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.
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.