When my best friend in grammar school called me a “ladies’ man,” he hurled the words at me with the intention to hurt. He spit the phrase out like an epithet. It was the beginning of the end of our idyllic friendship, which had included secret forts, ambitious games of hide and seek involving the whole neighbourhood, and a rich bestiary of invented contraptions built in my basement. It did not, however, include women (girls, to be precise) and when they appeared in our lives, it became a dividing line.
(I still remember where I was standing and what I was wearing when he said those words. What I was wearing provoked the outburst: a pink oxford shirt. Most of all, I remember the hatred with which he spat them out, but it was the virulence behind the words — not the words themselves — that stung me.)
Later, in my motorcycle period, there was the night the woman appeared at the bar and the friendship that was blossoming with my new riding buddy went out the door when she walked in.
It wasn’t so much a matter of competition over women, but rather the evidence that I would never be as close to a man as I would be to a woman that turned these men away. It was so clear to me that my friendships with men could never rival those I had with women that I never even questioned it. For me, women are women and men are men. Two castes. Two separate worlds. The idea that I could have a connection with a man that rivals the connection I develop with women strikes me as so ridiculous that I have never entertained it.
Men are okay. I do have some wonderful male friends now, but the truth is that they are safe, comfortable, supportive relationships not head-spinning, throw-one’s-life-to-the-wind relationships that could provoke me to do irrational things. With a woman I feel I am on the verge of a deep tunnel that will lead me directly to the root of all things: life, death, pleasure, pain, transcendence. I feel they are my guides into another world. The things I value most – my writing, my music, my artistry as a way of life – are intimately connected to women: inspired by them, created for them, pleading to them, courting them.
Faced with the choice of staying safely rooted to the surface of this life or submerging myself in the dark and mysterious voyage that is women, well, the answer is: I left long ago.