Since I was a child, I have always had male friends.
“So who’s coming to the party?” a college friend asked once.
“You, me, the guy from next door and his friend.”
“That friend who never talks?”
“He does talk!” I objected.
“He does, but only to you!”
Yes, boys did talk to me. And not in the same way they talked to the girls they were interested in. We talked about our shared interests, exchanged geeky books and talked about relationships. To them, I was just one of the guys.
For so many of my girlfriends, men were potential love interests first, friends later. For me, friendship was the default setting with men. They, like women, were potential friends, not potential love interests.
So I cherished these friends immensely and, somehow, ended up with one or two close male friends during each stage of my life.
In elementary school, there was a boy who lived in the same apartment complex; we would frequently talk about Lord of the Rings. I was dumbfounded when classmates would ask, “When are you going to get married?” Couldn’t a boy and a girl simply be friends?
In high school, there was a boy with whom I exchanged Star Wars books. The other reason I preferred to be friends with men: I was too shy and awkward for much else.
Being friends was one way I could have a little male attention that my friends were boasting about without the tension of romance and without the pressure to appear perfect to the other person.
There were very few men at college, but somehow I managed to befriend one of them. One of the professors liked closing the door to the lecture room to make sure no one would be late. He would also give out a sign-up sheet to check attendance. We were allowed only two absences per year. I was late once and did not make it to class. My friend signed that sheet for me.
It was about this time that I met the man who was a friend first but soon became much more. In fact, I was so used to viewing men only as friends that, at first, I would not consider anything else for us. It was my other friends who sensed we would end up together. They were right.
This stream of male friends continued until I moved abroad, got married and had a child in very quick succession. While unrooted from my friends, both male and female, I had to start from scratch.
It was then that I realized that by prioritizing male friendships, I was missing out on having intimate connections with women. So I threw myself into those friendships with full force. I started attending a play group, which became my lifeline. This group kept my children entertained. The women from that group were the first ones to read my blog. They provided inspiration for new blog posts and gave feedback on my writing. They even found me a job.
The few encounters I’ve had with other men - mostly fathers of my children’s friends - are usually focused on the logistics of getting children to and from play dates. Besides, as one blogger noticed, there is something slightly awkward about being friends with someone of a different gender when one or both of you are married.
Despite all the progress women have made in the past few decades, play groups are still dominated by moms, at least in my case. Their husbands were working, while they had to get through the day with children without losing their minds.
If I were working in an office, I probably would have male colleagues as well as female ones, and I could imagine going out as a group. But somehow, one-on-one meetings with men no longer happen.
I am very happy as a wife and mother. But there are things from my former life that I miss. The freedom to go out just by myself, without the company of little people is one. Meeting a man for coffee, just as friends, is another. The only difference is that the former is becoming reality, but the latter probably never will.