Picture this: you’re friends with a man. You respect and value your friendship, and you see it as nothing but, in fact, the idea of anything beyond the scope of friendship has never crossed your mind. Maybe you’re even close and have a relationship beyond cursory interactions and feel like you can be vulnerable with them. When you’re around them, you shed the defenses you typically have with men. You’re not on guard and on edge because you trust them and believe they are 100% gang. Then boom, one day, they’re proclaiming feelings for you or, even worse, making unwanted, unwarranted sexual advances.
There are few things more heartbreaking as a woman than seeing a man you deemed a friend violate those boundaries. The sinking feeling in your stomach when you realise that things will likely never be the same again, and you may have to let go of that connection because they have ruined it by moving to you is one that is all too familiar to many women.
Don’t get me wrong, friends-to-lovers is a universal favourite trope for a reason. It is in fact very possible to fall in love with or simply want to sleep with your friend, but, it essentially hinges on mutual interest and attraction, not one party waking up out of the blue one day to come and tell you he likes you or your friend randomly trying to kiss you when you’ve never even thought in that direction or you’ve shut it down already.
In a friendship, if one party’s feelings start to pivot in another direction, it is not a crime. Feelings happen. Horniness however is a silly reason to violate the bond that you share with someone; is nothing sacred? Men should first consider, “Might they be into me too?” “Am I sure that I want to alter the state of this friendship with this declaration?” “Are my feelings serious and honest enough?” Unless this is the case, then they should weigh the importance of that relationship and keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves if they do not meet the requirements.
It is infuriating when women feel like they can not simply be valued as friends by men. Does there need to be more? Is the joy of friendship not enough?
Do you know what else really grinds my gears? When men use every opportunity to make sexual advances. You’ll be friends with a man, small booze and weed, and he sees it as his mandate to try to sleep with you. When there is an atmosphere of fun and enjoyment, like say, at a party, men seem to expect that women become less inhibited to the point that they’ll want to do sexual shit even where there has been no indication of interest in any such thing in their relationship prior to that. One minute you’re having a good time with your friend; next thing, he’s rubbing on you and behaving like if his sexual desires are not met that second, he will die.
You can’t sleep with everyone, and you shouldn’t want to. Friendships are complete and sufficient relationships in themselves. There is no need to segue from ready, set and established boundaries except both parties want to, and honestly, except in rare circumstances, I daresay that most women would rather their male friends stayed friends and did not join the horde of men trying to sleep with them. Sometimes, all a girl needs is a good friend, and that position should be gender-neutral.
I believe that men do not understand the gravity of these types of actions, or they simply do not care. Women go through life being propositioned by random men constantly; catcalled, harassed and bothered by the wills and wants of men they are uninterested in, sexually or romantically. A person’s friends should be a safe space for them, and women should be able to relax around the men they consider their friends without feeling a boner against their backs and hot breaths against their necks.
It is nothing short of betrayal when a friend violates your boundaries, it might even hurt more than when random strangers do it because of the added layer of trust. Excuses (albeit limited) may be made where feelings are involved, but where the desire is just sex? Get real. It should not be hard to simply keep those desires to yourself, and more importantly, it should not be hard to see women as people worthy of friendship beyond the mere potential of sex so that when a man is friends with a woman, the thought of sleeping with her does not even occur to him.
22-year-old Ada says she doesn’t have a lot of male friends because she doesn’t like men like that. This one however, she thought was cool; that he was genuinely her guy. Then one day, she went to visit him and he kept making weird sexual comments about how he didn’t know how he’d been able to stay away from her so long, etc. She kept inching away from him but she couldn’t leave because it was raining. Eventually, he slept and left her alone but continued to make lecherous comments via text when she went home. To make things worse, she was in a relationship at the time and he knew. He’d also known her since she was a minor and he was much older and a self proclaimed feminist. When Ada went home, she felt icky, so she sent him a text about it and blocked him everywhere. “I didn’t want a back and forth, and I didn’t want him to try to gaslight me about how I felt so I blocked him and moved on.”
