I’m lucky to have been able to develop some really intimate friendships with a few men in my life. These friendships are locked in the non-sexual and both sides work at keeping it that way. But it’s sometimes hard.
With my girlfriends, it’s easier because they’re simply friends. I’m a hetero lass, so my sexuality doesn’t confuse the way I experience the intimacy we share. When it comes to the guys however, it can get a little more complicated.
There are certain ways that men are able to include me in their lives in an intimate but non-sexual way, with the most common method making them into some kind of brother figure. These guys give me cheek and tease me but if they hear of anyone else disrespecting me, they threaten to get involved. They have made me into a sister that they love and have great affection for but who needs their help and protection - because you can’t want to have sex with your sister. And sometimes, to be honest, I play on this too, because it helps me set clear boundaries. I don’t need saving, or protecting, or my battles fought, but if that’s the way these guys feel about me and if that helps us define our relationship, then I’m good with that.
But then I have friends who wouldn’t dare protect me and who know that I don’t need nor want that. These ones can be a little more tricky and negotiated. We’re really good friends, so we’ll go out together, car-pool, know each other’s families, go surfing, share toothbrushes, text each other, collect each other when we’re drunk, listen when one of us has their heart-broken and sometimes stay in each others’ beds. What happens once the lights go out..? Nothing if we’re both sober and thinking straight, but the bottom line is that we care about each other deeply - we love each other - and that intimacy can be hard to put boundaries on.
One of my guy friends told me, in a most emotional and intimate moment, that I was his mate. I didn’t respond well. That word to me is full of misogyny, fraternity and exclusivity and it’s not a word that I have used to describe any relationship that I have ever had with anyone. And here was one of my dearest, most adored friends calling me his ‘mate’. I told him to shutup and that I wasn’t his mate, I was his friend. He laughed and grabbed my arm and said again in a low and serious voice;
“No, Bec, you don’t understand. You’re a mate.”
He’s right, I don’t understand, but as I think about it I can only surmise that his attempts to negotiate our very close, not-at-all-sexual bond are leading him to define me using words that he can relate to and which he has experience of. I’m a person that he trusts and relies on and hangs out with and annoys and winds up and loves. I’m his close and intimate friend that he doesn’t want to sleep with.
I’m a mate.
And so I accept the role, but it still feels like an uncomfortable fit. To me ‘mate’ has an uncomfortable and rigid physicality about it. It reeks of beer and morning-after breath, wears creased t-shirts and boardshorts and sounds like a football game or loud, bad rock music. ‘Mate’ is wounds bleeding from surfing or skating injuries and laughing at shared stories about getting laid. ‘Mate’ is talking about tits and arse rather than owing them. Mate is getting into a brawl and then sharing a beer. A mate is something that I’ve never been before but that I’ve heard and seen others – men - be. I thought friend was enough, but mate is something more for him.
To be honest, I still don't really get it, but it makes it easier to keep it simple.