Saturday, January 13, 2007

In the Company of Men

From older blog 12/23/06

I have only a few close male friends, but those relationships are very important to me.

They are all also men who can share their deeper feelings (and that's rare enough that it might explain why I know so few) but there are some significant differences in the way most men share feelings, including myself when I'm talking with them.

First, men are more guarded, and with men I am, also, even with friends. At a recent lunch with some dear old buddies, men and women, I managed the buffet trips to my advantage. I find it impossible to really visit people in a crowd, and even with just seven of us it was hard to really connect in conversation at the table. So my trips to the buffet shadowed the others, one at a time as often as I could manage it. And I noticed something, perhaps because the last post has been forming in my mind. The women could connect while in line, in just a few sentences, and I knew how to go there with them and even how to initiate the trip. But the men, even knowing we have a strong fond friendship, took far longer to gradually open up and talk. And I was no readier to rush than they were.

Men have to sort of push and shove and test themselves against one another, first. Neither wants to get sentimental or soft first; if we're going towards discussing feelings, we have to go there together. So it takes time and a number of steps. We start with the strong brisk grip of a handshake, which I think is all that remains of an old ritual of butting heads and trying to throw each other on the ground to feel each other's (and our own) strength. I really enjoy a good firm handshake. Then there is loud talk about how we are, how good business is, how healthy we are, etc. Then we talk about a few things that have happened, tell some stories, and during that stage one of the guys could choose to take the conversation onto more thoughtful ground. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It depends on the amount of energy and time I have.

Because that's another difference. I might share feelings more easily and more often with women, but I share some kinds of feelings, and a certain male part of myself only with other men. There is a part of being male that can't be understood unless you are male. Since I connect this way less often, and it's harder and requires a greater degree of trust than to open up with women, it takes more energy and time.

And of course there are ways men enjoy each other's company that don't involve words, or are around and under the conversation. Some of our neighborhood poker games can reach this level, where men are just relaxing and being men. It might mean drinking and swearing and lying and poking fun and laughing too loud - or it might not. Either way, there is a silent shared celebration of what it is to be a male animal, a man, maybe a father - potent, confident, comfortable in your hairy hide, sure of your place in the order of men. It feels terrific, like baking in the hot sun after spending a long time indoors. Like feeling your skin getting tanned and healthy golden brown. There is no substitute for this, and time spent with women, while intoxicatingly wonderful, can't produce the simple intensity, the wattage, of a male/male connection. And while the most intense encounters I will ever have are with the love of my life, even those are a different color than these moments with men. The moments with men are like the heat and glare of the desert sun.

I'll gladly acknowledge that I'm a feeling introverted guy, and I live and spend my most important moments in the oasis, where the women usually are. But part of me needs and loves those moments on the sand, standing with a good comrade, sizing each other up and feeling our oats. We might kick up some dust, we might flex some muscles, but we don't really have to. It's already understood. We're already there.

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