Puberty Ruined Everything

I’m a little sister of a big brother – my first and most engaging playmate. I was at least as interested in GI Joes as Barbies, and found killer football waaaay more fun than playing princess. One of my favourite childhood memories is of my brother and I tossing toy soldier paratroopers off a high cliff (at least it was very high in my child sized brain) and chasing after them over and over again. Yep, I was a hard-core tomboy right from the get go.

This boy-esque perspective carried through to elementary school where my first (and best) school friend was a boy. I had girl friends too, but hanging out with boys just felt natural to me. So imagine my devastation when my seven year old best friend and I wanted to have a sleepover and our parents forbid it. Even then I understood it was because he was a boy and I was a girl, though I couldn’t understand why and I thought it was totally UNFAIR! Sleepovers were what you did with your friends, and I was really mad to be thwarted by some arbitrary principle.

Prohibited sleepovers aside, I continued to have close boy friends up until junior high (insert foreboding dum-de-dum-dum music here). Again I hung out a lot with one particular guy. We spent a good portion of our time talking computers (ah.. the apple IIe); they were new and exciting and the ability to write a program and make something happen just about made me giddy. This friendship couldn’t last however, ‘cause, well, puberty ruined everything. Suddenly all this time we spent together was looked upon differently and we couldn’t be “just friends” anymore. It all fell apart at a school dance when my friends decided we should dance together and forced the issue – if you’ve ever had any contact with a 14 year old girl, you know the immoveable freight train of their psyches are not easily dissuaded.

So we danced. A slow dance (of course), and it was awkward and weird, and pretty much the end of our friendship. Things could never really be the same after that. Incidentally it was also the last time I really felt up to speed with the inner workings of a computer – my involvement in it fell away along with the friendship.

Now I’ve continued to have guy friendships post puberty but they’ve never been the same. There’s always that sub-text, that what-if. Friendships have intimacies, and those intimacies can be misconstrued or imply other intimacies when dealing with guy-girl interactions (taking a moment to celebrate friendships with gay men – whew!).

I think guy-girl friendships require their own kind of maintenance, and I’m a big fan of transparency on this front. Now I’ve been on one side or the other of the “just friends” conversation with the majority of the guys I’ve been friends with – to varying degrees of success. But I think it’s worth it, awkward as starting that conversation can be. ‘Cause no one wants to persist in feelings that will only be disappointed; much better to know where you stand. And it’s way easier to relax and enjoy someone when you don’t have to worry somebody you care about is taking it the wrong way.

That said, I think I’ve been heartily disappointed to come back from hanging with my brother and my nephews – one old enough to be a formidable wrestling opponent, the other still young enough to tolerate a snuggle once in a while – to the realization my guy friendships aren’t that simple, or stable.

Life and relationships are always in flux, and things change, but I’m not sure it is caring or helpful to have repeated “just friends” conversations:

“you remember, I’m not into you, right?”…

“er, just checking, you still get I’m not into you?…”

Still, what do you do when you’re not sure the message has sunk in? And if you’re on the flip side of that, having had the “just friends” conversation and been engaged in the process of redirecting those feelings, are they really any business of that friend at this point anyway? I’m pretty sure status reports like:

“Hey, fyi – I’m now at 70% friend, and only 30% humminah-huminah

aren’t particularly helpful. There’s transparency, and then there’s please-use-your-inside-you-head-voice-for-that.

I’m beginning to wonder if it really is possible to have those deep connections of friendship I’m used to, with guys who are single when I’m single (being off the market on either side seems to defuse this issue entirely), and the thought of missing out on that closeness with the men in my life makes me really sad.

found this great photo by Kevin Sargent -check out his paratrooper tale!

It’s frustrating, and I long for simpler times, when friends could just be friends. Being as there are no immediate prospects to get me “off the market” so to speak, the idea: “get thee to a nunnery” has been rolling around my brain. Nun-hood: a hope that perhaps once again I could have men in my life without any question of context. Except, I don’t think Protestants go in much for that stuff, and a life-long commitment to celibacy is probably a bit of an over-reaction. I really need to just suck it up and work through whatever lesson the universe is, er, lovingly providing me with at present (grumble…).

