Boy Friends

My sister and I grew up surrounded by boys.

Okay, so we don’t have any brothers, and hardly even any boy cousins, but still, our childhood was distinctly boy-heavy. When we first moved to Colorado, the kids in our neighborhood were mostly guys, and back in Arkansas, I didn’t have even a single friend who was a girl. (Holly lived close by and was my age, but she wasn’t my friend because she only liked relentlessly pastel things like My Little Pony and I was always accidentally making her cry.*)

What I’m saying is that in the course of my life, I’ve built a lot of forts and bridges, shot a lot of air rifles and BB guns and homemade bow-and-arrows. Gone off bike ramps balanced on the handlebars, poked dead things with sticks, chased the cows in the pasture, walked out on the ice.

I’ve done all the fast, reckless, dangerous things** that girls left to their own devices almost never do. Because yes, you might think of it, but thinking of something is still a universe away from thinking it might be a good idea to try it.

And now, at seventeen, I feel a little bit like something’s missing. I look around at the boys I know and think how weird it is that I only ever talk to them when we’re sitting in class. I have this mute, sneaking suspicion sometimes that it shouldn’t be like this. That I should still be running around in the scrub brush, making up ridiculous games and pulling crazy shenanigans.

It’s not that I don’t love my girlfriends—I DO—but even when we’re all hanging out together, laughing and teasing each other, sometimes I get this mysterious sense of restlessness, like I’m missing some deep, integral part of me. Because even though I babysit and go grocery shopping and spend my spare time baking cookies and customizing my clothes and making lacy headbands and fancy barrettes, on the inside, I’m still a little bit (okay, a lot) of a tomboy.

I design elaborate princess hairstyles that have the structural integrity to stand up to the rigors of sledding or cross-country capture the flag. I keep cigarette loads in my wallet and a buck knife in my backpack. I jump off roofs onto trampolines and shoot bottle rockets and climb anything that looks like it needs climbing. I paint my toenails to hide all the places they’re bruised purple from soccer.

Dill is my friend. He is a boy.

Wit is also a boy. And even though I’ve only known him for a few months, I’m already starting to understand that our friendship is something rare and valuable. But Wit is also less aggressively boyish than Dill. He likes to get coffee and talk on the phone and dissect his feelings, all of which I’m delighted by, but none of which is familiar from the friendships of my childhood.

So when April rolls around and I find myself spending more and more time with Dill, it’s sort of not even that surprising. After all, the good things about Dill are obvious.

The good thing about Dill is that he likes things that explode. The good thing about Dill is that he likes gangster movies. The good thing about Dill is that even when he doesn’t like horror movies, he’ll still watch them with me. The good thing about Dill is that he’s cheerful and energetic and up for anything, anytime, whatever the consequences, regardless of whether we might get in trouble. And also, as I’ve mentioned before, he has a car.

In the last year, he’s swapped his red sports car for a pretty excellent truck and now we spend a lot of time driving around in the mountains. He comes revving up the dirt road to my house in a plume of dust and takes me off-roading. Our whole relationship is so different now from what it was in tenth grade, because somewhere in there, he’s started treating me like a real person—with flaws and qualities and interests—and not at all like a generic fill-in-the-blanks girlfriend.

And maybe he’s loud and impulsive and goofy, but there’s a corresponding soft part to his personality too. There’s a soft part to almost everyone.

On the weekends, we do our drawing homework together. He brings me popsicles instead of flowers. He tells me stories about junior high and the different sports he played when he was little, instead of always just asking me exhaustingly factual questions that I don’t know how to answer. I’m enjoying myself.

Some things aren’t much different, though. It’s hard to explain, because I don’t know what I was expecting. I thought the way I felt would change, but it’s not that simple. I thought that because I feel like I should want to be with Dill . . . I would.

