The Politics of Making Friends

Sometimes a friend is just that not into you.  As for myself, I live by The Orange Cat Theory.

In 1985, when I began preschool at Mother’s Day Out at the First Methodist Church of Fort Payne, I was introduced to the concept of friendship.  For the first time in my life, really.  Because from ages 0 to 4 all I really knew was family.  But now that I had been dropped off with kids my own age, I began to grasp was a society was.  Within this group of people were even closer groups of people.  Called friends.

The catch phrase of 1985, the thing I heard the most at preschool was this:  “I’ll be your best friend…”  If a classmate of mine wanted one of my cookies, wanted to hold my stuffed animal, wanted to cut ahead of me in line, I heard:

“I’ll be your best friend…”

What went through my head as a 4 ½ year old was, “What if I don’t want you to be my best friend?”  Did my classmates not assume I already had a best friend?  Should my true best friend lose their status with me on account of a cookie?  Did I look like the kind of kid who was “best friend deprived”?

Was it not enough that Alex Igou and I played with our toy fire engine trucks together during “free time?  And that Simon Millazzo and I always sat next to each other everyday as we waited for our moms to pick us up?  And what about the fact that I went over to Russell McElhaney’s house and saw the GI Joe fort his brother made in the backyard and that his mom was the first to introduce me to a delicious dessert called the “brownie”?

The promise to be my best friend was being held over me as a bribe, but I had no interest in taking it.  And this, in 1985, was my introduction to friendship.  Twenty-five years later, I don’t have acquaintances offering their conditional friendship.  Because I know, just like I did as a 4 year-old, friendship shouldn’t have to be conditional.

Yet I still see some complication in adult friendships.  When the relationship is perfectly mutual, 50/50, that’s when things come easy.  But looking back on my lifetime of friendships, even starting around age 10, I can think of several friendships where it wasn’t a 50/50 deal.

I was always the one going to their house; they wouldn’t come to mine.  I was always the one to call them; they wouldn’t call me.  I was always the one to set up plans; they didn’t include me in their own.  I took the initiative in the friendship.  And I never questioned the authenticity of us being friends.  Because it’s in my nature to be the initiator, the one who calls first, the planner.

But by high school, I realized that I felt I was having to “earn” certain friendships.  That I was having to prove myself good enough, or even more illogically, that I was cool enough for them.

It all goes back to the summer of 1988 when my mom took my sister and I to this lady’s house to both choose a pet cat for ourselves.  We got out of our Bronco II and went into the friendly woman’s kitchen, where we saw a litter of kittens.

For some reason I was always drawn to the orange cats (probably had something to do with Morris the Cat).  So I wanted the orange cat in the litter.  I stretched my arm to him.  The orange cat seemed indifferent towards me.  While that was happening, my mom must have noticed the white and brown spotted cat fighting for my attention:  “Nick, pick the cat that comes to you on his own.”  So I walked away with that cat.  I named him Gabriel.  He liked me.

Most importantly, from that day I learned a valuable lesson about relationships:  Choose to be close to the people that show the most interest in you.  Because that’s a sign of a good friend.  Choosing my friends this way has definitely paid off.

And sure enough, the few times I did spend effort on recruiting an “orange cat” for a friend (applies to romantic interests as well) it never worked out.  My Orange Cat Theory has proven true in my own life.  When it all comes down to it, Morris the Cat isn’t as cool as he thinks he is.

The Orange Cat Theory:

As opposed to choosing a relationship based on your own preconceived notions about someone who seems really cool but causes you to reach out to them, instead look around first to see if someone is reaching out for you.  Choose “the cat that comes to you on their own”, not the orange cat.

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Manspeak, Volume 7: Bromance

It’s not simply a fad. It’s much more complex than that. It’s not simply a gimmick to make more money in the theatres. It’s a clue that we as Americans have missing been out on something. The newfound popularity and acceptance of bromance is simply a realization that men were meant love each other, not just women.

America is good at teaching men masculinity: Rocky, Rambo, The Terminator, He-Man, GI Joe. It’s been ingrained in us our whole lives. We don’t have a problem accepting the fact that men are meant to be tough. Men are born to protect and defend. I think we do that pretty well. But while the bald eagle holds 13 arrows in one claw, he also holds 13 olive branches in the other.

Living overseas in Asia taught me a lot about American men. Though I was told that there were a lot of transvestites in Thailand, it wasn’t until my second summer over there that I was able to recognize them. I then came to the conclusion that the reason there are so many men living their lives as women there is because it is not culturally acceptable to be gay in Thailand, at all.

So when it’s not acceptable in a country at all to be gay (as compared to America where it’s not popular but there’s a growing level of acceptance), to take out the possibly of any men around being gay, it affects the cultural behavior of a nation. Men can be close without any possible thought of the other thinking he is sexually attracted to him. And even more relevant, there is not so much a possibly of awkwardness because of that. In the Philippine’s, it is common for men show their friendship publicly by holding hands.

But before there was Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker, before there was Owen Wilson & Ben Stiller, before there was Joey & Chandler, there was a time when men truly weren’t afraid to hug and be close. It simply symbolized their friendship but was nothing more.

