At a recent fund-raiser sponsored by the Heart of Florida United Way Women’s Leadership Council, I sat in a massive auditorium for an event that had attracted 820 people — the overwhelming majority of them women. I was, like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Robert Brown, the CEO of Heart of Florida United Way, one of the few men in the audience.
And while I chatted with the women at my table, I couldn’t help but glance around with a barely concealed grin at the moment when Dyer got up to the podium to speak, and opened by saying “It’s pretty remarkable to see 820 women out there. Maybe Bob Brown and I have better odds.”
My eyes cast a furious glance around that room, because I desperately wanted to catch the reaction. There I was, surrounded by smart, highly professional business women who had paid $75 per ticket or $800 per table to attend the fund-raiser for a council that encourages successful women to help women who are barely able to make ends meet. I wondered how these career women would respond to the kind of gag that I bet most of them thought had disappeared from public events right around the time that Bobby Riggs was getting defeated by Billie Jean King in the Houston Astrodome in the Sept. 20, 1973 Battle of the Sexes.
Instead, to my surprise, I heard the kind of strained, excessively polite laughter that you get when a friend invites you to watch him perform at a comedy club …. and as hard as it seems, you so truly want to be supportive and encouraging. Maybe the audience felt a display of fine manners was in order. It made me wonder if women are a lot more tolerant of men’s zany ways than I had anticipated.
Not being in the dating world, and being gay, I find it endlessly fascinating to watch my straight male buddies and how they interact with women. For several years, I’ve had an ongoing “Bromance” with three straight dudes, and what I’ve enjoyed most has been the endlessly entertaining introduction to a world I’d barely know without them: male-female relationships. Watching from the sidelines, I’ll admit, is a lot of fun. And it’s also a path with plenty of unexpected twists and turns.
Take, for example, the recent night at Happy Hour, when one of my buddies firmed up, then said, “Go ahead, hit me. Smack me right across the face.”
Then he shut his eyes and braced himself.
I sat there on the bar stool, looking confused.
“You want me to slap you across the face?” I said. I don’t get this request very often.
“Yes!” he insisted.
I cringed. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” I said lamely. “I don’t hit people.”
My buddy was disappointed. This is what straight buddies do for one another. See, as a longtime bachelor, he felt like he had moved into dangerous, murky territory, and had …. fallen in love with a woman. And he wanted a guy to smack him hard and say, Get over it.
That buddy wasn’t me. I sat there telling him how great it was that he’d found the one. But it turns out, that’s not what straight guys say to one another in these circumstances. They’re supposed to say, Oh, man, that’s bad. You’re toast.
Little did I know.
My three buddies are unique and fun guys. They’re all comfortable having a gay male friend – the Straight but Not Narrow crowd, I guess you could say. Two of my buddies are pretty macho dudes, with hot tempers that can flare at a moment’s notice. My third buddy expresses virtually no anger at all, but tends to mope when he’s down. My hot tempered pals are surprisingly protective of their gay buddies.
“If I had been there when he did that to you,” one of my Bros said, as the intensity level built up in his voice, “I would have said, ‘You know what, if you ever do that again to my friend Mike, first you’re going to deal with me. Then I’m gonna kick you’re a**.”
My other macho buddy likes to say, “I’m never gonna let anybody mess with you.”
My third buddy doesn’t say things like that. He just tells me how awful my clothes look and wonders why I’m not getting beat up.
But if they’re cool with a gay friend, what’s really fun is stepping into their world and watching how they interact with women. I never knew straight guys had so many different techniques.
Take, for example, the nightclub I was in a few nights ago, with one of my buds. There were more women than men at the club, and I sat quietly as he began talking to two women seated next to him at the bar. He was so soft-spoken, so polite and subdued, as he talked about himself in a relaxed, easy going manner. The conversation was nothing special, but …. wow. Then I noticed it: his body language. It was so subtle that at first I hadn’t pick up on it — although I suddenly could tell that the women had. They seemed hypnotized by the way he’d shift his arms, just enough to flex his muscles, or take in a deep breath and allow the firm chest to stand out. His words, I suddenly realized, meant nothing. It was his body language that was communicating with them, and he spoke in a language of raw masculinity. And the two women? They were totally silent as they listened to him, but their smiles were so radiant that they looked like they’d just won the Florida Lottery. I left the club long before my buddy did that night.
But then my other buddy, who makes no effort to be macho and could be considered the anti-macho, takes me to upscale restaurants with him so I can watch his entirely different way of approaching women. The second one comes into view, he starts cracking jokes, and quickly ropes them in a slick conversation. He’s clever and engaging. Witty. Has hip cultural references. Most of all, he asks them questions and listens to what they say — real empathy.
Totally charmed, the women positively swoon. I get ready to head home at that point.
These are strikingly different ways of communicating with women. One says, If we go back to your place, I’ll make love to you like no one else. The other one says, If I take you on a date, we’ll have great conversation and you’ll think I’m funny and non-threatening.
Both approaches, I’ve noticed, have their admirers.
As for me, I sift through this like the proverbial spider on the wall, watching from a safe distance. My buddies have years of practice, and they know what they’re doing. I love observing them with the opposite sex – particularly since I don’t have to exhaust the time or energy doing the same thing. It looks like hard work, but my buddies claim it’s not, that it’s the greatest sport in the world. At least it doesn’t look as physically demanding as football.
And then — the big news. I suppose it had to happen … one of my buddies just left the field. He made the big announcement that straight guys sometimes have to make, that he’s fallen hopelessly in love, and there’s even a wedding date. Yikes! Now he sends me texts saying he can’t make happy hour because his fiancee has big plans for him that night. Oh, well, it was fun while it lasted.
I still have my other two buddies, who curiously don’t like one another much. My macho bud thinks my laid back pal brings me along with him so he can look good to the women while they glance over and pity me as the hurricane survivor who just crawled out of the wreckage – no competition, in other words.
My laid back bud thinks my other friend is a neanderthal who gives all straight guys a bad name with his macho posturings.
I just know my Bromance pals love to tell me that women are crazy, that they can drive you positively insane.
“But I couldn’t live without them,” one of them told me.
And from my perspective, I have to admit, it’s a lot more fun watching from the sidelines than getting thrown in the middle.
Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com