“We should go to a singles bar and meet guys,” my friend Natalie says over our boba tea drinks.
“You don’t need to go to a bar, you already get dates in real life,” I protest. “You have meet-cutes with guys just by walking down the street.”
“But they all end up being so shitty,” Natalie counters. “Like that asshole who reminded me that he makes more money than me. Ugh. The sex was so amazing though.” (Although we like to think of ourselves as liberatory feminists, our conversations as of late have not been passing the Bechdel Test. And yes, I know it’s for movies, but I’m a writer, the line between reality and fiction gets blurred, ok.)
“Where’d you meet that guy again?” I ask.
“From that party a few weeks ago. You were there!”
“Wait, what?” I distinctly remembered that party: dancing in the shadows with Natalie, our bodies shaking to the pounding music. Foreign bodies pressing in on us, too close for comfort. I closed my eyes and opened them again. A towering giant of a man had magically appeared in front of a tipsy Natalie. Where had he come from? Had he been there all along and I just hadn’t noticed it, being the terribly unobservant person that I am? He moved in closer to her and was eyeing her like she was a piece of meat. Ew, I thought, watching him watch my friend. He was so obviously repulsive to me I thought Natalie would just roll her eyes and turn away from him.
Instead, she shimmied closer to him. They were making eye contact, their arms on each other’s shoulders. She was actually smiling back at him.
She wasn’t dancing with me or the crowd anymore. She was in her own private world with Fucking Gross Giant Dude.
My chest became tight. My dancing became lifeless. The room was too small. I couldn’t deal with this. I needed air. I bolted from the room, away from the deafening music, the pushy crowd, the newfound couple trying to turn me into the third wheel.
“Remember that Spanish guy from the party I was dancing with?” Natalie says.
“That guy?” I blurt out. “But he was ugly!”
Natalie gasps. “He was not!”
I backtrack. “Okay, we have different tastes in men. Which is probably a good thing.”
“I’m just really attracted to Spaniards,” she says, staring dreamily off into space.
Gross. I start feeling that same irrational sense of betrayal that flooded my insides the night of the party. That night, I ended up sulking in the hot tub while Natalie called out my name, trying to find me. “Why did you abandon me?” she asked, upset.
Because you abandoned me first, I wanted to say, but didn’t because no matter how it seemed, I was not actually a whiny melodramatic teenager in a cheesy coming of age film featuring mostly white people. “You were dancing with that guy, so I decided to leave,” I said instead.
Natalie looked at me, her forehead creased. “Did you really not like him?”
“No. It’s just…” I tried to find the right words, but didn’t. I never could. Not on the spot. “I didn’t come to the party to meet some random guy. I came here with you.”
She still didn’t get it. “But isn’t the point to make new friends?”
New friends? Really? I wanted to shake her and shout: That guy was so creepy and disgusting! He was fucking you with his eyes! Quit acting like that was some innocent platonic exchange!
I stared at her, then averted my gaze. “Let’s just forget about it,” I mumbled, all the while knowing that I would never forget and possibly never forgive.
This was not the first time this issue has come up for me. I’ve had fights with female friends over the way they “abandoned” me in favor of some guy they were romantically or sexually interested in. Wanna make out with some guy instead of having a conversation with me? Bye girl. Only interested in hanging out with me if your boy toy comes with, aka forcing his company on me without my consent, aka expecting me to share the same level of emotional intimacy with your dude that I share with you? Well fuck you.
Even when my man-dating female friends don’t commit these transgressions, the paranoia is always there, eating at me: She’s posting lovey dovey photos of the two of them and I’m never going to see her again. She keeps talking about her boring boyfriend and will soon forget all about me. If I don’t feel close enough to the friend, the feelings of resentment will rot inside my corpse of a heart until they silently leak out and make room for all the other petty nonsense I feel on a daily basis.
Why Learkana, you rhetorically say to me. Perchance are you a lesbian?
Dear reader, I respond. Sadly I am not. Trust me, I’ve pondered deeply on this. It would make way more sense for me to be a lesbian: I’ve never had a boyfriend, am incredibly wary of and cynical about hetero cis men in general, and am deeply possessive of my female friends even when they backstab me with their heteronormativity. (Actually, this just sounds like a straight person’s idea of what a lesbian is, which just proves my point.)
But I’m not in the closet. 4 years at a women’s college with zero homoerotic yearnings or encounters confirmed this. Unfortunately, I am just as heteronormative as my female friends (the ones who are heteronormative, of course, which is many of them). I’ve just….taken a road less traveled, in cliche white dudespeak.
