Because these “friendships” have too often come with costs I shouldn’t have paid and won’t ever pay again.
One afternoon while I was supervising carpool, a former student’s parent drove up in his impeccable red Corvette, leaned out the window, and said, “Tara, would you like to go out sometime?”
I said to him, “No, I’m sorry. I’m just not dating right now.”
The latter wasn’t true, but I felt like I needed an excuse to bring this rejection home.
When he’d found out I’d gotten separated a few months prior, he’d parked his car and walked to stand next to me as I directed cars.
“Hi, Mr. ________,” I said politely.
He skipped the greetings to say, “Divorce is rough, isn’t it?”
“Oh yeah. Divorce is awful,” I said, squinting my eyes at him. I’m literally doing carpool right now. Do you not see this happening?
“How are you?” he asked after I said goodbye to a child.
I again looked at him. “Uh, I’m okay. I’m taking care of myself.”
I work in a tight-knit community, and the news of my separation must have spread through the students and to their parents quickly. This parent, divorced himself, had decided to capitalize on it. I was relieved when his daughter interrupted us.
Every Tuesday after that, he’d come to chat with me. I learned how awful his divorce had been and how worried he was about his daughter handling it.
I talked with my direct supervisor about these “chats,” and she would come and stand near us or interject herself into the conversations. He wasn’t ever phased.
Mostly I recognized that he was lonely and needed someone to talk to. I and sometimes my boss were a captive audience, both due to our duty to supervise and the fact that we had to be polite to the parent of a student.
When he asked me out, I turned him down for reasons that should be obvious.
“Can we be friends?” he asked next.
“I don’t think that’d be appropriate,” I said next.
“Come on,” he pushed. “You could talk to me! I’m a great listener!” (He wasn’t.)
“Thanks, but no thanks,” I reaffirmed. That ended our weekly chats. I was grateful.
I take asks of “Can we be friends?” as threats. It might be just me.
It’s often the undisclosed expectations that get me, the likelihood that the other person’s (a man’s) idea of “friends” is vastly different than mine. I could imagine this man’s idea of being “friends” something akin to me crying into a wine glass and him being ready to comfort me with his mouth and tongue.
I didn’t want nor need that kind of “friend” when I have actual friends who have never treated my vulnerability like a cracked door they could wedge the rest of the way open.
In the unchecked realm of AOL chatrooms ten years before To Catch a Predator ever aired, a grown man asked me for pictures of myself with my clothes off because he told me that’s what “friends” do. I was 12.
It was a short exchange for such a high-cost transaction.
“Can we be friends?” he’d asked.
“Yes,” I’d said while my loneliness and desire to be accepted fluttered in my throat.
“Friends send friends pictures,” he said next.
If my nakedness was the price I’d have to pay for acceptance, I was willing to pay it. I just didn’t know I, over 20 years later, would still be paying.
As a grown woman, I have received asks of “Can we be friends?” that always came with expectations: some I was aware of at first, others I wasn’t.
That’s always how it is with colonizers. They come in with their platitudes and open hands, and you don’t even realize until it’s too late that you should have never let them in.
Friendships with some men have meant that I needed to be available to them, however they defined that (emotionally, physically, romantically). If I didn’t want to be their therapist or emotional affair partner, I was a “terrible” friend. If they made a pass at me and I rejected them, I was gay or ugly.
If I began dating other men, they’d wouldn’t seem to like the idea of another man having me, regardless of the fact that they didn’t have me. They'd profess their feelings for me , asserting they’d felt this way “for a long time,” even though we’d both been single at the same time previously.
These “friends” also would often prove themselves not to be trustworthy.
I once went to a party with a “friend” who promised to be my designated driver. I forgot that I was on a medicine that I wasn’t supposed to drink on, and I blacked out after drinking just one beer. I woke up in that “friend’s” bed, naked, aware that my body now had memories the rest of me did not. Other things happened with other men that I remember. I wish I didn’t.
My “friendships” with men have cost me too much.
So I made rules. What everyone does in an attempt to shackle chaos, to hold it at a comfortable, manageable distance. Rules based on experience and inference and research, rules based on inhabiting this body and on this body’s needs.
I will not be friends with a man if they have
- previously expressed romantic interest in me.
- previously had a romantic relationship with me.
- told me I am attractive.
If a man has been inside my body or has expressed any indicators that he might one day want to be inside my body, he doesn’t get to be my friend.
If the first thing a man says when he sees me or my picture is that I’m pretty or beautiful or cute, I’ll be disappointed, and then I’ll politely ignore all his entreaties to be “friends” or “colleagues” or “to network.”
Men who want to be my friends will rarely or never mention that they find me attractive. The most they might say is something to the effect of, “You look nice today,” but so infrequently that I’ll be able to count the amount of times on one hand over years of knowing one another. Those are men I trust.
It’s a shame I have to say “no” so often, but it’s not a shame I choose to carry.