I’m disappointingly and repeatedly surprised that no matter how much you like someone as a friend, no matter how objectively attractive you might find them, the feeling doesn’t necessarily translate to love, and by love, I mean the romantic kind. I mean infatuation.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the idea of being taken with someone. I hate that no matter how much I might enjoy hanging out with Dill, I don’t feel taken. In fact, I feel weirdly untethered. Lonely? (Lonely.) Which, come on, that’s bizarre. I mean, I started school with no friends, no idea what I was doing, and now, for the first time, when I’ve finally got my life the way I want it, with awesome, amazing friends and a fun, attractive boy to hang out with every weekend, NOW is when I feel lonely?

But part of it—and here’s the thing—part of it is that as much as I want to be friends with Dill, we’re not. We are absolutely, undeniably more than that, and also less.

“Does he do that a lot?” Dill asked when we were walking to Drawing.

“Who? Do what?”

#4. He was looking at you just now.”

“Oh. I don’t know.”

But the thing is, I kind of do know.

It’s not that I’m lying to Dill. But I kind of am. I’m awkwardly, secretly thrilled by the idea that #4 is looking at me, and also terrified that he might not be. I hate thinking that I’m reading the context wrong, or maybe even daydreaming it entirely the way Catherine sometimes does. But then I’ll look up and he’ll just be there, standing with his back against the wall and his hands in pockets. His expression is blank, hard to read. It’s nothing.

“You’re just not paying attention,” Dill said. “Come on—like every morning he’s looking at you. That’s completely awesome.” He smiled and gave me a little shove. “My girlfriend is so hot that everybody’s checking her out.”

But it’s not everybody. Really, I think it’s just him.

First comes the irrational bounding puppy-dog hope—this bright, giddy idea that #4 finds me attractive, intriguing, fascinating! Or at least notable?

And then, there is the actual, verifiable fact. He is semi-regularly sort of looking in my direction.

And right after these two things comes a crisp, businesslike voice, reminding me how I’m not even supposed to care one way or another, because I’m with Dill.

With Dill is how I always say it in my head, even though there are probably better ways to describe what’s happening. The real situation would take too many words though, and also I would probably have to face how selfish I’m being.

The thing is, I’m still struggling with the difference between being a girlfriend, and a girl who is a friend. I know that Dill and I should not date, because we are really terrible together. And … I know that no matter how terrible we are, I’m also most definitely his Girlfriend—capital G—because sometimes when we’re parked in my driveway or outside the movie theater, sitting close together in his truck, I let him kiss me.

The reason for this is uncomfortable, and also complicated. The simplest version is that I let him kiss me because I want to be kissed. Which makes me feel shallow and fickle, especially since even less than a year ago, I was so terrified of being kissed that I often went to profound and dysfunctional lengths to avoid it (for instance, chewing cinnamon gum, which Dill is allergic to), and the last time we were provisionally “together,” I wouldn’t even let him hold my hand at school.

Now though, I have no problem being kissed. In fact, I like it. Kissing is nice.

But in this particular case, that’s not a very good reason. In fact, it’s a chilly, selfish one, and when people take the time to picture their ideal relationship, they are typically not wishing for a girl who finds their company generally enjoyable and thinks kissing is “nice.”

What I have to offer is not what Dill wants from me and I know that. I think about it. Being the good little scientist, I stare long and hard. But only as often as I can tolerate, which is not all that often.

Because no matter how incisive and unflinching I try to be, I still hate thinking that by wanting something so simple, so normal—wanting to be someone’s girlfriend—I’m basically just being a really bad friend.

Also, I still won’t let him hold my hand when we’re at school.

*****

Okay, yes—the topic is friends. Again. But this time I want to know about friends of the opposite sex, platonic friends, romantic friends, all the ways that crushes and jealousies and hormones can complicate a relationship.

I want to know the architectural considerations—if friendships weather the strain, if they bear up under the weight and grow stronger. Or if they implode.

*No, seriously. Every incident that left her distraught was purely accidental. Like, one time she asked if she could have a slice of raw button mushroom from my lunch and I gave it to her and she cried because she didn’t like how it tasted.

Then the daycare lady scolded me for making Holly cry.

You know, sometimes it really sucks to be a little kid. Adults never understand anything.

