All right, let’s do this thing.
Here’s the question posed by Nicole which was the runner up last FFAQ (or FOLS–short for Friday… oh, look! Shiny!) as some commenters have more appropriately named it since I’m doing it on a random WEDNESDAY):
Do you have a hard time having guy friends? I know as a married woman, I try not to have friendships with men, but since your attraction is different, does having male friends pose a problem for you?
I do have trouble having guy friends.
But it’s probably not for the reasons you’d think.
Obviously, it’s wise of Nicole to avoid friendships with guys because she is a woman, and there is high potential for mutual attraction, which could be very problematic and complicated and an unnecessary risk. For me, it’s a lot less dangerous to be friends with straight men. In fact, as long as I’m sure a guy is straight, there is really no danger at all in being friends with him. Crushes are rare, and I find that as a genuine friendship emerges, any such feelings disappear.
I’ve recently discovered just the degree to which being friends with guys is one of the most healing, important steps to feeling like I’m leading a congruent life.
Here’s how it all breaks down.
When a guy is gay, he usually doesn’t feel very good about his masculinity. I’m speaking in generalizations here, and obviously there are exemptions to this. I, however, am not one of them.
I grew up feeling rejected by my male peers. This started as early as grade school (perhaps even before then). I was bullied and sometimes ruthlessly harassed. I was beat up several times by other boys as a kid because my blind eye made me cross-eyed. I did not feel accepted at all within male culture, and I did not feel part of the community of boys I grew up with. I never felt like “one of the guys” in part because of my attractions and in part because of my more effeminate interests and in part because of emotionally traumatic experiences of rejection. (Those experiences might not have been intended to be rejection in every case, but that’s how my mind perceived it.)
This led me to cut myself off from other guys–a kind of self-disenfranchisement from male culture. This was totally subconscious–I had no idea I was doing it. No sports, nothing macho, nothing masculine. Basically, I detached myself from other guys preemptively, to protect myself before I could be re-traumatized by feeling rejected by them. As an adult looking back, I can see that this behavior was pretty irrational, and I know now cognitively that guys were not as “dangerous” to connect with in a buddy way as I had subconsciously perceived them to be. But back then, I was just surviving. I was trying to get through adolescence in one piece. My detachment from male culture became so extreme that for a while I started to feel very elitist–like I was somehow better than guys and that their masculine traits were less refined and more brutish than my cultured sensibilities. I now see this as absurd, but at the time this furthered the wedge between me and other guys and made it so even if a guy did want to connect with me as a friend, I would send him unintentional signals that I rejected him or would give off the vibe that I was better than him. (This was all subconscious, and I had no idea I was doing it at the time. But it’s easy to recognize in hindsight and still happens from time to time I think–especially the unintentional signals of rejection. I think I might do those to this day even though I don’t mean to at all.)
What I had no way of knowing was that I was actually missing something really, really developmentally important. As it turns out, same-sex friendship is an incredibly important part of human development, and most people spend a large amount of time during adolescence bonding with and identifying with and spending lots of time with their same-sex peers. The friendships made at this age are vital for healthy development, and–although most people never think about it because they don’t really have a reason to–most people end up with a rich history of same-sex friendships and bonds by the end of their adolescence that kind of help define them as adults.
I missed that entirely. And I only very recently realized what a huge problem that is. So, basically there is a part of me that is stunted at the age of 13 or 14.
It hit me how important same-sex friendship was for development–especially male development–when I was doing drug assessments a year or two ago. I’d have these absolutely gang-banger pot head teens in my office–guys who until I won them over would have just as soon popped a cap in my head as be there being questioned by me–and as part of the assessment, I would ask them a sequence of questions that, over time, began to really get at me because these guys ALL answered in the same way and the answer was totally unexpected to me.
They’d be leaning back in their chair, all cool, and I’d get this part of the questionnaire and, without fail, it would go like this:
Me: Now I’m going to ask you a few questions about the people in your life. Okay?
Me: Do you have a male best friend?
Me: How close are you?
Addict: Very close. (and/or) He’s like a brother to me. (and/or) We do everything together. (and/or) Extremely close. (and/or) I’d kill/die for him.
Me: Do you have a girlfriend?
Me: And how close are you?
Addict: ….Meh. We fight a lot. (or) We’re… kinda close. (or) We’re not close.
I’m not kidding. Some variation of that was what happened, no matter who the guy was, what his socioeconomic status was, independent of race, religion or creed. Seeing that over and over, I found myself really bothered by that sequence of questions, and I couldn’t figure out why. But it finally occurred to me one day: I realized that I had a problem. Whatever that connection was they were talking about, I had missed it. I had missed out on something huge. Something that most people don’t even realize they have because it’s so normal and natural. But something crucial in adolescent development, the lack of which was a huge, gaping deficit in my psyche.
So, now as an adult–when most of my peers no longer need that kind of connection as much–I’m kind of having to re-create as much of that as I can. I’ll be totally honest, this question is right at the cutting edge of my own development. Seriously, it was probably within the last year-and-a-half that I even realized I was missing something by not having genuine male friendships in which I was totally real and allowed myself to be vulnerable to rejection. But when it hit me, when I finally allowed myself to see the deficit that had been there all along, It shocked me. The void in me was so incredibly large and I hadn’t even looked at it. I had just ignored it. I had missed something big. It was one of those insights we sometimes have that stun us so deeply we almost don’t know what to do with it, or if we can ever fix the problem. Plus, along with it, I realized that one of my biggest hangups in developing friendships with other guys is that I don’t feel worthy of that type of friendship. I feel that if other guys really knew me, they would reject me (a throwback from the olden days, I’m sure). I don’t feel valid as a “guy” and thus my brain tells me that I’m basically pointless as a friend, and that my friends would be better off hanging out with someone, anyone, else but me.
I’ve worked hard on this. I have a couple of friendships right now that feel as close to approaching a genuine, quid pro quo, close buddy relationship (where I open up and trust and am real instead of detaching) as I’ve ever had. When these friends spend time with me, it directly challenges my internal assumptions that I’m worthless as a friend and as a male and as a buddy. This process is not perfect, and being in my thirties where most of my peers have families and careers and not a lot of time to spare isn’t really the optimal time to be trying to forge friendships like the ones those gangbangers were describing–especially since most of my peers no longer require that kind of connection anymore because they’re grown-ups. But I have a couple of really, really good, patient, understanding friends who have been absolutely clutch in this way, and they will probably never know how much their friendships have helped me.
So, to answer the question, yes I do have trouble having guy friends. Because I don’t feel worthy of male friendship, don’t feel legitimate as a male, have spent my entire life disenfranchising myself from male culture, and don’t have a lot of practice. But I’m working on it, and it’s getting better, and I’m unlearning the false things my brain has told me my whole life, both about other guys, and about myself.
I’m going to let you guys know right now that this post is actually really hard for me to put out there because this stuff is still really fresh and current, is all connected to early trauma experiences, and is stuff I’m actively working on now instead of being old resolved junk. I don’t mind comments, of course, but I need them to be extra sensitive and non-confrontational, or I can already tell that this is a post that will have to go bye-bye. I’m willing to put this out there because I mean it when I say I’ll answer any question that’s voted on for FFAQ, but I’m not gonna lie: some questions are harder than others! Thanks in advance for treading lightly.