I'm scrolling through my recent iMessages. One is from a friend explaining which of my old friends from school she is currently in bed with. Another is just a thread of those memes where someone finds someone on Facebook called, let's say, Trudy Knight, and private messages them to say, "with a little bit of luck, we can make it Trudy Knight." But as far back as 14 messages down, they are all from women.
I know that this often treated with some suspicion. The arrival of 90s' lad culture meant we became OK with tomboy girls who are mostly friends with lads because they like fighting and farting. Shows like Will & Grace and Gimme Gimme Gimmemeans we are well-versed in the gay man/female best friend stereotype, but a straight man having mostly female friends—there's no term for it, no stereotype to draw from. As such, people tend to assume that male-female friendship is just a cover for romantic feelings. A survey last year found that 63 percent of people believe there is some kind of ulterior romantic motive in male-female friendships, and of those people, 61 percent thought the man was more likely to to try and turn friendship into something more.
I am a heterosexual man and most of my close friends are women, and I have been wondering for a long time why this is. It's not, as 63 percent of you are assuming, because I secretly want to bang them. I am very sure about who I'm attracted to, and really bad at keeping it quiet. I would not last five minutes in a false-friends-unrequited-love situation. The only time this has happened, it lasted three days and we ended up making out against a Burger King. It's not even an active choice. It's actually a nightmare when you're trying to get an even gender split for a dinner party, or if everyone is doing drugs in the toilet without you. Yet I feel like I naturally fall into female friendships. In fact, it happens so often now that I know the tell-tale signs. Partly, I'm sure it's because I like things that a lot of girls like: shaming celebrities and the music of Ariana Grande. But it's more than that. I simply assume the position, sitting side-by-side, no eye contact, someone from work telling me about some sordid thing they did on the weekend, me occasionally asking questions and passing judgement.
It's not that I am not interested in "boy things." I got into football later than most, but I have a lot of other male-friendly ephemeral interests: television, graphic novels, gambling, hip-hop, and, crucially, girls. I enjoy making puerile jokes, I enjoy getting so drunk I loudly sing "Dakota" by the Stereophonics on my way home. I really think I have all the makings of the modern man.
It's not even that I'm bad at being friends with men. I have a couple of extremely close male friends, ones I've lived with, whom I see all the time and would, in the words of Rihanna, text in a crisis. I also just don't know how to make new male friends. I can't think of any moment in my adult life in which I have been to the bar with just the guys. Since I was at school, I've always been that way—I would have one or two close male friends, and then loads of female ones.
I don't really understand how you're supposed to do it. How does man-on-man friendship happen? Let's take my friend Iain from work. I really like Iain, I'd like to see more of him. But what am I going to do, ask him out for dinner? "Hi Iain, have you heard about that new small plates place, let's do Friday at 8—or I can just cook for us if you like? Then maybe we can watch Anomalisa afterwards?" Iain's going to politely decline and remind me he has a girlfriend. The guy alternative of all that is just to go to the bar. But what are you supposed to do there? After one drink with a female friend, I feel like we could delve into the minutiae of my life and their life, the axes on which our relationships and fears settle. We can gossip relentlessly about who's been sticking what up who, the break-ups, the new relationships: then analyze it like it was a political reshuffle.
But you can't really do that with a man. You can talk about who has been screwing who, but the gossip just falls out on the table and neither of you want to pick it up. There's no post-game analysis, no blow-by-blow replay. "No way! That's weird," they might say, if you're lucky. Discussion of more serious relationships is even worse. I talk about girlfriends to other men in the same way I do with my parents, awkwardly and and as quickly as possible. What am I going to do, look into the eyes of another man and say, "you know, I thought she was being closed off but then I realized it was actually me, I was the one that wasn't opening up"? You can't say that to someone named Phil.
I like the way my female friends live their lives like adventurers rather than line-managers.
I know that normal men who have normal male friendships don't really do that. They go to the bar in groups of other men and play pool and stand around and get in fights. But having been in no male gangs up until this point, I can't see any easy way of joining one and I'm not sure I want to. It just seems like an unfruitful use of my time compared to extensive life analysis and some kind of eggplant-based side dish.
Basically, the only way I meet new male friends now is when my female friends start going out with them. Which is ideal: a weird revolving door of guys that I have to hang out with out of necessity but end up greatly appreciating for the occasional conversation about betting odds and Leonard Cohen album tracks.
Mostly I just feel lucky to know the women that I do. I like that female friends, at least the ones I know, give astute insight and in return want assurance for their unusual insecurities. I like the way they live their lives like adventurers rather than line-managers. I like how truly horrible they can be. And, yes, I like that they want to talk about the new Ariana Grande single and hot girls on Instagram as much as I do.
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