Live Through This

No Girls Allowed

(Except for me.)

Illustration by Emma D.

If my high school social scene was finishing school, I was always the one using the wrong fork. At least that’s what it felt like. Socializing never came easy to me. Since I was a kid I’ve struggled with social anxiety. A tendency to overthink interactions and underthink behavioral norms meant that I was always one step behind where I wanted to be when it came to making friends.

Luckily, plenty of other things came easy to me. Good grades. High SAT scores. A long list of extracurricular activities. In the kingdom of measurable indicators of success, I was queen. Wherever there was a defined way to succeed, I succeeded.

Where measurable indicators were nowhere to be found—like in the social realm—I invented them. These invented systems of rationalization helped me to manage my anxieties, at least temporarily. Teen movies served as the starting point for an absurd logic that broke socializing down into clear metrics of success and failure. In movies about ladies, I observed, social success was achieved when the main character reached a point where men considered her desirable. I didn’t want mere success though. In every other area of my life I’d found contentment in being the very best. If approval from the guys equaled success, I figured, then being accepted as one of the guys must be the ultimate achievement.

The phrase one of the guys is sort of deceptive. I didn’t want to actually be a guy. I didn’t even want to be a tomboy. In my mind, the ultimate version of the girl who hangs out with the guys—success!—was someone who could perform conventionally masculine behaviors, but could be sexy and stereotypically feminine while doing so. I wanted to eat piles of steak and potatoes, never exercise, and look tiny. I wanted to play in the mud in a full face of makeup. I wanted platonic roughhousing to look like the exposition to a porno.

What I was at the time was insecure. I had frizzy hair that I woke up at 5 AM to flatiron before the first bell. I thought my interests and hobbies were embarrassing, so I kept them to myself. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to befriend a girl who found sociology blogs and detailed histories of pop-punk more interesting than the intricacies of high school drama. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and actively searching for one that felt better, or at least more popular.

In my attempts to make my (deluded) one-of-the-guys fantasy a reality, I set my friendship sights on a group of boys from my school that were generally understood to be hot. Most of them were hot in the physical sense of the word, and the rest were cool in the way that can hoist an average-looking person up into the next tier. These boys had a long history together. Listening to them talk was like walking into a movie mid-plot.

“Remember that girl Kira from the beach last summer? She’s totally texting me.”

“Do you have any idea why Doug wasn’t at practice last night?”

“So, do you think your brother is going to be able to pick up that handle of Svedka for us this weekend?”

Their conversations were mysterious and interesting to me, not because they were actually interesting, but because they implied some sort of exclusive camaraderie—a type of bond with other human beings that I’d never had. Getting in with this crowd, I figured, was the way to bring my social fantasies to life.

In actuality, of course, my life as the girl in the boys’ club looked nothing like my daydreams. The lack of sexy roughhousing and mud-play was disappointing. A lot of afternoons were wasted sitting on the couch and feigning interest in video games and rugby, two things I decidedly didn’t care about. We almost never did anything that I wanted to do. It wasn’t that they’d ever rejected any of my ideas, it was just that I never even considered making a suggestion. In this friendship, the boys were the arbiters of cool. I was just along for the ride. The very boring ride.

Hanging out with these boys was less than exciting, but more important, it didn’t really do anything to solve my social problems. I thought that becoming the Chosen One, the sole girl in a group of boys, would somehow validate me as a person. Instead, it put me on the defensive. When other girls encroached on my social circle, in the form of one of the guys’ girlfriends or even just one of their friends, I felt pressured to defend my turf, as if the mere presence of another woman was a threat to my status. I found myself deriding girls for having traits that fell outside of my idea of what boys found cool. Molly was too catty. Anna was a gossip. Ashley cared too much about how she looked. My allegiance wavered, or, to be more accurate, it was in flux. I thought the condition of girlness was less than, so I knew that I didn’t belong with girls. At the same time, I knew that I’d never really enjoy being one of the boys in the way that I thought I needed to be. I couldn’t be one of the guys and a lady and interested and bored all at once.

