In September 2007 I started a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism at Cardiff University. After the first day’s induction, a welcome ceremony was held in one of the university’s grand function rooms, where there were a number of speakers and – crucially – as much free booze as you could shake a stick at.
I’d shuffled along with a group of people from the course, and as we all stood around making awkward small talk I drained my polystyrene cup of cheap fizz and mentally calculated the proper length of time to wait before going for a top-up. At that exact moment one of the girls I was with leaned over and said, “Well, it’s free, we might as well make the most of it, eh?” And in that moment, a glorious friendship was born.
Which was odd for me, because as a general rule my closest friends have always been blokes. There was a smattering of ladies in my life, all playing important roles in my social dynamic, but given the choice I’d usually spend my time with fellas. Why is this, I’ve often wondered? Some shrinks would no doubt trace it back to my (fairly horrendous) school days which saw me endue five years of social exclusion and taunting at the hands of a group of spiteful, catty girls. Others might suggest my military upbringing predisposes me to want to be around practical, ‘hands on’ people. Sensationalists, on the other hand, might speculate that I’m a wanton whore desperate for male attention. The first two probably hold some weight, the latter just seems ridiculous to me, and yet that does seem to be the general opinion of women that choose to spend most of their time with men.
I’m not particularly tomboyish, I don’t spend my free time pursuing any of the traditionally ‘male’ activities my bloke friends do (gaming, for example) and I’ll confess to the odd self-indulgent weep in front of Don’t Tell the Bride or whatever crappy reality TV show has sent my hormones into meltdown. And yet I’ve always been happy spending my time with men. This has caused problems in the past; light-heartedly in my inclusion on ‘boy’s nights out’ (which are just generally ‘nights out’ for me), and more seriously with boyfriends who, understandably, have felt threatened by the situation.
I enjoy the banter and that they don’t take themselves too seriously. That I can make a brilliant ‘your mum’ joke and get a high-five instead of a confused look, or that I can eat an entire pizza without remorse but palm the uneaten crusts off on someone else who’ll devour them without blinking an eye. Do I want to sleep with any of them? Hell no (sorry guys, nothing personal). On reflection, it’s for these reasons that I have such great relationships with the girls I am friends with; we all fit a similar mould. Yet one difference – one huge difference between my girl friends and boy mates – exists: I always know where I am with the blokes. (And I mean this metaphorically, not literally – none of them are very good at map-reading).
Until last year I’d lived with boys for my whole adult life, and day-to-day living went something like this:
Me: “[Boy], will you take out the rubbish please? You’ve not done it for ages.”
Boy: “Yeah, in a minute.”
Me: “Take out the damn rubbish! There’s a goat in the kitchen FFS.”
Boy: “Your Mum’s a goat” [Takes out the rubbish].
And life would pootle on as normal. Now, re-imagine that situation with two girls, and it goes something like this.
Me: Hmm, the rubbish needs to be taken out and I’ve done it for the last few weeks. Should I ask someone else to do it? I don’t want to cause a drama. Maybe I should just do it myself, again. No, I’ll leave it. No, I’ll just do it. Fine, I’ll do it again [seethe].
Or in the event of some kind of argument:
But then with a girl we’d use phrases like ‘Well I just feel like…’ and ‘I would appreciate it if…’ all the while dancing around the subject, never tackling it head-on and both inevitably being angry and annoyed and then wondering if the other person is holding a grudge or is pissed off with you and then being torn between wanting to make it right and holding the high ground and on and on and on [continues forever]. It can be exhausting.
So with all this in mind, it was weird for me to not only become super awesome BFFs with this girl, but through her meet other girls who have also turned out to be super awesome BFFs. I will concede there are times I wish I could just shout ‘LET’S JUST ALL GO TO THE PUB AND INSULT EACH OTHER IN A LIGHT-HEARTED WAY, EH?’ when there’s some kind of group turmoil bubbling softly under the surface, but with them I get to spanner around with exciting tights and hair dye, fill the bin to the brim with wine bottles, bemoan our increasingly synching cycles and sing Aretha Franklin songs. Basically, live a massive cliché. It’s brilliant, and they’re worth the afore-mentioned effort because, complicated as they can be, they all smell nice and let me borrow their stuff (there are other reasons too I guess).
It is then, with a big sad, that I say goodbye to co-conspirator and confidant Laura – the girl with whom I drank JOMEC out of free booze all those years ago. She’s embarking on a year-long African adventure and will almost surely be eaten by a lion since she certainly can’t empty a bin. Godspeed Smurph x