Since emerging from the semi-hibernation that is mothering a newborn baby I have found myself re-animated about socialising, or more specifically the socialising that takes place outside of playdates for the children. Lately I have also been trying to make a better go of my friendships with men. I have lots of close female friends and only a couple of male friends (if you discount the partners of friends and friends of my partner). And this handful of male friends of mine are all heterosexual. My partner has women friends too, in fact for some years his women friends have been closer to him than his men friends. But those women friends are lesbians and I am not sure that he finds them all that complicated to be with. I don’t like the anti-feminist notion that straight men and women can’t be friends – it smacks of the idea that women are the property of men, or that men can’t think past their dicks. But for me right now, pursuing friendships with straight men is not turning out to be all that straight forward.
One of my male friends has a fair bit in common with me – we’ve both been primary parents and we’re both now trying to get our careers back on track after being at home with babies. We have some shared academic interests, and he is intelligent and amusing conversation; but he is also a terrible flirt. It is part of who he is and it is mostly quite silly and witty. He flirts with me, he flirts with his wife, he flirts with my female friends, he flirts with any woman roughly his age. Mostly I am cool with that, I can kind of enjoy the harmless flirting and then move the conversation along, and he isn’t creepy or anything, he just moves right along with it. But very occasionally it is kind of confronting – once I even had to clarify it with him – are you totally stepping over the line here with me or just completely kidding around. This is not a problem I have encountered lately with my female friends, even those who are gorgeous, queer and flirty. He and I want to catch up together but we’re also like – how should we make time to do this, should we meet for a drink after work or organise dinner on the weekend with our partners? And we have done both those things in the past (mostly pre-motherhood), including introducing our spouses who were like yeah that’s nice but also a bit meh about it all. So I am thinking it is not worth trying to get both families together with all the organising that that takes, and the absence of interest in the idea being shown by our partners, anyway. And if he were a woman friend I would have no hesitation in inviting him out for a drink with me. But a man, and a flirty man at that? Feels weird.
Then there is this other male friend. We used to work together and I can tell we both miss that time because we were a great team, and we really click and it is very loose and relaxed with us and there is potential for a nice friendship here. But the other day we met for lunch, and first there was the fact that he insisted on paying, which I took up because he was trying to be kind and celebratory about me being back at work, but then because he is a man I had to think for a second is this a problem at all. Not long into our lunch he volunteered that he and his partner have separated and I could see that in spite of the reservations he held about opening up about all this that he was also desperate to talk about it; the way you are when heart-broken and confused about how it all ended. So I asked him about the break-up and I listened, and then he talked and talked and talked. And after a long while he got a little worried about having poured out his heart and soul to me. I tried to be reassuring, like you know this is how women friends talk to each other all the time, it isn’t considered overly intimate or needy, and when your heart is broken you sometimes really, really need to talk about that. He agreed, and said how nice it was to get a female perspective on the sitution, and how much he thought male friendships failed one another in this department; but still, obviously our conversation seemed kind of oddly intimate to him. Again, now that feels weird.
I like the idea of male friends but I have to admit to thinking that this is all too much hard work.