Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Toy From A Boy

I got my best Christmas present days after the holiday and I didn’t even know it was coming. I was picking up Thing Three from a friend’s house and before I left the father said, “Hold on, I’ve got something for you.” He handed me a little square box of perfect packaging with something shiny and silver in it. It was a 2 gigabyte iPod Shuffle with “Have A Great 2010” engraved on the back. “I gave these to all of my clients this year for Christmas, and I had an extra one and I knew you would like it,” he said. “I loaded it up with about 800 songs for you. – There are some surprises and some real gems in there.”

Just the week before, I’d had my annual $25-and-under holiday gift exchange with 11 girlfriends. Sure, there was a one-of-a-kind bottle of hand-pressed olive oil from Italy, a hooked “Ho Ho Ho” rug and a charming pinecone candelabra. But let’s face it; it was no shiny new shuffle.

Driving home, I was giddy with my swag – I have a clinical weakness for all things Apple. But then it dawned on me, the real gift was that I’d made a male friend with a common interest – and that hadn’t happened in a long time.

Back in my working days, I had plenty of men co-workers, colleagues, pod and cubicle mates. Male friends. We would have lunch, coffee, dinner, and even go to bars after work. – And yes, I was married. My male co-workers taught me to smoke a cigar in a glass corner office on the 51st floor on Park Avenue to celebrate a big banking deal. And I was the go-to call for a client when he had extra tickets to the Rangers games at Madison Square Gardens.

But, my male friends mostly disappeared after I left work, and vanished entirely as soon as Thing One arrived. But I didn’t miss them right away. I was consumed in babydom. Then there was Thing Two, Thing Three, and I needed a village. I have my village and couldn’t be happier with it. But 12 years in, it’s about time for a weekend pass from the village.

I wondered, was it just me in my miasma of selfishness, or was this a real issue lots of women were facing? Every thinking stay-at-home-mom who really cared about larger world issues yet inexplicably found themselves discussing the evils of over-scheduled middle-schoolers (again) agreed with me wholeheartedly. But that could’ve been just because they were from my village.

So, I asked a psychologist who’s been practicing relationship therapy for 25 years on Long Island. It was like my own Friends episode. “All relationships take place within a social context. They don’t happen out of the blue,” she said. “Once a woman is home, there’s a lack of freedom and conversation is based on what is active in your life. All of a sudden there is a lot of talk about throw-up and laundry.”

Keep singing it doctor: “The current generation feels it more than any other because these women had real friendships with men in college and the workplace more than any women before them,” she said. “All of a sudden – and it may be 10 years all of a sudden – you find yourself thinking what am I doing here? I never intended to be here.”

I figured I’d either nailed a great social issue of our time, or I just knew the right expert to call. I wondered if the modern men we went to college and the office with valued their cross-gender friendships (that’s what my new Long Island friend calls them) as much as women did. So I asked Slim, who works in a three-person office, if he missed having lots of female colleagues. And he said, “are we out of cashews?”

Clearly, Long Island psychologists were my people. The psychologist waxed lyrical about a woman’s need to be considered equally valuable as a human being, and the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself and the rewards of being connected to the male part of the universe. All of this happens organically when you have male co-workers. There’s also the bantering, competition, joking and big brother protectiveness that come with male friendships. Female friendships, on the other hand, are filled with emotion and support, but often a certain delicacy or tension because their feelings get hurt more easily.

That explains why my email in-box is littered with digital flower bouquets, chainmail encouraging me to let 10 women in my life know how much they mean to me, and plenty of Maya Angelou poetry. And if I receive one more copy of the essay comparing motherhood to the invisible, nameless builders of the world’s greatest cathedrals, I will begin sharpening my own special stonemasonry chisel. Why don’t any of my stay-at-home mom friends send me emails that say, “Four words, people: John Edwards sex tape.”

After much discussion with friends and my Long Island psychologist, I’ve accepted that in order to have that richer texture of easy friendships with both genders, I would have to go back to a work environment with male colleagues. But I’m pretty sure that after not too long of that, I would need a weekend pass to visit my village. And that’s a sacrifice I’m not yet willing to make. So for now, I’ll have to be happy with my shuffle as a small window into the male mind. Although I’m still not sure I understand how a song by the hip hop rap group The Roots works as a lead-in to an aria from Puccini’s Turandot.

So, when I sat down to thank my friend for my new toy, I could’ve written, “Dear Scott, Thank you so much for the iPod shuffle. It is so cute and just perfect to listen to while vacuuming or folding laundry.” (Which, admittedly, it actually is.) I could have even quoted a few lines from Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. But I didn’t. I sent him a link to an awesome YouTube video of Hitler reacting to the Democrats losing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.


  1. Wunderbar! Yes, we need our guy friends. Who else to talk smack about the new iPad, port, and hot tubs with? Not the housewife across the street. Unless I invite her over with other guy friends!
    Am loving keeping up with your writing! Will pass this along!

  2. Last year I got all excited because I'd made a new guy friend ... which (I quickly decided) was an indicator of something dreadfully out of balance in my "village." Still haven't figure out how to expand my ranks of male friends without seeming like a stalker, but I'm sure grateful for the ones I've got!

  3. What am I, chopped liver? Tell Slim we have some cashews in our new basement kitchen (a.k.a. basemitchen) if he's hungry.

