The Young and Disenchanted

Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

I came to the realisation that nothing lasts forever early in my young and disenchanted life. When I was eight, my dad casually dropped the fact that we were moving from Nigeria to the UK into conversation while we were on a family vacation. Aside from the massive culture shock I suffered moving from Africa to Europe, I also lost all of the friends that I’d made at my primary school (oh Corona V.I…). This, by the way, was back in the 90s, way before Facebook and Skype. The only way we could have kept in contact was through letter or phone, but the crappy Nigerian mail system and my parents’ iron grip on any means of communication (I can’t be mad, them international calls are hella expensive) pretty much wrote that off. Of course, I made friends at my new school, but I couldn’t help but remember the ones that I’d left behind in Nigeria – Ada, Ezinne, even Ugochi who threatened to fuck me up that one time ‘cos I called him stupid. I don’t remember feeling particularly cut up about the abrupt ending to those friendships – I guess maybe at that age, your emotional bounce-back muscles are pretty flexible. If only shit stayed the same when you get older…

I’ve lost a couple friends along the way through less outwardly dramatic ways than moving to another country. There are the twins from my secondary school who suddenly stopped speaking to me one day, which for some strange reason didn’t bother me much (may have been that I’d made one too many Coming to America jokes about their Jherri curl juice – no jokes, they had Jherri curls). There’s the girl with whom shit stays awkward ‘cos we share the same friends, but we’re no longer on the same page. And, of course, there are the men.

The end of a platonic friendship is always pretty bad, but a romantic relationship is always the worst. I mean, think about it: getting romantically involved with someone generally involves putting yourself in a vulnerable position emotionally. There’s all kinds of corny text messaging, hand-holding (bleugh) and heart-to-hearts that have you believing you and this other person might really have a connection. As much as I want to convince myself that I’m immune to this relationship stuff, I have to admit I’ve had my moments when I crave that happy coupled-up feeling. The last time I had this feeling, it didn’t last long. The guy involved, well… let’s just say he caught me at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. If I’d been my usual cool-calculated-and-perfectly-aligned self, maybe I wouldn’t have found myself agreeing to enter a relationship with someone I had previously just been acquaintances with. I soon realised that I needed to take a step back: me and the dude didn’t really know each other well enough for my commitment-shy self to be a quality girlfriend. And that’s where the problems began. I should probably explain that at this point, I wasn’t trying to end the relationship, but rather to slow things down and get my bearings. I didn’t think either of us knew each other well enough to place the label of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” on each other. Apparently that was equivalent to me saying that I wasn’t interested, and warranted being ignored in public and, I suppose, being “technically” being cheated on. What annoyed me was that every time I tried to bring up the situation, this dude would insist that he wanted to be with me, but then I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks on end. And yes, I could have called, but he was the one who had initiated the relationship – I thought it only right that he ask my ass on a motherfucking date, especially as I had put in work to let him know I was more than willing to give us a shot.

If there’s one thing I learned about myself from this experience, it’s that I truly appreciate the value of honesty. I think too few people have the balls to say what they really feel in a relationship situation. If, for example, you’re not really into a person you should let them know early on, rather than lie to both them and yourself in an attempt to avoid an awkward situation. For fuck’s sake, LIFE is a big ball of awkward situations. At some point you’ll inevitably end up being walked in on while on the toilet, say something dumb on the internet or have to end a relationship with someone. It sucks when you have to be the “bad guy” (or the one hit with a faceful of eau de poo), but you just have to (wo)man up, take two and talk it out. In the situation I described, I ended up being the one who had to take the initiative to clarify where we stood with each other time and time again. Like Amy, I wanted to say “YOU should be stronger than me.” Shame, instead he was longer than frozen turkey.

In the end we decided that we would be “friends” – a little tricky to do if you’re not friends before things get complicated, but I got tired of talking after a while. I think the reason why I got so wound up about the situation to begin with is of my compulsion to never leave end loose. Maybe it’s a result of my nomadic existence, but I hate not being able to draw a line under something and be assured that it won’t pop up again in the future to bug me. If a relationship ends, I want it to be more or less permanently so. Those friendships that ended with my moving to England are the perfect example of that – it’s sad that I lost my childhood friends that way, but we all knew the deal, accepted it and moved on with our lives. Of course, there are certain relationships you can’t ever really get go of, the ones that change you fundamentally, the ones where your heart still skips a beat when you see their name somewhere, or their number on your caller-ID. This wasn’t one of them. My point is: I think when two people (or at least one) realise that whatever drew them together in the beginning has evaporated into thin air, it may be time to just let it go, and that the ending process should be as quick and painless as possible.