My eyes were opened when I read Moby Dick in college. The 1851 novel was written in the American-Romanticism period, and while the theme of Christianity is more obvious than Season 5 of LOST, something else that really captured my attention and even became the topic of my final paper for that class was the bromantic relationship between the protagonist Ishmael (a 5’ 9” New England native) and his ship mate Queequeg (a 6’ 7” South Seas tribesman of mixed race).

The two men quickly become best friends and the narrator, Ishmael, is not reluctant to elaborate regarding his friendship. They simply slept in the same quarters and were close friends, but reading it with today’s mindset can make it easily be interpreted differently:

“How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.”  -Herman Melville (Moby Dick)

Something else that really opened by eyes to bromance was when I started paying close attention to Jesus and His disciples in the New Testament. They were not hesitant to show physical affection for each other. At the Last Supper, look at Peter’s physical closeness to Jesus during dinner.

“Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, Peter said to Him, “Lord, who is it?”  -John 13:25

Imagine 12 dudes eating dinner in today’s society and one leans back on the other’s chest to ask him a question. Completely not acceptable.

Even this week I ran across something odd in the Old Testament as I was finishing up Genesis. This is where Jacob is blessing his sons before he dies:

“He called his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Now if I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt.”  -Genesis 47:29

In their culture, a son could make a vow to his father by placing his hand under his father’s thigh, or as my Bible’s study notes explain, it was a gentler way of saying his “procreative organ”. Think of how not acceptable that is today.

We’ve obviously come a long way since Biblical times regarding same-sex friendship and closeness. But even the culture that was present 158 years ago in Moby Dick paints a completely different picture compared to what is acceptable in American same-sex friendship today. The title of Moby Dick itself serves a perfect example of how far we’ve come. Add to that the fact that the story involves the close friendship of shipmates. That’s a lot of joke material for a 15 year-old boy to work with.

In fact, in recent decades there have been critics of Moby Dick claim that the book has homosexual undertones. Key phrase: “in recent decades”. For its time, the behavior found in the novel was not seen at all as a curious thing. It was normal back then.

I say it’s no wonder that today’s culture loves bromance. Men were made for close friendship with other men but are taught to hide their feelings because it’s not masculine to show them. When I think about it, several of my top favorite movies of all time have a heavy dose of bromance: Rocky 3, Plains Trains and Automobiles, Zoolander, Pineapple Express, Band of Brothers. And Hollywood knows it’s a winning formula.

The truth is, compare the box office sales of pretty much any Judd Apatow and/or Seth Rogan movie (bromantic comedies) to any romantic comedy made since 2005. Bromance wins every time. Romance, on the other hand, can be an unpredictable thing.

The best 3 minutes of recorded bromance, courtesy of 1982:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0qVUn4797g

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

bert-and-ernie

Originally posted in April 2009 on facebook as “The History of Bromance”, which helped inspire the Manspeak series.

Manspeak, Volume 5: Movement

There are several obvious things that men are universally drawn to: women, sports, food, and watching bloody movies.  And then there are some that are less obvious, but just as common:  made-up handshakes and insulting/weird nicknames for each other, lying around for a good solid hour when we get home from work everyday, and not noticing little details like the pillows on the couch being out of place.


And here’s another one that is rarely noticed or acknowledged: Men are wired to want to help people move.  A few weeks ago I helped my good friend and neighbor Dave move to a rental apartment as he and his wife are in the process of building their first house.  I was expecting to see just a few more of our friends there.  Instead, there were about 20 of us there that Saturday morning.


As I run in my neighborhood, there have been several instances in the last few weeks where I encountered people who needed help moving a new TV or a shelf from their car into their house.  They saw a sweaty guy running laps and assumed I can handle the job.  I just hope they didn’t mind their TV smelling like sweat.


I have never been bothered by anyone who has everyone asked me to help them move.  In fact, in a way it’s almost an honor to be recruited:  There are unspoken, underlying, suggested compliments which translate to “You’re a strong guy/I need your strength/you are needed/you have what it takes/not just anyone can do this job for me, but you can”.


It doesn’t require a lot of strength or skill from a man.  But it does require a man who’s willing to forgo sleeping in on a Saturday morning, showing up in a cheesy t-shirt with sleeves cut off exposing his random bicep tattoo.  And while females are definitely capable of helping a person move, it’s a calling that men instantly respond to.  Like the same magnetic force causing men’s fists to want to punch Spencer Pratt in the face, it also draws them to pick up an end of the couch and cautiously walk backwards towards the truck.


Deprived of using our able bodies in the modern work force (most of us sit in front of a computer all day), our male ancestors actually “worked” for a living.  They got a daily workout by farming and building the cities we now live in.  Life in air conditioning is nothing to complain about, but there is the lack of physical stress that makes a person desire to actually use their muscles; hence gym membership and hobbies involving sports.


Men must move for things to happen.  Whether it’s moving off the recliner and involving himself with his family, or moving his family to where he can find a better job to provide for them.  Maybe it all goes back to the action figures we had as kids.  We didn’t mimic family life the way our sisters did with Barbies and baby dolls.  Our GI Joes, Ninja Turtles, and Star Wars action figures were on a mission.  To kick some bad guy butt.


Men are action figures.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com


Star Wars