Chi, 21, was trying to be nice to a guy who had been trying to get close to her for a while. He was a transfer student and she felt sympathy towards him because according to him, he claimed he had been struggling with settling in, a lie. She went ice skating with him once and he kept acting “weird and flirtatious” so she made it expressly clear to him that she only wanted to be friends.
“We were talking and then he grabbed my hands to peck. Disgusting. With his crusty lips.” Another time, after having drinks with him and another friend, after one drink, he claimed he was drunk and refused to leave her house. He insisted on sleeping in her room and kept following her around the house until she budged and said she’d let him sleep on the floor. He refused and said they must sleep on the bed together. To make matters worse, the mutual friend they had drinks with, a woman, left her alone with him claiming she felt like a third wheel. He eventually agreed to sleep on the floor after arguing for 30 minutes.
The next day, they went to a Christmas light installation, so it was dark. The first weird thing of the night was that he took a picture of her thighs while she was tying her shoes and posted it on his story, without her consent in a “soft launch” type post. At the installation, he kept trying to touch her in the dark while whispering foolish things in her ear, the mutual friend once again abandoned her. “I felt uncomfortable throughout the night.”
When they got home, he tried to kiss her and then asked “when are we hanging again”, the delusion. That was the last time they hung out.
“I kept gaslighting myself, saying it wasn’t that bad.”
23-year-old Bola‘s experience was with her cousin who was her best friend. “He was the only person I knew at my university, and because he was a year ahead of me, he knew a lot and was really helpful in making sure I succeeded.” She used to sleep in his room all the time because his roommate was never around. He’d help her with homework, she’d order food and watch Netflix and fall asleep. “I really loved him”.
One day, she told him that she smoked weed and he told her he did too but hid it from her because he didn’t want to be a bad influence, but since she already did too, they could smoke together.
“I was excited because I usually don’t like to smoke with men because next thing you know, they’re pressing your breast but this was my cousin/best friend so I knew I was safe.”
They smoked in his room, listened to music, watched Netflix and then they were falling asleep. “I think he thought I was asleep because I felt him grab my breast and he squeezed twice, then I pushed his hand away, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know why I didn’t just get up and leave but in my head I couldn’t reconcile the cousin that took care of me with the one that assaulted me.”
She never spoke to him about it and after that night, she still smoked with him, but when other people were present. “We’re not friends anymore because of other stuff but I didn’t let this affect our relationship. Maybe because I blamed myself.”
Ese, 24 had a longtime friend; they were friends from JSS1 to SS1 but university made them distant. After a while, they tried to fix the friendship and started to get friendly again. One day he invited her to smoke with him in a classroom block not far from her house and she agreed. After a while, he texted her to ask, “do you get horny while you’re high?.”
“It was shocking because we’d been friends for years and we had never gotten sexual with each other. I felt hurt and manipulated because it became obvious that he planed to do something sexual when I had gotten high.”
She blocked him immediately after and they haven’t spoken since.
20-year-old Zani had a friend over at her house because her family was familiar with him and they were around during the visit. All of a sudden, he wanted to play tag and she didn’t see a problem with it because they were close friends.
“The problem was him grabbing me at places I didn’t want to be grabbed and I voiced this out, several times. At some point he picked me up and put me on top of him and I struggled while he laughed. I didn’t realise how violated I felt until he left and I shut the door and broke down crying.”
She felt really bad because she never expected it from him. She texted him her feelings, he apologised and she blocked him.
27-year-old Bow went on what was supposed to be a friendship date with her friend and then they went back to her house together. It was the first time he’d been to her house and they were supposed to just chill until he was ready to go home, but then he started trying to touch and kiss her.
“The entire time, I kept pushing him away but I wasn’t trying to make it a big deal because this was one of my oldest friends. I was trying to laugh it off but still get him to stop. The back and forth went on for a few minutes but it felt like an eternity to me. I kept thinking, if he tries to force me to have sex with him, what will I do?”
