photo_10896_20091223 Illustration credit: Suat Eman/

Whenever my friends and I go to the pub, something strange occurs. Though we all go there together, the second we arrive there is a separation of the sexes: the women sit at one table and the men at another. It’s kind of like the Red Sea, but instead of Moses it’s a peculiar, old-fashioned standard that parts us.

I suppose no matter the culture, women have their bond with other women and men with men but I still find this automatic, consistent division very hard to understand. While I’ve never been one to pay much attention to social expectations or opinions, I feel self conscious when I move over to the men’s table (and I find I’m almost always the first to make the crossover!). As the evening goes on people eventually mix but there’s always the core male table and female table enforcing the divide with talk of football on one side and babies, handbags and clothes on the other.


This morning I had coffee with my friend Trevor and I realized that he is the only male friend who I spend time with alone. I’ve been friends with both Trevor and his girlfriend for over 13 years, so it’s no big deal for us to spend time together without other people. I do have other male friends in town, but for some reason I think they’d find it strange or perhaps even get the wrong impression if I invited them out because as far as I can see, nobody around here does that. Granted, most of these men are in relationships but back in Los Angeles I had plenty of male friends, married or in serious relationships, that I spent time with – either with them and their partners or just on our own. It wasn’t an issue with the women (they all know and trust me and are secure in their relationships) and none of my guy friends would think anything untoward if I extended an invitation to grab a drink or a bite to eat. I don’t need to preface an invitation with, “Don’t get the wrong impression…” when asking if they want to hang out.

I’m not exactly sure why this would be considered taboo around here, but I have a few ideas. We live in a small town where rumors spread quicker than a bacterial colony in a warm Petri dish. There’s a palatable hunger for gossip around here, and even the most innocent gesture can be misconstrued and broadcast for all to judge. It’s totally possible that my friends worry about this, and I can’t say I blame them; this anxiety is catching and it has affected the way I approach such matters. The other night I was in the neighborhood of a male friend’s apartment, and I thought I’d drop by and see if he wanted to pop into the local pub to grab a beer. But as quickly as the idea came to me it was seized by a rash of concerns: Would people in the pub think we were on a date? Will he think I am asking him out on date? What if someone got the wrong idea and told others? By the time I reached his street I was so frazzled with all the potential misinterpretations of an innocent drink between two friends that I just kept driving, ultimately deciding it just wasn’t worth the trouble.


I suppose it could also have something to do with the fact that I’ve only known these people for six months, which isn’t really that long. But at the same time this is exactly the point where I’m feeling the desire to cultivate these friendships further, which requires time beyond the big group outing where it’s nearly impossible to have a real conversation with any one person. With the women it’s fine; it’s nothing to ring a girlfriend on a Wednesday night for a quick bite and a catch-up. With the guys, there’s a lot of potential for misunderstanding thanks to this old-fashioned but prevalent social convention. Since that’s not going to change any time soon, I know I need to ignore my fears and just do as I normally would. A lot easier said than done.

*Illustration credits: jscreationzs/; Filomena Scalise/