‘As A Straight Man, I Treasure My Female Friendships’

Ed Cumming can’t understand why we’re still having the ‘can men and women just be friends?’ debate

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio

by Ed Cumming |
Published on

i was raised in ye olde English way, meaning I went to an all-boys school and hardly met a woman I wasn’t related to until my teens. Since then, I have accrued female friends faster than a free rosé bar run by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I’m godfather to their children, they are godmothers to mine; I’ve spoken at four women’s weddings.

Many people seem to find this strange, which is baffling to me. People who otherwise search far and wide in the quest for varied experiences – spending a fortune on travel and restaurants, painstakingly seeking out books and films and music – nonetheless think it’s right to omit half the population from their friendship group.

Why do many people seem to prefer monocultural friend cliques? It is a blessing to live at a time when everyone can be friends with everyone. If I want to drink too many pints, swap memes and moan about cricket, I have no shortage of blokes for that. To judge by how some of my male friends hang out, they would prefer to live in a medieval theocracy where they would meet women only in prescribed spaces.

Aside from all the obvious qualities – being funny, clever, good at parties, etc – women are typically better at conversation. They also do vital work in calling me out on my nonsense. Men are pathetically indulgent of one another. In the name of masculine solidarity they will excuse any amount of bad behaviour, from minor social infractions to outright criminality. This can be relaxing, but sometimes it’s good to get a more honest review. (Female friends tell me the reverse is true for them, too.) Perhaps because they are more empathetic, the women I know are usually better guides to how my actions might come across to other people, as well as more ruthless in matters of dress, grooming and general behaviour. It was a female friend who told me that, as a grown man, I could be bald or fat, but not both (good advice). The women could tell, within weeks, that I had met the woman I would marry.

My wife is sometimes asked whether she minds my mixed friendship group. She says she is glad of it, and thinks everyone should try it. Previous girlfriends were not always as understanding – they resented me seeing my friends, I resented the resentments. People sometimes invoke the When Harry Met Sally clause, arguing that sex always gets in the way of opposite-sex friendships, but that film was about two people who are obviously in love with each other, and does not reflect the vast majority of platonic male-female friendships.

None of which is to say being friends with a woman is the same as a man. It would be disingenuous to say I think of every woman in my life like a sister or aunt. But the world is full of people – men, women, old and young – who one might in theory sleep with, but manage not to.

The arguments against straight men having female friends boil down to a Mike Pence world view, in which the only woman any man should be friends with, outside of his family, is his partner. In this bizarre universe, all other women are infernal temptresses who should be encountered only in well-lit public spaces and with at least one chaperone on hand to step in should the male urges become overwhelming. Who wants to live like that? Without women, you only have half a social life.

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