On attraction and friendship

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I could relax more in the company of boys than girls. Throughout my years at school I struggled to fit in, never feeling that I truly belonged in any of the cliques. I had my small group of girl friends from school and church but conversation with them never seemed to flow as naturally as it did with the boy friends. The boys seemed to talk about and do so much more fun stuff than the girls. I couldn’t relate to it all but I enjoyed sitting in on the banter.

Of course, there was always the problem of the sexual undercurrents. I hung out with quite a mixed group and dated a number of them. The difficulties of break ups and of suspecting that one or other of the boys wanted to ask me out could make knowing how freely I could call them up or suggest we do something a bit of a minefield. I wanted to be liked for being me, not as some sort of potential sex toy.

When I started going to nightclubs this became an irritation. In those days I liked to dance and I couldn’t afford to drink too much. I was happy to go with groups of people I knew but had no interest in being chatted up by a stranger. One of my girlfriends felt the same (she was in a long term relationship from a young age) so we would make a pact to be there for each other; to put off the drunken, amorous pursuits of the beer stoked guys looking for a pick up.

Preparing for a night out, this friend and I would decide what to wear. We had neither the money nor the ability to appear fashionable¬†so often opted for outrageous. On several occasions we put on our stitched together ‘ball gowns’ for a disco. We wanted to dance and would do so together, always turning away any boys who tried to step in. We would never accept a drink from a stranger. As the night wore on and approaches became more frequent and pushy we would play the situation up, slow dancing together or acting like eejits, waving our arms in the air and prancing wildly. When we had had enough we would go home, always together and with nobody else. Those nights out were fun.

Some of the boys we encountered at the discos would act as if we were being teases. Turning up at a nightclub as two single girls and then refusing to accept the attention of any boys was seen by them as not playing by the rules. The places did resemble cattle markets with the girls parading themselves on the dance floor while the boys stood around the edge drinking their beer and eyeing up the totty before deciding who they would honour with their attention. I was never going to be interested in the sort of stud who felt this was reasonable behaviour.

Just as I hated the thought of being picked up by some stranger just because of the way I looked, so I was never attracted to a boy just because he was considered handsome. In many ways this was more likely to put me off as I suspected he would be too concerned about his image for my liking. I had no wish to be arm candy.

I liked the boys who invited a crowd round to their house to listen to music and talk. As we got older the meet ups would often be in pubs, but we would still crowd back to somebody’s house afterwards. Sometimes we would go on walks or to a beach, there were camping trips and drives out to remote places for no discernible reason, but it was the talk that I remembered. I wanted to be able to think the way some of those boys thought; to communicate with that witty rapport full of clever comebacks.

It all started to become more complicated as I got older. As acquaintances started to pair off, to get engaged and then married, I had to be careful how I treated the boys in the groups I hung out with. I could no longer flirt and banter as I had without falling foul of wives and potential wives. I could no longer sit up into the wee small hours discussing everything and nothing without facing accusations of impropriety.

These days I only have a few close male friends. I have learnt to be wary of relationships with men, especially when they are married to my women friends. I have seen too many serious fallouts over perceived mental infidelities and want nothing to do with any of that. I find this state of affairs so sad; I still find the conversations men have so much more interesting than the small talk in which women indulge but which I find so troublesome.

I no longer consider myself to be in any danger of being perceived as a sex toy, but am much more wary than I once was of being seen to be suggesting any improper behaviour. The men I know largely regard me as someone else’s wife and treat me warily. We are all being so careful not to cause offence that we do not get to know each other as individuals.

Perhaps this is why I enjoy getting together with old friends so much. With them I can revert to my natural behaviour rather than the uptight carefulness required to avoid social faux pas. Old friends have known me as I was and have seen me move on to what I have become. They have chosen to stay in touch and to still get together from time to time. With them I can just relax and talk.

I never did learn how to¬†communicate with witty rapport full of clever comebacks, but I still enjoy sitting in on such banter. I enjoy talking music and politics and life with friends who can disagree with me whilst respecting my right to hold the views I do. I love being a wife and a mother but I also like to be regarded as an individual with my own thoughts and interests. Just as when I was younger, these seem to conflate more with the thoughts and interests of the men I know. What a shame that so many of us can’t just be friends.

Conversation by Patrick Bohnen