As a teenager, I thought I could only successfully have friends that were boys, because girls were always competing, in particular, for the same guys. Girls couldn’t truly be trusted, nor did they seem to trust me. I did have some experience with this problem — my best friend was constantly flirting with my boyfriends. And then my other girlfriends got mad at me for having a boyfriend with whom I spent much of my time, and so they deserted me. It was frustrating.
I got married to my boyfriend when I was 18, and at that time most of our friends were his friends, which is to say I didn’t really have any friends of my own. That was kind of lonely, and I felt like I disappeared. I was also going through a pretty bad depression at that time, due to: learning some disturbing information about a man in my family; moving out of state for my husband to go to grad school; and the frustrations of trying to get a job in my field. I actually had a job in the new state before we moved, but when I went in to talk to the man who hired me, he decided I was stupid because I couldn’t figure out the schedule of activities he was describing (while seated, but not inviting me to sit, and not having anything written down), so he dismantled the school in which I was planning to work. There must have been other things going on that I didn’t know about, but talk about being intimidating — he was the king. And I was too new to the field (and the state) to feel brave enough to stand up to him. Other men at the time included my husband’s advisor,a little guy, but not very nice to women, unless he was having an affair with them, which was rumored to be the case frequently. I stayed away from him as much as possible. There was also the man who wanted to be my advisor in grad school. He thought so much of himself he could hardly stop talking, and he made it clear that everything we did as grad students was to help him become more well known. I eventually dropped him and got one of the wonderful women in the department to be my new advisor.
Many of the men I’d known acted like they knew whatever there was to know about everything in the world. I would often feel intimidated by this, because as The Confidence Code, a book I read recently said: Women don’t act like they know something unless they’re 100% sure, whereas men bluff their way through, figuring they’ll be sure eventually. I got tired of the whole dynamic however, and just checked out from men to a large degree. It wasn’t that hard. I got divorced, and eventually got a female partner. I worked in an elementary school where most of the teachers were women (as was our principal). I found women friends. My partner and I both have daughters. I had less to do with family members. I’m not saying that every man in my life at that time fit the profile of: acting like a know-it-all teacher to us poor ignorant women, behaving self righteously, and being power hungry, but many sure did. (And I’m certainly not saying that I haven’t known women who are that way!) And yes, I had known a few good men, a husband of a friend, a boyfriend of my sister’s, they seemed to consider women equals, they listened as well as talked, they weren’t threatened by smart and confident or even emotional women. But these men were few and far between. So I pretty much left men alone, and had as little to do with them as possible.
Since Sarita and I have moved to the Southwest, things have once again shifted. I expected to run into a lot of “macho cowboy” type men, who put women in their “place”. I’ve been surprised. I now not only have the men in my daughters’ lives, including my grandson, but a whole new group of men — neighbors, the guys I play music with, guys involved with fixing up our houses, fences, and getting us our animals, the guy who works at the local cafe, even guys who deal with our utilities. For the most part, these guys have been kind, helpful, friendly, and humble. They have not seemed to have any issues with Sarita and I being women partners. I do not feel intimidated by them, but in fact, have been more myself than ever before. I can be excited, tired, emotional, kind of crazy, anxious, ignorant, confident, wise — whatever I am feeling, I find I can express. Now this might partly be because I am not working, so I am not overly stressed, I have some space from the dramas of my family, and most of the time I do exactly what I want. I seem well suited to this area, and I have dreams that are coming true, so I am definitely in a good “place, in all definitions of that term. But I am truly impressed by the men in my life at present, and it feels so much more balanced than anything I’ve experienced since childhood.
The other half of this is that I’ve gotten to know some vulnerable aspects of my men friends, and we can discuss things like death, our spiritual lives, conflicts, pain, and how personal priorities have changed with time. In other words, things that are important to us people who are in the last third or fourth of our lives. Yet the kind men Sarita and I deal with now are all ages, from pretty young (twenties) to pretty old (eighties). We have had a lot to learn since moving here, both about how to live here, and about what we want our places to be in this community. We have had women and men help us consistently, with kindness and respect. Sarita is learning more do-it-yourself things that will help us here. I am less inclined (or physically able) to cut wood, get hay, and spread manure, but more into the community service, keeping track of resources, and taking care of other parts of the homemaking. We are respected for both. No one tries to take over any of the things we need done, but are willing to show us and connect us to the right people so that we can eventually do them ourselves.
I am already impressed with the general kindness of the community, and this respectful behavior takes it over the top. Hard to know how much is due to the area, the pace of life here, the smallness of the community, mine and Sarita’s ages, but there is a difference from the Bay Area and other places (and people) I’ve experienced. It’s a huge relief to live in a place where we feel cared for, and can care for others. And that includes both women and men. To make a complete generalization, it seems as though men don’t need to prove themselves as much, women are not competitive, and I’ve finally gained some confidence about who I am and what I need (and what I’ll tolerate from others). Relief.