Being Friends with the Opposite Sex
There are so many things that we find as ‘normal’ in everyday life that it can be hard to adapting to other cultures’ ‘normals’. One of the things that we tend to assume is the same everywhere are the roles that gender play in our daily life, but I have to admit I've been surprised here in Spain. When we are thrown into different cultures it can be difficult to understand and interpret how these roles change. Questions like the types of friendships that exist in different cultures can leave us wondering where we stand with others.
Personally, I have always had male friends―I was a bit of a tom-boy growing up and have always spent time with groups of guys. That is sort of a weird idea where I am living now because the relationships between males and females are different than what I grew up with. It is not an easy idea to explain to someone who hasn’t lived this experience, though, because the difference is not purple and yellow (opposite colors on a color wheel in case you are wondering), but nuances in daily life. I once had a good conversation with a friend who told me that he really appreciates my friendship because I am one of the only girls who wasn’t looking for anything ‘more’ with him. He proceeded to go on and tell me stories about how girls who he thought were his friends, but turned out to only want something more than friendship. He also told me that he had a male friend who once told him something along the lines of “I don’t have friends who are girls, I just know girls I haven’t hooked up with yet.”*
As someone who likes to hang out with guys in a relaxed way, this idea of only being friends with someone of your same sex is very odd for me. In fact, I could not imagine that world! I learn so much from my friends of all shapes and sizes and if I was only friends with girls, my perception of a lot of things would be quite different. It would also make me quite sad because some of my favorite people to have in-depth conversations with are guys. However, I do recognize that my interpretation of friendships doesn’t necessarily always fit Spanish culture.
For example, I am a hugger. That means that I much prefer to hug people I know over giving them the two kisses in Spanish fashion (which seems way less personal than a hug to me). However, I have had a good female friend of mine say to me that she wouldn’t like it if I acted that way with her boyfriend―even knowing that I don’t actually mean anything but a hug and that I hug both guys and girls equally. I have also had a guy friend tell me that it is weird how I hug everybody―he told me that he likes it because a hug is personal and nice, but it is also a strange thing to do.
I still spend a lot of time with just guys. For example, when I play fútbol, I play with 13 males. Sometimes, when we are done, we go for beers and I can hang out with them for several hours. This isn’t totally normal in Spanish culture, but we find our own rhythm and the guys accept me for who I am (a weird American girl who wants to play soccer). It also probably helps that I play with my brother, and consequently his friends. Maybe they only see me as a smaller, female version of him...?
Finding my personal balance in this culture isn’t always easy, and I know that I will not always get it right with everyone (it is definitely still a learning process for me). There will be times when I give off the wrong message just by being who I am, but most of the time I feel like I am (somewhat) understood. And the more time I spend with people, the better we comprehend where the other is coming from. (And I feel lucky because compared to other cultures, fitting into Spanish culture isn't even that difficult.)
The path to finding your own way in your new world, wherever it may be, is going to take time; it may be hard and you will probably face misunderstandings along the way. At the same time it will also be fun and a wonderful learning opportunity. Try to learn not only about this new culture, but also about yourself―who do you like to hang out with? How do you like to communicate your friendship? Figuring out answers to questions like these will help you be able to thrive in your new home.
*Talking to this same friend the other day he told me that he thinks that the trends are changing, that younger people have an easier time making friends with the opposite sex. So that is encouraging, but I will remember the shock I received in the initial conversation about the limits he saw on friendships between guys and girls in Spain at the time.