“Talk to every woman as if you loved her, and to every man as if he bored you, and at the end of your first season you will have the reputation of possessing the most perfect social tact.”
When I came to London in 2003 to do an MSc (yes, this is going to be another of those blog entries that starts with a long, rambling story that sort of ties into the topic I’m droning on about, but only vaguely), I’d been living with my folks in dull old Worthing for three years since finishing my undergraduate degree, and, apart from some older men at the local astronomy society where I helped out on Friday evenings, I’d had very little social contact with other human beings during that time. Imagine my delight, therefore, to be placed in a flat with three young women and two blokes! One of the women was doing the same course as me, and we assimilated another woman from our course into our friendship group even though she lived in another flat — and two guys from another, another flat, but who cares about them, they’re blokes.
While you may think it’s weird for a heterosexual guy to prefer the company of women that he’s not trying to seduce, it’s just the way I am — I like having female friends and treating them as my sisters. Indeed, since I’d been a muggle for three years since graduating (and had done four years as an undergrad due to my time away on a student exchange in the USA), while everyone else had pretty much gone straight from undergrad to postgrad status, I was a few years older than them and thus able to act as their “big brother”, helping them out and being there for them. This was a refreshing change from being treated like a little brother by women of my own age (something I really resented at school).
Yes, despite Billy Crystal’s claims in When Harry Met Sally, men and women most certainly can be “just friends”, though I don’t like the word “just”: it’s ridiculous to say, for example, that my relationship with my closest female friend, where we watch movies together and tell each other our innermost thoughts, is somehow “inferior” to a relationship in which a man and a woman have no real spiritual bond but knock boots on a regular basis. My female friends aren’t “just” my friends, they’re my good friends, and I value them all; I’ve drawn strength from them during my recovery from depression, and I wouldn’t change them for the world.
But that’s not what I’m here to ramble on about tonight: it’s that my biggest achievement is to make male friends, because it’s too easy for me to write off all men as “sexist pigs who go on about football all the time”. To let a bloke into my life as something other than a distant acquaintance is a psychological leap for me, and every time I manage it, I’m pleased with myself. My two best friends in the world (from my postgrad days) may be female, but I’m glad to have a number of male friends across the world, including my USA university roommate, who took me into the bosom of his family, and his little brother, who invited me to visit many times (and who turned out to have a set of Constructicons — getting to play with them when I went over to visit the family in 2001 was like that moment in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Henry Jones, Sr. finally holds the Holy Grail in his hands!).
There’s also the Hong Kong-ian flatmate from my postgrad days, who was a major part of the gang and helped make that one of the happiest years of my life (certainly better than my undergrad days in the UK!), and one of my male coursemates, who later became a housemate along with the two female best friends, and continued tolerating my foolishness for many years afterwards (even after both women moved off up north), and even when he got his own place, he let me sleep on his sofa until I could move into my new home, so I kind of owe him my life. There’s even some male friends at work, including the guy I upset inadvertently but then apologised for ranting at me (who’s supported me through some difficult times, as well as just laughing at my jokes), and also the guy opposite me, who lends me CDs and is pleasant company (and to think, he and I started off somewhat antagonistically!).
And even now, in 2012 (hence the title of this post), I’m still able to make new male friends: at climbing I befriended a cheerful Irishman who, it turns out, likes some of the same things as me, including learning Japanese, Beavis and Butt-head and, of course, indoor climbing! At last, I’ve got someone I can go to The Castle with right after work, instead of just for the 7pm “Session”, which means I can get home at a civilised hour and eat dinner without having it on my stomach overnight! (Yes, I’ll probably do a “cool stuff” post about climbing at some point, since it’s changed my life so much…) We have a good time together, but don’t worry: this isn’t “bromance” or any of that nonsense, we’re just friends… er, honest!
How different from a year ago, when I could see nothing ahead but a miserable darkness, because I just stayed in my room every night thinking that the people at work and my housemates were sufficient social contact. Maybe I’ll even have a friend come over (something I haven’t done in ages) to watch a movie, or play on the Wii I just got second-hand from my old Japanese teacher. No, stop, I don’t want any jokes about having a male friend over to stand in my room and wave his Wiimote around… uh huh huh huh huh huh huh huh huh huh!