.
Challenges include but are not limited to defining the friendships,dealing with sexual attraction (the Elephant in the room) , meeting in the first place, and dealing with people’s responses to the relationship. It seems that most of us are high on that viral cocktail of cynicism and skepticism when it comes to cross gender relationships .Think about how often we barrage our friends with nudging, winking and: statements like “Are you really just friends”. Emotional infidelity may also be an issue if you are in a relationship with someone else.
I am not taking the high road and saying I am not physically attracted to any of my friends. In fact some of these good platonic friendships have some kind of sexual undertones. Sexuality is part of being human. Sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of or get awkward about. The important thing is realising that the you do not always have to ACT on any minor occasional sexual energy. Of course you can be friends, expecting your sexuality to just shut itself off is foolish. It’s there. So what. Go on with your life and your friendship. Denying yourself the liberty to be sexually aware is unhealthy. Being honest, being mature, and loving yourself are the keys to all your relationships, including your platonic ones.
To succeed as friends, both parties have to openly and honestly negotiate exactly what their relationship will mean whether sexual attraction is a factor and how you will each deal with it. A lesson I learnt from my time in ” friend zone ” wilderness.