Let’s talk about boys. Honestly, sometimes it can feel like they’re on a totally different planet but, the older I get, the more I appreciate the loyal, funny, caring (and occasionally totally stupid) guys in my life.
My first ever best friends were both boys, so I guess I had a bit of a head start. As soon as you start school though, the gender stereotypes kick in hard. You’re told “girls do this”, “boys do that”, and so neat little same-sex friendship circles form around netball vs. football, dance vs. cricket (what a load of BS, we know).
By the time you’re a teenager, those separate groups are pretty well established – and then being just good friends with a boy gets reeeeally complicated by silly gossip, hormones, and unfortunate crushes.
But the thing about boys is they’re not actually as different from us as they might sometimes seem. Forget pretty much all rom-coms, and the rubbish you’ve been told about how boys and girls can never really be “just good friends”. They totally can, and why the hell shouldn’t they?
Having boy friends in your life is great. Variety is the spice of life, and befriending a boy can be a really fun way of mixing up your hobbies and conversations – while also sticking two fingers up at the stereotypes that say boys can’t be sensitive and girls can’t be adventurous.
“Male and female friends make you think and feel differently about yourself – not just about how attractive you are, but about how sporty you are, how clever you are, how good you are at chatting about music, and so on,” explains Dr Angharad Rudkin, a Clinical Psychologist from the University of Southampton.
Of course, boy mates can also offer a valuable insight into the inner workings of the opposite sex, and they’ll often have a different perspective from your girlfriends on life’s dilemmas. In short, a good boyfriend will support you, make you laugh, and offer advice just as much as any girlfriend.
When I was at school, I had two main things in common with most of my best boy friends: we liked a lot of the same music, and we were really good at maths. It really doesn’t take anything more profound than that to strike up a conversation and find that you actually quite like each other.
In fact, those annoying boy-girl seating plans your teacher insists on can actually be really handy when it comes to making friends with boys. If you’re stuck with each other for the whole term anyway, you might as well make the best of it and see if there’s any common ground.
You’re not going to hit it off with every guy you’re forced to sit next to in class (just like you wouldn’t with every girl) but give them a chance. I promise they’re not all as weird and immature as each other!
The school gossip mill can be tricky though, when it comes to maintaining your friendship with a boy. Just because you’re both mature enough to like and respect each other as friends, doesn’t mean everyone else is mature enough not to start stupid rumours about you.
It would be too easy to say: “just ignore them” – although that is also solid advice. The best thing you can do is be open and honest with each other, to make sure you both know where you stand.
“Talk with your friends if you feel things are starting to get a bit different with your relationships – chatting about it is so much easier than trying to guess what the other is thinking,” says Dr Rudkin.
Sometimes that might mean making awkward confessions like: “I’ve developed a bit of a crush on you, but I don’t want this to affect our friendship” – because, guess what, hormones and your blossoming sexuality will do that to you. But mostly it just means being able to say: “Hey, we’re mates, right? I know people are gossiping, but that shouldn’t stop us hanging out together.”
Obviously, it’s also important to choose your boy mates carefully, just like you would any other friends. Make sure they’re respectful – not just to you, but to all the girls in your class – and don’t make you feel bad about yourself.
Hanging out in groups can ease the pressure too. If you and some mates are going to see a band he loves, or grabbing dinner together before the school disco, invite him to come along too. Mixed friendship groups can have a really nice, chilled out dynamic, and you won’t feel quite so awkward as you might do about hanging out one-on-one.
At the end of the day though, Dr Rudkin says: “Just do what feels right for you, and take each person as they are, regardless of their gender. If they make you feel good about yourself and positive about the future, and if they make you more of the person you really want to be, then it’s a good friendship.”
I love all of my girl and boy friends to bits, and they each bring totally different things to my life. With the girls it might be nights in, catching up and watching Pitch Perfect; discussing feminism over dinner; shivering together at a football match; or heading off for a weekend away together.
But there’s also that one guy who’s forever inviting groups of us over for wonderful dinners, or dropping everything to help me out of a tricky spot. There’s the boyfriend who I have endless deep and meaningful conversations with, and who’ll always come to me first for advice. And the mate who’s just as likely to take me trampolining, or on a photography tour round London, as he is to spend hours watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race with me.
I just couldn’t imagine life without any of them.
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