Wednesday, June 23, 2010

girl - friends

When I was in the tyrannical Miss Fowler's first and second grade classroom, I knew exactly what girls were good for: rubber-nut burns. See, in addition to their milky white rubber-making sap, rubber trees put off these little brown-striped seed things, and if I rubbed them fast enough across the metal screens of the first and second grade classroom, they got blazing hot and perfect for touching to someone else's skin. I could burn boys, of course, but they tended to do it back or sometimes forgo all that and just punch me in the face. There were a few little girls in my class who would on occasion hit back (I'm talkin' to you, Peanut), but mostly they would just shriek and run away. Perfect, right?

As time went on, I learned that girls were good for other things: things like sword-fighting and volleyball and cookies and... well... other things. Somewhere in my ongoing education, however, I managed to miss out on the most important thing of all that girls were good for... friendship. As my experience of girls as burn-receptacles shifted to an understanding of them as mysterious, alluring and sensual creatures from some alternate reality, I somehow missed out on the fact that females were human. Humans are freakin' amazing, so when I ended up mostly only cultivating close friendships with other males, I missed out on a whole lot of freakin' amazingness.

This past weekend I was hanging out with my hippie-ish-organic-chef friend JJ and his little brother on their mom's porch in Wilmore, Kentucky. As the sun fell out of the sky, I started to explain to him all the fabulous reasons why I could not be friends with half the world's population; "You see," I said, "I just figure that one way or another, somebody's going to end up being attracted to somebody else - we're wired that way - so you either have to get together or push apart. If there's a girl who I think might be interested in me and I am not attracted to her, I have always thought it was just better to save us all a lot of trouble by avoiding her. And if I am the one attracted... well, I'm just gonna take that attraction to the bank."

JJ sat there, listening. Then, without really disagreeing, he started to tell me about all the girls he was friends with - how he loved them to crazies and was really attracted to them, even - yes - in a sexual sense (ominous thunderclap). He told me how he was also mightily attracted to the guys he was friends with, and how he figured all this attraction was a part of the dynamics of what it meant to be human. Why would you want to be friends with people you were not in some way attracted to, he asked? Then he said that as long as there were clear boundaries and it was all kept out in the open, he figured that it was actually good for him as a person and good for his relationship with his wife that he be attracted to all these people. It helped him not only by allowing him to be honest about how he experienced the world, but also by allowing him to have a wide variety of rich friendships with diverse people whom he deeply loved. I had heard all this before, but as I went on to tell JJ the story of my relationship with a young woman I befriended several months ago, it sunk in a bit deeper and made my experience seem even more pathetic.

In the beginning of our epistolary friendship, I had intended to simply enjoy the process of getting to know her through letters. My friend Austin the Actor had been bugging me about learning to be friends with women - even ones I was attracted to - and the girl in question seemed a likely candidate. As we wrote more and more emails, however, I started noticing that the inevitable was happening - I was discovering more and more proof that she was, indeed, a member of that wonderfully intriguing species called "humanity." Not only that, but she was a woman as well, and I felt myself growing more and more attracted to her. I have to admit (with a certain degree of embarrassment) that I sorta-kinda flipped out. My wife had moved out only seven months before I met this intriguing woman, after all. I was a bit emotionally topsy-turvy, and although my wife had assured me repeatedly with fists firmly clenched that it was over, over, OVER, she was still my wife and what was I doing talking to an attractive woman and ohmygosh I was fallingintoiniquity and either my head or the world was goingtoexplode and I was quickly running out of enamel to grind off of my teeth!

I could have just relaxed and enjoyed the friendship for what it was. Instead, I over-thought and tried to box and categorize my way to control of the relationship in the name of some sort of moral code I was obeying and constructing and absolutely throttling the life and meaning right out of. I kept talking more and more about what it all meant and trying to figure out what, exactly, it was. This, of course, freaked her right out. We were friends, after all. Friends don't tie their friendship to the fate of the universe. It seemed as though my old habits were dying harder than I would have liked.

"You know, Josh," JJ went on, "I don't generally try to tell people what they ought to do. And I certainly don't have a right to tell you what you need to do... but I'm going to go ahead anyways and tell you that you absolutely need to learn to be friends with women you're attracted to, or you will never have a healthy relationship of any kind with any woman, ever."

I let that one sink in. He was right, of course. I knew it, and had been trying to figure out a way to backpedal and earn a do-over with my letter-writing-girl-friend for quite a while. I opened JJ's laptop, got on facebook and saw that Austin the Actor was online.

"I've been talking with JJ here about how things went with [letter girl]," I said to him, "I think I maybe could have handled that differently."

"What you mean to say," Austin replied, "is that you really screwed the pooch on that one."

"Well, I guess so. But you know what I learned?" I asked.

"You learned that Austin is always right and you need to do everything he says," Austin answered.

"Shut up," I said, "I gotta go."

I turned to JJ. "I think I ought to write her a note, telling her that I want to be her friend. I mean, I'm always complaining that all the people I really connect with live an hour away in Charlotte or in other states and countries, but then I go and sabotage a relationship with a person I really do enjoy talking to - just because I'm afraid."

JJ thought a bit. "All right," he answered, "but don't be whiny and apologetic. You are who you are and that's okay. Write your note, but I am gonna have to read and approve it before you hit 'send'."

So as the fireflies blinked on and off in the slowly-cooling night air I wrote my note, got it approved, sent it, and resolved once more that after thirty long years, I was going to learn how to have girl-friends.

6 comments:

  1. Awesome. I am so grateful we had time to hang. I really need to make the trip down before long.

    Love the changes on the blog, nice sooothing colors.

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  2. Austin the Actor just read this post and said that I'm obsessing, and that I should just forget about it. But this is the way I process the world; I write. This is the way I keep my brain from exploding. These are my prayers.

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  3. What a delight to gently enter the world of your insides and to have had the pleasure of your family here too. Joy of joys. Do I qualify as a girl-friend?

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  4. Of course, Aunt Aureol. Who can't use a friendship with a dignified (ha ha) British lady who pronounces strawberry as "stro-burry"?

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  5. What a great post...so much to think about. Your friend is very wise.

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  6. Thanks, Sharon. He is. I think it might be because he doesn't eat as many dead animals as I do.

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