One sticky summer day 32 years ago, I was catching lizards in the backyard with my next door neighbor and friend Barry. We were both 10 and in addition to catching lizards, we’d climb up walk on the top of the cinder block fences that separated our yards, and we’d daydream under the sunlight. I felt brave around him.
[Bridge to Terabithia picture borrowed from Jeff Swindoll’s movie review]
When I was 16, Roger, my best friend in the whole wide world, and I would go for long walks in the local forest preserves of a Midwest suburb and we’d talk about our hopes and dreams while we struggled to stay sane while we dealt with dysfunctional families. I had hope when I was with him.
When I was 17, I’d wax philosophical about life and human nature into the wee hours of the morning with my friend Dave, a university sophomore would teach me the value of Nietzsche aphorisms – “That which does not kill me makes me stronger” – and imprinted in me Shakespeare’s wisdom “To Thine Own Self Be True”. I felt strong enough to stand firm in my beliefs because of him.
It was these earliest experiences with boys that made me appreciate the company of men, rather than women. I was just never able to replicate that kind of bonding with girls, and I never questioned the wisdom in having mostly male friends.
Until mid-life, that is.
I went on from these friendships to have other platonic male friendships. But…something strange happened. Every male friend I had in the last 5 years made a pass at me. Every. single. last. one. It seems as if mid-life struck them hard, often their marriages were either in the process of divorce or seriously considering divorce, or safe from divorce but unutterably boring and completely devoid of touch, affection and intimacy. Maybe death anxiety was looming high. Whatever it was, I can’t blame them for it.
I get it, sort of.
Everyone needs love and affection and reassurance through the rough patches in life. We fail to nurture healthy interdependence in this country, but pride ourselves on our fierce independence or demand other’s dependency while depriving them of their needs. And then we finally feel how empty our lives have become and so turn to others in our need.
But what I don’t get is why every single last one of them reached out to me for needs not being met by their spouses, instead of someone who didn’t know their wife? And while my marriage was unsteady at times, touch and affection was the glue that kept us together during the tough times. And I thought our friends knew that because I was always affectionate and cuddly with my husband around our friends. It’s just how I was.
And sadly, for me, there were some really close friends I just had to walk away from, because they were so insistent on continuing the provocative talk (really, why do people talk about body parts as if they were not a part of the person? or as if the whole person was reduced to their reproductive parts?) and the hands that don’t belong where they “accidentally” brushed and the hugging way too long and too close to be chaste, or suddenly turning their mouths towards mine when for years and years, I’d give them a peck on the cheek.
I admit, the extra attention was nice, for a little while. But then it got confusing. It got to be too much coming too often from every guy friend I had, that I figured something must have infected them with the same kind of sickness. I lost trust not just in my friends, but trust in myself, because I was feeling confused about my own body’s reactions to people I never gave much of a thought to.
Men who had no attraction to me (or I, to them) in our younger days, were all of a sudden pushing boundaries in mid-life (boundaries I soon discovered weren’t really firmly in place). It wasn’t just one or two. It was every male I had ever been good friends with. And I had become so uncomfortable I had to break some really long-standing friendships with them because the pressure got to be so much.
Soon I discovered they no longer wanted me around for my mind, but they wanted me to take care of their gnawing loneliness. It reached a crescendo not too long ago, when I totally had to break contact with the last of them.
[I’m trying to think…I don’t think any of husband’s and my old friends know I blog…so I’m not getting anyone into trouble with their wives].
I tried to find new friends, and come to find out, it’s not as easy as it used to be to be, because no girls want to go out for a cup of coffee with me even when I ask, people in general are so flaky and the concept of philosophy is so foreign to them that asking them to parse Nietszche with me is utterly impossible (and the only real life friend in recent years who could died), or so “addicted to Jesus” and trying to sell me on their religion, or talk so fast and hyper (to me, a sign of an anxious mind) it sends my skin crawling, or so lonely, all they want is a relationship to make them feel better. Well, at least until the other person fails to fill their bottomless cups.
With any new male friend, I got the feeling any attention I paid them could easily be taken the wrong way – especially since I was told by a 60-something writer friend of mine that when a woman smiles at him, he thinks she’s into him and if she’s married, he’s going to wonder if that ring comes off. I just thought, ‘great, if that’s what is typical these days, I have no hope of finding safe friendship’.
It got to the point that I just stayed home.
My recent experiences with my guy pals have disenchanted me and I’ve had to learn to become my own best friend. Not easy when you enjoy being sociable and relish the art of conversation.
That’s been the hardest adaptation I’ve had to make. So I stay home, read the works of great minds, meditate, learn to be happy in this friendless place, and hope I learn a lot from this latest challenge. All the trauma books say one shouldn’t isolate oneself, and yet, how can I NOT isolate myself when I have experienced what I have? I cannot solve the world’s loneliness, though I admit, once upon a time, I actually thought I could by being a good friend.
I want so badly to go back to those days when I could just be ‘one of the guys’, of being able to be ‘friends without benefits’, when friendship could be more enduring and edifying, and above all else, safe.
Instead, I spend way too much time writing blog posts, talking to invisible people on the internet, watching Elementary and wishing I was Joan Watson, trying to feel connected in a world that is disconnected.
And try to learn how to be in this world without being trapped by it.