When a man and a woman start spending time together, people seem to automatically think the two are a couple of the romantic/sexual variety.
I hate the term “just friends,” as if only romantic and/or sexual involvements are somehow real and friendship is lesser. Calling a relationship just a friendship means it’s only a friendship and puts the friendship lower on the relationship hierarchy.
But yes, my new friend is a man, and it seems like many of the people who encounter us are trying to figure out what’s going on between us. It’s not unusual for me to have male friends, so I didn’t even consider what other people might think they were seeing.
It started subtlely, while we were still at the RTR. A woman I knew stopped by to talk to my friend and very formally apologized to me for possibly interrupting anything.
Oh no, I reassured her. No problem. But I thought her apology was a little weird, since she’d never apologized for walking up on a conversation I’d been having with a lady friend.
It happened more openly the last night we stayed at the RTR site. The stragglers got together for a dinner around the main campfire. I was grateful to have been invited, and part of me wanted to go, but my social anxiety kicked in too. I probably would have talked myself out of going had my new friend not walked across the way with me and carried our contribution to the meal, a big pot of beans and rice and green chilis (in honor of our upcoming trip to New Mexico).
We hadn’t been sitting around the fire for long when a woman stood in front of my friend and said, Are you with Blaize?
Well, bless her heart for asking a direct question, but I’m not sure what the preposition “with” meant to her. It seemed a strange way to phrase the question. Are you Blaize’s friend? I might have asked or How do you know Blaize? But no, she wanted to know if he was with me.
The weird part of the interaction was that I didn’t know the woman. My friend thought the interrogator must have also been my friend, but I didn’t recognize her as someone I’d ever met. Maybe she’d picked up my name at one of the women’s meetings or when I’d held up my book and mentioned my upcoming reading during morning announcements.
I just let my friend field the question of whether or not he was with me. After all, I hadn’t been addressed.
About the time I turned to speak to the woman on my left, I heard my buddy say, Well, I’m her friend, in his slow Southern drawl. The rest of his explanation was lost in my conversation, and I didn’t hear any questions that may have followed.
When I told the woman on my left that my new friend and I would be traveling together, I could tell the wheels were spinning in her head as she tried to understand our relationship. I answered all of her questions. No, we weren’t taking two vehicles. No, we weren’t consolidating our belongings and jettisoning duplicates. We were just going on a road trip together with all our stuff. I could tell she still wasn’t exactly sure what was going on with me and the guy.
The next day when I stopped to say good-bye to the woman who’d so formally apologized for her interruption, she gently probed me for information on the status of the relationship I had with the fellow.
We’re friends, I told her. We’re going to take a trip together.
But you never know, right? she prompted.
Sure, I agreed. You never know.
I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have been talking that way if a woman had been joining me for a few days in the van.
So my friend and I have reached our destination safe and sound. It was a blissfully uneventful trip with no catastrophes to report. We stopped at a couple of free campgrounds along the way, and my friend and his dog slept in a tent while I curled up cozy in my van. We had many deep conversations, as well as a lot of laughs. (On several occasions, this man has made me laugh until tears rolled down my face, my sides hurt, and I gasped for breath. He’s a funny one.)
We’re talking about buying some cheap land together in the mountains, make ourselves a place to stay in the summers. I suspect we’ll continue to field questions about our relationship status if we’re living on the same quarter acre.