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Women Touch, Men Get Touchy

February 04, 1996|ROBIN ABCARIAN

We were on the elevator, the two beautiful blonds and I, discussing a matter of crushing personal importance--that is, how much we loved the gray flannel pants worn by one of the blonds and how much they cost. We were caressing the soft wool fabric, oohing and aahing as we ran our hands up and down her hips. The tip of her silver-trimmed leather belt had come out of its loop and the other blond reached over to tuck it back in. It was an intimate, and entirely female, gesture.

And just as she nudged the belt back into its loop, the elevator door opened and two men walked on. Their eyes widened as they saw the blond's hands at the other one's waist with such an easy, familiar attitude.

Nervous giggles. (Theirs, not ours.)

"What's going on in here?" said one, his mock outrage tinctured with a distinct note of titillation.

It was one of those moments that separates the bulls from the cows, a bolt of lightning above the sexual landscape that illuminates something ordinarily obscured--the chasm between the friendships of men and the friendships of women.

Women put their hands all over each other and what is conveyed is nothing more than what is intended: feelings of genuine fondness and communion. "Here," my running partner offers as we slog along our route, "feel how fat my butt is. Can you believe how much it's jiggling?" I put my hand on her rump. "Nah," I counter, "you want fat? Feel this."

Men, despite the recent popularity of hugging and bonding rituals, touch each other at the risk of calling their sexual identities into question. (Point of clarification: Heterosexuals, anyhow.)

And it's not just that men don't touch and share, it's that they seem both threatened and fascinated by the fact that women do.

Our husbands would be astonished, and no doubt irritated, if they realized that my best friend and I know more about each other's sexual pasts than our men do. I know, for instance, that she was once caught doing it standing up in a laundry room with a man who belonged to someone else. And she knows that I went the distance with a man in some Roman ruins in Libya once upon a time. (They inspired Edward Gibbon and they really inspired me.) And I would wager that neither of our husbands, who are good friends as well, has the slightest hint of each other's premarital peccadilloes.

Nor do they ever, ever, ever discuss their current sex lives, which is one of our most intensely examined topics.

My husband is manly but sensitive, and the combination is greatly appealing to my women friends. But the one time I designated him an Honorary Girlfriend and allowed him out on the town with the chicks and me, we had a minor marital disaster.

See, when I make a joke about my sex life to my girlfriends, they understand it to be just that and nothing more. We are all the mothers of young children, we all have randy husbands and we talk pretty much incessantly about the difficulties of meeting the demands of both spouses and spawn. So when, at dinner with my buds, I made an innocuous lighthearted comment about the infrequency of our encounters in the first years of our daughter's life, my husband thought I was calling his libido into question. In reality, I'd been making fun of my own.

His response--a glum face and hurt feelings--violated the spirit of girlfriendom. So we kicked him out of the club.

For his own good.

In the annals of social science, a place where one can find studies on the goofiest topics, the issue of the male response to the intimate female friendship has surely been put under a microscope. I can't find anything on the topic, though.

There are lots of papers about women and friendship: studies purporting to prove that women maintain stronger social networks of friends than men; studies showing that married women who have networks of girlfriends are considerably happier than those who don't; studies alleging, paradoxically, that married women with lots of girlfriends are more stressed out than married women with few girlfriends because of the strains inherent in juggling obligations to pals with obligations to family.

And there seems to be a whole new literary genre about women's relationships. In the last few months, the mail has brought little celebratory volumes: "Women Make the Best Friends" and "Girlfriends: Invisible Bonds, Enduring Ties."

Maybe I'm not on the right lists, but no such books about men have come over the transom. And in truth, they would probably wither on the shelf.

I don't know about you, but I can't think of a single guy who'd be caught dead with a copy of "Boyfriends: Our Footballs, Our Feelings."

* Robin Abcarian's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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