Although I identify as heterosexual, I am way more homosocial. Which means I value my circle of female friends much more than any hypothetical dude who wants to wine and dine me or hit it and quit it, because the power of female friendships is way more seductive to me than romance or sex. Don’t get me wrong, though–getting laid and falling in love sound pretty awesome, but in my mind, nothing beats having a girlfriend who is pretty much my soul sister.
I’m not sure how my devotion to the whole “sisters before misters” mantra came about. Given all the mean girls I had the misfortune of getting involved with when I was a kid, it’s a wonder I didn’t grow up to be a full-blown internalized misogynist. I guess some part of me craved the kindness, camaraderie, and empathy that would be conditionally given to me by my (so-called) friends. Bonding with boys was out of the question. Sure, I would hang out with some of them from time to time, but it never crossed my mind to consider them my besties. Besides, most of the boys I knew enjoyed harassing me in ways that even seven-year-old me could recognize and try to steer clear of.
For the most part, my childhood was heavily segregated by gender. If you appeared to be close with someone of a different gender, people would whisper and say that you two were in love or having (prepubescent) sex, which when you think about it is really creepy and sorry I made you think about it but anyway the point is, I was conditioned to believe that female friendships were the only authentic form of closeness and intimacy I could experience. And so a shitty female friend was likely better than the male gaze, my younger self must have reasoned (probably not in those same exact words, but you know what I mean).
Today I am lucky to have female friends who love me the way eleven-year-old me longed to be loved after being told by my “BFF” at the time that I was only invited to the sixth grade girls’ sleepover because everyone felt sorry for me. To be loved unconditionally is a powerful, powerful thing, and I’ve been able to find that through my lovely lady friends. If I had it my way, I would live happily and radically ever after in a feminist commune with all my female/queer/gender non-conforming family and friends, where we’d wear fancy dresses or suits and drink boba tea and hold hands and dance to Beyonce whenever we felt like it. Any hetero cis men we’d take on as lovers would have to wait at our pearly gates until we sent for them.
Sadly, this is just wishful thinking. The reality is that I live in a world that privileges a certain kind of relationship above others: romantic, sexual, and social monogamy. I can’t marry my female friends. I’m not going to offer them sexual favors. What I can do is be there for them, make them laugh, do really awesome activities that their significant others for whatever reason don’t want to do, and gripe about the white supremacist heterocispatriarchy with them. But that isn’t enough. And that’s what upsets me: the fact that culturally and socially, my platonic love isn’t as valuable as romantic/sexual love. Factor in the patriarchy and I’m beyond pissed.
But look, I get it. I have to get it because that’s how it currently works: I’m not your soulmate or your partner, because I’m not having sex with you or courting you. I’m not the first person you’re going to save from a burning building or the person you’re going to spend most of your time with. All I ask is that you don’t forget about me or take me for granted. That you still hang out with me on occasion without your partner (being in a relationship doesn’t mean you’re literally attached at the hip, FYI). That you treat me with the same level of courtesy and respect you give to your partner when it comes to spending time together (You wouldn’t bring me along on a weekend getaway with your partner, right? So why would that not apply vice versa?). That hanging out with me isn’t secondary to going on a date or getting laid. Is that really too much to ask for?
Maybe it is. Maybe these are just the empty pleas of a premature spinster. Which is why I rarely go this deep in discussions or fights I get into with my friends over their partners/potential partners whom I am mistrustful of by default. It ultimately boils down to: Do you care more about me or him/them? I already know the answer. So I keep quiet and use my superficial arguments: “I’m mad that you ditched me.” “I’m mad that we don’t hang out like we used to.” Because I’m afraid my friends won’t understand. Or that they won’t care. Or that really, I’m just a weirdly possessive, codependent friend with a lot of mommy issues.
“I’m putting you in my calendar for Saturday,” says Natalie. “I know of a bar we can go to. This is gonna be fun!”
“Okay,” I agree, even though I could already imagine how it would go down: Natalie would hit it off with the first guy who approached her friendly smile and open body language. Natalie would go home with this guy. I would sit at the bar, sipping my apple cider in sullen resentment over being ditched while fending off strange men and completely forgetting that going home with a guy was the plan to begin with.
Or here’s another scenario: I sit at the bar with a shaky smile, fingers rubbing the condensation off my near-empty glass in circles, again and again and again. A guy approaches. He’s not bad-looking, and his jokes don’t make me cringe. Maybe we exchange numbers. Maybe I end up at his place. Maybe I let him in. Maybe I tell him all my secrets when he’s inside me. Maybe I wait until we’re married (for the secrets, not the sex). Maybe I keep telling myself, this will make me feel less lonely. Maybe I tell myself this enough times that it will eventually become true.
Name changed to protect the oblivious.