Should gender matter in friendship? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself my whole life. After all, gender is a social set of rules (a construct as some call it). Some people follow the rules more vehemently than others. Rules exist to contain & direct human behaviour and almost always they make life easier for some, at the cost of others. It means our lived experiences are very different because even as we share a planet, we inhabit very different worlds.
Friendship is my favorite bond with other people. I love that it allows for affection, inspiration, companionship, shared ideas, varied experiences & just fun. It’s the relationship with the fewest rules & most flexibility to accomodate individual preferences & personalities. But the rules of being a man also dictate the rules of being a woman. So my very identity is challenged by associations with men.
I’ve seen my male friendships evolve in 15 years & it’s not just because I’ve changed. Men used to vehemently reject me unless I embraced the role of sex object/sexless punching bag. Friendship was treated like an insult, something I couldn’t fathom since men seemed to be such good friends with other men. Feminism helped me identify ‘the friendzone’ as the entitled, misogynist concept it was.
In my 30s, younger men became part of my worldview (as they became adults). They make for more meaningful friendships. We talk about about work that inspires us, love that moves us, art that touches us, experiences that pleasure us. I am an actual person & not just a service role in these associations (though yes, I sometimes fall into being ‘mommy figure/therapy person’ roles). I don’t know how much of it is because they don’t see me as a desire object because of the age difference & how much is evolving masculinity. But it’s different & I like it.
Friendships with men are still different because of their worldview. What’s changed is, friendship is possible now.
I’m surrounded by question marks, in the shape of expensive gifts from you. I’ve discarded the funny, the cheesy, the lighthearted lines like you’ve done our laughs. But what about the Parisian box of songs? La vie en rose may as well be a life of thorns. I don’t like looking at the gold memento anymore. It makes me wonder if all you were out for, was another gold rush of emotions.
I’m sitting in a gigantic suitcase full of question marks that you’ve left behind. What shall I pack? Can I just put them all in there or should I send them back? My house isn’t big enough for all the feelings I have about these things.
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I heard someone describe three other people’s interaction as ‘ritualised’. It made me think of the forced inanities that people thrust on each other, the scripts that we impose on each other and that we find ourselves following. The delighted welcomes, the whine exchanges, the mutual enabling of vices – aren’t these the traits of many long-running relationships? Some of us find security in it; some find it oppressive. Either way, there is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, and performed according to set order, which Wikipedia tells me is the very definition of ‘ritual’.
Do some of us exist in RITUALISED RELATIONSHIPS then?
One of my golden relationship dictats is to never mix one’s professional and personal lives. I’m going to add one to that –
‘Don’t confuse your partner’s friends for your own.’
This is not a cynical, angry statement (along the lines of “You don’t make friends in b-school, only future colleagues & competitors”). Indeed, I’ve written about the joys of getting along with the partner’s friend. I’ve also detailed the curious picture of a ‘best friend couple’. I stand by those two, based as they are, on real people and situations in my life.
However, I am coming to believe that in order to keep things clean and simpler for everyone in the long run, perhaps some lines (albeit artificial) need to be drawn. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the heartache of a relationship with a friend and one of the most devastating things about it, was the quandary into which it plunged our common friends. Custody battles for friendship are no less ugly than those for children & possessions of an estranged couple.
What happens when you don’t have common friends? There is a normal process of getting to know each other’s circles and finding a place within them. Here’s where my newfound pearl of wisdom comes in. Friction is an integral part of any relationship and the possibility of parting ways is never exactly zero. In addition, the complex process of building a life with another person, doesn’t come naturally to most people, especially those of us in the uber-individual, nuclear-family society of today. At such a time, the urban family of friends and trusted confidantes serve to provide perspective and even wisdom in handling each situation.
All of this just gets complicated beyond control, if the same people (or person) must be called upon to provide perspective to both parties in a relationship. I think, at some level, anyone in this situation would feel that they need to take one side over the other and the choice is almost always (and should) the person they’ve known longer.
What happens when you’ve become friends with your partner’s friends (or think you have) and then discover that they choose your partner over you? Any fair-minded person would agree that this is natural and above reproach. On the other hand, when you trust someone and they take the other person’s side, it feels like they’ve chosen to stand against you; like they reject you. Another mess that only accentuates any natural conflict you may have with your partner.
Let me turn that around. I am always happy when a close friend of mine gets along well with my partner. However, I must admit, I also need to know that when it comes down to it, they have my back. This is irrespective of what situation I face, and tomorrow (or whenever) that situation may be against my partner. I do need to know that my friends are on my side, firmly and without doubt.
I am going to conclude that this is one of the many aspects of the space that is crucial to any relationship. There are things that it is necessary to retain at an individual level, to not share, for the very good of the relationship. Perhaps close friendship is one of them.