Eventually I abandoned the group, because I realized that the boys I’d been hanging with were crappy friends. I felt like I was always waiting—waiting for an invite to this party or a response to that text. I was never sure if they were really my friends or if I was the punch line of some mean in joke. I always felt like I was waiting for someone else to tell me what was cool. This isn’t to say that I never had fun—I did. We’d go snowboarding sometimes, for example. There were isolated incidents of fun, but on the whole it wasn’t healthy or, like, good. Still, the boys’ club period of my life isn’t one that I regret—just one that I’ve since evolved beyond.

The point of this story isn’t that being friends with boys is wrong or impossible, or even that being friends with girls is better. Since my boys’ club era I’ve started college and opened myself up to making friends with all types of people, including lady people. Making friends with girls wasn’t an easy transition for me, not gonna lie. Overcoming the idea that girl was synonymous with catty or dramatic or gossipy was a definite struggle. In the end, though, I came to realize it wasn’t girls that I didn’t want to be friends with; it was people who acted like jerks. Sometimes these people are girls, but lots of times they are boys, too.

The girl friends I have now kick major ass. One sings in an a cappella group. One is the editor of a sex magazine. A bunch of them are involved with a mentorship program that I joined earlier this year (shout out to my WYSE girl gang!!!!). Hanging out with them is different from the time I spent in the boys’ club in that I don’t feel like I constantly need to wreck on my own gender to be cool. If I call someone out for being catty, it isn’t because they’re a girl, it’s because they’re acting like an ass.

Leaving the boy’s club and seeking out new friendships taught me that girl gangs come in all flavors. Sporty ones. Catty ones. Smart ones. Feminist ones. Gangs that blur the lines and push the boundaries of what it even means to be a girl in the first place. No girl is too cool to hang with other girls, not even me. In fact, learning to make friends with girls only made me cooler, because it helped me learn how to be comfortable with who I am. Which is, among other things, a girl. ♦

16 Comments

  • Mustachefan November 11th, 2011 4:13 PM

    Jamie, this is really awesome and so well written. I’m kind of in love with you.

  • hannahsophia November 11th, 2011 4:41 PM

    I LOVE THIS! I went through a phase where I hated the female gender, but it was when I was eight, so I don’t think it really counts… I have four brothers, they’re like my personal guy gang:) My guy friend that I hang out with now is big on video games and sports like all boys are, but he make time to come to soup parties and watch girly movies with me and my other BFFL.

  • washingpowder November 11th, 2011 5:46 PM

    This is amazing. I feel I can relate to it, at least a little bit, on the part where you’re describing yourself as overthinking interactions and underthinking behavioural norms. Thanks for this, because it’s helped me realise that I really don’t need to pretend to be someone I’m not with certain people. I’m not sure that’s what you intended, but thank you anyway :)

  • insteadofanelephant November 11th, 2011 7:55 PM

    the boys club can be cool, but man is it great to be a girl and talk about different shades of pink sometimes.

    instead of an elephant

  • Chandler November 11th, 2011 8:41 PM

    I love this story——SO MUCH. I can relate to this story in many ways. I have a group of guy friends that are awesome, and a group of girl friends that are equally as cool. And, i love being with both of them. I can be a girly girl in the girl group—talk about boys, watch cheesy movies, talk about clothes, and in the guy group—I can talk about more funny things and (along with my other best friend) which is also in the “guy group” can talk about anything with where y guy friends dont judge as well. i am glad i have a girl gang and a guy group because its fun to be with the guys and hang out with your girl gang. :)

  • Ruby B. November 11th, 2011 10:07 PM

    This made me seriously reconsider my motives from last year, where ALL my friends were guys. During the summer I moved and made girl friends, which was good, too. But now I realize that I never really cared about Mario Cart or soccer or Neil Patrick Harris (for some reason, all my guy friends worshiped him.) but I got very defensive when another girl came into the picture.

    Ruby
    therubylotus.wordpress.com

  • marcelle42 November 11th, 2011 10:29 PM

    I love this. I know a lot of girls who say with pride, “Oh, all my friends are guys. Girls are too [boring, superficial, catty].” I always think that either that person is really misogynistic, or they just know all the wrong girls. I love seeing your evolution.