Or maybe that’s never possible unless you move to inner Mongolia. Let me know.

P.S. Title’s courtesy of the legendary Roots crew (who I’m seeing for the 4th time in concert next week :)).

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I’ve written before on this blog about the group of Bolivian/Jewish/Asian/Texan guys with whom I have spent most of my time at college so far. That was six months ago. Looking back, I realise that I saw far less of them than I wanted to, for a mix of reasons, the main one being a particular extra-curricular activity that pretty much took over my life.

I was the cultural chair (read: cook) of my university’s African Student Association, meaning that a good proportion of my time was dedicated to feeding and arguing with a group of people of African descent. Monday nights I would roll up to our meeting place with armfuls of food and drink, curse out “these damn Africans who always expect to be fed like I’m their mother” and proceed to spend the next 4 hours joking with, getting mad at and making up again with my African peoples, in particular the men. I hate to admit that my life got too full to sustain as a rich a friendship as I wanted with my various groups of friends, but I realise that my increasing cultural and political awareness as an African made me gravitate towards people who shared my experiences and that I didn’t have to explain myself to. I could speak pidgin to them, or make some crack about Ghanaians and I knew they would get it. I didn’t have to apologise or feel awkward about the fact that I’m not an American, and that certain cultural contexts that are unique to the USA are lost on me. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the couldawouldashoulda of the first half of this year, so instead I’ll focus on why I decided to write this entry on the black men in my life.

A week ago, as I caught the 2 train back uptown after work, I noticed a young black dude get on the train at the same stop as me. He was pushing a stroller with one little girl in it, and holding the hand of another. I couldn’t help but smile at the adorableness of this man and his toddler-age daughters. He looked kinda harassed (the older girl was rocking a shirt that said “Big Sister AKA The Diva” so I guess the kids could have been a handful that day) but, damn. Something about the way he held onto their hands so tightly and made sure they didn’t get pushed around by the adults getting on and off the train touched me. It was right after Father’s Day too, and so it got me to thinking about my own father. My dad is kind of a G (as my friend A. would say, a Dominican-looking G). My first memory of him is of his being super tall, and having a big, big afro. Now I’m almost the same height as him and he gets his hair cut every week like clockwork, but he still seems like the coolest man ever to me. He loves Dr Dre, so much so that he bought the first Snoop Dogg album and let me and my sisters bump to it (I was about 5 at the time), but he’ll listen to Meatloaf too. The soccer team he supports? – “anyone but Man Utd,” and he always cheers for Arsenal (my team). He has the most amazing memory and I refuse to play Scrabble against him because the one time I challenged him, he whooped my arse something fierce. He rarely ever yells, and as long as you explain your motives for doing something he’s more than willing to listen and be supportive. He’s not always perfect, of course. There’ve been plenty of times where he’s made me incredibly mad and upset. But he doesn’t bear grudges, and he’s so gentle I feel dumb staying angry at him.

I read somewhere that a woman’s relationship with her father determines the way she relates with other men in her life. I guess the fact that I see my dad as my boy more than anything else is why my friendships with men are so important to me. I’m proud of him because he is a successful African man who’s worked extremely hard for everything he’s achieved in life, and who is remarkably grounded and humble. I’m thankful that I have such a bomb-ass dad. And I’m thankful that when he’s not around, I have a motley crew of other wonderful black men around me who understand where I’m coming from like he does, who keep me focused and challenge me to be better at all times.

I’m grateful for RationalChaos, my partner-in-ignorance, who always has something to say (usually something politically incorrect) to make me feel better. I’m grateful for my favourite DJ, who’s also an amazing listener. I’m grateful for the one I recently discovered is pretty much the same person as I am; just he’s from Jamaica and a dude – seriously, the extent to which we can finish each other’s sentences is disturbing. I’m grateful for the ones who have opened up new intellectual worlds for me, and with whom I have intense debates that expand my horizons and keep me asking questions. I’m even grateful for the one who broke my heart, because somehow we still manage to connect to one another and lose ourselves in our present, not linger over our past. Again, these men aren’t perfect. Sometimes they take the fact that I like cooking for granted, like I’m obliged to feed their asses. Sometimes they’re not honest with me, and I have to be the one who’s stronger than them, the issue-resolver and tension-ender. Sometimes they refer to me as “thuggish and unladylike” because I don’t like holding hands and shit. It’s okay though – I’ll happily take the good with the bad. From the bad ones I’ve learned when to know enough is enough, to know when someone is taking advantage of me and what level of bullshit I’m willing to tolerate before I request that they “call Tyrone.” With the good ones, I’ve been blessed with beautiful friendships I hope will last a lifetime – or at least as long as I keep cooking and they keep mixing tropical rum drinks. My brothers, I’m here for you, forever true.

