The Immeasurable Value Of My Platonic Female Friendships
To my girl friends, I love you
image Sex Education / Eleven
words Rhys Thomas
Apparently when I was two, there was a girl called Maddie at my preschool. Every day, our parents were forced to wait for the other to arrive so that when they did we could give each other a big hug, hold hands, and walk into class together. I have no memory of this time of my life, but according to my mam, Maddie was my first girl friend. Note the space. We always stressed it was platonic, we were “best friends”. “I love Maddie as a friend, we hold hands because we love each other” I am told I would say. Maddie moved away the summer before we turned four.
Throughout my childhood, I always had platonic friendships with girls. In primary school, there were only three other boys in my year, and nine girls. It was a tiny school (about 81 pupils across the ages four to 11) in a tiny village, with a large and sparse catchment area. But even here, while we all played together, the boys tended to play as boys, the girls as girls, the girls who liked football floated between. My closest friend was a girl called Stacey. She played football. I think innocence was natural in primary school, we could spend time as friends without too many questions. By the time we hit secondary school, age 11, with 10 times the student population, this was not the case.
In secondary school, there were clusters of people standing in the corridors in two lines, backs to parallel walls, facing each other. Girls on one side, boys on the other. Ties loose, shirts tight, skirts short. People staring intently into each other's eyes, making jokes, blushing, lads getting a little nudge from other lads, spurring them on. In the evening, pairs would form covertly over MSN. Conversation would be nervous, hands would sweat, words would be scrambled for like Beyonce tickets: the first legitimate ones you can find, hopefully good ones, but any, before they’re all gone. The "contact is typing…" notification would flicker on and off and on and off like a heartbeat. Backspaces of doubt, enter buttons pressed with closed eyes full of hope.
I know this because I did my fair share of flirting with people on MSN as a cis straight man. But I also used those hours to speak to girls platonically. We would gossip about other people, we would ask advice on those people we like liked, we would confide in each other about homework, music, and clothing. The realisation that this was unique came about when we would then also spend time together at lunch and have to fend off questions from literally everyone who knew us:
Are you going out?
No, we’re just friends.
Why are you alone together then?
Because we’re friends.
As the teenage years carried on and hormones became generally more settled within us, inter-sex dynamics changed, people learned to just be friends, but only slightly. As time has gone on, I have only found these platonic female friendships more and more important in my life, and I find it increasingly strange when male friends of mine mention that they don’t really have platonic female friendships.
Today, counting my closest friends, more than half are women. I love them very much. I speak to some of them every day, others once every few months. We go for coffee, we go to the pub, we have dinner, we sit by the canal in the sun. We’ll spend the time talking about anything and everything. A recent conversation had three main topics: a friend’s breakup, and how to best be there for them, how I have started “dressing like an accountant in 1980s LA” -I took it as a compliment- and arms. All three aren’t things I’d typically speak about with men, my fashion sense is a bit more explorative than the lads, and they tend to be confused by my looks more so than encouraging. Friends breaking up tends to just be a case of saying hopefully they’ll be okay. Arms, arms get spoken about, but not in the sense of how beautiful they are.
Of course, every friendship is different regardless of gender. Cultural touch points and aspects of us that form a chemistry with someone vary from person to person: we are compatible in places with some people, and other parts of our personalities are more compatible with other people. But there are also distinct differences between my friends that are men, and my friends that are women. I wouldn’t say I am a different person when with the guys, but there’s different sides of me that get brought out by the conversations and the ways in which we act. I tend to feel more enthused by conversation with women. We tend to speak deeper, on a more emotional and personal level.
My friendships with women tend to have more room for emotional language, for one. I am healthily challenged by my gender biases in places, too. I tend to be more vulnerable in conversation. I am more seen and more heard. Those friends know more about me than anyone else, and in a world where male loneliness is on the rise, these friendships are incredibly enriching and important.
I hope there’s something I offer them too; we do talk dating a lot, male mindset, masculinity. My friend Chelsea, who I met doing an MA back in 2018, says that “along with talking about the general fall off of men’s fashion and 2000s garage rock celebrities, you offer me a perspective of a straight man without the toxicity. Most of the time I’m unwilling to take any straight man’s opinion because they’re annoying, out of touch, and full of themselves. But you’re smart and I value your perspective on relationships, sex, also culture.” Which was nice to hear.
Another friend, Ella, who I also met at the same time says that “we speak about everything, but something I value is that you tend to offer a more pragmatic approach to things than my female friends do. You listen, too. So it’s pragmatism but sensitive toward delicate issues, it’s comforting and helps me to think more clearly.”
We also joke, make fun of each other, have a few too many beers and share some chips. Being friends with as many types of people as possible feels like a better way to live life. We could all use more diversity, more sense of experience, and less loneliness. Friendships with women, and not just the lads, are a great way to find that. Any active decision to not have friendships with all genders, feels a bit strange. Some of my friends have gone as far as saying that a guy who doesn’t have at least one close friend of the opposite gender is “giving red flag”. I’d say that’s right.
Of course, the media (especially films, TV, literature) have made it look as if a platonic friendship between a cis het guy and girl is inevitably going to end up as a romance. Sometimes good, sometimes messy. And sure, sometimes two close friends who could be attracted to each other do get romantically involved. You meet up for the day, are already close friends, both single, and have a few drinks (or sometimes not even), and suddenly it spills into something akin to romance. A kiss – Stacey was my first kiss, we were six, it happened behind the coal shed at school – more kisses, maybe a night together. A friend of mine and I did this, we spoke about it and remain close platonic friends. But it doesn’t always have to go that way, and in my experience it seldom does. Also, it shouldn’t be the intention of becoming friends with people you could be attracted to. Something a few mates have essentially assumed is my motivation in the past.
I’d like to think being able to know more about the experience of being a woman and growing up as one has made me a better brother to my younger sister, too. If she’s going through something, chances are I know others who have – best friends of mine who have. I think having platonic friendships with the people I could in theory be attracted to ultimately allows me to feel less guarded, and to make more sense of this world because they are there to help me navigate the parts of it I will never fully understand.
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