He eventually stopped and left and on his way out, she greeted him casually and when he said “love you”, she said it right back, the way they always parted ways.
“I spent the rest of the night feeling dirty and soiled. I couldn’t understand if I had done something to give him that impression. I hated myself for not being firmer and for letting him leave thinking it was okay for him to do that to me.”
She stopped talking to him after that, ignoring his calls and texts. “Every time I think about it, I still feel like it’s my fault even though I should absolutely know better. If anyone else told me this story, I’d tell them it wasn’t their fault, but I can’t get myself to believe it in this case.”
Bow only told one person from their friend group and is more wary of men now, even more than she was then, as a 25-year-old woman living in Lagos.
Venus, 21, called a friend for comfort and reassurance , nervous about a date. “A few weeks before my 21st birthday, I was on a call with my friend talking about how I felt self conscious about my appearance, and then I realised that his comments were getting progressively sexually suggestive. It’s not uncommon for my friends regardless of their gender to playfully flirt with me or make comments about my appearance so at first, I thought I was overthinking things, as usual. But then he started talking about how he’s been in a bit of a dry spell and how sexually frustrated he was.”
Venus tried to redirect the conversation back to topic then he slyly asked for nudes so he could “see what they were working with.”
“My heart sank and I got silent after a couple of awkward concluding statements. I kind of just sat with myself in silence, I never really know how to process negative emotions like betrayal. I live in a remote area where it’s not easy to meet people so all my friendships are long distance and romance is not really in the cards for me. In the past couple of years, the isolation has gotten the best of my mental health and this male friend knew that so it really hurt a lot because it confirmed what I had feared for the longest, which was that being so faraway from everyone makes it easier for people to dehumanise me. They didn’t see me, not really, and only being able to connect over a screen made me feel no different than AI.”
They still haven’t brought it up with him, and don’t intend to. Venus just decided to essentially demote him as a friend. They suffered a similar incident with another friend shortly after and these experiences coupled with other unaddressed issues have left them feeling cold.
“I’m harbouring a lot of resentment and pain and I can feel that my walls are back up. I’ve been keeping everyone at arm’s length and I no longer feel like I can trust anyone, most especially the men still in my life.”
Gu, 20 was hanging out with a group of 5. When she got tired of socialising, she went to sit on the bed at another side of the room, scrolling through Tiktok because her social battery was low. Then one of the guys went to sit next to her.
“He kept moving closer and I was uncomfortable but I thought maybe he just wanted to see what I was watching. He put his hand on my shoulders but when I looked at him, he wasn’t even looking at me so I just shrugged his hand off. He immediately put his hand back and this happened like three more times so at a point I just ignored him, until he started touching my breast. This time, I dropped my phone and took his arm off me. I was about to yell at him but he said sorry the moment I looked at him so I just moved farther away and went back to looking at my phone.”
He came back again and repeated the act not even 5 minutes later. She didn’t keep quiet this time, “I said can you stop touching me? which made everyone look our way and in turn made me feel like I made it a big deal so I went back to the group and sat next to my girl-friend.”
The next week, he told their friends that she was avoiding him for no reason and badmouthed her to them and added that she frowned whenever she saw him, like he doesn’t know what he did to deserve it.
Clearly, these incidents are all too familiar for many women and may make the prospect of friendship with men less appealing to them. Many men treat friendship like a halfway stage to sex as opposed to a sufficient relationship in itself, and that sucks for the women who come to love and trust them.
When a male friend crosses certain boundaries, it may be tempting to let it go or downplay it because you consider them your friend and don’t want to make it awkward, or you may choose to humor them just because. Consider that a person who is your friend will respect you enough not to make you uncomfortable and put you in a position where you do something you don’t want to because they’re insisting.
Where they proposition you once, and you turn them down, should you desire to continue the friendship, establish clearly that you are not interested in such and that you’d rather they did not do that again. If they attempt to change your mind or persist or try again, they clearly do not respect you as a person, have rapist tendencies and are overall creeps and that’s not the sort of friendship you should invest your time, attention and care in; you definitely deserve better.