And by friends, I don’t mean women he is hoping to one day wear down to date or sleep with.
When you first meet someone and fall in love, your number one focus is to screen them for signs of sociopathy so you don’t wake up one day and find them knitting your hair.
There are many discreet ways of doing this. What company does he or she keep? How do they migrate the putrid waters of social media? Are they unflappable and friendly by day, while using their @Underground_HateLord Twitter account to attack women at night?
When women are single, and they would rather not be, they will often talk about what they’re looking for in a relationship. What they will and will not put up with, where the lines are.
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The end of short relationships are often explained away in brief memorable statements that say ostensibly little, and yet everything, about why it didn’t work out. “He was into Trump”, “He was very specific about body hair”, or “He loved Counting Crows”.
These are the statements that don’t require further interrogation. Of course it ended, you think to yourself, he had a poster of Delta Goodrem in his bedroom!
My own chief criterion has always been about whether or not he has any female friends. And by friends, I don’t mean women he is hoping to one day wear down to date or sleep with. When I met my partner, this was one of the many things I liked about him. He had male friends, yes, but lots of female friends, too, many of whom he is still close to. Some people asked me tentatively if I was OK with it. Of course, I replied, why wouldn’t I be? Well, you know men, they would say, they can’t help themselves.
I was expected to remain a virgin until I married a boy from church. At 23, I have rejected this lifestyle, but my attempts to meet a potential partner have failed.
Which seems to be what Mike Pence was arguing when he said that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events serving alcohol without her. And this stance is far from confined to the evangelical vice president.
Last year, a Morning Consult poll found most Americans were wary of male-female interactions, with nearly two-thirds saying workers should take “extra caution” around members of the opposite sex. Most stunningly, a majority of women and nearly half of men said it was unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.
This kind of thinking is antithetical to the expansive quality of great friendships, which may not be romantic, but are no less important for it. Any successful and enduring male-female friendship is a tiny rebellion of sorts against anachronistic notions of uncontrollable male desire and the female sirens that lure and distract them.
US feminist writer Rebecca Solnit writes beautifully about oppressive gender roles, describing the “emotional wholeness” that men often sacrifice to advance in the halls of power.
What are, after all, the terrible hazing rituals that have been exposed at Sydney University’s residential colleges if not the giving up of a person’s humanity and wholeness? By subjecting the hazing victim to degrading acts and enforcing vileness towards women, the university bullies are demanding the forfeit of softness, of individuality and decency. A threshold is crossed, and the boy becomes a man, which in this case is to say a feelingless drone.
Is it any surprise then that some men see women as either mothers or sex partners? That in their minds womanhood is made up of two distinct and mutually exclusive categories of Madonna and whore?
On the opposite end of this spectrum is the male-female friendship, which involves the whole-hearted recognition of the other person’s humanity and our many shades of grey. We need men and women to seek out and maintain these friendships more than ever, not draw ridiculous lines in the sand that they promise never, ever to cross.
Because when we are forced to promise not to cross a line, when we’re told that dining with a man or a woman other than your partner is to be avoided, then it takes on an illicit, prurient sheen that cheapens us all.
• Johanna Leggatt is a Melbourne journalist
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK