Saturday, September 1, 2007

Men Are From, Um . . . Where Exactly?

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.


Charlie said...

I've always assumed that men are only "friends" with women that they, at some level, find sexually attractive. Or at least this is true regarding twenty-somethings and younger. When people start getting married, I see how the dynamic might change. Anyway, the men in question are not necessarily going to act on their attraction, but the attraction is still a central part of the friendship.

But I've also heard many women insist that the same is not true for them. That they have many ardor-less (at least from their point of view) male friendships. I am somewhat prepared to believe this, mostly on the grounds that women think less about sex than men (although Captain C. will probably correct me on that). So. Thoughts?

Captain Colossal said...

I am going to go on record as saying that I don't believe that women think about sex less than men.

I'm also going to go on record as saying that I don't have any friends, male or female, that I consider unattractive.

It's such an interesting question. I spent a lot of time in my early twenties feeling vaguely guilty about wanting to be friends with people because I found them attractive or fun to flirt with -- I think it's a guilt more common among women than among men. I think the fact that women are supposed to be pursued means that it's more likely that they'll claim friendships are ardor-less.

Anyway, to return to the main point of the post -- I don't know. A few years back all my friends were women. Also I find it easier to become close friends with women; I feel like I understand the kinds of things you say to generate a sense of intimacy and commonality in a way that I'm less sure of when talking to guys. Also I feel like it's easier for me to judge quickly whether a woman is the kind of person I want to be friends with -- I have a clear set of guidelines on what are good signs and what aren't, in a way that reminds me of Charlie's (rigid and puritanical) views on hair product for men.

Noko Marie said...

Hmm, interesting. In some ways what I find attractive-in-a-friend and what I find attractive-attractive are so close and intertwined that it's hard to sort out. Certainly there are men I am friends with who, on balance, I wouldn't choose to have sex with, even absent other life-considerations. But I'm not sure I'd use the term "ardor-less" either.

I agree with Captain C. that it's often in a women's best interest to deceive herself in a case like this, since if a woman A is sexually into her guy friend B and B doesn't find her attractive back, there's a tendency for people to feel that this is somehow sad or pathetic. No woman wants to feel they are the A in that sort of circumstance.

I don't think I really have any guilt about the friend-attraction thing. What kind of guilt? As in being a tease? Or as in getting some illicit something?

Unlike Captain C., I did not start out with a clear sense about other women. It's only now as I get older that I feel I'm developing this sort of judgment ability, and ability to connect. I don't know why.

As to whether women think about sex as much as men... I have a lot of opinions. It seems to be possible that while women are in a sense as sexually-minded as men, they are less often in the right circumstances. Or maybe they are more circumstance-dependent, but not in a way that means "less interested overall."

(Insert here your favorite joke about foot-signals in bathroom stalls, ha ha ha).

Charlie said...

Here is one way to demonstrate that guys think about sex more than women: pornography. Men are way more into this than women are. And some guys spend hours and hours viewing pornography each day/week/month. So unless women have an equivalent, women-specific activity that matches that for "sex thinking", or overtake men in other, universal "sex thinking" areas (and I'm willing to be enlightened on that), there is no way women think about sex as much as men. Just based on pornography alone.

Captain Colossal said...

The guilt thing: hard to put my finger on. I think it came down to a sense that it's superficial to be friends with someone on the basis of attractiveness. Even someone with whom I wouldn't, on balance, have sex. I felt like I should be choosing my friends on the basis of shared values, rather than on personal appeal.

As I get older, this strikes me as straight up ridiculous, but I was pretty earnest when young.

Charlie: I mean, do you have porn statistics to back that up? Even if you do, and they back you up, does that mean that women think about sex less than men? I still think the unease women feel about wanting sex in a situation where they are entirely subject (rather than object) might make their thoughts about sex less overt and less easy to quantify in things like porn viewing. Also, you know, mathematicians have proved that women have sex as much as men.

Charlie said...

So women think about sex in non-overt ways?** At some point doesn't a non-overt sex thought become a non-sex thought?

**here I inserted the comment "What, they think about cigars or something?" but thought that might be too jabbing, so I omitted it.

Captain Colossal said...

Less overt, not non overt.

But the tactfulness is appreciated.

FreeThinker said...

Another angle to this topic is the unique and special friendship between gay men and straight women. I am a straight man with many platonic female friends, but I envy the bond that gay men have with these same women!

Noko Marie said...

Hi freethinker, yeah, totally. After these comments I got to thinking about friendships between women and gay men -- which, at least in some sense, seem different from the case of the man who is just friends with a woman because he wants to have sex with her.

A lot of the complexities I mentioned that arise between straight men and women apply much less to gay men and women: people don't gossip about the friendship; their love-life reflections overlap rather than challenging one another.