P.S. The title’s from Angie Stone’s “Brotha.” Dang, I wonder where Angie’s at…

This entry title is a bit of a misnomer because it’s actually only about one of my boys. We lived on the same floor freshman year and bonded over our “third world-ness” (he’s South American, I’m African) and our love of food. Nearly three years on, I’d say he’s probably one of the people here who knows me best. It’s weird because on the surface we don’t really have that much in common: he’s a conservative white man and I’m a borderline socialist black woman. I listen to hip hop on my mp3 player while he pumps The Beatles and obscure Latin American artists out of his ridiculous speaker system. He drinks whiskey; I’m a rum-and-coke girl. I’m an English and Political Science major; he’s an engineer. Yet somehow over the past few years we’ve gotten to the point where our differences don’t really matter to either of us. We have our own little dynamic – he buys me dinner, I help him do his laundry. I tease him about how long he takes to get dressed to go out, and he lets me know when what I’m wearing isn’t what’s hot on the boulevard. Basically, our friendship is unconventional, awesome and uncomplicated. 

Or so I thought. Something he said during a recent phone conversation has made me question what it means for me, an African woman, to be friends with a white man. A few weeks ago we happened to be talking about STI testing: he’s never been tested, and I suggested that just to be safe, he should go. A couple days ago he was complaining about being unable to sleep properly, and so I suggested that he go to the doctor for a check-up. Remembering the STI testing, I asked him if had gone yet. He said no, and then asked me when last I had gone for an STI test. I told him I had one when I last saw the ob/gyn a couple months ago. He asked how it had turned out, and I replied that there were no problems. Maybe he thought I was being cocky or pushy, because he then said, “Yeah well, you know you’re black so you’re probably going to get AIDS at some point anyway.”

I need to explain something here: one important part of my dynamic with my male friends is our semi-insulting banter. We’re a pretty diverse group – white, black, Asian, Mexican, Jewish – so at some point or another, someone is bound to be blasted on account of their race. Everyone gives as good as they get – if the Mexican kid makes a comment about me being fresh off the boat, I ask him how heavy the border patrol is nowadays. There’s no room for political correctness with these dudes – after all, we’re socially aware students in New York City living the post-racial American dream. I’m saying this to make it clear that my friend’s comment about AIDS was not meant to be malicious on his part – it’s something that would, on the surface, fit in with our usual conversation style. But this comment felt entirely different to me. For once, my slick mouth failed me and I didn’t know how to respond. I felt as though two key parts of my identity – my colour and my gender – had been struck at with a force I wasn’t able to return. I felt totally exposed and extremly self conscious. Why? Because AIDS disproportionally affects black women and is a subject that is particularly close to my heart. Because there isn’t an equivalent statement that I could throw back at him, a white heterosexual male, that would carry the same meaning as his statement did for me, a black woman. Because I felt like my friend was stereotyping me, judging me, suggesting that my destiny was tied up solely in my sexuality and my race. The inequality of our positions in society, for the first time in our friendship, was glaringly obvious to me. And my position as the weaker one made me silent.

At the time we had the conversation, I was tired out of my mind (all-nighter the night before finishing two papers) and so I didn’t really think too much about it. A couple days ago, I decided to tell two friends (Rational Chaos and a Colombian/Puerto Rican chick) about the conversation and see what they thought. They both understood why the comment had hurt me, and recognised the need for me to react to being told something like that. It was interesting to me though that Rational Chaos, as a dude, thought that the comment had far more to do with race than the fact that I’m a woman. My female friend, however, agreed with me that those two aspects of my identity can’t really be separated, especially not in a situation where I’m dealing with someone who is my opposite on both grounds. Even more frustrating for me is the fact that I don’t think that I can make my friend see why his comment was problematic for me. He hasn’t ever been sexually harassed while out at night or had degrading comments made about him based on the colour of his skin. Every time I try to bring up the topic of gender or race, he gets impatient and accuses me of bringing up “hippy stuff.” How is possible that someone who understands how I feel about my family, another important part of my identity, starts to push me away when I want to discuss what it’s like being a black woman? Rational Chaos said to me that sometimes I have to let things slide – partly because of the fact that our conversations don’t tend to be PC in the first place, but also because in his opinion, there are bigger battles to be fought. While I accept that our banter will always have some pointed teasing, am I not allowed to draw boundaries over what I will and will not accept being said to me? If I were a black man and he had said the same thing to me, I could have responded, “Yeah, well your little dick isn’t big enough to contract that shit to begin with.” But I don’t have a dick. In this context he holds all the power. Is that something I should just accept as a fact of society, or shouldn’t he be sensitive to his privileged position in comparison to mine? At what point is my silence simply me compromising myself?