I’ve written about the importance of a girl’s best friend. Here’s when I get to introduce this blog to another important person – the boy’s best buddy. Let’s call him BBB (in the manner of BFFs).
BBB is a classmate of the boy and shares with him those great memories, of people who’ve lived a campus life together. He’s surprisingly (or maybe not so much) different from the boy. Where the boy is a recluse, he’s friendly and sociable. The boy leans to extreme attitudes (burning passion for games, strictly classical approach to literature, loathing for popular music) while BBB seems open to a wide range of cultural offerings. He laughs often and makes other people laugh. In short, he’s almost a male version of me.
My first memory of BBB was when I called the boy during one of his nights out with the boys. Much laughing and shrieking and giggling (?) was in progress in the background. A short pause and the boy said in a flat voice,
“I’ll call you back. BBB is grabbing my chest hair.”
The day I was introduced to the BBB, I was rummaging about in the kitchen, looking for the neat pile of home delivery menus I’d put together for the boy.
“What a mess!! How did you manage to put every one of those menus in a different place in 3 days??”
BBB giggled and the boy, (hitherto unbothered) glared at him and yelled,
“What are you, six years old??!”
Unperturbed the BBB retorted,
“Be a modern man and help the lady around the house! R, I wish you all the luck with that though!”
There have been several entertaining conversations since then, with me and the BBB exchanging titbits about the boy, who tries to silence us by glaring. The best he’s able to come up with is low mutterings about curd-rice eaters. You see, BBB is half-Tamilian by birth and has lived in the South for the better part of his life. The boy has to fall silent when I point out that for all this curd rice phobia, he’s uncannily drawn to the denizens of that school of culinary thought.
The boy and I passed the crucial relationship stage of staying over at his place awhile ago. He bought me a toothbrush (awww, yes) and plopped it next to his own, in the holder. I haven’t had much call to use it but it’s always there. It’s one of those comforting signals, one unconsciously looks for, in a relationship.
Last month, I was refreshing my make-up, when I stopped dead in my tracks. In that innocuous little plastic holder above the washbasin, there was a third toothbrush.
“So who’s part of this merry ménage a trios?”
I asked, pointing to the guilty toothbrush.
The boy’s deadpan reply was,
Guh. My steady ol’ Mr.Everyday gives me no reason to worry about other women. It’s another man I need to be thinking about.
Incidentally it is the BBB’s birthday today. Last night, the boy and I were over at his place wishing him amidst much alcohol, pizza and cake. The guys bopped him all over the floor in that barbaric boy ritual of birthday bumps. Then they made him down a quarter bottle of neat whiskey. And when he came up for air, I handed him a bottle of cold water. Then the cake was cut and I smushed a piece onto his face, which may have been the start of that mess that was all over the kitchen floor when we left. At one point of time, he grabbed me into a hug and yelled
“Welcome to the family!”
The boy looked pained and said,
“Okay, I haven’t been asked to be a part of that family yet but you’re already welcome?! Hmph!”
I waved around the thermacol light saber-sword that I found lying around (that both BBB and his flatmate claim belongs to the other) and laughed. He took it from me, tapped me on each shoulder saying “Knight. Knight” and said he’d bequeath it to me in his will. As the drinks went down, he also called the boy and me, his favorite drunken couple and promised to take our children to Sunday school.
Unlike the boy, I do believe that it is important to at least make an effort to get along with the friends and family of your significant other. It does make life easier. So I’m really relieved that I get along so effortlessly well with the BBB. Socializing is obviously much, much more enjoyable when you actually like the people you’re with. I know the boy probably spends less time with his friends since getting into this relationship (and so do I with my friends!). But the BBB and his other friends haven’t made a fuss of it. Hmm, guy friends always seem to be a little easier to deal with, in that way.
BBB has known him far longer than I have, so he knows where the boy is coming from. But I also find I relate to him so he shares my viewpoint in a lot of things. It’s a good balanced perspective for the boy, one that is agreeable to me too.
I do think BBB is a great guy. So I’m really happy for the boy that he has him for a best friend. Even if I do have to share a toothbrush holder with him.
Did you know that The XX Factor was on Facebook? In addition to the posts that come up here, I also frequently link to articles of interest that I find all over the blogosphere. Style, dating, relationships, humour and everything else XX Factor outside the blog find their place in my links. Facebook makes it really easy for me to share what I read with my interested readers. But I realized some of my readers are not on Facebook and I don’t want them to miss out on the entertainment! So here’s what The XX Factor was reading this month:
- How do you know when a relationship is exclusive? (via Lemondrop)
- Bharatmatrimony’s witty insight on marriage. (via Twitter)
- 5 tired boy moves we’d like to see laid to rest. (via Lemondrop)
- 5 romantic gestures that will turn her off! (via Modern Man) Yes, you’re welcome, men!