**Sorry, Mom.

12 thoughts on “Boy Friends

  1. Let’s say, hypothetically, that we one day run into each other at some sort of convention or writery-type thing, which isn’t entirely impossible. Say the extent to which I weird you out in person is insufficient to deter you from spending further time in my company. Say, at that point, we go for a drink, and we talk about Things, and among those Things will be Tales Of Boys Who Were Friends And Also Maybe Sort Of Actual Boyfriends But At The Same Time Sort Of Not. Does that sound like a feasible thing, hypothetically? :)

    • I see your writerly drink, and raise you one! Also, the extent to which I treasure this particular type of awkward story is entirely inappropriate, but I do—I collect them and keep them on an imaginary shelf to polish and admire and gaze at. Because that is what I do with everything. (But most especially everything awkward.)

  2. Idk if I mentioned it, but all these high school posts had me digging though my (OMG HUMILIATING) diaries – mostly from 7th grade, then Sophomore and Junior year – and it has been… well, humiliating. How I didn’t get stuffed into lockers for being such a boy-crazy melodramatic weirdo, I have no clue (but am certainly relieved)

    Its funny, I blogged my Senior Prom experience last year – in which my grandma hooked me up with my cousin (ew ew EW), and my friend Justin rescued me at the last minute and was my date – but after reading my diaries recently, I noticed that though we never hung out outside of class (other than an occasional group lunch or Senor Prom date) any huge moment of my schoolgirl life, in which I needed rescue of some sort, there was Justin. Defending me in middle school from my crush’s friends horrible teasing, grabbing my hand and dragging me across campus to introduce me to the cute new boy (who’s locker was below mine, yet I was still to embarrassed to talk to)… and when Justin introduced me to him, I was pretty sure they knew each other… only for him to say, “Of course I don’t know Locker Boy. But you’re never going to talk to him on your own.” Saving me in class debates when it was my turn to sound like I knew what I was talking about when I totally didn’t…

    I had very few boyfriends in high school – was way too scared and embarrassed to talk to the ones I was infatuated with – but I did have a ton of awesome platonic friendships with guys. :)

    • First, let me just take one tiny second to say “YOUR COUSIN!?” and then do the bug-dance.

      Okay, all better! Now, as mortifying as it might be to look back on, honestly, I’m kind of jealous that you were able to chronicle your interest in boys, rather than evading, equivocating, or speaking in code, even in the privacy of your own journal. (Hello, Brenna—hello!)

      It is *so* funny to me now (and by funny I mean … perplexing) to look back through my journals and know that on some particular day, during some particular time, I was undeniably interested in #4, yet could not bring myself to actually commit that fact to paper, because OMG-that-would-be-like-making-it-real (panic, panic, panic!).

      On a totally different note, dance rescuers are the best! During my brief stint with the nice girls, I went to the homecoming dance my sophomore year when I really, really didn’t want to (didn’t write about it here, or even in my journal at the time, because I mostly wished it didn’t happen). Anyway, I wound up sort of ditching my date to hang out with one of my goofy slacker guys friends, who also ditched his date. (Man, I look back on some of the things I did just because I was so desperately uncomfortable, and now I want to scold myself so badly for being RUDE.) Anyway, more than anything, I just remember this awesome wave of relief at my friend showing up, and me not having to be awkward anymore.

  3. I’ve been lurking your blog for quite a while, but didn’t feel motivated until now to say anything –even though I love your high school posts to pieces.

    I’ve noticed since the end of last year that there is this boy who will often make eye contact with me, and then quickly look away. I started keeping mental tabs on him when I realized that, but didn’t start developing a crush on him until quite recently. I understand perfectly what you meant when you said you were thrilled with the idea of #4 looking at you but were terrified that you were interpreting his actions wrong and he wasn’t, not really.

    And last year he did something that I still think about. In class we got off topic and started talking about some upcoming dance, and someone told a really annoying/loud/disruptive classmate of mine that he should take me to the dance. I wasn’t amused, but I went with my usual M.O. of smiling blandly and desperately hoping for a subject change. In the midst of that, I think I heard the boy I now like mumble something about how I was better than that annoying classmate. I never thanked him for saying that, and I never asked why he said it. Or, more importantly, what he meant by it.

