The Young and Disenchanted

Posts Tagged ‘Friendships

It’s that time in April when jaded and exhausted college seniors are slowly beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is (generally) shining, we’re more or less certain of our future plans (more the latter than the former, to be fair) and there are tons of activities planned for the next month or so intended to strengthen our bonds of friendship and fill us with nostalgia for our days as wide-eyed and optimistic freshmen drunk off the joy of living in New York City (and by that, I mean drunk off free Natty Light at frat parties). On this list which defines the life of a graduating senior, the “future plans” segment has become more and more prominent in conversations on my campus. It’s kind of like the “What were your SAT scores/what are you majoring in” of our first year (ugh, I HATED those questions). Suddenly folks you haven’t spoken to since a couple of awkward encounters during sophomore year in a dorm elevator are curious about what you’ve been doing for the past four years and how you plan to apply the skills you have supposedly gained in the “real world.” Now, being the disenchanted young woman that I am, I tend to view these questions when fielded by anyone I don’t consider a close friend avec – how do you say? – le side-eye. My cynicism seems somewhat justified by a recent document I was made privy to in which, essentially, my classmates entered information about their post-graduation contact details, summer plans, starting salary, potential spousal requirements… you know, the standard things one frets about in the “real world.” Personally, I believe that if you want to know what I’m doing after graduation, we should be good enough friends that I’ve been telling you about my plans in person since last summer, not entering these myriad details into a form as a means of keeping in touch. Perhaps I’m just being idealistic, but this somewhat depersonalised approach makes me uncomfortable.

This is not to say that such an activity is entirely driven by base motives: if one has a large social circle, perhaps it’s easier to have everyone’s information in one easily-accessible place as opposed to struggling with lingering memories of half-forgotten conversations a year later. However, I think more people are concerned with the “networking” aspect of such an enterprise – knowing where your classmates will be working may help you to make connections and plan your ascent up the corporate ladder accordingly. I’m sure anyone reading this must be thinking: “Um, no shit, Sherlock – what the fuck else did you think you were going to college for?” Well, pardon me for my unconventional thought, but I had hoped that I would leave college with an expanded mind and drive to change the world. I guess I fucked up… which is why I don’t have a job with Merrill Lynch. Epic fail.

Or so it would seem. You see, there is an underlying assumption on this dear campus of mine that pretty much everyone wants to follow the same path to fame and glory: that all of us would like a penthouse in Manhattan, a red Ferrari (personally I prefer a black Mustang) and a name – you know, that recognition amongst an elite group of people that you are the unequivocal shit, an outlier, da best (shout out to Drake). After all, this is what the American dream was built on (although back in the day, this was probably closer to a townhouse in Chicago, a tricked-out horse and buggy and a shiny plaque at the Episcopalian church down the road with your surname on it). However, mes petits chou-fleurs, not all of us had the good fortune to be born and raised in this wonderful country known as the USA. Some of us who are attending college here were raised in the hot and sweaty tropics, deep in the heart of darkness, as far away from the shining citadel as you can get. Where I come from, it is a precious few of us who have the luxury of being individuals in the sense that your personal success reflects back on you and you alone. Oh, no – if I am successful (which the meaning of my name promises me I shall be), it is a success for my family, my village, my tribe and each and every Nigerian boy and girl who hopes to one day go to America and also become a success. In the words of Lagbaja, it’s always “we before me.” Sure I can go ahead and get that Mustang, but I had better make sure my mother isn’t struggling through the streets of Lagos in a broken-down Kia before I drive off the lot. Before I do well for my own sake, I have to be aware of the duties that I have to fulfil to those who came before me and those who will come after (i.e. the ungrateful brats adorable offspring I shall one day give birth to).  Of course I want to be successful, but where I come from one’s individual achievements aren’t just about you and how you compare to others: it’s also about improving the conditions of those who aren’t as fortunate as you are and helping those who helped you get where you are, no matter how indirectly.

Now I realise that this is somewhat tangential to my original train of thought, but one thing that has struck me in my four years of college is the extent to which the mantra of “American exceptionalism” has shaped the atmosphere on my campus. There’s a certain “we’re the shit (up in this bitch)” swagger that I guess I’m supposed to adopt because of the fact that I’m going to hold a diploma with this university’s name on it and because I got the chance to rub shoulders and share dining hall meals with the future leaders of tomorrow (or some other such eulogistic language that may be bestowed on us at graduation). And that’s wonderful – after all, this is the country that brought us the car, modern democracy and the atomic bomb. All my country has apparently done is introduced the term “419” into popular lexicon. However, I worry that all of this individualism is breeding – again, what words to pick? – self-obsessed twat-heads who only see other people as stepping-stones to a bigger house and a brand new iPad. This is not to say that all Americans in any way, shape or form are all like this, or that my country is full of people who care about each other and who want to lead us down a path of peace, prosperity and progress – there’s a whole rack of military thieves who disprove that claim time and time again. But even they hook up their brother’s child, their grandmother’s maid and their old school buddy in the name of family and community. And those connections are, for me, far more important than the ones that make me money. It is important to me that I remain humble about my achievements and take nothing for granted because, in the end, I’m not that special, and there is so much in the world that is bigger than me and my egotistical existence.

