Why Can’t We Be Friends?

I had very few friends from age 0-21. Up through elementary and middle school, I literally had 2 friends, both of which were very close friends and one of which, I’m happy to say, is still in contact with me, despite a literal ocean between us. The other one, much to my chagrin, has decided that I’m not worth responding to for whatever reason. I don’t know what I did. I’m sure I did something. I hope I did something. That way I can blame myself. Or I can point to a concrete reason. But someone very wise once told me that sometimes the reason isn’t something that can be quantified or qualified. Things just sometimes fall apart.

But once I got out of college and had my first experience with therapy and was on an SSRI that worked for me, I found myself making new friends all over the place. I was gregarious and outgoing at work. I made loads of friends in AOL chat rooms and I even met tons of them in real life (it never really worked out).

But making new friends became one of my core skills (the others being writing and, well, hmmm, I guess that’s it. Well 2 skills are better than none I suppose.)

I made friends with all sorts of people. I have friends who are libertarians, communists, foreign, domestic, grumpy, happy, geeks, cools, socially awkwards, bros, jocks, poets, scientists, politicos, journos, coders, men, women.

I intentionally left men and women for the end because that’s what I’m taking a look at today. I’ve had a total of three significant and scary (2 were scary, the most recent was just depressing) friendship disasters with women in the last 4 years. All three were in the context of a weekly hobby group (think VERY geeky) that I have attended for the past 5 years. The first 2 were almost carbon copies of each other. I thought we were buddies and all was chill. But in both cases the women involved told me that they were not interested in dating me and that my actions were inappropriate.

In this particular hobby group, and I suppose in any setting really, it’s not awesome to be labeled the inappropriate guy. Even if you’re accused and exonerated, the scarlet I (as in Igloo) doesn’t get torn off you. It kinda just gets haphazardly covered over but you can tell people who once saw you in a certain light absolutely see you in a very different way now.

This obviously dovetails with the #metoo movement. Am I glad most of these dudes are getting their professional and personal lives torn apart after multiple accusers have come forward? Absolutely. Fuck them. Let ‘em burn.

But as is inevitable with any similar movement, things are getting complicated. Notable people have stated that there is no substantive difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Clearly, both are not positive experiences for the victim. And I get that women have been and continue to be discriminated against in virtually every area of society (work, life, politics, etc) for HUNDREDS if not THOUSANDS of years. I get it.

But that does not even remotely justify conflating rape and ribald jokes. It simply does not. Matt Damon got skewered for making this point and I think that was totally bullshit. Call me a misogynist. Call me an asshole. I do not care.

Besides the lumping in of vastly different offenses, there is also the inevitable accusation of innocent men or the public conviction of men whose alleged behavior is not simply evil (Harvey Weinstein is evil, period). But Aziz Ansari is not. Was he a shitty dude on that particular night? Only two people know for sure. But while his alleged actions were gross, should they result in the destruction of his career? I’m very glad they have not.

We are not a society that convicts people without due process (unless they are minorities or poor people). We are supposed to be striving for an ideal. We usually fail. But the #metoo movement has lost a lot in my perception. Again, call me a sexist asshole. I do not care.

So am I just another baby Weinstein who is trying to explain away his horrible and creepy behavior?

No, I am not. I’ve been working for 28 years in the following settings: retail, public libraries, corporate, service industry and non-profit. I have never even told a PG level joke to a female coworker in that time. I have never asked a female coworker on a date. I have never harassed or suggested quid pro quo to a female coworker because, well, I’ve never held a position where I supervised anyone so I had no favors to bestow. I have always worked in a constant state of being afraid of being fired. And not harassing coworkers is definitely something that can get you fired. And you can substitute in hobbyist or teammate or fellow volunteer for the word “coworker” and all the statements still apply.

So with these 2 scary inicidents, I luckily have retained the digital correspondence (emails, gchats, texts) of my interaction with these two ladies. I’m certainly not going to share the contents publicly but I’m very secure and confident that if it ever came down to getting nasty, my words have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

On top of that, I was never even remotely attracted to either of these women (yes I know that sexual crimes are about power, not attraction). I never asked them out. I never flirted with them. I do not know what I said or did to give them that false impression. But when both of them let me know how they felt I made it politely and unambiguously clear that I had no desire or intention to pursue anything but a platonic relationship with them.

And guess what? I still talk to one of them all the time. But even though the other one continued to send me invitations to social gatherings (which I have saved as proof) , I never responded to any of them. Sorry I don’t want to hang out with you after you accuse me of being creepy and inappropriate.

So I realized I was the common denominator in the 2 situations even though I had all the evidence on my side in writing that I was not being creepy. But to them, I clearly was. So after the 2nd one I stopped talking to women at the hobby group or even at work other than in a polite and professional manner. It was a very sad decision for me. I loved making new friends. But losing other friends in the group because of unfounded accusations was a risk I was not willing to take. I value my friendships a lot and I’m not going to lose them on an accusation from someone who has grossly misread the situation.

