Boys Have Cooties ✚ Tuesdays with Tish

I’m going to tell you the story of my first boyfriend. I was nine years old. I was friends with the boy who lived next door that was in my grade, Derek. He had four brothers and all their names started with D. They had an in-ground pool and a trampoline. And something that would these days be called a “man cave” which was that place above the garage where his dad hung out. It smelled like cigarettes and stale beer (not that I would have known what that smell was at that age). It had a couch no one wanted to sit in, some tools, beer cans and bottles on display and at least one calendar featuring naked women. One day after school, I was up there with Derek and a girl named Caitlin. We were just being dumb kids and at some point Caitlin dared us to “go out” with each other so we said yes and then she dared me to kiss him on the cheek to seal the deal, so I did. I remember that magical moment was ruined because my baseball cap (Can you imagine me ever wearing a baseball cap? Yikes, I must have been in my tomboy phase.) hit him in the forehead as I went in for the kiss but I managed to get at his cheek anyway. Well, that was decided. We were “going out”. I remember all that evening I was so excited inside! I knew better than to tell anyone but I was absolutely beaming inside with the knowledge that I had a boyfriend. Me! I was so special! It made me so happy! Still riding high the next morning, I went to school, hung up my backpack, and went outside to wait for the bell. I remember it was cold and there was slush on the ground, probably late Fall. I walked out the door and Derek was right beside it, he said “Hey, we should talk.” And then he crushed my dreams. He said that was stupid last night and we shouldn’t actually do it and I just agreed, ya, so stupid, we’re friends, it’s fine. But actually my wee little heart was broken. I stayed friends with Derek, and had other “boyfriends” as a kid, so it really didn’t affect me much, but I still remember my hat hitting his head, feeling so happy and excited to have a boyfriend, and then it being undone so quickly the next morning.

The question here is; why did I care about having a boyfriend when I was only nine years old? I didn’t like boys. I didn’t want to kiss them. Or anyone. Why did I think having a boyfriend was such an important thing that I should do?

Answer: heteronormativity.

I’ve been thinking about how being raised hetero has affected me in my adult relationships. I grew up in the 90’s, in a Christian family, in small rural towns full of white people. My parents were nice but not exactly progressive. Everywhere I looked in real life, TV, and movies the only romantic relationships I saw were between a man and a woman. Duh, right? But my mom, just trying to be a good mom, really messed up my head about gender. None of this was unusual for the time, of course, it’s only looking back now from today’s society that her actions seem so messed up, so heteronormative, so gender-based… The “of course” is that my mom treated my friendships with boys different than my friendships with girls. Of course she wouldn’t have let me have a sleepover with a boy. Of course she didn’t like me going to a boy’s house to hang out. Of course a boy-girl birthday party was a big deal. Of course she wouldn’t let me close the door if I had a boy in my room. But… what of course did she think would happen? I was a kid. The most I could have even imagined is kissing but I wasn't interested in that or even knew how to do it. And I wouldn’t have even thought there was anything different about playing with boys if my mother hadn’t made it very clear that I can’t treat boy friends the same as girl friends. I learned very young that girls are for friends and boys are for… something else that I shouldn’t be doing. Yikes, right?

I remember having boy friends when I was younger, but I also remember having “boyfriends”. You know, when you say you’re “going out” but you never really interact because at recess you play with your girl friends and boys and girls don’t play together. But after about grade five, when boy friends were replaced with boyfriends, I never had boy friends again. And this gender divide (girls = friends, boys = boyfriends) only made the pre-teen, and teen, years more confusing. I didn’t particularly care about having boyfriends, the way some girls that age are boy crazy and eager to try out holding hands, dates, and kisses. So, I just didn’t want anything to do with boys. I couldn’t even talk to boys because they made me so nervous. I couldn’t talk to them like I talk to girls. They had become a different species. Interactions with boys were analyzed with your girl friends later. Every look or conversation was potentially because he liked you, right? I was afraid to interact with boys because what if one liked me and I had to be his girlfriend? Or reject him? Could I do that?

I won’t even get too much into how my then-undiscovered bisexuality factored into all this, that’s another story, I think. Because this story is how being raised to be heterosexual still affects how I relate to men today. I still feel awkward around men that I think could potentially be interested in me. And, side effect, I assume almost every man is into me. It’s not an ego thing, really, it’s this lingering habit from being socialized to see boys/men as only potential romantic/sexual partners, not friends/peers. I feel I have to be on guard because any man is accessing my attractiveness and romantic/sexual partner potential. Frankly, it’s exhausting. But it has gotten easier. Embracing my bisexuality has helped because I no longer feel obligated to consider any man, or men in general, as I know I’m just more interested in women. It weirdly gives me some confidence around eligible men to think of myself as very gay so it doesn’t matter what he thinks of me because I am just not interested in his whole gender. That’s not true, but taking the whole gender off the table means I don’t have to feel bad for not liking that one in particular- so fucked up I know. This is what I’m talking about. It’s still hard for me to see men as just platonic peers.

As I said, I’m getting better at being platonic around men. But I still tend to assume any guy my age is into me, and I get crushes on any guy who I think is showing interest in me. I get over it pretty quickly, now, though. I turn my over-thinking in the other direction and instead of thinking every little thing is him showing interest in me, I think well if I did any of that would it be because I wanted to bone someone? Point made.

So, any men wanna be platonic friends with me?

Me, after every interaction with a man

Me, after every interaction with a man

See you next Tuesday.