The depiction of rural Sudanese life in Tayeb Salih’s novel Season of Migration to the North always underlines this for me: despite the foreign education that the narrator receives and the turmoil that the Western world has brought him, the caravan of life continues to go on regardless of his angsty musings. I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but as long as I’m able to build meaningful relationships with the people who are taking this ride with me, I’m actually pretty okay with being average i.e. realising that I’ll never be the CEO of a company (although I will not be telling my parents that those are not my future plans – trust and believe). The people I admire the most are always the ones that are seemingly simple, who don’t treasure outward appearances but rather possess the kind of self-knowledge that would make even this last stressful semester of college easy to bear, and who recognise that it’s not the job you have or the money you make that determine your real legacy.

P.S. I was originally going to go with Erykah for this post, but then this Mya joint randomly popped into my head… damn, memories. Shout out to Sisqo.

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. 

This is the first time I’m writing in about three weeks. And what an intense three weeks it’s been. A lot of family stuff has taken over my life, in both good and not-so-good ways, so all that, rather than writing, has been my focus. But now I’m back as the events of the past month or so have me feeling like my young and disenchanted self needs to get back to questioning and theorising and whatnot.

My two older sisters have gotten married in the past three months. It’s been so incredibly beautiful and moving for me to observe and share in all the love at both of their weddings. It has also been a pain in the ass, because I’ve been repeatedly put in situations where people, with the best of intentions, have attempted to set me up. I need people to realise this isn’t a buy-two-get-one-free kind of deal: I’m only 21. Can I please graduate before I get married off?? For real, I need my relatives to focus.

Anyway, one thing in particular I love about my sisters and their husbands’ relationships is the fact that they are so obviously the best of friends. Their whole banter, the ease with which they interact with one another – goodness, it almost makes this cynical girl fantasise about hand-holding and all that excellent shit. Almost. Anyone who knows me well is fully aware that I am not a romantic person. I don’t believe in “love at first sight” (although lust at first sight is a completely different story). I think the “average” romantic gesture is a largely mass-produced silhouette of an emotion whose real meaning is lost behind a generic bunch of twelve red roses. I also firmly believe that a real relationship is best started when the couple are friends first, rather than “romantically” attracted to one another.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I have a lot of male friends. I’m used to relating to dudes on that watch 24/play beer pong/shower together after playing basketball tip. I’ve even acted as wing woman for my guy friends, however ineffective that may have been. Now, this doesn’t mean that I want to be “just friends” with every dude who steps my way, or that’s necessarily the way it plays out. But I’m just more likely to consider dating a guy who I’ve gotten to know well on a platonic level. Basically, I need to be certain that we can be lovers and friends (shout out to Lil Jon). I got my reasons for this:

a)      It’s the relationship model I observed growing up. My parents are boys without a doubt – the way they talk to each other and generally chill shows that they are the best of friends. And they knew each other pretty well before they started dating (they were family friends). And going about a relationship that way led to a marriage that’s approaching a thirty year anniversary. Parents might not understand everything, but I think mine at least got the relationship thing figured out pretty well. Ditto my sisters. I reckon this method is tried-and-tested, and makes for a relationship built on a strong foundation – when you know a person that well it’s unlikely that you could be in a bad situation you couldn’t work through.

b)      It’s a trust thing. I’m slow to trust at the best of times, and being a relationship for me is the most vulnerable you can make yourself. If I’m going to make myself all exposed and raw for a motherfucker, I’d best be certain that it goes both ways. And, from my perspective, that’s best done when the person is your friend first. You’ve seen each other at your best and your worst and know all the ugly/sad/weird things about each other up front. There’s no need for that awkward phase when you’re trying to impress someone you want to date and can’t venture before them unless you’re primped within an inch of your life. Basically, I need to be sure that both of us can be completely ourselves with each other before we commit.

c)      If it doesn’t work out romantically, you’ll probably still have an amazing friend at the end of it all. And it’s a recession. We all need as many job connects friends as possible.

I asked a guy I know how he felt about this issue, and he took a different stance. He argued that being best friends can also cause crossing the friendship boundary a little difficult and awkward, and that when you’re not close friends to begin with, there’s the thrill of learning more and more about someone gradually while you’re in a relationship. Basically, you’ll end up best friends anyway, plus there’s more room for growth in the romantic relationship.

While this makes sense to me, I’m still a little sceptical. I’ve tried this latter approach, and it’s pretty much backfired. I think if you launch into a relationship because of a physical attraction rather than building a friendship first, you’re asking for way more shit than you’re prepared to handle, because if it fizzles out you may still be attracted to them, but at the same time you want to smack them with a baseball bat. And that how folks end up on the Channel 5 news. Also, when I say I want to be friends first, I’m assuming that it’s a given that there’s a mutual attraction between the two of us. So it’s more waiting a little to move to another level as opposed to crossing a boundary.

In summary: I’m going to stick to my guns and say the friends-first method is the way forward.

Different opinion on this? Let me know.

P.S. I went old school with the title – shout out to Biz Markie.

P.P.S. This is completely unrelated, but Jay-Z and Big Jaz’s respective flows on “Jigga What, Jigga Who” (which I was listening to while writing this entry) are ridiculous. The video’s kinda hot too. Check it.

 

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.