And it’s kind of amazing!
Throughout my life, I have had girlfriends but I have not actually had a many girls who are just friends. In the obnoxious tone of my 20s, and my quickness to turn everything into a sparkling little bon mot, I would say:
The people I date are not my friends. I date girls, therefore, girls are not my friends.
Oh, wasn’t that a nice time in life when you knew everything and it was all just so pit, pat, and clever? (Ugh, stab me with a spoon, please)
Obviously, over the years, I have learned that the people you date, especially if dating is not a hobby but rather a thoughtful thing you are attempting so as to meet someone to build some sort of life with in the long-term, that person should really be your friend. Like, really.
However, this is now, that is then, and the point of this writing today is not about my absurd dating habits. Instead, it’s about my absurd friendship habits and the fact that I never had “my girls!” I had “my guys!” They were my dudes, my bros; and while that pack did include another woman or two (and please, let’s not PC this today, this is also not a discussion about gender as a construct and performative, etc. etc., just go with it), it was 98% guys.
I have a lot of brothers and I have one sister, and she has a few years on me. Looking back, me and my sister, and me, my sister, and my mom, we didn’t do the… female gang thing. I didn’t do that with them and I didn’t do that with anyone with whom I went to school or attended religious services… It just didn’t happen.
I had my brothers and through them, and many of my guy friends, is how I learned to be part of the world. That is how I was socialized. Add to that the fact that I started college in engineering school – in case you didn’t know, not a girl-heavy environment – and when I transferred to a different college, I was barely ever there, and then I started working in finance in a team that was 95% men, and…
Who you are around is where you learn how to engage with the world. Sure, I knew how to dress myself: I have both heels and dresses and suits and loafers, and I know how to wear them, but–
- I don’t know how to put on makeup (I’m curious, but who would I ask?)
- I didn’t know that women don’t wear belts (well, not the same way guys do, unless you are trying to manage jeans and/or a badonkadonk)
- I didn’t know that women didn’t wear striped dress shirts (I find this is bogus)
- I didn’t know I was “supposed” to be passive in mixed company
- I didn’t know the hierarchy within the cult of womanhood
Those last two bits really ring true and they affected me professionally and personally in all sorts of ways.
In majority male company, passivity gets you a head pat, and hyper-aggression gets you backtalk – strangely enough, just being assertive, which is really just balancing between being respectful but direct and owning your opinion – works.
In mixed company, are women are taught to be more passive so as not to be seen as too aggressive? This is not a scientific discussion of the topic, but I can definitely think of circumstances where I have been “gender checked” by other women (who know the rules which I obviously didn’t), by stating an opinion in opposition, assertively and then being told: “You can’t say that” or “You can’t talk to ‘people’ that way” or “You should let him speak” or “Let him be the man and tell you what to do” — and this was both in reference to men who not only have I known well for years or are friends whom would be highly offended if I did just that but also to women
And, I want to point out again, it was other women, and that comes to the cult of womanhood, which hole-y whoa, there are all sorts of rules! In majority female company, it’s dangerous out there. I have been told: “Don’t compete with this one, she’s the best at everything” or “You have to let her sit first” or, even worse, the passive-aggressive undercover attacks, and it’s like…?
What’s going on? If I have a problem, I’ll say so. If you have a problem, you say so. Let’s yell at each other, if we must, and then go get a drink at the bar. What is this other nonsense? But, for me, I was socialized by men, because that’s how most, not all, men handle things.
Now, this is not an attack on women – it’s the exact opposite. A lot of the times I encountered that, it involved two things: relatively insecure women (which happens and it’s life and it’s not ideal) but also an assumption that “I should know better.” So, there were times where I would have wanted to have strictly platonic female friendship, but my experiences held me back from reaching out for that and back in NYC, I was so well-insulated with my group of male friends, I saw no reason to change.
Moving to a new place makes you vulnerable. And it’s a good thing. Having to make friends as an adult is so different than the structures of childhood, college, and early career. Also, if you don’t fit into the norm in a place which can demand a norm (see: NYC, don’t let anyone kid you, excess size creates lots of opportunity+incentive for hyper-normative carve-outs), you may have a richer experience, but you miss out on things other people take for granted.
Where I am now, I haven’t had a choice. So, for the first time in my life, I have girls, you know, strictly platonic female friendships that are at no risk of any change to that. We’re the same age, we’re past a lot of the insecurities of our 20s but still able to talk about them and laugh at them when you crop up in our current lives, and it is BLOODY AMAZING!
I’ve never had people to just go to the movies with, or to get into really fun detail about dating woes and adventures and ridiculousness, or who because they didn’t know me made no assumptions about me, and were also super open about “the cult of womanhood” and have sort of inducted me in it? I never knew what I was missing out on; I kind of have a sense of what it’s like to eventually have women as my bridesmaids.
Also, I never, ever in the future want to be “one of the girls” with any of my girlfriends’ girls, because there are things that women talk about amongst close company about significant others, and no. No, no, no, I need not be a part of that.
I will never leave my guys. They are my go-to for so many things; these are my brothers and we have done so much together and have so much more to do together in the future. But, I am also so glad to finally have girls that have broadened and enriched the tapestry of my life in ways I could never have imagined.
What a happy accident.