Remember movies where women who interact with men without a chaperone risk their reputation and virtue? Thankfully, most places are free of this chauvinistic concept of women being helpless, dainty creatures unable to make their own decisions and resist the charms of men. Men who are unable to control their urges.
In fact, it is now generally accepted that men and women can have platonic friendships as strong and rich as those with the same sex. I am one of the people who believe that having male friends without having to venture to the cul-de-sac of “benefits” is a thing of reality. Granted, my friendships with male friends are different to those with women, but that doesn’t make them any lesser friendships.
I am also aware that, when romantic feelings are involved, it is difficult, unfair, and possibly impossible to have a true friendship, regardless how much the other person is trying to convince you otherwise or how much time has passed since their declaration. Situations like this are why my recent trip around Thailand turned into two weeks of dodging unwelcome advances from a male friend and enduring man-child sulks. But let’s start from the beginning.
Years ago, when living in Germany and building my social network after yet another move, I met a little middle-aged man with a memory for names and a keen interest in photography and public affairs. Over the next couple of years, we became friends. I enjoyed our occasional trips to the cinema, the odd dinner, and many get-togethers as part of a larger group. I was in a relationship with someone else the majority of this time, and the multi-dimensional disparity between me and this male friend prevented me to suspect there could be romantic feelings involved.
When this male friend declared his love for me, I was first and foremost surprised. I was also aware of how this one-sided situation could be hurtful to him. After all, we have all likely been there, and there are few more soul-crushing things than unrequited love. Offering not to see each other again to not make the situation harder, we fell out of touch for a few months. That is until the day this male friend returned to my life full of reassurances of his friendship and nothing more.
Fast forward several years, I live in Thailand and throughout this time me and this male friend kept in touch. We got to talking about him having some unused holidays and he was thinking about coming to Thailand. I welcomed the idea. Exploring more of Thailand whilst catching-up up with an old friend seemed like a nice way to spend a couple of weeks. What I didn’t know was that our ideas were not exactly aligned.
This became apparent the first night where I was the target of a clumsy attempt at passionate kiss disguised as a very firm “good night, nice to see you again” hug from this male friend. Having wiggled my way out of this one, it set the tone for the rest of the trip. Feeling permanently on edge, I slowly realized that for some men, no amount of “NO”s is big enough. More hugs, arms around my shoulder, and other attempts at physical closeness ensued. Some resembling those of a three-legged chihuahua pouncing on its victim’s ankle when she least expects it.
Thankfully, I’m not one to hold back and eventually got my point across. The moment this landed, my travel companion’s behavior changed. A clumsy hunter became a sulking man-child. Another less than ideal set-up for a relaxing holiday.
The following few days brought awkward silences, disengagement from any neutral topic of conversation I tried to bring up, sneaky solo excursions out, and an unannounced check-out of a common hotel and the covert check-in to another place. The cherry on the top was then a secret departure from Chiang Mai without saying good bye.
Having thought about all this, if I was to be perfectly honest, I should have known. I should have known that this male friend was coming to Thailand with hopes of something more than a friendship. Despite my absolute certainty of zero encouragement on my part, I was perhaps naïve to assume his feelings over time would go away or at least mellow enough to make this a pleasant holiday. Despite the reassurances that is.
Notwithstanding the residue feelings, misguided visions, and incomprehension of the word “no”, the child-like sulks, passive aggressive silences, and the clandestine departure are not worthy of a grown man. As I write this post, I am aware of this bridge being burnt once and for all. But, truth be told, when “no” longer means “no” and an adult man turns into a spoilt brat when faced with an inevitable rejection, taking a torch to it might just be the best way.