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Can men and women be friends, just friends?

28 Dec

Friends

It’s the question men and women have been asking themselves for forever and never more than shortly after the release of the brilliant movie When Harry Met Sally
in 1989. Two very attractive people (Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal) are on a forced road trip together and Harry explains to Sally that men and women can’t be friends because sex is always on someone’s mind. Then, they become friends, disproving his theory before getting together, proving it once more.

So, we’re still in the dark with some of us thinking men and women can be JUST friends (no flirting, no benefits) and those of us who think that it’s never just friendship.

I was one of the ones who thought men and women could be friends, just friends. I count a handful of special men as dear friends, as dear to me as my girlfriends. We care about each other, we amuse each other, we break bread and there is no sex and minimal flirting involved. I’m happily married, my husband is happy with my friendships and we’re all happy as Larry, so to speak.

But here’s what happened to me recently…I landed myself firmly in the shit after I sent an overly affectionate Facebook-hug to a male friend on his birthday and his wife read it and became a little unsettled. It was on their shared Facebook page so even though I sent is as a message, I didn’t think she wouldn’t read it, I fully expected she would.

In my defense, I did think the world was ending in a few, short weeks and I had been sending affectionate correspondence to several friends including my male friends (hi Alf, hi Alex) and all of my female friends. I hardly ever get to see this friend, someone I consider family and the message read something like, “Thinking of you today and now I know why. It’s your birthday. Happy birthday. You’re the best/awesome, I love you lots, have a great year. I hope the girls are well.” I think that’s how it went. That’s basically how it went. My friends and I always joke that when I think of someone they call or I call them when they are thinking of me, like we are all mind-readers. And did I mention I thought the world was ending?

So the shit hit the fan a few weeks later when I was made aware of the discomfort and I promptly apologised, protested my innocence and tried to smooth things over. Then I found out I’d been unfriended by one and blocked by the other. WTF?

I felt like I’d been kicked in the guts. I felt really sad. I really like these two people and I couldn’t believe that after almost ten years of successful friendship just one overly-enthusiastic message could result in such drama. As friends, wouldn’t they assume I had the best of intentions? Wouldn’t they know what I meant? Didn’t they know I am happily married and even if I wouldn’t I have never and would never do anything? Was the message really a proposition?

I am a writer and I do word-vomit like this often but most of my friends laugh it off. They know I get emotional.

Do I have to be more careful with my married male friends? Is friendship between men and women only possible if they are single? Am I living in fantasy land? Are any of my male friendships real?

I really don’t know the answer but I do know I might be a little more careful in how I express myself through social media (for a little while at least). My husband has been telling me for well over ten years I am way too affectionate in written correspondence. Apparently xxx’s and ooo’s are not appropriate ways to end emails and text to work colleagues, in particular bosses, but otherwise it just seems so cold. Can I at least send a smilie face?

I love my male friendships and I love becoming friends with their life-partners too. There isn’t anyone less threatening than me. I mean really. Even if my friend was Daniel Day Lewis and we’d previously dated I would NEVER EVER EVER try anything and I would never expect him to read a proposition into my message.

Did I mention I thought the world was ending?

I think it’s sad that this has happened but I really don’t want to be less expressive with my friends. Life is too short. I love everyone. I love you and you and you and I truly didn’t mean anything by it.

Another of my favourite movies Juno has a scene with the step-mum where she is advising her step-child to be careful with her friendship with a married man, saying it’s different with married men. But Juno is single. I’m not. We all know each other. Our kids play together.

Maybe I’m too influenced by my Gen-Y friends. They don’t seem to have the friendship rules and regulations my generation has (Gen-X, yeah!).

I’d love to know what you think. It may be one of those conundrums that is never answered and that we’ll struggle with for all our days.

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

“I’m the first gay person to win Big Brother”

8 Nov

Last night my eight-year-old son and I jumped up and down with excitement as a beautiful gay man won Big Brother 2012. My son has loved Benjamin from the beginning. When I asked him why he said, “Because he talks to everyone and because he’s so funny.” The fact that he is gay didn’t come into it…until a little later.

My son attends a Catholic school so raising him to be accepting and progressive was always going to be a challenge.

On the way home from school one day my little man was rather quiet.

“What’s up?”

“Benjamin’s gay mum,” he announced with uncertainty in his voice.

I knew exactly what to say.

“I know, isn’t it great?”

My son looked at me questioningly so I continued. “Being gay means men who want to have a special relationship with men and women who want to have a special relationship with women and it is great. In Australia you can be with who you want to be with.”

