It is an age-old question, that I thought in my youth, was the stupidest thing a person could ask. Of course men and women can be friends! Plenty of people interact, do things, and then not have sex. I mean really.
When I was a teen I had this great friend. He was in a group home and it was just a bad situation. He didn’t do well there, he was smart and it was crazy that his mother just put him there because she wasn’t, “up to being his mother. “His words, not mine.
Anyway, he treated me like a boy. It was great. I wasn’t ready for anything other than that, I didn’t like boys or girls, hadn’t even gone through puberty yet (seriously).
He was, to me, profoundly unhappy. He had a vision of himself in 20 years as a successful Punk Rock star. He would burn up the charts and at the height of his career, kill himself. Jokingly or not, he said I would be the person they were to come to when he died; his living suicide note.
Morbid but, he was a little romantic about death.
Being in high school, and able to take any class whenever as long as you finish, he was actually a year or two ahead of me. He graduated, left the home with his girl, and our little town never saw him again.
Years later, I’m married, pregnant and up as late as I could possibly be (yay hormones), and there he is on Facebook as someone I might know!
I am elated. One he’s alive, two he’s married, three he’s got kids, and four he looks happy!
How wonderful! So I friend him. We talk a bit through messenger on and off over a couple of weeks. At first things seem fine but then he starts to act weird. Our catching up turns towards him bringing up his wife a lot. Not in a, “You should know her, she’s great,” kind of way, but in a, “Look I’m married,” sort of way.
What the crap? Suddenly he makes me feel very uncomfortable by explaining the love he has for his wife and kids and how he’d never leave and… I’m just like, my ass is PREGNANT and I’m married I was just checking up on you as a human being, what the crap?
And I get blocked.
All I can say, I was genuinely wondering how he was, liking family photos, and just being Facebook friendly. I never suggested meeting or calling or anything within a 1,000 mile radius of, “let’s hook up.”
So why? Why did he just decide I was after him?
It’s possible his wife was like, “Who is this then? Old high school friend huh?!” (Not the same girl he ran off with) Could I possibly explain to her how completely sexless I was in high school? I started liking boys in like the spring of my Junior year. I promise he wasn’t there or even on the sexy man radar.(Ewwww just thinking of it, I never thought of him like that….!)
Or perhaps it was him, an obviously 🙄 hot commodity, he just couldn’t grasp I wasn’t leaving my husband of 6 months when I was 5 months pregnant.
Or maybe, its society. I’m talking about the buzzword of 2016, Rape Culture. Perhaps I’m sounding flippant and I do apologize, but does it have to permeate every damn relationship I’ve ever had with men?!
Well, yes, yes it does.
You see, “a girl cannot be nice to a boy because it makes them think you want more.” I was seriously told this throughout my youth.
The same phrase almost word for word was told to me by a professor in college because they were worried my kindness and empathy would be, “taken the wrong way.”
If a girl is nice, she wants in your pants. So society wants me to be a raging bitch unless I feel the need for some action.
And this was at the turn on the millennium! Ages past How to Date:
I mean really? Or perhaps the famous popularity film:
Interested in them, but not too interested, having a good time but not too good a time. I get that parking with all the guys isn’t good in any time period, but seriously?
If a man is polite, we don’t assume that he wants to jump into bed with a woman, he’s got good manners.
If a woman smiles at a man at the wrong time, it is license to ask for her number, to catcalls, to follow home, to find her place of work or send her flowers.
I remember recalling the tale to my friends who couldn’t believe the professor said such a thing. I thought he was nuts until a young man I knew in college thought my kindness meant more.
He was constantly bullied at lunch, out in our arts building, even on stage. I thought he was misunderstood. He was a pretty good actor. I sat with him and lunch, defended him against his bullies, and we would talk online about music and the arts. One night, he asked me over to hear him sing a song he wrote for actors repertoire class. It was late so he asked if I could meet him at his dorm room at the off campus site, an old converted hotel. I did, and at first I heard the song, gave feedback as asked and he told me what he thought about my performance the prior week. He and I talked for a while until it became apparent it was late. I had a deal with my roomie I wouldn’t come home after 1AM. I asked if I could sleep on his futon. I’d slept over at lots of friend’s places. Why should it matter?
That was the stupidest thing I have ever done. Seriously the shear sheltered idiocy that I had. About maybe an hour into sleeping, I was joined in the futon. I admit, I didn’t wake up right away. I remember thinking it was warm, and I dreamed someone was rubbing my back… and then my pants were down and I elbowed him and tore outta there.
I assumed since we were friends and I was only ever nice to him, that he understood. We were just friends. I never did anything but be nice to him. Except somebody told him that being nice was a free pass to consent.
Now, with all those experiences, I admit I am off being friends with men. Well most men. I have two wonderful examples of the male species that, I can be as nice as I wish to, and they wouldn’t think anything of it. They also happen to be married to one another, so there’s that.
But I think, even then, they are progressive enough and have such respect for their mothers and female relations that if they were instead heterosexual, I believe that they have enough sense and respect to realize manners does not entitle them to coitus.
No man is entitled to sex based on a smile and a, “How are you?”
I would like to say, in high school, when I was viewed as a sexless amoeba, I had the most fulfilling male relationships. But society happened and growing up happened and it screwed it all up.
I think, we can make it so men of the future can be friends to anyone. We have to teach children respect. Not respect for just gender but for consent. Respect that a woman will not play hard to get to the point that no really means yes. Respect that women are not sexual objects whose only goal is the pleasure of a man.
We have to teach our little men that women are people, forever and always. They have minds, they can change, they grow, the can be nice or mean and they don’t have to smile. An inquiry of health is not an invitation to play doctor (and why would anyone think that’s a cute children’s game?).
Women don’t lay in wait hoping to sexually frustrate a man. They don’t dress a way to upset, inspire, declare anything other than, “I love myself.” (In general, I mean every single time they put in any clothes? Please!)
I think friendship can happen, I think it will happen, and to people over the age of 13. I think there are men out there whose mothers and fathers have done just that, taught respect for the other gender. I just don’t think it’s wide-spread enough. It’s out there, and there’s hope.
So I’m afraid, for now, my answer is more towards no. No, women cannot be friends with most men. I’d really like that to change. I’d really like men to see women as beings with limitless potential. Not as creatures to be dominated and/or sexualized.
I apologize to the men who can be friends with women and expect nothing but friendship, because you get it. If I have offended you, the genuine wonderful person that you are, I am sorry. I wish there were more of you out there. Continue to be an example, please.