“I just prefer hanging out with guys, we get along better.” “Guys are more fun, less drama.” These were things I used to tell people (including myself) in order to account for having a slew of male friends and none that were women. But I wasn’t being honest; I didn’t really have such a preference. These “friends” were just men who stuck around after I rejected them romantically. I made it clear I wasn’t interested in that way, but they persisted. My life was a trope of coed friendships with one-sided affection. They did things normal friends do, like checking up to see how I was doing, hanging out with me on weekends, and doing favors like helping me move and fixing broken appliances. But their friendly gestures didn’t come without disheartening consequences. Weekend visits to my apartment culminated in me wriggling away from unwanted cuddles and massages on the couch. New Year’s celebrations began with me recoiling at the request for a kiss as the ball dropped. Cringe. Even in my high school years, my closest friends were boys with sexual feelings that I did not reciprocate. But instead of ditching these creepy companionships, I took all the awkwardness in stride. After all, having touchy friends with ulterior motives was better than having no friends at all, right? So instead of digging deep to figure out why I wasn’t able to cultivate comfortable friendships with women, I spent years playing the dual role of friend by day/evasive object of affection by night.
After about a decade of this pattern, the frustration and emptiness that it evoked took its toll. I became sick of feeling objectified, resentful of being treated like a goal not yet achieved, and emotionally exhausted from pushing away these so-called friends when they got too frisky. I was compelled to face myself and acknowledge the insecurities that perpetuated this habit. The attention and validation I received from friendzoned men was easily achieved and gratifying (when it wasn’t making my skin crawl.) More importantly, it was less scary than making myself vulnerable to rejection by attempting real connections with women. I had no confidence in the kinds of friendships my personality could afford me, so I fell back on friendships centered around physical attraction.
I had an underlying fear of being judged poorly by other women. From a young age, I felt inferior to the girlfriends I did have. They were always prettier, taller, smarter, more popular, etc. It always seemed as though we were being compared to each other. This was probably all in my head, but to me it felt very real. To cope, I gradually built up a defense mechanism where I prematurely disliked and distrusted other females, keeping them at arm’s length. The idea was, you can’t feel inferior to other women if they aren’t near you, right? Naturally this tactic backfired, and I became paranoid that they were criticizing me the way I criticized them. I imagined the female acquaintances in my life were shutting me out, when in reality it was me shutting out myself. To alleviate the loneliness, I eventually settled for a circle of male acquaintances I knew wouldn’t reject me. And violà, I found myself sitting on my couch one night, smacking away the hand of “my buddy Josh” from my thigh, asking myself how I got here.
It’s been a great weight off my shoulders since I did the dirty work to understand how my social life became a cover for my own self-consciousness. The next hurdle is repairing my self-esteem and learning to see other women as they should be seen– not other women, but fellow women. I need to reprogram my brain not to see women as entities of opposition, but variations and reflections of myself.