In the meantime I think I’m gonna go buy me some of those paratroopers, find a big hill somewhere and start tossing them aloft. Maybe if I’m lucky, some PRE-pubescent boys will come and play with me. …oh wait, that would be weird too, wouldn’t it? Sigh…

Yep, puberty has ruined everything.

For a beautiful tale of the best “just friends” conversation I ever had, check out: Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off.


7 thoughts on “Puberty Ruined Everything

  1. Wonderful Valerie!

    Understood. Being a boy in a Man’s world has not been fair nor easier either. You are supposed to punch things instead of talk them out, you are NOT supposed to cry (ever. period. unless a bear ripped your arms off while saving a bus load of children from terrorists, and its only okay to cry from the pain, not to cry because you had to kill the bear to save yourself, cuz taking a life is what ‘men’ do.)

    Also you are supposed to like guns more than guitars or books, unless you play really good guitar like the Rock Stars, which (underlies) it can get you laid (also with a ‘girl’, not a girl-Tboy, or *gasp* another boy.) for reference, I do not play good guitar because its never been the reason I’ve ever gotten laid. (or no one ever told me it was the final selling point to my wondrous personality; which is still up for debate)

    Phrases come to mind like ‘why do you hang out with ‘her’ ? Daunt most boys’ histories when those girls don’t have large chests, are noted for ‘putting out’, or aren’t the prettiest girl in school.

    I don’t feel I’ve ever lost friends over being a boy / girl, however I know my brain never let there be such a thing as ‘just friends’ with any girl or they’d have to be so non-attractive or intimidating to have my testosterone turn off the fact ‘thy art female’ humming through the back on the mind.

    I did boy things and sucked at them. I didn’t get beat up, cuz I wasn’t worth the time. I didn’t get picked last, cuz I was faster than the fat kid. so I lived in the middle-of-the-class verging on the appearance of stupid, because am not the tallest nor strongest of my make-and-model, I assure you.. and it is a well known fact when you are eight to eight-teen that ‘nerds don’t get laid. ever.’ So being smart is not a skill one can publicly announce. And ‘man’ forbid you like Art.

    Its tough for sure, growing up in society when it tells you who to be or who your friends are based on sex/gender roles. we should be free to choose and not let hormones decide for us.. nor should others get to say “you can’t play with them” oh and “two men don’t cuddle. ever.”

    Bryan
    http://lyinghere.com : # 100 Days of Pohems #Corbae
    _____________________________________________________

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  2. I also was a tomboy and still retain vestiges of tomboyishness. I can’t blame it on an older brother because I was the oldest child. Maybe my Grandmother’s blessing/curse of naming me to bless my familly with generations of boys imparted some need to act like a boy.

    Anyways, part of that was having more guy friends when I was growing up. It may have been because the guys felt safe around me. I was a chubby, smart, Chinese girl and so wasn’t even close to being a prospective girlfriend. Even in University when the guys eyes were more multicultural most of my friends were guys. It probably was because my undergrad and brief stint at college was in male dominated fields. By the way, my college testosterone filled experience really exposed my ears to some proper swearing language.

    It wasn’t puberty that ruined my guy type friendships. It was marriage. Once I got into a committed exclusive relationship my friendships with other guys disappeared. I missed my guy pals but didn’t know how to maintain them. And they didn’t know how to be around me anymore. So we kind of drifted apart.

    I miss the camaraderie with males, but for whatever reason at this time in my life most of my friends are women. I guess my closest friend is a guy but it’s sort of a complicated relationship, at times romantic and other times platonic. I also have a great relationship with my two sons but again, that is a different kettle of fish.

    Life sure is complicated!

