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Sam Wilcox / Staff Illustrator

I’d like to use this opportunity to set the record straight: that girl you see me with all the time is NOT my girlfriend. Two of my best friends are girls, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked if I’m dating one of them. I don’t think either of their actual boyfriends mind, considering they’re both in long-distance relationships, and my chronic “cock-blocking” is a great deterrent for potential suitors. However, I’m frustrated by the constant assumption and mislabeling. I’m not a boyfriend… I’m just a boy who loves his friends.

Who’s to blame for the misunderstanding? Maybe it’s me—I’ve always been more affectionate than the typical guy. A wave or a handshake doesn’t do it for me; I say hello and goodbye with a hug or a kiss on the cheek. I hold my friends’ hands when they talk to me. I’m also a huge fan of cuddling. Am I too touchy with others? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with expressing love. It’s more likely that the gendered expectations of friendship in our community are to blame. We are confined to social behaviors determined by our genders. These behaviors have become expectations in our community, and when we stray from them it can, unfortunately, cause confusion both in and outside the friendship.

One of the common expectations in a friendship between a man and a woman is that the man is going to keep a constant protective watch over his woman friend, especially when they go out. It’s always good to look out for your friends, but it shouldn’t just be because of their gender. I look out for my friends because I love and care about them, not because I’m some “strong man” who needs to protect some “helpless, vulnerable woman.” In fact, I would say my best friend is significantly tougher than I am, and she is usually the one looking out for me. These friendships often develop this dynamic in which the man is expected to be the macho dude because of sexist assumptions.

The expectations in a friendship between two men are some of the worst. The “bro” culture requires you to be prepared at all times to grab a beer, talk about girls, and provide a fist bump of support. However, exploring beyond the fist bump is not allowed. The hugs and cuddles that often characterize feminine friendships are quietly forbidden in male friendships, and because of this, guys miss out on a layer of bonding that accompanies friendly intimacy.

I used to feel this responsibility to hit the gym with my closest guy friend. I had this anxiety that he would forget about me if I missed out on spotting him while he bench-pressed. I hated weight lifting and would rather do just about anything else while spending time with someone. But, there was something mandatory about taking that gym mirror selfie and showing my Snapchat world that I worked out with my buddies like any normal guy.

This is where we fell into in-friendship confusion. I was neither happy nor comfortable in the weight room, but was afraid to say something and risk my masculinity, and that prevented me from bonding with the person I was working out with. After making several excuses, I stopped being invited to lift and discovered my friend was willing to spend time with me in other ways. We bonded over scrolling through Netflix and coming across the Little Mermaid, we laid down our masculinity and admitted our mutual soft spot for a classic Disney movie. We could have avoided this confusion altogether had we ignored gendered expectations and had a genuine conversation about our interests. Now, like with all my other friends, we hug every time we see each other and every time we say goodbye. Yes, it’s true. Two normal guy friends who watch the Little Mermaid and actually hug each other. And I’ll bet you we have one of the strongest friendships on this campus.

If we can just overcome the uncomfortable and restricting expectations embedded in our genders, our friendships will become significantly more fulfilling. We need to build our relationships based on our passions and our personalities, not based on what’s expected. We need to be upfront with others and be our most genuine selves. It may sound romantic, but if we remain true to the exact people we are inside and stop trying to conform to what’s expected, then those who will provide us with the most fulfilling friendships will naturally find us.

There’s a social awareness and sensitivity to sexuality at Columbia that sometimes prevents us from doing this. Friends of different genders don’t want to be mistaken for a couple, and friends of the same gender don’t want to be mistaken as gay. There’s this weird assumption that upon meeting a new friend of the opposite gender that the automatic intention is sexual; that every introduction must have the subtext of a rom-com meet cute. The truth is, boys, it’s okay to hug your girl friends! More often than not, a hug doesn’t have sexual intentions. You can even talk to them about other people they are romantically interested in. As a guy that they respect, your opinion will mean a lot to them. And girls, sometimes us guys want to be comforted and protected too, even though we may not feel like we can always show it. And, rather than being offended when people start to ask if you’re dating, you should be proud that the love, respect, and happiness of your friendship is visible.

The author is a sophomore at Columbia College studying creative writing. He’s not dating Fran or Julia.

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gendered friendships affection masculinity sexuality
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