I feel like I don’t know how to be friends with men. This must be a personal failing of mine, because I firmly believe men and women can be friends. They can be friends, and remain platonic, and nobody needs to be secretly harboring crush feelings or pants feelings, or be strictly gay. So why can’t I seem to be platonic friends with the men in my life?
How do you interact with men without assessing the romantic potential of the relationship? I do this thing where when I like someone, I ask myself “Is this a friend like or a sexy like?” I don’t think that’s too weird, especially since I don’t generally experience burning attractions. I have to think about it for a bit. But I admit that I only sometimes do this with women, and I feel like I always, always do it with men. I don’t know how to interact with men without feeling like I’m constantly reading the tea leaves.
My friendships with men, historically, tend to turn into more than that. I never learned how to be friends with men. I learned how to flirt with them. I learned how to make myself marketable to them. I learned how to avoid them, how to attract them. How to give them a soft “no” so they won’t kill you. How to please them. How to take care of them. How to make myself into something they want. How to date them. How to kiss them. How to fuck them. How to love them. But never how to be friends with them.
When I was a kid, I sometimes did that thing where I decided to have crushes on boys. (Lots of young afab queers do that.) I just picked a boy and went “I’m supposed to have crushes on boys, therefore I have a crush on that one.” I learned how to perform heterosexuality the way my culture wanted it performed. That did not involve befriending men.
I’ve gotten a lot better in recent years. I think part of it has to do with seeing men as people, and with being seen as a person by them. Our culture sets men and women up as diametrically opposed opposites, and rationally, I know that’s absolute baloney. But those sorts of lessons can be hard to let go of. It’s hard to stop seeing men as some terrifying or glorious other. I think the key here, as in so many things, is understanding other people as truly and fully human. It can be so hard, though, when the world has been divided up into categories and certain behaviors and values have been assigned to those categories.
I still have a lot of personal learning to do. There’s a lot of messages for me to unlearn, and new lessons for me to replace them with. I wish my culture had taught me the right lessons in the first place. But I do believe that I can learn them, and I hope my culture can too.