with a LOT of help from my friends

Yesterday afternoon, I saw IT for the second time. When I saw it on opening weekend, my date was my exceptionally awesome boyfriend. Yesterday, I was joined at the Regal Cinema by two exceptionally awesome friends who are boys. Neither of them had seen IT yet, and it was a nearly empty theatre, so we basically had the place to ourselves for gushing about the movie as the credits rolled. It was a really fantastic Wednesday afternoon.

I. Love. IT. I’ve never read the book or seen the miniseries, but this 2017 adaptation has really, really stuck with me. Admittedly, a lot of my pull towards IT is towards Bill Skarsgård’s performance, for which I have a gigantic actor-boner. But I think what excites me the most about IT is the same thing that excites me the most about getting to return to Hawkins in a few weeks for season two of Stranger Things. I’m a 28-year-old human that identitifes as female, but I am deeply, deeply invested in 1980’s nerd boy friendship teams.

Important disclaimer: All of my late 90’s/early 00’s ragtag bunches of geek female friends are the source of most of the best moments of my existence. We stayed up all night to eat Skittles and Cool Ranch Doritos while watching Disney movies, we attempted to learn all of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ “All That Jazz” moves, we passed notebooks filled with increasingly puberty-influenced Harry Potter fanfiction back and forth between classes… We nerd-ed real hard. Upon graduating high school, I went to a womens’ college, and I don’t regret it for a single second.

Part of the reason that I decided to go to a womens’ college was motivated by the fact that, by the time high school ended, I fucking hated boys. With a few marvelous exceptions (looking at you, D), the boys that went to my high school were not my kind of people. And I was not their kind either. They rolled their eyes at me for constantly bringing up womens’ issues in AP US History, even though it definitely ended up being a question on the APUSH exam, so suck it, Brad. To me, they were all a bunch of unimaginative, polo shirt-wearing jerks, and I was thrilled to be rid of them.

A lot of girls at my high school told me that they couldn’t imagine going to a college without boys. Nah, man. I was pumped. Good riddance, dicks!

When I started working at the Renaissance Festival as a 16-year-old, I met a lot of boys– okay, men– that seemed like they were more my speed. Dudes who were as into Lord of the Rings and swords as I was. And that was really exciting. But, and once again with a few marvelous exception (looking at you, L), there was a weird new flavor in my interactions with RenFest guys. Because I was so young, I was passed down the traditional “Dungeon Bait” pin to wear on my costume. As if I needed a symbol besides my braces to denote that I was in high school, so it’s weird if you hit on me, adult males.

No boys at high school thought I was cute, but it sure seemed like a lot of the RenFest guys did. At least a little part of me knew that was weird, maybe even gross, but I also loved the attention. I kind of loved that everyone made a huge deal out of the day that I turned 18-years-old. RenFest was already such a huggy, touchy-feely, cuddly community, and it sounded like the next logical step, once legal, was for me to start making out with everyone? I remember that being a thing. “Who’s going to kiss Dani first?”

Before you’re too squicked out, I decided who I kissed first. And I made a big, goofy thing about it, so it felt like it was all on my terms. But the fact remains that I was pretty sexualized by the first community of male friends that I’d ever had. And I did end up entering into a pretty intense sexual and romantic relationship with one of the good ones.

The end of that relationship tore me up pretty hard. One of those relationships that, even ten years later, occasionally pops back into my guts and floods me with alternating currents of fury and grief and a quiet gratitude that we had the time that we did. You know?

ANYWAY. Boys didn’t like me, and men broke my heart, so fuck dudes, right?

For the rest of college, girls were my friends, girls were the people I loved and trusted, and girls were the people who loved and trusted me. Boys were creatures from Georgia Tech that I sometimes half-heartedly tried to make out with, because it felt like that was a thing I was supposed to be pursuing.

So, and one more time for good measure, with a marvelous exception (still looking at you, L!), I made my way towards adulthood without any male friends.

When I graduated college and entered into the apprenticeship program for the theatre that now employs me, I thought, “Oh, hell yes. This is where I’m going to meet a guy my own age, who has the same interests that I do. Surely one of these four options is going to become my life long romantic partner. My time has come!”

Two of them were gay, and one engaged, so I went all out pursuing the only single, straight one. And, honestly, I was pretty aggressive and weird about it. I didn’t have real conversations with him, because I was constantly trying to not-so-subtly push my romantic agenda. For the first half of the apprenticship, I’d even convinced myself to not like a girl who is now one of my best friends in the world because I thought that she was the object of my forced-crush’s affections. I almost lost out on two of the most important relationships of my adult life, because I didn’t think that I could have a deep relationship with a man that wasn’t romantic in nature.

When I dropped the crush that I thought I had to have on that person, we were actually able to get to know each other. And we like each other a lot! We watch movies and make weird cupcakes and argue about Arthur Miller. My life is absolutely better for our friendship.

This isn’t a novel observation, but I judge that heteronormative society is so preventative of the opportunity for men and women to express non-romantic love to one another. Some of my very best friends– some of the people that have taken care of me when I could barely function, as well as some of the people who I think I’ve been able to take care of myself– are men. As I started to recognize that these friendships were transcending into love for me, I felt terrified to tell these dudes. Like, they’d all think I was hitting on them, and therefore, I’d destroy our friendship.

I once believed that only romantic partners are for intimate, intense emotions, and friends are for fun. Friends are for the easy stuff. But that makes for a pretty lonely world. It’s put me in situations before where I’ve trapped myself and my romantic partner into a horrible situation wherein neither of us could talk to anyone else in our lives about, for example, my depression. My current partner is wonderful, and he listens to me when I need to talk about depression and bipolar stuff. But we have vastly different mental health experience. I have friends, though, who do have more in common with me in that regard.

Being able to confide in my friends about the hardcore stuff has absolutely saved my life. Because sometimes I don’t need a helpful, calming presence to talk me down or offer me advice. Sometimes I need a kindred spirit to hop aboard the crazy train with me, and just ride it the fuck out. Sometimes I need to spiral downwards while looking into eyes that are not concerned and confused, but that totally get it.

I’ve started telling my male friends recently that I love them, and it is such a relief. Because I do love my friends, male and female and non-binary alike. Capital L-Love. Gooey marshmallow love even. And I want to shout it from the rooftops! Recognizing my capacity to feel all kinds of different shades of love for different people makes me feel strong. It makes me feel so much more connected and tethered to the world. I feel like less of a burden than I ever have before, and I know that’s at least partially due to giving myself permission to tell my friends that I love them.

Guys, gals, pals, I love you lots. Let’s eat pizza and play D&D in someone’s parents’ basement, and then ride our bikes back home. Let’s go on weird adventures out in the woods, because I can be brave when I’m with you. Let’s take down all the spooky evils of the world together, because we love each other and our love is the thing that the bad guys can’t ever tear apart.

We could also just go see IT again. I really love that movie.

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