The Importance of Boy “Friends”

bar-cappuccino-coffee-5362-828x550I’ve been single for a few years now, and — I have to say — I love it. After having been unhappy for so many years in a relationship, there’s nothing quite like the exhilarating and light feeling of freedom when you’re finally on your own and can do whatever you want to do. Sure, there was the initial shock, but after trying a few dinner dates, I came to the rapid conclusion that I like freedom better than frustration.

I was a tomboy growing up, and I still am one to this day. My next door neighbor was a boy, and we spent countless hours playing basketball, playing tennis, and riding our bikes from sun up til sun down. We built bike trails and hid from our younger siblings while giggling in the shed and watching them look for us. My cousin Curtis taught me to play sports and to be tough as nails or else. If I wanted to play in my male-majority neighborhood, I had to play like a boy or play alone.

It had a lasting effect on me, and I became quite the sports enthusiast. I am forever grateful since confidence, independence, and strength stemmed from that experience. The importance of boy friends — just friends, nothing more — can be so intrinsic to a well-balanced life for girls.

The truth is that I enjoy hanging out with my male friends just as much as my female friends. Just recently I went to lunch with three male colleagues, and we had a grand time joking and talking about cars and electronics (not that I know much about either of those two topics, but it was fun to peer into their world and see how their minds work so differently than mine). I kind of felt like Elaine on Seinfeld!

I love how with men, you can be frustrated and work on something side by side without having to confront it directly, but instead you can work it out internally near each other, not saying a word. Sometimes you truly just don’t want to talk about it, and I find men generally understand that more than women (not trying to lump all women and all men into one group; just a general observation in my crowd of friends). A lot of times, not saying something directly can preserve a relationship and give you time to cool down and work it out on your own. Plus, you don’t have to worry about any romantic pressures from them, but you can still have that male companionship.

One of my favorite ways to hang out with a male friend is to work in the woods alongside them: chopping wood, hauling it, and stacking it for winter. I get such a clear head on days like that. (I think it’s because I grew up playing in the woods in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so it takes me back to my childhood.) Things that seemed so important have a way of being winnowed down with the wood.

With men I come in obliquely; with women we face things directly. Both methods have their appeal, and I find I want both types of friendship in my life. I need the conversation and nurturing of my female friends, yet I also crave the brotherly banter and joking, playful camaraderie I feel with my male friends.

My teenage daughter went through a breakup a few years after I did, and it was interesting to see how it played out. She had dated this boy a long time and was in a lot of pain after she made the decision to end the relationship. I watched her go from being unable to get out of bed for much of a few days to slowly turning back into the light and cheery young girl I used to know. During the relationship, she had dropped a lot of her interests and had focused on the relationship to the exclusion of her own curiosity. I’d try to encourage her to go for a run with me or to resume some sort of lessons for personal development, but she wasn’t interested. She had less sleepovers at the house because she was always on dates. I barely spent time with her because she was so busy. It broke my heart.

Once a few weeks had passed after the breakup, my daughter came downstairs and began chatting with me in the living room. She asked me my opinion about relationships and began having her friends over for sleepovers again. She asked me to buy her a keyboard and a guitar. Suddenly my house was filled with music and laughter again, and my daughter was returning to a happier, more fulfilled existence that included a larger array of people. Besides her girlfriends, suddenly she had boys over who were just friends. They’d play guitar together and go out to eat or play video games after school. They’d go on walks or hang out at the mall — typical teenage stuff that she’d been missing out on for two years.

When the breakup first happened, she tearfully told me that she was afraid she’d never meet another guy. I had assured her she would, that it just takes time, and in the meantime she should focus on herself. To her credit, she took that advice to heart and has really built up her skills, and the inner happiness has followed. She gets up and runs and rides her bike. Most mornings I hear music that she’s playing on her keyboard or guitar streaming out of her room. She’s focused on college and wants to move far away, whereas before she wanted to stay in this tiny town because she wanted to be near her then boyfriend. It had shocked me at the time because before him she’d always wanted to move to the bright lights of a big city for college. She has now returned to her self-determined, confident existence.

What I hope she’s picked up from me is the importance of having boys who are just friends. On any given week, there will be some of my male friends stopping by, either to have dinner or to help me with a project in the house. Most of the time there are both males and females coming over at the same time, all emphasizing to my kids that friendships can be had with both sexes and are both vitally important to me.

I’m hoping that these lessons are having an influence on my son as well. Just last week my 14-year-old son got off the bus and was waving happily to the girl across the street. I asked him if he was sweet on her, and he said, “No, Mom. She’s just a friend, and besides, I’m too young for all that romantic stuff just yet.” Ha! It cracked me up to hear him being so reasonable and so right. Maybe I am doing something right in parenting.

Recently, after coming home from a visit with one of her male friends, my daughter said happily, “Mom, I’m glad I don’t have a boyfriend right now. I like that I can just hang out with my male friends and just relax. When I had a boyfriend I didn’t feel like I could hang out or talk to my male friends, and I missed them. I’m happier now.”

Boom.

“Exactly,” I said. “Exactly.”

Jerri Sparks is a single mom (of three teens and one pre-teen) living in Western New York.  A former Congressional press secretary and a UCLA alum, Ms. Sparks now works in the BioPharma Research industry by day and is a freelance writer by night, advocating for the things she’s passionate about.  This may or may not involve Wonder Woman. Contact her at jerri@germmagazine.com.

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