- What is your dating style? (via Facebook)
- A schematic mapping a woman by her behaviour into every single media stereotype ever. (via Overthinking it)
- Do you have all the 8 types of friendships you need to grow as a person? (via The Frisky)
- Where are you on the Hipster Fashion Cycle? (via Republic of Chic)
I’ve had the privilege of being the straight voice of Gaysi for a year and a half now. I’ve listened to coming-out conversations. I’ve met openly gay people. I’ve attended the launch of a book about gays in India. I’ve faced my own conflicted confusion and resolved it. I’ve even been hit upon by a gay person. This is all me and how homosexuality fits into my head.
With Section 377 and Indian Gay Prides, my world mirrors the world around. People are talking now, yes. Some agree, some don’t but at least it is being acknowledged. Ordinarily, I should have been an indifferent observer since I’m not gay myself. But I’ve been drawn into the world of these questions, first by friends closetted-suspected-gay, then the blog and finally all the other people and associations that happened as a result. It’s changing my life.
Being a straight and gay-friendly person is not as easy as it looks. Having sorted out (mostly, I hope!) where I myself stand on the issue, I find there’s a whole new can of surprises (and now, let’s not call them all worms) opening up. Some I resolve, some I rationalise and on some, I’m still ambivalent. The list has the four most important areas of my life, which is a good indication of just how big the question has become even for a supposedly uninvolved bystander.
When I first started writing for Gaysi, I worried about what my parents would think. They could be tempted to associate my still single status, my fiery (often anti-male) behaviour with possible queerdom. It took a lot of self-examination before I could stand by my belief without righteous indignation and only a rational stating of facts. I’m happy to say it went through quite smoothly. It’s possible that they may be thankful that I’m only writing about homosexuality and not practicing it but I’m willing to live with that.
The average Indian male seems to be homophobic, this is true. At some point of time, the question of homosexuality comes up (it has been in the news after all). I’m in a dilemma when I come up against homophobia. I have friends who are gay and to be involved with someone who may not treat them right, doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, I also wonder if this topic is like politics and religion, where differing viewpoints can be respected and need not interfere in the relationship.
That doesn’t sound fair to me.
Before introducing a straight friend to a gay friend, I make sure to mention the gay orientation. It’s not part of the general description to make a person interesting (“She’s a film-maker. He speaks 5 foreign languages”). It’s a veiled safety-clause that says, I’m telling you this beforehand so if you have a problem with it, say so now or forever hold your peace. I hate having to state that since in an ideal world it shouldn’t matter. I know it smacks of underhanded discrimination but I’m rationalizing it as a practical solution.
But even this is complicated by the fact that a lot of straight people are not homophobic as much as homo-apathetic. That’s until they’re faced with a situation and then their reactions could go anyway.
Recently, I introduced a gay friend to my companion at a party. It turned out they stayed close to each other and my gay friend offered my companion a lift. Later that night, he called me in a huff. It transpired that in conversation during the ride, my straight friend had asked,
“Are you hitting on me?”
Now it could be that my companion was just joking. Or he may have been serious whereupon it might have been a deep-seated phobia or just an innocent misreading of signals. My gay friend on the other hand, prides himself on being able to discern the gay strain in others, even through confusion or outright denial. He might have been on track there or he might have been mistaken.
It’s an awkward situation for me in the end, even though I wasn’t even a part of the conversation. They’re both friends and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to think about who is closer and who I may have to, eventually, let go.
This hasn’t actually posed a problem but I’ll add a ‘yet’ to that. I had a coming-out experience of my own kind recently when I dropped my five-year long anonymity and revealed my identity to my readers. The worlds of social media, writing and work are merging and I’m finding it more practical to consolidate than to compartmentalize. My blogging activities are now ennumerated in my resume. No organisation will openly admit to being gay-unfriendly. But I’ve been a woman in the corporate world and I know all about biases and prejudices that are never acknowledged but hinder you anyway. I wonder whether I’m setting myself up for yet another one of those and I’ve been tempted (several times) to take Gaysi off my list. It’s the easy option but each time I hit delete, I also get that bad feeling in my head that feels like cowardice.
In each of these situations, I’m faced with the question of how important this issue is to me. I’m not gay, I’m not a close relation of anyone who is (that’s to say, I’m not living with or supporting anyone who is). Why then should I bother? Because it’s the right thing to do, this is true.
But there’s just this much I can do. And while I will never endorse discrimination, I often wonder if I can just pipe down instead of crusading for a quest I’m not even a part of. In this world of so many sins, I must pick my battles. Homosexuality is on the list but I can’t honestly say I’ll always have the courage to keep it there.