My best friend is a boy. We sit together in pub gardens in the freezing cold, fishing weird white bits out of cold pints of cheap scrumpy. We laugh at each other, and ourselves. We fight over whose round it is because we always think the other is more skint than they’re letting on.
And when people find out that he’s a boy they ask some version of this: ‘so have you fucked?’
My best friend is a bloke. I sit beside him in the front seat of his clapped-out car and we sing along to bands that he’s seen live fifty-six times. Sometimes I light cigarettes for him, or open cans of Coke. Sometimes he lets me use the pump when we stop at a petrol station. His car is filled with crisp packets, fag ash, empty bottles and the smell of Glastonbury, and gently teasing him about it is one of the best bits of the journey.
We have fun, the two of us. We have a lot of fun.
And people say ‘so have you fucked?’
My best friend wasn’t always my best friend. I used to avoid him, because I was cruel and self-absorbed and shallow and seventeen. And though we never had a conversation about being friends – a formal one, where one of us issued a gold-lettered invitation to the other that said ‘will you be my bestie?’ – I can tell you exactly when I first realised I wanted to be his.
It was a rainy weekday in 2002 and I was chain-smoking to mark the time. Not pass – mark. I was between classes at college, and I didn’t have a watch or a phone. I didn’t have a coat either. Or friends. Or anywhere to be for two hours. A double free period during which all I could do was sit and read and stare at the rain. I sat on a bench under a tree near my college, getting dripped on, and waiting for time to pass.
I am not going to go into why I was so lonely – that isn’t a story I want to tell. All you need to know, really, is that I was achingly, horribly lonely. This time – around eighteen months of it – all looks the same in my memories. Me, sitting on a bench, reading and smoking to mark the passage of time. Endless hours of it. Wrapped in hoodies, getting drizzled on or windswept or shivering and gritting my teeth. Eating Greggs pasties and sometimes crying but mostly trying to put a defiant look on my face as I sat on my bench and pretended it was where I wanted to be.
Lonely. Cold. Lonely. Wet. Lonely.
And one day, by chance, he rode past me on his bike – did a double-take and made a beeline straight for me. I didn’t even notice him until he announced:
I looked him up and down, pulled my face into a defiant expression and replied:
“What are you doing here in the rain?”
I didn’t go into detail. Didn’t tell him how lonely I was. Just explained that I had nowhere else to go, then made a face that said ‘leave me alone.’
He didn’t. Instead, he sat down and started chatting. Telling me silly stories from his day, and the crappy job he was holding down while I was busy chain-smoking on a bench. By the end of our conversation I knew him a little better, and I managed to crack a smile.
“Why did you come and sit with me?” I asked him. “You don’t know me that well – you could have just left.”
He shrugged. Stared at the rain that was by now dripping on both of us and just said:
“You looked like you needed a friend.”
My best friend is a guy, and he has always been there for me. When we’ve been thousands of miles apart he’s emailed me gossip and jokes and pictures. When we’ve lived in the same house he’s come barreling in from work with a crate of cider and a story to crack me up.
When I mention him in passing or relate funny things ‘my best mate’ has said, people often reply with ‘she sounds cool.’ And I don’t always bother to correct them, because if I do I know what they will ask:
Have you fucked?
He’s been my best friend through countless trials and traumas: advised me on relationships and ribbed me for one-night stands. He’s meted out the same style of cheerful, geeky kindness to all my boyfriends and lovers: the ones who didn’t like him as well as the ones who did.
And every guy I’ve known has asked me: so have you fucked?
My best friend is a dude. He is kind and caring and loving and selfless. He has teased, encouraged, and inspired me to be a better person than I was when we first knew each other. He’s irritatingly chirpy, bad at admitting when he’s sad, reckless and argumentative and usually incredibly drunk. He’s funny, and generous, and when I’m hungover he brings me double-cheeseburgers, and when you ask how he takes his coffee he’ll respond with ‘surprise me!’ He makes me laugh and he makes me feel seventeen and he tries to make me come out dancing on a weekday and I love him I love him I love him.
But how and why I love him doesn’t matter. Nor does the loneliness and the bench and the grim, rainy weekday. Nor all the times he’s held me while I cried or helped me when I’m struggling or made me laugh or driven me up the wall. The nights we’ve spent together sharing a bed or a bottle of vodka or a screaming row about politics: they don’t really matter either.
Because my best friend is a boy.
So have we fucked?
This blog post was inspired by a massive discussion on Twitter today sparked by this tweet from Oloni. There is a tonne of stuff I want to talk about surrounding friendship, gender and sex, so this blog post will likely be the first of a few on this topic. I have many, many thoughts on straight female/male close friendships, because mine is so important to me. It will always be important to me, and that importance has little to do with whether or not we’ve fucked.