I am delightfully finding that I can actually have men friends. This, for me, is exciting. Apart from one dear, dear friend from many years ago who is gay and therefore never been interested in having sex with me, I have seldom –before now- felt comfortable in the company of a man.This, of course, is excluding my father, my son and my two husbands. Comfortable means without the awakening of “attraction” which comes with its dose of adrenalin and endorphins, or feeling that I should have to be attractive for them, or even fearing that I might be without being interested in them at all. That is changing. I actually know at least as many men in Salies as women, and they are not all gay or married. We are friends. I can discover that a male friend is coming to Paris and openly propose we meet there for some quiet time together without that meaning anything more than we might meditate in each other’s company. This is new. It also allows me –for the first time in my life- to actually see men as human beings, which brings me to an important realization: the fact that I have frequently accused men of seeing women as “sex objects” has covered up the fact that I have frequently seen men as “love objects”.
Now, this might sound as if I were talking about two different things, but in my case at least I am not. Being a “sex object” signifies that a man never sees me as a human being, equal and yet different and therefore interesting, but rather as an object that must keep itself desirable enough to continue awakening his sex drive. For a man, to be a “love object” means the same thing: he is never seen as a human being, equal and yet different, but rather as some-thing that must keep itself lovable enough to maintain reasonable levels of endorphins. Seen from the perspective of a woman who has required this at many times during her life, it is an impossible task, just as impossible as keeping one’s body looking twenty-five for a lifetime. And it is impossible precisely because the nature of an “object” is to always disappoint the expectations of s/he who desires it. So when the sex object is obtained and tucked safely into one’s bed, its desirability diminishes radically. When a love object is safely tied to one by a marriage contract or a formal commitment, the same thing occurs.
This by no means suggests that real couples and real marriages don’t exist with love and sex included. It just means that when they do, both partners have stopped viewing the other as an “object” whatever its nature and are enjoying the journey of discovery of the others differences and sameness.
I am discovering that difference now because I am experiencing it. I am noticing that I actually see men today in all their diversity instead of placing them in two limited groups: candidates for love and uninteresting. This is fascinating. I have turned into a man-watcher for no other reason than that I am beginning to actually like and appreciate how different and interesting the other sex can be.
Therefore, when one of them says: “I don’t make beds. I’m a man” I find it interesting to see how my mind clicks automatically into bra-burning mode and silently answers, “What, afraid you’ll catch your balls between the mattress and the box spring?” before noticing that I’m not really upset. I don’t even have much of a reaction with a disparaging remark such as, “I don’t read chick-lit”, although I did retire for a few minutes to soothe my ruffled chicken-feathers.
An invitation for coffee at a man’s apartment no longer means “let’s have sex” but rather “I really look forward to showing you what a great job I have done at remodeling an absolutely awful place”. Dropping into another man’s office for a chat does not guarantee I will be offended if he doesn’t stop working to pay attention to me. Quite the contrary: I can spend the fifteen minutes I am there admiring how efficient he is at his line of work and then wave goodbye as he dials the umpteenth phone call of the morning, without actually exchanging more than a peck on the cheek.
I can carry on a long-term relationship with a man over internet, exchanging jokes, conversations, opinions and writings without tiring of it; quite the opposite, watching it grow into a relationship that I know I can depend on, and even going as far as extending an invitation to visit me in my new home whenever the chance comes up.
I am finding that it is possible to give gifts to men without fearing a misunderstanding, so on my way to my morning coffee I might buy some special apples that I know someone likes, or one afternoon pick up a box of cookies to share with someone else who is a sweets lover. Being able to give, also means being able to receive so what comes my way is openly appreciated be it a bag of hot chilies, a jar of mince jelly (which I have yet to be able to open because I do not have a man around the house to do it for me), or a heartfelt compliment on my writing.
Of course, somebody might think that this change is due to age and nothing more, but that is not true: one is never too old to view men as “love objects”. I remember asking my mother at the age of 80 –before senile dementia set in- what she needed to be happy and being told succinctly: “A man” and she was not talking about friendship. Neither –mind you- was she talking about sex because the man who had just left her life (by dying) had been incapable of sexual relations during the eight years they had spent together. My grandmother seemed to be the same, although my memory of her was of her exercising this need vicariously through me wanting me to flirt with a certain young man when I was very married to someone else.
Interestingly enough I remember the precise day when this change in me came about and I began to see men as companions on the journey of life independently of their relationship to me. It was at the end of my second marriage (which had formally only been a marriage for 9 months although we had lived together for 7 some odd years). Two days before my then husband moved out, I suffered what can only be called a “panic attack”. I found myself overcome with weeping and a feeling of loss so deep it wanted to pull my innards out. I called a friend and she advised breathing.
“Breathe deeply into the pain and out from there until it dissolves and observe if anything comes up.”
I followed instructions and sure enough, after about three minutes the intense emotion subsided and something unexpected happened. A thought surfaced like an uncomfortable bubble: ‘Without a man, my life has no meaning.’ Those were the exact words that had been hidden under the excruciating feelings. Clear as day I recognized the belief: it was not mine. It was a belief that I had either heard from both my mother and grandmother or derived from their attitudes and behaviors. I also noticed that it had nothing to do with the human being that was exiting my life at that time because it was not “life without him” but just “life without A MAN”. I sat for a moment and contemplated my life at that moment. It was marvelous and it had nothing to do with my companion staying or leaving. There was no way he made my life more or less significant. I understood then that it was the belief (the thought believed) that was causing the pain and not the end of our relationship. It was in that moment that I stopped seeing men as love objects because I stopped being a “love addict”. Everything that had been painful about the end of that relationship was transformed into gratitude for all I had lived and learned in it. I could for once see plainly that my life did not NEED a man and that it had been enhanced in many ways by having that particular man up until that moment. All I could feel was gratitude towards him and towards life, as I stepped happily into my future.