    And all the while, we keep meeting eyes and I keep wondering what it means XP

    I know this doesn’t really have to do with the question you asked, but this is what I wanted to say.

    • I’ve noticed since the end of last year that there is this boy who will often make eye contact with me, and then quickly look away.

      This is so common, so typical, and so absolutely maddening! Also, to make matters worse, I think the more verbal you are as a person, the harder it can be to feel confident interpreting nonverbal cues. (This is a completely unfounded/unscientific theory, but whatever.) While I like to think I’m a little better these days, I still only really trust things once they’re said aloud. Until there’s verbal confirmation, everything is purely hypothetical. No matter how obvious it should be.

      And last year he did something that I still think about.

      Oh, those little moments and gestures can absolutely sink you! The business of interpreting interactions and assigning significance, trying to decode things—it’s practically like fortunetelling. It’s like this game you can never-ever win.

      Okay, so. I remember very clearly how paralyzing this situation is, which means that what I have to say next will probably not help all that much, because knowing what one ought to do and knowing *how* to do it are two vastly different things. BUT, it might be worth it to just to take the initiative—to smile and nod and say hello. Strike up conversations, ask questions.

      Because the thing is (and oh! I know it doesn’t feel that way), the risk-to-reward ratio is actually a pretty sure thing. The best-case scenario is that you get a chance to know him better and he’s awesome and likes you and you can see where it goes. The absolute worst-case scenario is that he turns out not to be romantically interested, and still winds up thinking of you a friendly person who acknowledges his existence and treats him with kindness and respect. Which might be disappointing, but in the grand scheme of things? I still call that a win.

      (Also, people can seem really scary. I know that. But also-also, you will pretty much never be penalized for making someone feel special.)

      • If you’re a little nervous about breaking the ice, sometimes food can help. It can be as simple as baking a big batch of cookies and finding an opportunity to offer him a couple during class/lunch. If you’re really shy, you can offer cookies to everyone around you. Talking about food is sometimes a lot easier than talking about anything else.

        • Ack! I hope I haven’t set womenkind back 83,743,298,742,398 years with that comment. Brenna’s reply made me think about nonverbal communication and how it can work on so many different levels.

          And that made me think about cookies.

          • HA! I knew what you meant, Jennifer—not that girls everywhere need to be running out to bake cookies for boys, but sometimes the easiest way to approach someone is to include them in a low-pressure but companionable activity like eating, and yes, sometimes it’s easier to do that if you’re already including other people.

  4. And now, at seventeen, I feel a little bit like something’s missing. I look around at the boys I know and think how weird it is that I only ever talk to them when we’re sitting in class. I have this mute, sneaking suspicion sometimes that it shouldn’t be like this. That I should still be running around in the scrub brush, making up ridiculous games and pulling crazy shenanigans.

    Basically, this. This, this, a million times this. 

    When I was really little, I was in daycare. I was the ringleader of a group of about six or seven kids, pretty much even along gender lines. When I got older (still pretty little, like three to five) my mom wasn’t working anymore, so I really only ha two friends. One was a boy, and one was a girl. I enjoyed my time with them equally — mostly because I could play dress-up or let’s pretend or GI Joe Rescue Mission (with GI Joes, barbies, and the three male barbies we owned) with either of them.

    Each of us did different things for kindergarten. He was homeschooled, she moved to California, and I went to the tiny arts magnet school. 

    And there, too, I had a roughly equal amount of guy friends and girl friends. Even in eighth grade, my two best friends were girls, but in my circle of seven closest friends, four of them were guys.

    I guess it wasn’t until ninth grade — high school — that things changed. I was the only person from my old school who went to that high school. (Which I will start calling Deadguy High for clarification purposes.) The rest of my friends ALL went to Cityname High. Rebuilding a social circle from scratch might’ve been completely daunting to other people, but I RELISHED the challenge. But I never realised until this year, junior year, that I have so few male friends when compared to my female friends. 

