Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The so-called "Man Date"

File under the Let's-Make-Up-a-Trend-to-Attract-Buzz Dept.: The notorious Jennifer 8. Lee, the Gatsby of the journistacracy, files a blog-buzzfly explaining the alleged phenomenon of the "The Man Date". Not mandate, as in "Dubya assuredly has no mandate", but the supposedly common and apparently panic-inducing situation (if this article's to be believed) of a date arranged between two heterosexual male friends, whether to catch up or just to hang out.

If I sound just a tad skeptical about this article, forgive me. But why can't I shake the feeling this is something Ms. Lucky 8 made up when she rolled out of bed one day, a musing which is supported only by that well-known thinkpiece crutch of selective interviewing? Maybe it's the toxic amount of homosexual panic that's evinced by the case studies, a level native only to the predictably corporate types (who just happen to make up the interviewees) that's setting off alarms. Or the fact that these so-called "Man Dates" are so common in my experience that an attempt at making it a specific sociological phenomenon comes off as useful as a thinkpiece on dishwashing rituals. The piece actually has a germ of an interesting idea in it -- the peculiarities of "male bonding" -- but this topic is best teased out through Howard Hawks movies, casual joking at lunch, or standup routines, not psuedo-intellectual gibberish. Still, this is hypocrisy week, so I'll offer my own gibberish:

Let's start with some very basic premises in discussing heterosexual male relationships.

01. Most straight men have at least a couple of male "buddies."
02. Ordinary "dates" between men revolve around an activity of some kind, a football game, a movie, going "drinking".
03. 3 or 4 men for "manly activities" are optimal, but having 2 men together is fine.
04. Straight men, however many get together, aren't too likely to get into the nitty-gritty of relationship talk, the way a group of women invariably will.
05. Male friends don't "chat" on the phone without any purpose, and "chatting" is actively discouraged.
06. Male friends typically don't have "misunderstandings" with one another that spiral into crisis.
07. Male friends typically don't sit around talking whining about what their other male friends did to them. (They might talk shit about how the friend's a loafer, complain about his hygiene, dis him as an imbecile or a wacky wingnut, speculate about his sexuality, mock his sex life, laugh at his ideas, or pity his job, but the conversation is rarely, "can you believe Matt didn't say "hi" to my girlfriend when I bumped into him at the mall? Man, what a jerk!")

Anybody with a social radar recognizes that straight males relate very differently to one another compared to relationships between straight females. I always say there are costs and benefits to both models. Nearly all women I know have a same-sex best friend with whom they have an intense, emotionally rewarding relationship -- they are the wind beneath their wings, etc. But women also fight, have fits of envy, have "misunderstandings" that boil over into full-blown falling outs or at least generate uncomfortable tension -- in short, intimate female relationships are filled with drama.

Guys -- we'll pick our buddy up from the airport, talk a little shop or sports or politics or what have you, maybe get into where we are in our relationships if we're the sensitive type, and that's that. And contra this article, guys do get together one-on-one, grab a meal, shoot the shit, catch up if they haven't talked for awhile, and go to a bar/club/concert/movie together. Okay, so it was weird when I watched Bad Education with two other dudes at the Sunset 5; but besides such obviously homoerotic-themed situations (and even then, so some strangers might view us as three gay guys enjoying our Gael Garcial Bernal peeks -- so what?), the might-be-confused-for-gay idea almost never crosses my mind when I'm out with one other dude. These relationships are simple, with no fuss or complications attached. They key is trust and mutual respect: You know these guys will get your back, and that's enough.

Anyway, some women have confused this kind of activities-based bonding for a kind of queasy emotional immaturity -- an inability of men to form mature emotional relationships with one another, due to homosexual panic or whatever. That's clearly the subtext of Lee's NY Times article. It's about male emotional immaturity. Actually, what's happening that she's filtering the opposing gender's model of friendship through the female, just as men do with female relationships.

Back in college, one of my best friends used to call me about once every two weeks, and we'd talk about fantasy baseball for an hour, talk about a few other random things for 10 more minutes and then hang up. My girlfriend at the time would listen to snippets of the conversation and mock it. "Kirby Puckett, dude!", she'd intone in a low Kolawskian mumble, parodying my stubbornly pointless buddy talk. Ten years later, I still trust my guy pal with my life, and while we actually do have intimate, "deep" conversations from time to time, the random talk about sports, movies, music, and mutual activities dominate. And that's the way I like it. In fact, I insist on it.

Personally, I simply have no desire to have a buddy relationship with a guy analogous to the female-female best friend. (Maybe that's because I have bizarrely intimate relationships with female friends, but that's a topic for another time.) I log a high volume of phone time, on average about 1,800 minutes a month. About 90% of that 1,800 minutes will be spent talking to a few close female friends, including my significant other. I won't take a guess at how much of that 90% is spent listening to gripes about a female friend, but that time is considerable. Sure, at lunch I'll listen to guys bitch and moan about co-workers, and on e-mail some movie nerd might go off on some other movie nerd, but by and large, complaints from a guy about a close guy friend are fairly rare, unless that friend truly is a dickwad. If the dude didn't steal my girlfriend or make me miss the game, it's all good. And if a consequence of not having to spend energy managing friendship crises or snuff out petty disputes is the "shallowness" of the guy buddy friendship, so be it.

I would guess that, for females, this kind of no-harm-no-foul-no-heart-to-heart buddy relationship is emotionally unrewarding. But that's why we're from different planets. Or something. But in short, guys hang out one-on-one with no anxiety. The end.