In a long-gone golden era, adages and mottos were hand-stitched on pillows and treasured. While the art of the delicate needlework behind these fabric mantras is something for grans, the would-be-stitched sentiments — sayings that begin as doodles in high school notebooks and transition into ironic pronouncements at hung-over brunches in adulthood — remain fodder for the Zeitgeist. Chief among them: Bros before hos; or the reverse: Chicks before dicks. Unfortunately these catch phrases don’t cover the quintessential modern friendship dilemma: What if your friends are of the opposite sex?
I am a girl who has always had male friends as well as female. Maybe it is because I always desperately wanted to be friends with my brother and his band of lanky, floppy-haired laze-abouts. They seemed to share a mutual — enviable — philosophy: Nothing was that big a deal. They had this way of breaking off on their own when they felt the need, and did it without long drawn out explanations or ruffling feathers. On the flip side, my girl friends — lovely and amazing though they were — consistently drove the drama up a notch, miring even the simplest hang out into something fraught with complicated emotional and political machinations.
So why can’t a girl have guy friends (or vice-versa) without being suspected of ulterior motives? How many times have we been told that “men and women can’t really be friends?” The idea that guys want to bang any girl they can, that if they befriend a female they must simply be lying in wait like some sort of stealth jungle cat for her to be bored/drunk/vulnerable enough to agree to sleep with them, has always struck me as slightly ludicrous. Believing sex has to be a factor just because we don’t have the same “equipment” is a cop out.
My first close guy friends came along later in high school. They were a band of stoner-skater-goofs who fell into my life through my tomboy best friend J (a girl, I should mention, whose friendship came with almost no drama, hysteria or bitchiness). We had one unspoken agreement between us: no dating in the group. While they brought girl after girl to our parties, J and I stood back with confidence that these girls would come and go, and that it was us who knew our boys the best; we would never be usurped. Later, after moving across the country, my male friends appeared in the form of first-year flat-mates, ex-boyfriends that were better suited for buds than beaus, and the pals I made while running around my neighbourhood. These friendships continue to be some of my most treasured. My boys have been the first to hit the nail on the head when it comes to why something is going wrong in a relationship, have been the quickest to meet me for a drink when I have had a bad day, and have certainly been the most entertaining road trip companions. In turn I have been their Jiminy Cricket, the Wendy to their Lost Boys — soothing hurt feelings they don’t want to tell their bros about, and kicking their asses when they are acting like capital D’s to their girlfriends.
Having these friendships has not always been easy. They have unnerved just about every guy I have dated. I used to think this was because they were worried that my guy friends would tell me what they were really up to (truth: some of them had a right to be worried about this). But gradually I realized that the majority just bought in to the Mars vs. Venus rigmarole and could see no reason for a male-female friendship if one or both of us wasn’t harbouring hopes of jumping the other as soon as a window opened.
To combat this I did everything I could think of. First I would invite them out with me and guy friend(s). I would do back flips to try and make them all get along:
“Hey, Joe, you love skateboarding, well my bud Ian used to be sponsored by DC!”
When this inevitably went south I would end up with a surly boyfriend in the cab home and mocking texts from my guys about his shoes/hobbies/drink order. Phase two was always compartmentalizing the worlds. I would meet my buds for drinks on nights I knew my bf had plans with his family or was working late. On these nights I would feel guilty, leave him a sweet voicemail mentioning I was out with friends (not mentioning who), and wake up the next morning with a hangover of body and mind. Then would come the talks. With my guys I would beg for a bit more effort. With my bf I would ask for understanding that there was nothing to be threatened by. And, when relationships ended, I was left knowing that my ex would depart believing our demise was somehow tied to the fact that there was always something “weird” about how many guy friends I had lingering around.
The moral of this story? Pretty much exactly the same as if my girl friends didn’t like the dude I was seeing. It always came down to the fact that I was seeing the wrong dude.
Despite the fact that straight guys all wander around trying to date women, many are straight up uncomfortable imagining being actual friends with a girl. And to be honest, what kind of partner will a man make in the long run if he thinks women are really only interesting for sex? After all my failed experiments I was quick to recognize the missing ingredient when I found it. My man now has lots and lots of female friends. Some are from high school, some work, and some are even exes. Just like me he has never assumed that the opposite sex was off limits for friendship. And so, when it came time to meet my guy friends, drama was nowhere in sight, not even with the exes. Bottom line is, they think I am great, and that means they all have something in common.
Maybe that old “men and women can’t be friends” motto needs a bit of a reboot. Or maybe it is just time for us to chuck the figurative embroidered pillows all together. Friendship doesn’t come in pretty pink or blue boxes, and relationships between men and women range from completely platonic to steamy based on much more complicated factors than simply whether the people involved all have working parts. Maybe if we all stopped being so certain that we are from different planets it would be easier to make a relationship work. In the mean time I recommend one simple rule. If the person you are dating doesn’t have at least two friends of the opposite sex, run don’t walk. I have done the field research — it’s up to you to reap the benefits.