A straight girl asks: can boys and girls really be friends?
For some, the idea of men and women having completely platonic relationships shouldn’t be too hard to digest. In the year of our Lord 2019, it should even come naturally.
Sadly, that was never the case for me. I don’t continue to hold these old school beliefs as a choice — on the contrary, I’d love for it to be that easy. And while I was exposed to different kinds of realities that have challenged what I know about the world, the girl-boy-must-be-in-a-romantic relationship mindset is the only one that’s stuck.
Unfortunately, being a strong, independent woman means nothing if your first instinct upon meeting a (single, straight, non- family member) guy is to think of him as potential partner. Which is something I subconsciously do, even six years after graduating from an all-girls Catholic institution. I can’t help it.
It wasn’t always like this, though. Fresh from a co-ed elementary school, I walked into high school with an outsider’s perspective of the boy craziness that went down. You’d see me rolling my eyes at the deafening screams of my schoolmates when a male artista came to sing at our school, and scoffing whenever my classmates would swoon over our male teachers.
And yeah, life without boys or relationship drama wasn’t too bad as I was living it. There were no distractions, and I got to focus on my studies. Who needs boy problems if you’re failing Chem anyway?
Halfway through my second year, I started to understand why things were the way they were. As much as my school taught us to be socially aware women, there were some pretty backward rules involving gender norms. Girlhood—or what traditionally constitutes it—was practically force-fed to us. Our principal, a nun, dissolved the basketball team, banned pixie cuts, and declared one Friday every month “dress day”, where we’d exchange our uniforms for dresses.
There were no rules against dating boys per se, but the culture was different in that everything we did made them seem like foreign entities, and that malice was associated with being friends with one. Keep in mind that this is coming from an environment where you could freely shout “Sinong may napkin?” and have someone from the other end of the room toss a pad over to you.
We all had our own ways of dealing with the lack of male presence. Some developed crushes on other girls (no shame in that). Others joined church groups and non-school sanctioned organizations (though even those were frowned upon).
As for me and some other classmates, we found solace in fiction. Everything I learned about love and dating, I got from YA, ChickLit, and RomComs. Dream boys included Michael Moscovitz in The Princess Diaries, Seth Cohen in The O.C. (eww), Tom in 500 Days of Summer (eww x 2).
As a result, I’d always thought of falling in love as straightforward process — guy meets girl, says he likes her, she likes him back, they fall in love. This adolescent view of boys, and of love and dating was what stuck with me from grade school through high school.
It was only after I went to college and noticed how much effort I put on staying chill while hanging out with a guy that I realized I’d become just like the boy-crazed high school classmates I used to laugh at. From then on I became cautious of my interactions with men, making sure not to show what I felt in case I was reading too much into it. You know, the formula for a halaman.
Call me a late bloomer, but after a couple of experiences getting burned by softboys (those paragraph-long messages he sends about his day and those pics of him and his rabbit? oh, that means he’s just being friendly!) tend to knock the concept into you. Granted, part of it is their fault (think: all-boys schools and toxic masculinity), but that discussion is for another essay altogether.
After meeting different kinds of people, I learned that the simplistic boy-meets-girl narratives you get from books and TV never play out in real life. Once I came to terms with that realization, it was easier for me to have platonic relationships with guys. (Hooray for maturity!)
Boys and girls can be friends. Anyone who thinks otherwise may have gone to an all-girls or all-boys school and has some long-held notions to unlearn. High school was what it was, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t unlearn what you’ve been conditioned to think. The unlearning won’t happen overnight — heck, even I’m still getting used to the idea — but it’s good to know that it’s still possible.