    I guess part of it is that I am incredibly distrustful of teenage boys. They do stupid things like throw weighted rubber balls across the cafeteria without stopping to think that they might hit some poor innocent girl in the head and require her to get six stitches. Despite the fact that I know girls can be even worse than boys in some respects (hello: bullying, ODD GIRL OUT, cliques, etc) when I meet a girl, she has to do something bad in order to lose my initial goodwill towards her. With a guy, he’s got to work to get on my good side. 

    Also (this point is necessary, which is the only reason I am saying it) I am not conventionally pretty. I’m not witty , or funny, or flirty, or any of those other adverbs. In school, I’m quiet, not very forceful, (in huge contrast to outside school, where I am bold and bossy and rather Hermione-ish). Therefore, it makes me nervous when I catch guys watching me. I start surreptitiously checking to make sure that I am, indeed, wearing all necessary articles of clothing and the like. I never trust their motives. Even if I’m having a conversation with a guy, direct eye contact freaks me out. Even if he’s one of my best friends. My best male friend at Deadguy High didn’t know what color my eyes were until September of this year! (this has a point I swear.) But this only applies to guys that there is the possibility of romance with. If one of the guys in my group of friends gets a girlfriend, all of a sudden it’s so much easier to talk to him. I guess it might be because I don’t have to worry about stupid things like whether or not I’m laughing like an idiot, because (real) friends don’t care about things like that. Potential love interests might. 

    I used to have a (hugely gigantically ginormous) crush on the aforementioned male best friend(Q). At the beginning of this year, something happened that caused me to view him in a strictly brotherly manner. And now we’re very close, and there’s no more weirdness, and it’s so nice to just be FRIENDS. My best male friend from my old school, (H, who goes to Cityname High) and I were teased constantly in elementary and middle school about liking each other, and while there were certainly phases when I liked him or he liked me, for the most part, we acted like siblings. Now, it’s really nice to have him as a friend. Because we are JUST FRIENDS AND THAT IS IT THE END NO DRAMA THANKYOUVERYMUCH. 

    I’ve started thinking recently that I really would like to become friends with more guys, just because having a wide variety of friends is really nice. But I don’t really know how to go about doing that, except for the normal way of making friends. The good thing is, I can make friends very very easily. The bad thing is, I want CLOSE friends, and those kinds of friendships take lots of time and energy to form. Also, due to my issue with talking to unattached guys, and behaving normally around them, I think I would find it difficult to just have a FRIENDSHIP with them, since, sadly, most high school boys do not want to have girl FRIENDS, with whom they can discuss anything. They want girlfriends who will make out with them whenever possible. And I can’t try and build up a friendship from scratch with a guy who’s dating someone, because I KNOW I would somehow botch it and it would bite me in the ass and then there would be rumors and that is SO not something I want to deal with.

    Overall point/wrap-up to a comment so long it could be it’s own blog post: I’ve had lots of friends who are guys. I love having them as friends because they provide me insight into the male brain, which is useful for writing characters (and for figuring out what my crush is thinking). I think having a group composed of both male and female friends is vitally important, but that friendships with guys are harder, if only because people will constantly ask if you’re dating, doubtful that guys and girls can be Just Friends.

    Also, I find your thing about handholding fascinating, that you’ll kiss him but not let him hold your hand. (Or was that strictly a school thing?) I think it’s because I subscribe to the Nick and Norah school of thought, where holding hands with someone is more important than kissing them. 

    And one last thing (I promise, this IS the last thing) I read THE SPACE BETWEEN the other day. (I’m actualteen, the one whose been talking to you about it on Twitter.) It was so so good. (I think I’m going to go buy myself a copy instead of hoarding the library’s for another month or so.) And I said it already on twitter, but Daphne really reminded me of the you from the HS stories. Rescuing those who needed it, not really sure of how to act, but managing perfectly fine. Now that I’ve devoured it, I can’t WAIT to read more novel-length stuff from you. :D

    (Geez, this comment is SO LONG. Uhm, yeah, sorry about that…)

    • I guess part of it is that I am incredibly distrustful of teenage boys.

