For the longest time, I have only had one guy friend. And I used to date him, in college. Which complicates things. It makes my husband Bear uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable, too. Not the him being my friend part. That’s fine. It happened naturally. We’re horrible gossips together. But I wish I could erase our dating past. I shouldn’t have dated him. Even while I was dating him, I was hazily aware of that.
I am bad at guy friends. I have only had a few. Which makes me totally uncool, I know.
Once, I had more than a few, very briefly, and then, when I met Bear, they all vanished. Which was too bad, because I like hanging out with guys.
The problem is, they always try to kiss me. Some of them try to kiss me right away. Some of them do it sneakily, much later. Some of them wait years and years, but then, predictably, they try to kiss me.
The guy I already dated—he will never try to kiss me again. If you mentioned the idea to him, he would look immediately ill. We went through that, we came out of it, and now we’re safe. Thank God.
I know that men and women can be friends. There are lots of movies and books about how, actually, they can’t. How it’s this big mystery that we probably need more books and movies about. The Man/Woman Friendship Conundrum: An Attempt At Solving the Unsolvable Mystery About Whether Or Not Men and Women Can Actually Be Friends Without Eventually Making Out (By someone with a PhD).
There are lots of movies about a beautiful woman with a sweet face and hair that can either fall in long, sleek layers or go up in a tidy, spunky ponytail and her best guy friend. Allow me to spoil it: they end up together. Briefly, some other guy, usually a flashy guy who drives the kind of shiny car that women are apparently unable to resist, shows up, and she is tempted, and maybe eventually heartbroken. So she ends up with the friend, who loved her all along.
I hate that ending. I hate it because she never wanted him, and then she has to realize that she wants him, but it feels more like she has to settle for him because he wants her and he’s the only one left. And that’s the end of that friendship.
But of course women and men can be friends without kissing or ending up in bed or at the altar. I’ve seen it! There’s proof! My dad has close women friends from high school- he goes out to lunch with them. My brother’s best friend is a girl. He’s dating another girl. Bear has women friends from every stage of life. He has at least as many female as male friends, I think. The guys I was with before him also had plenty of friends who were girls.
I’m sitting here thinking, and it seems like most of the women I know don’t have close guy friends, somehow (except for one who is best friends with a gay guy– I am so jealous). But that’s probably a blip. They have guy acquaintances! They probably hang out with guys!
But I can’t seem to do it. And not, I’m assuming, because I’m irresistible. But, from my experience, the guys who choose to be around me are ones who want something to happen romantically. And the other ones lose interest and wander off. And now I am married, so suddenly, there are no guys in the world. There are the husbands and boyfriends of my friends, who I feel comfortable around and hang out with in the presence of their partners. And then there are single men who I probably shouldn’t talk to. Not because they are so tempting, with their shiny cars, but because it just feels awkward and misplaced. Because I haven’t had time to learn how to interact with them. Because my culture seems to certain that women and men together are a recipe for sex and disaster. Because I am bad at guy friends anyway, so how can I get good at them now, now that I’m sectioned off, spoken for?
I feel like there might be some sort of vague, slippery double standard. How did Bear end up with so many women friends? Why don’t I have a complementary bevy of awesome guys? We could introduce them to each other! Life would be all equal and balanced! Why does he get to feel annoyed and vaguely threatened by any interactions I have with men, while I have become close with his wonderful women friends? Sometimes his annoyance, coupled with my inexperience, makes the idea of a guy friend take on epic, mythic proportions in my mind. It is this impossible thing. It is slightly dangerous. Who knows what will happen…
I decided to find out.
My one guy friend, who I dated long ago during a time of my life that I have repressed almost entirely, lives in Texas. We talk on the phone sometimes. But I’d been emailing back and forth with a guy I knew through writing, and we made plans to have coffee and talk about writing some more.
“You can be my guy friend,” I told him, boldly. He said that might work out. He sounded a little bemused.
And then, immediately, I was anxious. As though I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t sure how to break the news to Bear. The news that I was going to see a guy. In person. A real guy. And we were going to do things together. Like talk. And drink coffee. And eat stuff. And possibly even walk to the subway.
Bear wanted to know: Why did I need a guy friend? Why did I want one? I had all these other perfectly fine friends. He was uneasy.
I went anyway, and tried not to feel as though I was violating some sacred code of marriage. The guy friend and I seemed to be getting along. I ordered a cannoli (cannolo?), he ordered a gelato (so then it HAS to be” cannolo”).
We talked about stuff. I thought I was being relatively charming, and then I hit my straw with an emphatic gesture, and sent it flying onto the next table over, where it landed in a little girl’s lap. My new guy friend laughed a lot, and then he made fun of me a lot.
“I am usually not this bad,” I said. “I usually don’t lose my straw like that.”
I tried to keep talking about important things, but he was still laughing.
I relaxed a little when he started talking about dating and I started talking about Bear. It was like we were saying, “Yes, yes, we know, girls and guys often get together for another reason, but that is not the point here.”
After meeting up in person, we continued talking online from time to time. The way that friends do.
I think that Bear is over it. Maybe he was just inexperienced with me having guy friends, the way that I am inexperienced having them. Maybe he just expects them to try to kiss me, because he wants to kiss me. Maybe it’s easy to make the mistake that all guys are the same. People do that a lot, with other people.
And recently, randomly, it occurred to me that having a guy friend doesn’t actually have to be anything very unusual. It occurred to me that it isn’t that I need to have guy friends, it’s that I’d like to be able to be friends with anyone I want to be friends with, regardless of their gender. Because having a guy friend turns out to be a lot like having a friend. It’s practically the same thing. Wait—it is the same thing. Except, from my experience, you get teased a lot more. You get made fun of. And things feel straightforward, much like the stereotype. Which is nice. Because that is how my brothers and I interact.
And I like it.
I feel a little hopeful.