Things stayed like that for a few years. I eventually landed a new gig in a new city and I found a new hobby group and things were going well. I was making new fellow geek friends and enjoying getting to know my new municipality.

And then one fateful night, “she” showed up at a group meeting. Let’s call her Edna because I don’t know any woman under 89 with that name.

I wasn’t physically attracted to Edna even though she was an attractive woman. Just not my type (and I’m definitely not taking the time to dive into that can of worms). So I really didn’t pay much attention to her at first. But then I started listening to her and she had (has) a sparkling, witty, bright personality.

I was so enamored with her personality that I became physically attracted to her. But I had just escaped a severe depression valley that had left me basically incapacitated for 15 months. It was a Mental Hell I had never experienced the like of before. And when I came out of it, I felt like a much different person. One of my realizations was that I was not interested in any kind of dating or romantic relationship with a woman anymore.

I had dated exhaustively for 3 years. But nothing ever came of it. Nothing significant really. I had some laughs and some fun nights but I never made it past the 2nd date with the vast majority of the 120+ women I dated during that time frame.

And now it just wasn’t something I was interested in anymore. People date for sex or intimacy or both. And to really get true intimacy you have to let yourself be vulnerable. I have never really done that and I realized that I just wasn’t willing to do it. So dating was pointless. What about sex? Sex was always fraught for me. With few exceptions. So it wasn’t any kind of motivation for me to date either.

But I did want to be her friend. I still love making new friends. People are like puzzles to me socially. When you find the piece that fits them (that thing or things that you both love) you both are transformed. The conversation comes alive. Small talk fades to the background and hearty laughs and knowing nods and sheer joy take its place. It’s wonderful. For me it’s one of the best things about being alive.

So I spoke to her on the phone once. We were supposed to talk career advice but she took over the conversation and started peppering me with getting to know you questions. I love questions so I was happy to answer them. At one point in the conversation, I literally told her VERBATIM that I thought she was a very interesting person and I wanted to be her friend. But as soon as I had finished saying that, she exclaimed “oh!” As if in great surprise and there was an awkward pause in the conversation. I’m a genius when It comes to sniffing out rejection. Not that it isn’t easy sometimes. But even when people are trying to let me down easy, I can sniff out the rejection truffles like a wise old pig. I knew at that moment that it was the beginning of the end. But I wanted to deny it and so I kept the conversation going. We finished the conversation on what I thought was a very good note. We agreed to speak again soon so I could ask her the career questions I had prepared.

We exchanged many texts over the course of the next few weeks but something became readily apparent. I was the only one initiating communication. She was running the perfunctory rejection protocol. The person responds to the other person but never asks another question or makes any attempt to further the conversation. It’s a pretty common maneuver and one that’s very easy to spot.

So I was devastated. I was hardcore friend crushing on her and I was just really sad that she had no interest in being friends with me. In the last few hobby group meetings, I’ve completely avoided her. I understand that if I misinterpreted her lack of interest, the fact that I decided to ignore her would absolutely alienate her and in the most self-fulfilling prophecy way, I would prove my own conclusion.

So she’s got the hint obviously. And she got it quick. Not that my flight was subtle. When I’m upset I totally withdraw. In the three meetings since I’ve gone into hiding, I have yet to make eye contact with her. When I go dark, I go dark. Completely avoiding eye contact is annoying and tougher than you would think.

So I firmly believe that despite my unambiguous statement that I wanted to be her friend, I think she thinks I was running game and just pretending to be her friend so that I could get to date her. I’ve got a flawless and vast history of analyzing rejection and I have never been wrong. And I have been rejected a LOT.

So for the sake of argument, let’s say I’m right. Let’s say she thought my friendship overture was fake. That would make her the 3rd woman in 4 years that has come to this conclusion (not that I was faking friendship but just that I was interested in dating them).

Am I being totally being honest with you? Has this really never happened in the 24 years that preceded this ignominious stretch? You don’t know me. You don’t have any reason to believe me. But it’s the truth.

What did I do differently with these 3 women ? In 24 years, I’ve made and enjoyed MANY opposite sex friendships with women who I’ve met in nearly every social and professional setting.

After reading this crazy long diatribe I think you’re gonna be pissed with my conclusion.

I don’t have a goddamn clue.

So what am I gonna do? I’m out. Opposite sex friendships are not on the table for me anymore. I’m not Mike Pence. I’ll still have dinner with a woman even if it’s just the two of us. But the stress and anxiety of being rejected for friendship and being rejected for dating WHEN I WAS NEVER ASKING ANYONE OUT is just not worth it. I’ve got a lot of friends and I’m gonna make a lot more. It’s one of the two things I am good at.

But, and I’m sure millions of women are just wailing and gnashing their teeth at this news, I’m done risking my peace of mind. If a nice female person takes the initiative and makes it clear she wants to be my buddy, I will happily go into that breach again. But I’m done walking the tightrope without a net. I’m a sedentary fat dude who trips getting out of bed.

I’m no acrobat.

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