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  3. As a boy, I actually didn’t like playing with GI Joe’s (and I was too young to appreciate Joe’s other manly attributes). Too harsh. Too angry. Too war-like. And that wasn’t me. Yet, properly boy-like, I did play with sci-fi action figures from shows like Star Wars, Star Trek, Space: 1999 and Buck Rogers… but as a pre-teen boy there was an appeal to Barbie that pulled me to her. I was friends with boys and girls, but when the boys went off to an imaginary war, I went with the girls and played Barbie. She liked shopping, and nice clothes, rides in shiny sports cars (that one sounds fairly boy like, actually). And she was always looking forward to a date with Ken (Foreshadowing? Although, I’ve never dated a Ken.) As an aside, I also remember getting quite good at braiding girls’ hair… but that’s another story.

    Circa 1979 I wanted one thing for Christmas (that I remember) – a Wonder Woman doll (Oh how I loved Wonder Woman and Lynda Carter – still do. ) Not quite a Barbie, but too glamorous to be an action figure, she was heaven in her satin cape and costume, and could take out a bad guy without breaking a sweat or messing up her hair. As it turned out, my loving Grandma W bought me the Wonder Woman doll. Christmas morning I was extremely happy, but recall my Dad’s anger at his Mother for giving me the doll. After all, boys shouldn’t play with dolls. But it remains one of those memories that reminds me I was always gay – even when I didn’t have any concept of what that was.

    So as a kid I had boy friends and girl friends. As an adult I’ve had boy friends, boyfriends, and still maintain several great girl friends (obviously Valerie is one of them, otherwise why would I be spending so much time sharing deep childhood memories on her site?). But I guess being a gay man it’s easier for me to have girl friends, without there being a need to define whether I’m interested in “that way”. Clearly I’m not. And yet there were a couple of those girl friends who were certain I was “into them”, and repeated assurances otherwise were required. Sometimes strenuously so. It can be a bit messy when dealing with straight boy friends, too, but not usually as the ones who are my friends are by definition comfortable with the gay thing.

    I long for simpler times, too, but mostly in the way of simpler days spent playing, rather than working. The complexities of boy-girl relations don’t inspire longings to return to those days, but the recollections give a nice place to visit for a while.

    Interestingly (or not – this may be an aside too far), my love of 70s television superheroes ended up manifesting itself in a strange way. This involves not just Wonder Woman (Diana Prince), but The Six Million Dollar Man (Steve Austin) and The Bionic Woman (Jaime Sommers), as well. In the course of my dating career, I had relationships with both a Steve and a Jamie (he was a James, but always went by Jamie). I actually thought for a while I was destined to be with someone named after one of my favorite 70s TV characters. And if I look back far enough to those days before sexual preferences became clear (presumably these memories pre-date the Wonder Woman doll of 1979), I did actually have a mutual boy-girl crush relationship with a Dyana. Her last name wasn’t Prince, but we’re still friends to this day – unlike Steve and Jamie, who are both consigned to my past. I’m sure neither Steve or Jamie knew I felt this way, but the most interesting thing about either of them were the names they shared with my Bionic heroes

    Valerie – you just need to find a boy who likes to play with paratroopers (the small plastic kind), and is also “into” you…

    And if his name is Joe, all the better.

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    1. Mmm or a boy who likes to play with the not so plastic paratroopers… and is into you of course…

      ((although I am not 110% sure what a paratrooper is))

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  4. Wow, great stuff people. So many diverse yet similar experiences. Makes me want to just flip the bird at whatever “society” expects of people and heartily encourage anyone who wants to be themselves, whatever that is.

    Interestingly, I saw a news clip last week about how intimate relationships differ for men and women. Women are much more likely to have a variety of intimate relationships (friends, family, romantic) but mens’ primary source of intimacy is often, and almost exclusively, of the romantic type – which means significantly more stress when those relationships turn sour. Women have lots of other options to turn to, men not so much. Sure lights a fire under my butt to continue to fight for those guy/girl friendships – boys need friends too!

