Will You Be My Straight Male Friend?

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Emily Heist Moss would like more straight dudes in her circle of friends, but she’s having a hard time finding them.

A few years ago, Devin Friedman wrote a controversial essay for GQ called “Will You Be My Black Friend?” about his Craigslist quest to diversify his friendship pool, and I’m thinking about following in his footsteps. Given that I have black friends, I’m looking for something a little different. My post would be headlined, “Will You Be My Bro Friend?” and it would read something like this:

Single female, age 25, seeks straight male friends for strictly platonic discussions of modern gender roles. Must be willing to discuss sex and sexuality without getting handsy, offer advice on relationship choices without being judgmental, and be willing to share embarrassing stories on command. No slut-shaming, victim-blaming, or double standards, just some frank, fun conversation.

In college, I had two good straight-dude friends with whom no topic was off-limits, no subject taboo, no question out of line. Given my current circles of ladies and gay men (Love you guys!), I look back on those college days as a brief but magical time when I felt like I had an inside line on what goes on in the dude brain. I didn’t know the secret handshake, but every now and then, I got to peek behind the curtain. Since the graduation diaspora, I feel a little like I’m flying blind.

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Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. “We” do not all think alike, just as “they” do not all think alike. Everyone is a unique snowflake with their own unique experiences and feelings; all of this is true. Nonetheless, in this society, there are certain sets of pressures exerted on and behaviors required of men, regardless of their unique sensibilities, just as there are for women. No matter how much we push back against these expectations, they exist and color our understanding of our roles within each community we inhabit. It feels impossible to even begin to empathize with the experience of a different group unless there’s some seriously open, unadulterated sharing. But with whom?

As a single 25-year-old, where am I going to find straight male friends? At this stage of life, most co-ed social situations always include the subtext of “meeting new people,” and “getting out there,” code for scoping out the lay of the land and flirting your way across it. Parties, bars, even trivia nights or softball leagues are engineered to push single people of opposite sexes toward each other, just to see if something clicks. And although I’m a big fan of online dating, I would be wary of seeking friendships via the Internet, since those sites are so explicitly designed to foster the tiniest hint of romance.

That leaves work as the last place I might make some new bro-friends. To a certain extent, this environment can work well, but the problem with work friends of any gender is that it takes some chutzpah to jump the line from work-safe topics to anything more risqué. And given that the most useful reason to have opposite-gender friends is to pick their brains about sex and dating…well, work can be fertile but risky territory.

That said, I think I may have found a winner. It’s early yet, and I don’t want to scare him away (Is he reading this? Guess we’ll find out!) but I’ve been spending some quality water-cooler time with my new friend and I have high hopes.

It started with an intense crush that dissipated after a week and one embarrassing failed attempt at a dance floor makeout. I was worried that my after-hours overtures would rule out the kind of platonic relationship for which we seemed a better fit, but we got past it pretty quickly. Now we share dating disaster stories, discuss embarrassing or confusing moments in our sexual histories, and rehash recent or current relationship drama. I forgot how much I enjoyed having a male perspective!

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With my female friends, the conversation often evolves around questions of perceived normalcy. Would you feel how I feel in this situation? If differently, why? Has this ever happened to you? Has he ever said something like this or done something like that? With bro-friends, I get some help understanding the other side of the situation. That’s not to say a man always understands a man, but I’m willing to bet his perspective might add something a little different to the mix.

I asked my new friend why a guy hadn’t texted me back over the weekend. “When did you text him?” he asked.

“About 4pm, on Sunday,” I answered.

He rolled his eyes, “Emily, come on. The Bears had just lost, he was moping. Duh.” Right, of course. It had not occurred to me (or to my lady friends) that football was affecting my flirtation attempts.

But it’s not just about interpreting cryptic texts or decoding mixed signals; it’s about getting outside myself for a few minutes. Dating and relationships are not hard because men and women are fundamentally different; they’re hard because we’re all human and our needs and wants are informed not just by our unique experiences, but by the expectations and assumptions we make about what it means to be male and female.

How do dudes feel when the check arrives at the end of a date? What do they worry about when it comes to the goodnight kiss? What pressures do they feel to sexually perform? How do they feel about the division of household labor? What kind of marriage do they want? No man speaks for all other men, of course, but they can at least add another voice to the conversation, and when I’m looking for advice, the more the merrier!

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has been published at Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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