The Frustration of Never Really Knowing

Noa Blane Damelin comments on the potential complexities of heterosexual boy/ girl friendships. 

As a First Year trying to look past shallow ‘Freshers Friends’, it can be pretty hard to tell whether friendly guys are more interested in friendship or sex. I’m a big advocate of platonic heterosexual friendships; some of my closest friends are guys, but for the most part they’re boys I grew up with. It’s difficult to try to form new, meaningful friendships with people who are essentially strangers. You just never really know what they’re thinking. ‘I know he’s not about to try to kiss me now, but would he be if he thought he could? Would he rather be feeling me up than having this conversation?’. I confess I haven’t yet figured out how to fix this on a practical level, but it has left me with a few new insights into the nature of some male-female friendships today.

What exactly is it that has led women to be always hyper-aware of the possibility that a friendly guy may have more than friendship in mind? The obvious answer is that it is the fault of those select objectifying men who do look at women and only see sex, and I’m not here to defend them. I would posit, however, that some of the onus also falls on us girls to reject this patriarchal view of women as sexual objects and to assert our own value as individuals. That so many girls assume that boys are talking to them because of the way they do or don’t look is also an indictment on those very girls; by perpetuating the idea that men may be talking to them for any reason other than their intellect or personality, they are playing into the system. By considering the possibility that a guy might be talking to us for anything other than our thoughts and opinions, we’re just putting ourselves down.

I think it comes down to the (potentially subconscious) fear that the men in our lives may value our bodies more than our intellect/personality/character. Here, again, much of the blame lies with the same select individuals, but we can still try to lead by example and assert our own self-worth. I think it’s sad that being called proud is an insult these days; I think we need to establish some level of cockiness. It isn’t modest or charming to underestimate yourself in this world. You’ll only get taken advantage of.

Guy friends

Accusations of arrogance and haughtiness have always been used to put women down, and are frequently labelled as some of the ‘ least attractive features girls can have.’ I think there’s a serious problem here; we should be proud of our accomplishments and know our self-worth. There’s nothing ugly about maintaining standards that you deserve. So why are girls made to feel vain if they talk about guys who have flirted with them, or wonder out loud whether some boy fancies them? It’s not a sign of charming naivety to be oblivious to men’s intentions (or anyone’s intentions towards you for that matter); it is a delusion, and in a worst-case scenario it is one that can get you stuck in a dangerous situation.

Interestingly, I’ve personally noticed that I find it easier to make close friendships with boys who are already in relationships. While this attitude doesn’t feel entirely healthy to me (as woe betide the friendship that is only strong enough to exist while at least one party is in a romantic relationship), it has helped me reach another interesting theory: relationships are essentially social constructs. If therefore, they quell the concerns that arise when I try making friends with new boys, it follows that all those concerns are social constructs too, not biological axioms. While this is depressing in light of how deeply we have entrenched social constructs into our society, it is also encouraging – because social norms can be changed far more easily than can biological imperatives.

In terms of sussing out guys in the first few weeks of university, I think the most important thing a girl can do is maintain her pride and sense of self. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t waste too much time wondering what other people may or may not be thinking, instead let’s just focus on respecting and bettering ourselves.

Illustration by Danni Pollock. 

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