It wasn’t until my postgraduate years at Uni that I worked out anything at all about who I am and where I belong. There are a whole host of complex reasons why it didn’t happen before then, and I’ll leave that for conversations with qualified therapists, if you don’t mind. But the primary reason why it did happen then, is that I found a wonderful, close knit group of friends where I finally felt truly accepted.
We worked together (ahem. truly. It was work. Well some of it was. I make no comment on whose work, or on what. But it was remarkably productive). We played together – everything from zone 3 (laser tag in its infancy – the innocent days when a handful of people could hire out a whole venue, and not have to deal with random ludicrously co-ordinated 10 year olds who went round maliciously winning everything, not that I’m bitter), to volleyball and all night video marathons. I felt as though I belonged, for the first time in my life. Which is odd, because every other member of the group was male.
This went on for years. Occasionally someone would leave to go overseas, or break the sacred trust and get a real(ish) job. New members occasionally arrived. But the group was remarkably stable for a surprisingly long time. As time passed many of us got married, and the partners were invariably lovely people who fitted in well, and accepted our somewhat bizarre traditions with graceful resignation (and occasionally even with glee).
These people were, in a very real sense, my second family. We shared a lot, and supported each other with great intensity. They were there for me during some of the best and worst moments in my life, and I felt totally secure with them in a way that I never had before.
As time went on, though, something strange began to happen. The men began to do “men things” – gathering around the BBQ, hanging out in a separate room to the women. Which was fine, I generally just followed them. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with the women – many of them are good friends of mine. I just felt like I belonged more with the men – my erstwhile peer group. But then they started having poker nights. And they invited my husband. Not me.
On a rational level, I tell myself that I understand the need for male bonding, but in practice I don’t know that I really do. I don’t feel the same need for female bonding. I don’t see a fundamental social difference between the sexes, just as I don’t see a fundamental relational difference between mums and dads. The fundamental difference in parenting lies between primary and secondary carer, and it is not built-in that the primary carer must be the mum. Indeed, it is an accident of our ludicrous obsession with full time work that there needs to be a primary & a secondary carer at all, instead of two equal carers, but that is probably another blog (or 50).
I do know that I am not the only girl who feels more comfortable hanging out with guys, and I know that there are plenty of guys who feel, on average, more comfortable hanging out with girls. It’s not to say that we don’t have close friends of our own gender. It’s just that most of our friends tend to be of the opposite gender, and we’re fine with that.
So it puzzles me that my friends – my peer group, this once-close-knit family of mine – need to exclude me from their bonding sessions.
Of course, reading over the blog so far, I can spot the rational flaw (dammit). “I don’t see a fundamental social difference between the sexes.” Clearly I do, otherwise my ratio of male friends to female friends would not be skewed. The trick is that I fall on the ‘wrong’ side of that difference. I have been one of the guys for so long, that it comes as a shock to suddenly be perceived as “one of them”, rather than “one of us”.
Perhaps the guys at the poker night are concerned about the tales I might take back to their wives. Or they might feel unable to make comments about any racks that happen to come under discussion if there was a rack actually at the table. Having never experienced a poker night, I don’t know how my presence would change it, and there are elements of Schrodinger’s cat in the whole situation – it’s not a box I can actually open, unless my two year old manages to get her “zing! you’re invisible!” wand working properly.
And I must admit that I was only ever one of the guys to a limited extent. We did interact in different ways. They all hugged me a lot more than they ever hugged each other. I suppose there comes a time when you have to accept the changes in your relationships, borne of time and circumstance. But I am not sure I can ever really be reconciled to not being one of the guys. Albeit a guy in a long purple skirt.