Thursday, April 14, 2005

A "man date" for change?

Occasionally, one of my female friends will ask me to explain the male gender for them. I'm flattered to be the spokesman for an entire gender and try to help as best I can. But there have been plenty of times when all I could do was shrug my shoulders. I don't always understand men, either. I was reminded of that while reading Jennifer 8. Lee's feature in Sunday's New York Times about "man dates." (By the way, how do you get a numeral as your middle initial?) Here's Lee's definition:

"Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not."

The article is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it points to a truth in our culture. If two men are spending time together without the pretext of sports or business, and the setting is someplace else besides a bar, does that automatically mean they must be a gay couple? Where does that tension come from? When did we become so defensive about our masculinity? I don't really get that. And I really don't get one of my favorite examples of male defensiveness, which Lee's article cites: Two guys at the movies, sitting with an empty "Hey, we're not gay" buffer seat between them. Guys - we're watching Die Hard 4: Die Really, Really Hard This Time. I think it's safe to assume you two aren't on a date. (But if you were, it'd be kind of sweet.)

In a fiction writing workshop last year, I became irritated when a few people implied that there was a homosexual subtext between my lead character and his best friend. If that's what they got from the material, fine - that's a valid interpretation. But not because they're two guys who spend time together and banter back and forth. A friendship between two men can be portrayed without calling their sexuality into question. Look at Sideways. Or Scrubs.

Maybe it's because I grew up with my closest male friends. We know each other well, we became men together (okay, that sounds kinda gay), so there aren't any underlying questions if we check out an exhibit at an art museum. Or watch a slightly "chick-ish" movie. There's a comfort level, a familiarity that might not exist with a classmate or co-worker.

Okay, I realize there are some situations that might look strange. If you two are having a candlelight dinner at a white tablecloth restaurant (Hey, we're eating steak!) or watching The Boy From Oz on Broadway (Hey, Hugh Jackman played Wolverine, okay?), then maybe you can expect a question or two.

But I wonder if I unwittingly acknowledge that tension as I get older? Going to a museum, watching something on TV that isn't sports, or seeing a foreign film that doesn't involve kung-fu? I do most of those things by myself these days. Or with a female friend. I suppose that's something I need to think about. I'll look at myself in the mirror (while applying moisturizing after shave, of course) and analyze whether I'm an insecure male, too. But we're being silly, guys. There's no reason for us to be defensive about hanging out together. Who's going to understand you more than another man? Just make sure we're drinking beer and watching football while we talk about it.