Thursday, June 13, 2013

I have male friends that I don't sleep with.

I've never had any trouble making female friends. Growing up in a house full of women, the dynamic of relationships with the opposite sex has never been as foreign to me as it has for some of my male classmates. I've never had a problem connecting with women, or making female friends. It's always been very natural and always felt safe.

As a kid growing up in junior primary school I remember being surrounded by women. My mother takes great delight in reminding me that at 7 years old I was dubbed the School Casanova by our local paper. All the girls wanted to marry me, and all I wanted to do was go shopping with them and borrow their shoes. I used to receive at least 5 marriage proposals a day from budding faghags who couldn't understand why I wouldn't kiss any of them while I was making eyes at the local rugby captain.

Friendships with men however... now there's a minefield I've been trying to cross for years. Having my first boyfriend at 15, I discovered a completely new facet to relationships. Add the sparkle of sexual energy and I felt right at home with men who felt a mutual attraction towards me. So much so in fact, that when I tried to start making male friends I found myself feeling completely inept. How could I possibly have a friendship with someone who didn't find me attractive?

As a young teenager I found myself engaging in sexual relationships with guys I never really fancied, but who I found impossible to communicate with in any other way. Flirting became my staple, and my fallback, and everything that fell either side of that setting felt uncomfortable and false; if you didn't fancy me, you obviously didn't want to be my friend.

So began the seemingly natural selection of my friendship process.

I would become 'friends' with somebody who was attracted to me, or someone I was attracted to, blur the boundaries of that relationship, and play that card until either I got bored or he gave up on me. It's hard to think back to a time when I had a male friend I did not have some sort of sexual chemistry with. It became a bit like a power struggle, and hugely reminiscent of most Pitbull songs actually. My whole take on relationships in any sense of the word had become sexualised. Outside of that narrow view point I was a fish out of water.

Going into rehab was a pivotal moment for me. I found myself in a situation where I could not engage in (or even have the suggestion of) a sexual relationship. I remember waking up one morning and having a red letter moment when I'd made my first male friend who I wasn't attracted to and thinking: now I'm ready to stop taking drugs.

It might seem strange that that is how my thinking progressed, but for me the inability to form strong and meaningful relationships with other men felt central to my problems with drugs and drink. I remember that morning so vividly, and the thoughts that crossed my mind. Thinking that now that I'd been able to make and maintain a friendship with another guy that everything would fall into place for me, such was my desperation for acceptance and validation in the male world.

Looking back on it now I can see that that was just the beginning of the process for me. It has literally taken me years to get to the point where I can honestly say: I have male friends that I don't sleep with. And for someone who's never had an issue like this, that may be really hard to understand. Just as for me it's hard to relate to someone who grew up having male friends. That just wasn't part of my experience.

One of my work colleagues left the company today. I've known him for over 4 years now; we trained together, learned together, became young men together. We've laughed, cried, argued, and at times probably (definitely) wanted to kill one another. So today hit me like a truck when an overwhelming sense of loss seemed to sneak up behind me and punch me in the back of the head. It suddenly dawned on me... he won't be my smoking partner on the log outside the parking lot. We won't be there to calm each other down when our clients wind us up. And most importantly for me, he won't be around anymore to continue to show me how a good friendship can be. I feel the loss like a gaping hole in the side of a demolished building; the tattered ruins of fabric flapping in the wind and my vulnerability exposed to the elements of the world.

And I'm suddenly struck by a thought that filters into my mind like a warm beam of sunlight; I've done it. After all these years of trying and searching for a meaningful friendship that would show me the progress I felt so keen to achieve... I have actually done it.

I have a male friend that I'm not sexually attracted to. I have a friend that I can rely on and who can rely on me. I have a friend that when I discovered was leaving, felt like he took a piece of me with him. And I feel so proud and so privileged to have been a part of something that may seem so trivial to someone else, but has been so life changing for me.

In the ever shifting journey that is my life, the ability to make and maintain friendships has always been a battleground of my own fears and perceptions and inadequacies. And I am now fully aware that life is never about destination, but about experience. As I step out of my old way of thinking into an intimidating world full of possibilities and fears, as a single gay man standing in my independence on my own two feet again, I am not alone.

I feel ready with my friends beside me.

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