Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Men, Women, Friendships

Thanks for the quality feedback on my last post! It's prompted some good discussion privately with friends too. If you didn't get a chance to chime in, it's not too late! As a follow-up, I decided to share a little more plainly about where I'm currently coming from on these issues. Because I bring my baggage to the discussion, and so do you.

Before I got married at 25 years old, I had equal numbers of male and female friends (and actually spent more time overall with the guys). Real friends with whom I could hang out or talk about problems. I was part of a large, easygoing, mixed-gender social group. Over time, we all got married, moved away, drifted apart… the typical college-friends story. When I crash-landed back into single life at the age of 30, I felt like I'd been dropped onto a different planet, and the natives were not friendly. The entire social landscape was different. Gone were the happily mixed groups. It was like a junior-high dance, with each gender sticking to its side of the gym. Most of the single men I met pretty much acted like I had cooties, and I noticed – to my simultaneous relief and frustration – that they treated most of the other single women the same way.

Already traumatized and insecure about men after my divorce, I had no idea how to bridge these gaps. I longed for some nice men in my life who weren't related to me, some healthful relationships to help me heal and re-learn how to interact. But the single guys I met clearly weren't even interested in being friends, at least beyond an extremely surface level. For the most part, this has remained my reality for the past three-plus years. While a few men have shown some interest in me, most were sudden, guns-blazing events that stopped cold as soon as I indicated that I wasn't romantically interested (couldn't be, under such conditions). In other words, I wasn't really worth knowing as a person, just as a "potential." I have not experienced a man wanting to know me just for me, with no demands. They either ignore (or tolerate) me, or hunt me down like a cruise missile. These experiences have piled damage on top of damage. I know I'm responsible for my own attitudes and growth, but it's hard to unlearn bad lessons when they keep getting reinforced.

I have always believed that the most solid and fulfilling romances, and marriages, are between people who were friends first – who already have a common history. I briefly lived that dream with my ex-husband. (We were close friends for three years before we even dated.) But he thoroughly smashed it before he left, citing our friendship as the main reason there was no "spark" for him in our marriage. That left me feeling like a fool for believing that such a thing is realistic or even possible. I'd definitely prefer to get to know a man as a person before adding the pressure of a Relationship, but maybe they don't operate that way.

On a more positive note, I have a growing appreciation for the married men I know, my friends' husbands. Until recently, I couldn't see past myself enough to realize that while those friendships are different by necessity, they're still valid. I can't interact or be as close with married guys the same way I could with single ones, but they're still my friends and I know we have each other's back. I have to stop saying I have no male friends. I've done these good men a disservice and I'm trying to do better.

The responses the other day encouraged me (and, I'm sure, other women interested in the outcome). It's reassuring to know that not all single men interpret friendliness as romantic interest that they have to nip in the bud – and that some would be okay if it was! I highly doubt that I, personally, will ever ask a man out due to my history, but I'm glad that some aren't opposed to the idea. I feel more empowered now to talk to men without worrying about how it'll be perceived. So thank you.

I could talk about these sorts of topics all day, so if there's interest, maybe I'll make it a more officially regular thing.