  • FashionHauties November 11th, 2011 11:55 PM

    I really like this article. I have a lot of friends- okay, not really friends- but I know a lot of people who are really into being one of the guys. I mean, sure, it’s cool to have guy friends, but guys shouldn’t substitute for friends that are girls.
    Even if you aren’t a tomboy-even if you are-because you are a girl makes it easier to relate to girls than guys.
    Also, I find it quite funny that if is a lot easier to make guy friends if you wake up each morning and take a lot of time to get ready each morning. Subtly, secretly, guys are kind of shallow- they don’t want to be seen with an unattractive-I-just-rolled-out-of-bed kind of girl. Having girl friends aren’t as shallow- hopefully, and usually, if you choose them wisely (especially the girl gang) because they realize that sometimes it just dosen’t matter what eyeliner you’re wearing, but what is on the inside.

  • Filia-Zissy November 12th, 2011 11:14 AM

    When I was a bit younger I spent most of the time hanging around with the boys in my class. I couldn’t relate with most of the other girls who stood behind two girls who’d bullied me for being just myself. Later, when I went to another school I became friends with several girls but I kept playing soccer with the boys and kept talking about video games. My best friends though had always been girls and still are. But I’d never had real problems with guys. Sometime my classmates did even protected me. Maybe it’s because they don’t think of me as a rival as girls would possibly do.
    But now I find myself in a new class again and I have to brave and find some new friends – girls or boys…

    http://filiasenchantingworld.blogspot.com/

  • kipkip November 13th, 2011 6:48 AM

    What kinda camera did you guys use for the Salvation Mountain shoot? I really liked the way those came out!

  • airheads November 13th, 2011 9:52 AM

    I liked reading this, since I share a house with four boys my age and I’m the stereotypically feminine girl in platform heels and makeup who eats pizza and drinks beer and talks about sexual encounters with them. Sometimes I wish I could find girls who are as easy to get along with as my boy friends, but one of the downsides to hanging out with a bunch of boys is I hardly get to see other girls. We need more girls to join boy gangs and convert them into boy-girl gangs!

  • doubleshiny November 14th, 2011 7:03 AM

    A lot of my best friends have always been guys and for a while in my early twenties I had almost exclusively male friends. This was because my high school friendship group shattered when the girls in it suddenly turned on me – there were three of us in the group and the rest boys, and when they started dating boys in the group they decided I was threatening to that in some way and made it clear I was no longer welcome. I actively avoided making friends with girls after that, it was only when I got to about 27 that I met some awesome girls through the show Heroes and realised it wasn’t girls in general I should have been avoiding but girls who were insecure and bitchy.

    I know have a really nice mix of male and female friends and love hanging out with just girls.

  • md November 14th, 2011 7:18 PM

    This piece reminds me of this great book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Female-Chauvinist-Pigs-Raunch-Culture/dp/0743284283/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321316243&sr=8-1

    Definitely check it out!

  • beatricks November 14th, 2011 7:55 PM

    Love it.

  • amelia November 15th, 2011 3:46 AM

    yea, i feel like there’s pressure from guys to be the hot girl they can ogle who doesnt actually ACT like a girl… it’s pretty degrading. so many girls i see at school obviously spend time on their appearance just to go hang out with a pack of guys that barely notices theyre there. i’m part of an evenly spread ‘girl- guy’ group, i have a few really good guy friends but they’re not ‘blokey’ in the sense they dont drone on about hot girls or sports or anything, so we can actually have intelligent conversations- this also means that they dont really get much attention from girls because they dont pursue girls as much, which is sad because they’re all definitely boyfriend material, girls just dont see it. anyway, having a good guy friend is actually amazing, but yea, guys that arent totally chauvinistic or just want to feel you up or whatever is pretty hard to find

  • Lisbeth November 16th, 2011 12:32 PM

    What a lovely essay! I’m an inveterate and shameless Rookie lurker (an English professor in her 40s), but I have to admit that even someone of my impossibly advanced age recognizes her old boy-wannabe self in your description. For me it was rugby, beer-can collecting, and repeated after-school viewings of A Clockwork Orange (including *shudder* pretending to think the rape scene was really funny). Eventually I figured it out, too, but I haven’t thought about this period of my life in years. Thanks for the witty and insightful reminder. (Glad we all made it out!)