  4. No Lilly in PhillyJanuary 29, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    I for one, completely emphasize with the lack of "guy friend" time. As a kid, most of my friends were guys. They knew how to have fun, not pass judgement on my wardrobe or lack of, and conversation was always fun. Now captive in my village, the only guy friend I love to spend time with is my gay hairdresser! I can spend hours talking about everything and anything with him. I look forward to our every 8 week check up! So yes, Sylvia there are many of us out there who also yearn for the days of wine and roses but let's face it, we are on to better things like kids driving cars, apllying to college and the discussions about sex. That in itself is a whole another conversation! Keep em comin!!

  5. Orangeball --You are not chopped liver. You are now chopped liver with cashews. I will send Slim right over. Thanks for reading.

  6. Brilliant Post! This is actually something I was discussing with a female friend the other day- do women have male friends once they are married? I work full time and have many male friends. We do not hang out much outside of work because we are busy with kids etc, but we do chat on the phone, email, facebook etc. We do not talk about the things that I discuss with my female friends but talk about things like being entrepreneurs, marketing our businesses, problems with clients etc. My husband has no issue with it (I have actually asked him if it bothers him), their wives have no issue with it (as far as I can tell since I am friends with them too) BUT I have had a female friend or two make a comment to me about how funny it is that I had coffee with one of these men, in public, in downtown wayne. As if we were getting it on at Saxby's! LOL! I am not sure what happens when women get married that they suddenly stop being friends with 50% of the population. Great blog!

  7. Guess what? I chose to be a working mom, and after all these years, find myself with separate, but decidedly female, villages. My home village is mostly women, and my work village is mostly women. Sure, I interact with my male colleagues, but I'm too anxious to get home to my kiddos to go out drinking with them. John Edwards emails are strictly verboten in the modern workplace, and the "higher" you climb on the ladder, the less people share with you. More telling, though, my male friendships at work are less about smoking cigars nowadays, and more about the latest strategy for dealing with work/life balance. At this age, the guys are hoping to get home at a reasonable hour, too. Yeah, the young whipper snappers are still going out drinking, but in our current stage, the stay-at-homes and want-to-get-homes are apparently asking the same questions. What happened to my guy friends? Thank goodness for my village!

  8. As someone in the middle of a "oh my gosh, I really am a stay-at-home-mom crisis," I love your insights and look forward to hearing more. I do miss my male colleagues immensely because there aren't many non-professional ways to connect with men when women are around too. The room always gets divided. Thanks for writing!

  9. I, too, am in the "oh, dear, how did I become a stay-at-home-mom" vortex, and I definitely notice the absence of male friends in my life at this point. And while the situation has spiraled wildly out of control since I had children and decided stay home while *they* were at home, it started when I got married.

    For example, since my husband and I went to college together, we share a large group of friends, more than half of whom are male. To my great distress, when one of them got married, things changed dramatically; not only did we stop going out as a trio, but I seemed to have inherited his decidely dimwitted and often highly competitive wife as my companion when we WERE together. The boys would huddle up in the living room and talk business (startups, technology, entrepreneurship, etc., all things I *loved* to chat about, as well) while I found myself relegated to the kitchen (!) with The Wife, murmuring noncommittal noises to incisive comments such as, "Isn't that just the BEST seafood store? Their shrimp is always so FRESH!" and eyeing the liquor to see how much more I would need before she sounded the least bit interesting.

    My husband noticed that I never spoke to our friend anymore, wondering, "do you really like her that much? I think she's kind of boring." So I explained the situation to him, and while we tried to rectify things by intentionally breaking up the gendered-pairs-in-different-rooms M.O., it crept back into being as though it were the natural order of the universe.

    I'm glad to know that after all the angst I've felt about this, it's not just me.

  10. I love this post!

    Like MM, I am in a workplace that's mostly women -- in an industry that's very female-heavy. (I had some *great* male friends at my previous job, and I was lucky that it was the kind of place where we *could* sling around John Edwards jokes. If somebody went overboard, you said "yo, dude, crossing the line" and everybody took it down a notch.)

    This is why I miss the newsroom so much. I had great male friends in all the newsrooms I've worked in, and it seemed to be largely without a lot of male/female b.s. Just a bunch of cynical, smart-ass, highly focused people united by poor working conditions, common devotion to a troubled industry, and low pay.

    Those were the days ...

  11. I really enjoyed this post. I think it is my favorite.

    As a practitioner in a male-dominated profession, I spend most of my days with men. Since the first day in my profession, I have struggled with the challenge of how to be effective in my practice without having to act like a man to do it. I value the women friends I have made in my profession more than anything, and we look to each other in trying to maintain (and sometimes retain) our feminine selves. I also value my relationships with my male friends very much. Friendships with each gender offer unique benefits and challenges.

    I really look forward to reading more posts!

  12. Super Post!!! I completely agree with BookTiger and Anonymous - Feb 5, 2010. Working mom in the same situation I find despite being in a good position I tend to get sidelined because I have to rush home to be with my kid. Even my professionalism and capability is under scrutiny because I cant do late sitting... Almost hate being married and a mom at times...

  13. You actually are lost in your own diasma of selfishness ... You chose your life ( with it's lack of male friends ) and all you do is whinge articulaltely ...but it s still whinging.