23 September 2012
FRIENDS WITHOUT BENEFITS
Cause of ambivalence:
My male BFF (aka the complications of boy-girl friendships)
Sometimes I wish you were a girl or were gay so this friendship would be less complicated. Then again maybe it's the complexity that makes it so great... ❤"
In a dorm room closet.
Six months ago, I wrote the first version of this note and left it in a dorm room closet. The note was written in such a moment of incoherent sleep deprived confusion that it actually made no sense and became impossible to ever break down into a blog post. Luckily, a few months ago, I found myself staying in the exact same room where I had originally left the note, and to my delight it was still there, untouched and unread. I decided that this was my chance to switch the note for something else, another ambivalent place, more evolved than where I was six months ago.
It’s funny, as I am writing this I can feel my instincts of self-censorship kicking in. I wonder (am terrified of) how people will interpret or misinterpret my words because of their own pre-made assumptions. I wonder what the people that know me, that know us (or that think they know but actually don’t) are already thinking. I am sure there have been a lot of assumptions about us, but for the record: we’re just friends.
I’ve debated this issue over and over with many different people, but I still haven’t found any real proof that men and woman can really be just friends. There are very few public role models that showcase a committed platonic male-female friendship. In every single movie in which a man and a woman are close friends, they always ALWAYS end up together in the end. The main characters always have this epiphany moment where they finally realize that the person they were meant to spend their lives with was right there the whole time, and when they finally get together the audience is thrilled. But what if two people work perfectly as friends and know for a fact that their synchronicity would be immediately ruined by the introduction of any type of romance? Can’t they just be friends?
Of course I know that men and women can be friends, it happens all the time, but what I am talking about here is the kind of friendship that does not only occur when one’s other half is present, or when both parties are single. You know, the kind of friendship that requires daily emails, phone calls and text messages, the sharing of previously untold secrets, the meeting of each other’s siblings and parents. What I am talking about here is not about a man and a woman being just friends, it is about a man and a woman being BFF.
I have such a friend and I have been fighting with him, others and myself to try to convince the world that a close co-ed friendship is possible, despite our culture’s insistence that it isn’t. It doesn’t help that there aren’t even any words in the English language to describe what I am talking about here, which in itself is a clear indication that devoted co-ed friendship is not common practice or at least openly discussed. My BFF and I have coined our devotion to each other a “friendationship” because friendship seems too casual and relationship has too many other implications that do not concern us. We are trying to create a new “friendship paradigm” (his words, I don’t use words like paradigm in casual conversation) despite the lack of proper vocabulary or pop culture examples. The results have been 70% really amazing (30% we still have to work on.) No matter how progressive we are, it is complicated. Generally, things that exist in the ambiguous in-between tend to make people uncomfortable, and even though I am ambivalently inclined, I am not immune to the discomfort the in-between can cause. When you are raised to believe a certain thing your whole life, it is not so simple to just completely forget about it and act differently. Gender roles aside, there is something both comforting and terrifying about becoming very close with someone. Being close requires a great deal of honesty, and that honesty can make people vulnerable and can make hurting one another extremely easy. It takes constant renegotiation and clear communication to make it work, which is a fancy way of saying that we fight all the time.
I have tried and failed many times to have close friendships with members of the opposite sex. Too often my enthusiasm and affectionate nature have led to some unfortunate misinterpretations of my intentions (aka they think I’m a cocktease.) I do wonder sometimes why I even bother trying, why it is so important for me to be close friends with men, especially since my friendships with women are usually much more simple. Maybe I need a male best friend to make up for a lifetime of patriarchy-loving male role models. I am aware that this puts a great deal of pressure on the men I befriend, which is one more thing that makes these friendships so hard (Hey Friend, I just need you to make up for centuries of sexism ok? No pressure!) Yet, it is often the difficult moments of life that end up being the most precious, and I think that there is value in working at things sometimes. Despite our fights and all the other crap we’ve had to figure out, my friend has always been there for me and I am extremely grateful to have someone so caring, loyal and honest as a BFF. I think the complexity of our friendationship has helped me let go of a lot of my own assumptions about relationships and has helped me love other people in a more honest way. To quote bell hooks, as I usually do when writing about matters of the heart “Learning to love in friendship empowers us in ways that enable us to bring this love to other interactions with family or with romantic bonds.” In an odd sort of way, I think that learning how to love men as friends is also helping me love my husband and even my female friends more.
I really do hope that men and women really can be BFF, and that my friend and I are able to work through the process (again his words). The only role models we have at the moment are Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater Kinney, Wild Flag, Portlandia) and Fred Armisen (SNL, Portlandia) who according to the New Yorker have “an unusually devoted platonic relationship.” If I meet either of them one day, I will be sure to ask them for advice.
PPS: I was just kidding, he doesn't really use words like 'paradigm' in casual conversation.
Labels: MY AMBIVALENCE