Hanging with the Boys


I was a solitary only child with an anthropologist’s interest in groups of people.

And, what I saw made me vow that I had no time for girlfriends.

I liked the boys. Despite their wet-dog smell and their sweaty, rolled-down socks, I liked the way boys said what they meant.

The girls? They may have smelled better, but their talk had dizzying layers.

“Cute haircut,” said with a certain look meant the opposite.

“Fine,” was anything but.

With no siblings, I spent time talking with adults. Adults had no layers in their conversations when talking to children.

“Get the paper,” meant go outside and get the newspaper, not any kind of hidden message.

Even as I grew up, I just didn’t understand women, and I hated their high-pitched bee buzz of conversation.

And the topics of conversation among women?

Babies. Weddings. Clothes. And, always, the men.

Why talk about them when I could just go over and be with them?

Sure, men talked about sports, which I didn’t care about. But also politics. And building stuff. It seemed to me that their conversation was about what was happening in the world.

And, later, I appreciated the appreciation men had for my female-ness. With other women, I felt awkward, loud. With men, I was delicious and charming.

Their drinks were better. Bourbon or whiskey or scotch, not those girly pink cocktails with the sickly sweet taste.

But, then, with age, a funny thing happened. Men seemed angrier. They looked to me to speak as the token woman in their group. It wasn’t enough for me to be a woman; I had to be ALL women.

And, as life took its toll – tragedies, losses – women were the ones who preserved the rituals that brought comfort. Food. Coffee. Flying across the country because the family politics of a particular funeral were just too much for me.

I still have friends who are men. Dear friends who bring so much to my life. But now, I find myself with a hive of women, too.

What I used to hear as the high-pitched bee buzz of female conversation has become a soft hum, a constant background of comfort.

I still won’t drink the girly pink cocktails, though.


Helen Mitternight is a former AP reporter and current freelancer living in downtown Charleston. She headed up public relations for the Humane Society of the...

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