I wonder if reading that question made you as uncomfortable as it made me to write it. It’s not a question most of us feel confident or comfortable asking – unless you’re a child in elementary school.
There’s such vulnerability in that question. Such risk. We are opening ourselves up to the possibility of being rejected. We are offering who we are to another person and hoping they like what they see.
There’s a lot less testosterone than usual in this week’s blogger which is why when I was asked to write a blog post for Strong Towers – a website designed specifically for men – my immediate response was, “Who? Me?!” I wasn’t sure what to write about, so I took a few days to allow the idea to roll around in my brain before I began; then the topic emerged like an image on film becoming clearer and clearer as it develops in the darkroom. (So, now I’ve not only given away that I’m a woman, but I’ve also given away how old I am by talking about photos that need to be developed on actual photo paper!)
As a young girl, the friends I spent most of my time with were my brother, who is two years older than I am, and all his friends. There were no little girls my age in my corner of town, so I played baseball with the guys, built forts in the woods behind our house, rode dirt bikes in the mud, and I absolutely loved it!
Those boys became my surrogate big brothers. It would have been very easy for them to take advantage of the place they held in my life since they were stronger than me both physically and mentally. They could have dismissed me, pushed me around, or done far worse. If they didn’t want me tagging along with them, I never knew it. They treated me as if I were just part of the gang, and I’m so thankful for that. At the time, I had no idea how it was shaping me or how it was preparing me for friendships I’d have with men later in my life.
While playing baseball with them, I don’t remember them moving closer infield when I was up to bat. I don’t remember ever hearing the words, “easy out” being directed at me. But I know they took it easier on me than they did each other, and I’m thankful for that, too, because they did it in a way that made me feel taken care of rather than as if they thought I wasn’t capable.
It's tricky for men to navigate masculine friendships. Being a female and navigating masculine friendships is also tricky. And I recently realized that part of the reason I have good, strong, healthy friendships with the men in my life today is because I learned how to have friendships with those boys in my childhood.
I think we sometimes don’t realize that the how of friendships is indeed something we learn. We’re not accustomed to vulnerability. And that’s part of the reason why asking the question, “Will you be my friend?” is such an uncomfortable one for most of us. Many of us have not learned what true friendship looks like, how to live it out, or what it truly means for each of us. It has not been modeled well. We’ve been left to figure things out on our own, and more often than not, figuring things out for ourselves doesn’t go well.
Just last weekend, I had a conversation with some of the teenage boys I regularly work with about what it looks like to have healthy friendships with young women. Currently, there are some unhealthy dynamics in their immediate friend group, and I shared with them what it was like for me as a young girl growing up with my guy friends. I explained how that group of young men treated me, invited me to be a part of their friend group, and took care of me. This was, in large part, thanks to my brother and the close connection he and I have, but those guys could have dismissed me regardless of how my brother treated me. I had no idea that my learning how to relate well to the boys in my childhood would benefit me this way as an adult and in this job.
As I was talking to this group of young men, I noticed the countenance of one young man change. I observed him sit a little taller. He began responding verbally rather than just nodding his head. I hope what I saw was the beginning of him rising to the challenge to treat this young woman like a young lady. Perhaps the warrior had been awakened.
We’ve not been taught what real friendship looks like, and it’s impossible to model it for others if we don’t have it ourselves. So, take stock of your friendships – with other men and with women. If there’s some learning you still need to do (and I’ll just go ahead and say it now, we all still have learning to do), find someone who can model a healthy friendship for you. Then share what you’re learning with the younger generation. The young men and the young women we interact with need to learn the “how” of friendships. They may not say it directly, but they want to learn. They want to do this well. Whether it’s your son, your nephew, a friend’s son, a neighbor, awaken the warrior in the young men in your life.
So...will you be my friend?