I used to think of myself as ‘one of the boys‘, because I didn’t identify with how femininity was practised around me. I wanted to own my intelligence, my independence and strength the way I saw only boys do. I walked, talked and dressed in a close approximation of my male peers – dirty jeans, chunky boots and a loud voice steeling myself to incorporate crude speech. I didn’t get a lot of acceptance because gender roles are too deeply embedded in people’s minds. Other girls still saw me as competition for their boyfriends and the boys treated me like I was a defective female.
Once I started working, I was able to experience my personal power without having to dress it up so much. People took me seriously and held me as accountable. Through my 20s, I was able to embrace my softer side – sitting with my legs crossed, caring for my appearance, smiling over snarling, compliments instead of sarcasm. I had discovered I could be/do these without giving away my power.
Now I meet more women who practise my kind of femininity. Not the coy, simpering, bitchy-to-other-girls, defining oneself by one’s boyfriend/husband kind. But smart, independent women who don’t feel the need to hide it or tear me down. They’re also emotionally aware, not just apeing ‘maleness’. This kind of femininity is more acceptable now.
Occasionally a woman expects me to be her knight in shining armour – this is the old toxic femininity, acting helpless + expecting women to do all the work. It’s not perfect.
But I have more fulfilling conversations with other women now than I did before 30. Careers, health, poetry, architecture, sexuality and yes, men too – we talk like two humans would, not like scripts mouthed by strictly controlled prisoners.
Men, in comparison are rarely this interesting. There are exceptions but they’re a scant few. Conversations wth men often have to be ’emotionally dumbed down’. It’s tiring and not worth it when there are other more evolved humans called women.
I’ve come a long way from ‘one of the boys’. Right now I’m every bit a women’s woman. Or maybe, I’m my own person.
I like to call it a frisson in friendship, not even something important enough to merit beginning with capitals and being preceded with a ‘the’. It’s that elusive sense that you can’t quite catch. If it had tangible form, it would be the thing that you seem to catch from the corner of your eye but when you look for it, it isn’t there. It only turns up when you don’t expect it and the minute you begin to think about it, it turns into something else or vanishes altogether.
Say there’s this friend you have. For simplicity, let’s assume this friend is of the opposite sex (though I think the frisson happens with same-sex friendships too, sexual orientation notwithstanding). You’re comfortable with each other, if you think about it, which you probably don’t do much; that’s part of the comfort level. Then it sneaks up on you.
Like a faint whiff that came up on you as memory first (because the memory-center is very close to the olfactory sense center in the brain, so smells trigger off instant memories). You can’t quite smell it just yet, even if you really strain your nostrils. But it is there, unmistakeably. The next time you notice it even more, perhaps because the last time threw you off a bit.
It’s not insignificant enough for you to ignore. It’s there, the slight tremble that runs through you when they – your friend, you have to remind yourself – say your name. Or the tingling warmth in your cheeks that you’re aware will turn into a blush if you don’t clamp down on it by saying something very intelligent – and all because they paid you a compliment.
It’s also not big enough to be able to tell what it is – sexual, romantic, both or neither. All you know is that it’s there. You see your friend in a new light. Then you start noticing them noticing you. Wondering if they feel those things too. Deducing perhaps that they don’t. But then, recalling a funny look in their eyes a few months ago. Then remembering that the two of you didn’t speak for about a month after that. But that was because they were out of town. Wasn’t it? You’re thinking about it. It’s that frisson that’s making you think all this.
I think the frisson happens in all male-female friendships at some point of time. Perhaps even all male-female relationships. It’s a sudden crystal-sharp awareness of the other person’s sex. Maybe it’s a natural balancing out. If you’re used to seeing each other in a ‘purely platonic’ manner, nature throws at least one such frisson your way where your brain thinks of nothing but the opposite, if only for a brief minute.
If you’ve been very close for a long time, it can be confusing. If one or both of you are in committed relationships to other people, it can be destabilizing too. I think it sometimes happens as a result of loneliness, horniness or one person going through a difficult time and the other one being there for them. Many of us tend to desperately attach onto the person that’s good to us, during tough times.
The frisson may not be harmless. It’s probably what causes cheating in relationships that are going through rough patches. But it is also probably where longtime friendships that turn into love, begin. Frissons aren’t always permanent or reciprocated at the same time. I think it at least adds a little spice and flavour to an already nice relationship – friendship. And like most other things to do with human emotion, they can be managed with cool heads and communication. Or perhaps not, a frisson is probably the one thing I wouldn’t want to discuss with a friend that I otherwise talk to about everything, precisely because conversation could make it bigger than it actually is.
Well, who knows? The frisson defies definition.