      Amen to this! Irish and Dill aside (and both of those were very complicated relationships), I didn’t really have male friends at all until late in my junior year. I always think of myself as having been so scared of boys, but yeah, it was really more that I was distrustful. I felt like I never knew what was going to happen next. And I hate not knowing things, especially when it comes to people.

      Also, I was deathly, deathly scared of eye contact with potential love interests. It just felt way too revealing for some reason, like people were going to see into my brain, or were turning too much attention on me all at once. And the worst times were when I wanted so badly to stop staring, and just couldn’t. It was like being caught in a tractor beam.

      I really would like to become friends with more guys, just because having a wide variety of friends is really nice

      Senior year especially, I had the most amazing guy friends and they all happened in this completely easy, organic way—work or classes or whatever. One of the things I’ve always really appreciated about my guy friends is, in some ways the relationships feel simpler than my friendships with other girls. And by simple, I just mean utterly dependable, and like they don’t need a lot of maintenance in order to flourish.

      but that friendships with guys are harder, if only because people will constantly ask if you’re dating

      This is something that I’ve found got a lot better in college, and pretty much vanished altogether by my mid-20s. Now platonic friendships seem really easy, and like nothing has to be forced or handled carefully. Maybe once people hit adulthood, they just become more secure in their relationships and knowing who they want something romantic with (and who is just a friend) because they’ve had enough practice to identify exactly what’s going on?

      And yes, the handholding thing was strictly regarding being at school, but I’m pretty sure it was exactly for the Nick-and-Norah reasons. I felt like if other people saw us holding hands, that was like … too private. And also then everyone might think I was in love and I wasn’t, and I didn’t want Anyone Ever to draw inaccurate conclusions about me, because I’m kind of obsessed with accuracy. So, it felt overly-intimate, and also like false advertising, and I was having none of it. Also, if I was him, I totally would have broken up with me after about a minute.

      I absolutely know you from twitter! (I love the overlapping of people here and there and on facebook and everywhere-the-whole-internet.) As I said earlier, I totally think Daphne is the (a?) tuned-up version of me. However, I think she’s also much more earnest and involved than I was, which I kind of like about her. And, while I don’t think I write a lot of characters who are transparently me, I do have one other one who’s an iteration of HS-Brenna, only the really bad parts. (The secret is, she’s one of my favorite characters, and I can’t help it. Because I just think bad parts are so, so fascinating.)

      • It just felt…like people were going to see into my brain… And the worst times were when I wanted so badly to stop staring, and just couldn’t.
        Exactly! And if I’m just looking and they catch me looking and we lock eyes, I just want to shy away like a horse, complete with flailing limbs and a panicked expression.

        in some ways the relationships feel simpler
        This is so true. Especially because in order to have an actual conversation, you can’t really talk about shallow things, because you don’t have a ton in common up there, but when it comes to meaty subjects, there’s so much to talk about. If that makes sense.

        This is something that I’ve found got a lot better in college, and pretty much vanished altogether by my mid-20s.
        I am really really glad to hear that.

        I didn’t want Anyone Ever to draw inaccurate conclusions about me, because I’m kind of obsessed with accuracy.
        I used to think that I was like this, but I recently realized that I very much enjoy being tricky and having people assume things, and then telling them that they’ve misinterpreted the situation, just to watch their face and reaction. (I think this might make me a Bad Person.) So I guess in the end I like accuracy, but I like defying people’s expectations, and proving them wrong. (And being right. I’m like Claire in that one episode of Modern Family where she gets the security tapes and — yeah….)

        I always feel like people won’t remember me, which my friends tell me is absolutely RIDICULOUS, but still. I’d rather over-remind someone than have them flailing around, pretending to remember me, even though they totally don’t. The bad parts are so fascinating, in part, I think, because the good wouldn’t EXIST without them.

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