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  5. oh and, IF there are any guys who like playing with paratroopers, AND are totally “into” me, by all means drop me a line <= ha! Pun!

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  6. Valerie, Bryan, Donna, Bob, I really appreciate your posts. And the depth of your stories. I keep trying to post, but so far nothing I feel right about.

    One of my dearest friends, of 20 years, is also close to Val. I asked him about this thread. He said “Val’s first post made me so sad. So I haven’t read the responses yet.” (Sad as a single male who basically dates females, and who is a very caring person, values friendships, loves me and Val among many others.)

    What I want to say is mostly to him – Monsieur G., let us call him.

    Dear G.,

    Val’s post is amazing, and also, very different from my own experience. (I am a single woman who mostly wants to date women, but has enjoyed dating some men.) I don’t have too many close hometown friends right now. You, M. G, are one of my closest friends. So it’s hard to generalize.

    But, I am rock solid sure that you and I have estabilished our friendship, in many ways, and the platonic nature and future of our friendship. I think about this so rarely now, it’s such a given. Without the platonic question being the most huge deal. Of course, we have the benefit of 20 years time. (More than half a lifetime!) Certainly with you, I do not feel any nagging question or reason for check in, no “So, G., you still get it that I’m not that into you?” None of that.

    I was also surprised when Val wrote about it being a question in her ongoing friendships with straight(ish) single men. I don’t feel that way in a close, loving, mutually assured, medium to long term friendship. Nor with most lesbian/ bi/ mysterious women that I have such friendships with. I don’t feel that with A., a longtime but less close friend, a bi(?) women who prefers to date men but might once have had a crush on me. I don’t feel that with A. or K., 2 other longterm very close friend and married bi women. I don’t feel that with S., a longterm, less close, lonely single straight male friend. I take for granted that S. and I have established platonicness, though any discussion we had was over 10 years ago. One of my sisters is another of my best friends.

    The question does arise in my head as I’m getting to know someone, especially a single straight/ bi man. Most of the time, I feel like, any attraction he might have is his problem, and irrelevant to me. Though at some stage, the talk is good to have, unless platonic surety gets established in another way. And I really don’t feel that question around folks in committed, monogamous relationships. Sometimes, it’s my attraction in a platonic situation which is my problem, and when I’ve doublechecked on the platonicness, usually not explicitly, then I try to keep the knowledge and responsibility for my lopsided attraction to myself.

    These posts have led me to reflect on why. Partly, I’ve always been fairly disoriented from the mainstream, the oldest child of fairly disoriented parents. I started identifying as lesbian before I turned 12, (and as bi at 15, and to and fro since.) I never thought I would need to be attractive to straight men, nor strongly want to be. So I haven’t made any efforts or sought out advice in that direction, (except when dating a man, who obviously was already somewhat attracted.) Not many teen or adult women’s magazines, then, not much learning to wear make-up, not a huge amount of competing with other women… Woohoo!

    Also, I’ve always had high expectations around consent. (Like, I can say, stop trying to touch me today, anytime. Even in the middle of penetral hetro sex, or when sleeping beside each other.) I have always been listened to (perhaps argued with) and never been in, nor narrowly escaped, a sexual assault situation. Guys, I’m not writing this to make you feel bad, I consider a majority of people, men, women, strongly value consent, on either side of the unrequitedness. Skipping back to formative years, I was also a tomboy, as my mother raised me and harangued me into being. As a teen I was first a smart geek, then having hard times and weird (nonsexual) ideas, then outed and bullied hatefully for it (verbally.) I assumed most quiet kids also hated my queerness, and I didn’t bother denying it. So I felt attractive to my high school boyfriends, who seemed like exceptions, and not desireable to other guys. I didn’t know any bi/ les women (who accepted it in themselves) until university…

    So, my dear friend, Monsieur G. I don’t know if this helps you feel better. However, this is how it’s different for me, than for Val. Woohoo! Yeah, hard stuff. (If others guess who I am, feel free to chat with me.)

    xoxo,
    j

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