“Some of my friends say it’s bad.”

I told him that I was sad they had said that. Then I told him a story about a friend of mine who came out to his family almost twenty years ago when we were just seventeen and was rejected by his family, friends and his church. I watched in horror as this friend moved to a share house on Oxford Street in Sydney because it was the only place he felt he belonged. I was scared for him. He developed some unhealthy habits and made some questionable lifestyle choices. I was so happy years later when he got to move back home and live with his family who eventually decided to support him. I told him being gay was great and that the days of being scared to tell people you were gay were over.

Last night my son and I set up a ‘Big Brother Finale’ party. He was going for Benjamin and I was going for Layla. We had KFC, Tim Tams and chick peas. Benjamin won with a resounding 40% of the vote. Benjamin, left alone in the house, said to himself “I’m the first gay person to win Big Brother.”

My son at this stage was jumping around the lounge room in delight. I watched on in amusement until Benjamin dropped to one knee in front of his partner Ben and proposed. It was then that I joined my son in jumping up and down around the lounge room.

What a brilliant night in Australian television history.

As we squealed and clapped my son said, “I’m not gay mum because I’m in love with *Gemma but I’m glad Benjamin is.”

Then we rewound the show and watched the proposal again.

 

*Name changed to protect my son’s privacy!

I don’t drink and it’s ruining my social life!

24 Jun

I was out with work friends recently for drinks. My friend offered to buy the first round. She asked everyone what they’d like and when she got to me I said, “Can I have a mineral water please?” Everyone laughed. They thought I was joking. I mean, what was I doing at work drinks if I wasn’t planning to drink, right?

I don’t know why I don’t drink. It’s not a moral or dietary choice. I’ve just never taken to alcohol. It tastes horrible and it usually leaves me with a massive headache.

As an Italian, I’m more used to eating my alcohol. Sparkling wine in my spaghetti sauce, beer chicken and desserts soaked in Tia Maria. My parents drank. When I was little my dad was always offering me sips of beer and a little Tia Maria mixed in with milk. So it’s not like I was raised hating alcohol.

When I reached my late teens and early twenties I got a job in breakfast radio. Getting up at 3am each day is definitely not conducive to drinking alcohol. I rarely went out and when I did it was usually a work function. I didn’t dare drink. Sleep deprivation was hard enough to cope with without adding alcohol to the mix.

I’ve been drunk twice in my life and it took quite a bit of effort on my part to get there. The first time was at my sister’s hen’s night. I forced down two shots of tequila and was PLASTERED. I had a massive hangover the next day. I wanted to die. The second time was when I was at a friend’s boyfriend’s house and they served a bottle of peach schnapps. Yum, but ouch once again the next day. These two ‘incidents’ happened in the same year.

Shortly after, I got a job as a bar tender (ha) and learned a lot about alcohol. I could pour the perfect beer, mix cocktails like Tom Cruise and I could even recommend suitable wines to compliment people’s dinner choices. Still, I didn’t become a drinker. I was openly ridiculed by my colleagues.

Then I met my husband. We loved going out together and I tried to develop a taste for alcohol. I tried vodka and orange and after gagging I tried vodka and orange in a tall glass. I tried drinking sweet white wine, several mixer drinks….they all tasted like medicine to me. I just couldn’t do it.

So I don’t drink. But my husband and some friends do. My husband bought expensive imported beer for a dinner party and I used the leftovers to make beer chicken. He was horrified. “Use the cheap stuff next time,” he yelled. “But wasn’t it delicious?” I said.

We decided to go to the Hunter Valley one weekend because that’s what couples from Sydney do. My husband the genius (not) came up with the idea of cycling to the start of the road and stopping at each vineyard on the way back. He did fine but by my second sip of wine (and I mean sip, it barely touched my lips) I was wobbling and had a massive headache. He was so freaked out that he rode next to me the entire way back. We stuck to the cheese and chocolate shops after that. We bought a couple of boxes of wine back with us which I used to make spaghetti sauce. “Where’s all our Hunter Valley wine?” he asked one weekend. “You ate it,” I answered him.

So I don’t drink. I’ve accepted it now. I don’t drink, I don’t try to drink, alcohol tastes like crap to me and I’m never trying it again. But please don’t hassle me. I accept your choice to drink so accept my choice not to. I’ve been abused several times while out for my choice not to drink. One ‘friend’ actually looked at me with pity, as though I lacked sophistication. Maybe I do. But it’s better than forcing myself to do something I hate.