My female friend suggested that I think carefully about whether or not this was a turning point in our friendship – if we could continue on as we were, or not. I’m not planning on ending our friendship. He’s still my boy, no matter what. I realise now though that I have to challenge him to see things from my perspective more often. I know the white heterosexual male’s perspective inside out – it wrote the books I study from and the history of the world I live in. But this isn’t Hegel’s time any more – that shit has got to come to an end. If my friend can make the effort to understand Nigerian politics, then he can damn sure try to understand why his making a remark about me getting AIDS is a problem. I can’t end racism and sexism for the whole world – that’s a project that’s a little out of my reach. But I’m going to do my best to confront them when they come up in my personal life and out of the mouths of my friends.  

P.S. The first verse of Kanye’s “All Falls Down” makes me think about the complexities of the black female existence. Plus Stacey Dash is a bad chick, and Common’s sexy cameo as the airline employee in the video always makes me smile. 

Fact: A good 70% of my close friends are dudes.

Now, I’m not one of those chicks who claim to not have any female friends, or that “girls are so bitchy, guys are just waaaaaaaay more chill!” I have the most amazing girl friends, including my beautiful sisters, who keep me in touch with my feminine side and shit.

But I’ve also been lucky enough to find a group of friends that I have a lot in common with, who make me laugh, give me free liquor good advice – and who just happen to be male. To be exact: a eccentric, Eurotrash-esque but not gay South-American who I run wardrobe choices by, an emo-child/metal loving Texan who has taught me everything I need to know about gadgets, a cycling Asian who fixes my laptop, a Jewish kid who knows more British music than I do and an assortment others who have helped keep me sane through the ups-and-downs of moving to the USA and college. And I spend most of my time with them, mainly I suppose because we function as a group (I tend to relate to my female friends on a one-to-one basis) and it’s always some sort of illegal activity fun times when we’re together.

Yet everything I read about male/female friendships basically contradicts my life. Male ranting received wisdom dictates that “men and women can never really be friends” and that “any man who says he’s friends with a woman is just really waiting for the opportunity to sleep with her.” I’d imagine a typical male/female conversation on the topic would go as follows:

Woman:   My guy friends so don’t want to sleep with me – if they did, they’d have hit on me from the get-go.  

 Man:       It’s called game, stupid, they’re lulling you into a false sense of security before they pounce.

Woman:  But they date other girls without bothering to build up the same kind of friendship we have!

Man:       They’re doing that to avoid rejection and get some at the same time. And you say men can’t multitask…

Woman:  I don’t get that feeling from them though – our relationship is like family, they’re like my brothers.

Man:       That’s what she said… right before she got gang-banged.

To be fair, it’s not just men – plenty of women I know are just as sceptical about the platonic relationship. I can’t really pretend to be an expert on the subject: before college, I attended all-girls schools for ten years, and as my parents are trained maximum security prison guards a tad overprotective, I never really had the opportunity to hang out with many guys my age growing up. Maybe growing up with so many girls and being subconsciously sick of it is part of the reason why I now hang out with so many guys. 

For the record, I’ve only ever crossed the “just friends” boundary with one of my male friends (a topic I’ll touch on in another entry). With this group of guys there’s always a lot of talk about my boobs/ass/vagina, but I don’t feel particularly targeted just because I’m a girl (they talk about each other’s dicks/balls/vaginas ad nauseam), nor does it seem particularly sexual (they grab each others asses’ more than they do mine). As far as I’m concerned, our friendship is based on the fact that we all enjoy each other’s company as well as understand each other’s various eccentricities. Basically, I’m just one of the dudes. There’s never been a situation where I’ve felt that they see me as just some girl they’re waiting to fuck, unless I’m completely and utterly blind (I’m not, by the way).

My sister, who had a similar group of friends when she began college, told me that after she entered a serious relationship, her male friends began to fade out of the picture. Whether this is because they felt that they were officially out of the running, or because they were falling back to what they perceived to be the new most important part of her life then, I’m not certain. I guess when I get into the same situation I’ll be able to tell, although I’ll be surprised if that happens with my guy friends. Two of them have girlfriends and we’re still tight, so I don’t know why the reverse should play out like it did with my sister.   

For right now, I’m sticking to my guns and saying that a girl and five guys can be just friends, hamburgers included.

Speak on it.

P.S. Shout out to Britney Spears for the title – I copped it from “Boys”. Damn, I miss the early 2000s when the Neptunes were the hottest producers on the radio. And yes, I fux with Britney Spears. I was a teenage girl once. Deal.