September 17, 2011

the men in my life

When I went to university at the age of 18, it was my first experience of living away from home and doing what I wanted to whenever I wanted to do it.  I went to a girls' school (two, actually) and I made some of my dearest friends there (sure I lost touch with some of them but thanks to facebook, these wonderful people are back in my life and it seems nobody knows me better).  But when I left home, naive, inexperienced, fresh faced and solitary, my world opened up.

The highlight of that time... well, there are many.  I didn't know how to cook - years of being told to go and study rather than hang out in the kitchen with my mum didn't seem like such a great thing when I was suddenly alone and devoid of any kitchen skills.  That said, I learned quickly, and now I love to cook (because I love to eat) and I became exposed to food I didn't even know existed.  Then there was discovering freedom and all the things that come with it.  The music (oh, the music), the parties, video games, the drugs, the financial irresponsibility (which thankfully is now financial responsibility), self discipline (that one comes and goes) and boys.

As someone who'd always been surrounded by girls (not only did I go to all girls' schools, but I also have two younger sisters), it was quite the thing to now be in this liberal place where everyone was the same and everyone treated everyone else with this cool, educated respect, and we were free to be and be with whoever we wanted.  It was a first for me to have platonic, respectful relationships with boys, and also romantic ones too.  I suddenly felt like I was being myself for the first time in my life, free of the expectations of my parents, and the rules that had surrounded my childhood.

I had been brought up to believe that relationships with boys were trouble and nothing else, that it wasn't possible to have a connection with a man other than my father or my future husband, that I would marry a man chosen by my parents and until that day, looking pretty, wearing make up, saying and doing what I wanted were not allowed, not possible.  Except everything I was now experiencing was the exact opposite of that.  I met guys who were into the same music, the same books, the same sense of humour as me and they weren't interested in having sex with me!  At least, I never knew it if they did.  These guys (and some gals too) became my best friends and I went from my first living experience at uni of an all girls on-campus flat to a shared house with three other boys and a girl who was never really around much.  It was then that I started to realise I was way better with boys than I am with girls.  

I met Troy, my dear friend Troy, the geezer that could drink anyone under the table and treated every event as an opportunity to enjoy himself.  Today he has boys of his own and he is someone I want my own boys to meet and look up to.  His friend Kris, the 7' giant with whom I shared a North London flat for many years.  There was Paul, the guy I was in a relationship with for almost seven years - maybe I'll write about that one day - for the most part, it was a happy time of my life, discovering what I wanted out of a relationship, and it was also a sad time of my life, discovering what I wanted wasn't going to be with him.  But through him, I met Ben, who is as dear a friend as anyone could have.  He too has boys of his own now too, shares his music with me, provides an ear when times are hard and has an imagination and ability with words that nobody else has.  His brother Toby, the geek with the video games, who was always up for a game of something and is one of the smartest boffins I know.  Seamus, the guy I was always a little wary of, didn't really know what to think of him until years into our friendship, when I realised he was a kindred spirit.  There was Neil, my funny French/Scot accountancy lecture companion who provided the inspiration to work hard and do my best and I am certain I owe a big part of where I am in my career today to him.  And Steve, who played the guitar, who liked the same music, who looked after me when I'd had a pint too many, and who made the best fried egg sandwiches.  I could go on.

There were girls too, and they too were and still are hugely influential in their own ways and I don't want to understate how important these friendships are, but it's the relationships with the boys that seem to stay with me.  With the exception of Paul (and I tried), I am still in touch with all of them to varying degrees, and it's been quite amazing seeing them go from university students, to ambitious, driven men, or fathers, or husbands, or older versions of their youthful selves or all of those things.  The experience of knowing them and seeing them become the men they are provides me with such a sense of optimism.

Since then, the trend has continued.  At work I have forged some of the best relationships with men, men who are smart, funny and loyal.  And then, of course, somehow, I got lucky and met the amazing man I was to marry, the man who somehow encompasses all the wonderful things about the other men in my life and more.  And after almost ten years together, we now have little men of our own.  Little men, who have so much to teach me about themselves, their aspirations, and little men that I hope one day will meet the big men in my life, the men that have shaped their mother and her idea of what a good man is.  And perhaps, if I am lucky, they will take note, and see what I see and become good men themselves.

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