Think of the positives – you always have an designated driver and random breath tests are fun (I got to do the one where you count to ten on Friday night AND they gave me directions home – it’s easy to get lost in Balmain).

I know I’m in the minority and I will always be the non-drinking freak in my circle of friends. But I’ll match you glass for glass when it comes to lattes and soda. And I’ll always serve it at dinner parties. Bottoms up – just not mine!

For beer chicken, fry chicken thighs and onions in olive oil. When brown pour a can or bottle of beer in the pan and simmer until the beer goes sticky. For spaghetti sauce with wine cook your usual sauce but before you bring it to the boil add two cups of white wine, preferably sweet sparkling. For great cake bake a butter cake and then brush each layer with a mixture of coffee and Tia Maria. Add a layer of cream, cover in more cream, sprinkle with chocolate and over the sides with toasted almonds. Think of me fondly as you devour it.

 

Should I choose to be offended? Nah!

18 Mar

 

Two very good friends of mine have given me insights into myself recently. These two comments (which I have no doubt were meant with the utmost love and affection) have left me reeling.

The first comment was that I was a ‘perfectionist’. My friend didn’t mean this to imply that I do everything perfectly…far from it. He meant that I try to do everything perfectly and if one little thing goes wrong I am left dissatisfied. This I believe to be the true definition of a perfectionist. I always thought I’d be happy to be called this because I always took it to mean someone who did things perfectly. We were discussing work at the time and I’ve since realised I am like this in all areas of my life.

I can’t be more grateful to my friend for saying this to me. This has been the root cause of unhappiness on my part my entire life and the saddest part is that I never realised what I was doing to myself.

Every day I try to be a perfect mother. As soon as I give them a less than healthy snack or lose patience I write off the day as terrible and start calling myself a bad mother, all over one or two less than perfect moments. By doing this I choose to take away from all the good things I did that day and I go to bed dwelling on the negative.

I am the same with my diet, my finances, my looks…I start off okay but as soon as one less than perfect thing happens I write off the diet, my budget and how I look.

I need to chill the hell out. Now I understand what someone else who is close to meant when they said I dwell on the negative. This I was offended by but she was right. I never recognised it before.

At thirty-six years of age I have experienced a profound revelation thanks to a dear friend and I really and truly feel that this is a turning point for me.

My kids may not eat perfectly but they are healthy and happy. My teeth may not be as white as I want them to be but at least I have teeth. I might overspend on groceries and books sometimes but it’s not like I’m blowing the mortgage payment on the pokies. Giving myself credit and allowing imperfection is going to be the key to happiness for me from here on in.

Just two weeks later another close friend lovingly called me a people-pleaser. I can honestly say that just with my perfectionist trait I never stopped to think that I was a people-pleaser and once again I have realised that the true definition of a people-pleaser isn’t that I please everyone, it’s that if I don’t please people I feel guilty and sad.

Another epiphany, so late in life, reminding me that it’s never two late to solve the riddle of one’s life.

I have to admit that it does take some practice to stop letting perfectionism ruin my day and to stop feeling guilty for everything I don’t do for people. When it comes to being a people-pleaser (which I was only informed of yesterday) it’s going to take quite a bit of practice to break this bad habit.

I’m much better than I used to be in this regard. Having children makes it much easier to not only let people down but to feel okay about it because my priority is my children. I have been setting limits lately but I’ve been feeling quite badly about it and apologising profusely.

I won’t be able to change overnight so I’ve set myself two challenges. The first is that when I have a less than perfect day I am going to repeat the mantra “Nothing is ruined, everything is just fine”. I also plan to stop apologising when I can’t do something. If I can’t do it, I can’t do it. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop thanking everyone for everything. I just feel so grateful for everything, especially when it comes to work opportunities. My husband tells me that I don’t value myself enough in this regard, that I am getting work but they too are getting my services and work.

Both these labels also explain why I am so unhappy when I think someone doesn’t like me. This happened to me recently in a group I am in and instead of focusing on the twenty people who were happy with me and my help I focused on the one person who seemed to have a beef with me. It took all the joy out of the situation, all the pride and satisfaction. Ridiculous.

I am certainly a work-in-progress and boy do I have some work to do. But with the help of friends like these, I might just make it.

And to my two friends who helped me make these realisations…don’t apologise, don’t explain…just say, “Happy to have helped”, because I am happy too.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

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