In grad school, a female friend confronted me one day, perplexed. “Every week I seem to hear about some other guy in the program you’ve been with,” she said.
“They’re just friends, I swear!” Actually, they were — all 15 of them — but she didn’t believe me. Since leaving school behind, experiences like this are harder to find, which is why last year, I spent two months on a modern-day pirate ship as one of three women in a crew of 20. I wrote a memoir about it, and now I’m looking at taking a job on an oil rig, or in a monastery. Just kidding — sort of.
Don’t get me wrong — this friendliness, so often mistaken for sluttiness, isn’t about playing fantasy football or pigging out on nachos and Bud Lite in front of the TV because you think it makes you “cool.” Gillian Flynn explained in “Gone Girl” that trying to be “cool” was the reason Amy Dunn went psycho and decided to ruin the lives of every man she met. And it wasn’t surprising, because nobody can sustain that level of fakery. Guys aren’t as simple as women assume, and they aren’t dumb — if you genuinely hate spending time with them and are only doing it to get laid, they’ll sense it in the time it takes to draft Adrian Peterson on FanDuel.
The trap a lot of women fall into is seeing guys as some alien species, some other. I see them as people, and not just people, the best people. The kind of people I’d spend all my time with, if I could, if I didn’t sometimes get invited to baby showers.
At family BBQs, I’m bantering about bands with my male cousins-in-law; at a recent school reunion I endured 30 minutes of finger sandwiches and ennui before the silver-haired husband of the hostess walked in — and two minutes later, we were guffawing in the pool as he was regaling me with sailing stories.
Surrounded by guys, I’m a more fun, more relaxed, better version of myself. I never get paranoid that a guy friend thinks my eyebrows need plucking, or is laughing behind my back. Sure, a guy might insult you, but he’ll say it to your face, where you can insult him right back. And then there’s the humor. Women think the height of comedy is some romcom actress doing a faceplant, while there’s nothing men treasure more than Adam West telling Homer Simpson that he called for him to plow his driveway “Forty-five minutes ago.” And if you don’t understand why my little brother and I laughed until we cried after recalling this line at a recent family gathering, you’re obviously a woman.
The fact is, one of the sweetest moments of my adult life was that final day in the pub, ensconced at a table of strapping Dutch sailors, sucking down the series of beers they happily bought me, listening to them hang on my every word as I described how I was going to, when I got home, write all of their stories and make them famous.
In my memoir, I had to edit myself from writing more about them than about me. Maleness — that of boys, of men, of boys becoming men, and of men who used to be boys, is a subject I could meditate on forever. I’m a chronicler of men; an admirer, a fancier, an amateur manthropologist, you might say,
Oh, and did I mention I’m usually single? I am by no means some kind of preternatural seductress. When I’m one on one with a guy I like, I get as nervous and tongue-tied as anyone else. And yes, sometimes I worry this means I will never be able to settle down with one man only, or that I’ll be marooned when the pirate ship sails away and I’m alone in a Neverland of my own making.
But I can’t help it. For me, it’s about being that beloved girl in the middle, Wendy Darling in chiffon and stilettos, holding court among the lonely Lost Boys, telling them stories and putting them to bed. Hell, I don’t mind if one tries to cop a feel now and then. Even it means a bunch of jealous Tinkerbells and mermaids flitting around off to the side, trying to drown me. I mean, come on, if you’re a woman reading this, you probably already hate me.
I’m fine with that.