I was the kind of little girl who basically regarded little boys as aliens from another planet. I felt basically the same way about boys I did about dogs: there you'd be, trying to play some civilized game or have a conversation, and these creatures would be jumping around, making noise, scaring the bejeezus out of you for nothing.
Eventually I grew up. And I remember in college, and for a long time after, it was almost the opposite: all my friends were guys. Not because I spent all my time with people I was having sex with, or had had sex with, or wanted to have sex with, but just because I liked guys better. I even felt more at home with them.
At that time, it seemed to me that guys were funny while girls were humorless; guys were lighthearted while girls were brooding; guys were interested in talking about stuff while girls were just interested in talking about each other.
More time passed, and now I am a little older. And I realized recently with surprise that even though my close friends are about evenly divided, the people I am just, you know, friends with, are mostly women. I even have a bit of that old childhood feeling with men: what part of the universe did these people drop in from?
At first, I thought: how weird that I have changed. And then thinking it over, it started to dawn to me that I hadn't changed, that what had changed wasn't me, or men, but just the way people interact as they get older.
When you're 20-something, and maybe for a while after, men and women share a lot of the same interests: music, movies, books, a sort of "what am I going to do with my life" feeling. And there's a harmlessness, too, to cross-gender friendship and casual flirting at that age. The desire to seem attractive to the opposite sex makes people interact. And there's no gender-baggage either: you're just, you know, feeling your way.
But in middle-age, these things seem to change. The harmlessness feeling goes away. If an attached woman goes out for drinks or dinner with a male colleague, it's assumed that something fishy is going on. If she goes out with a female colleague, no one cares.
Since a lot of people this age are parents, they're not as interested in discussing movies, music, books, and so on. And when it comes to other topics, I relate to women much more easily. I'm not into sports; I don't want to argue about politics. I do want to talk about the details of our lives, and about clothes, and I want to gossip about the people we know in common. It doesn't get much more girly than that.
Interestingly, the women I know have gotten more funny and lighthearted as they've grown older, while the men have gotten more serious. I don't know why, but I have a partial theory: women start out wary and become resigned, whereas men start out optimistic and become sad as things fail to work out.
Finally, it seems the experience of life just becomes so gendered as life goes on that it becomes harder and harder to understand the feelings of the other sex. I feel like men spend a lot of time thinking about women in a way they can't share with me, and women spend a lot of time thinking about men in a way they can't share with men.
So while I like men as much as I ever did, they've gone back to being kind of a mystery to me. It makes me sad. I miss them.