Don’t treat women like this (Image: Archi Banal)
Don’t treat women like this (Image: Archi Banal)

SocietySeptember 7, 2023

Help Me Hera: How do I make friends with women?

Don’t treat women like this (Image: Archi Banal)
Don’t treat women like this (Image: Archi Banal)

If you treat women like spooked horses, you’re going to get a hoof to the solar plexus.

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Kia ora Hera,

I’m a middle-aged guy. After some relationship trauma, followed by a few years of introspection, I’ve come to understand that I’m a bit lonely and emotionally needy, and that I’d like to have more close friends, like I used to have in my early twenties.

I’ve always related mainly to women. When I was younger, establishing these friendships happened easily. But now that’s harder and can easily become awkward. I don’t know whether that’s because of my age, or because of an increasing awareness among women that many men are sexist, predatory, creepy, weirdos who indulge in stalking, upskirting and dodgy internet activities. 

Hera, what advice can you give me? I’ve been reading these columns of yours and I’ve noticed that your replies are not only acerbic and ironic but also wise.

Ngā mihi nui

Middle Aged Guy

A line of dark blue card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Dear Middle Aged Guy,


  • Go to places where women like to congregate, like maternity wards, wedding dress stores, and breast cancer awareness marathons.
  • Take a Judith Butler book everywhere you go, and conspicuously read it in public. Don’t forget to nod vigorously and say “haha YES!” every so often, so people know you’re absorbing the message. 
  • Dig a big pit in your front yard, cover it with a sheet, put up a sign saying “FREE CAKE AND HANDBAGS”, and wait for some local broads to fall in. 

Making friends with women is obviously a cool and worthwhile thing to do. But I think your read of the wider cultural situation is a little paranoid. For a start, I wouldn’t say there’s an increasing awareness amongst women that men are “etc” and “so forth.” There is, however, an increasing awareness amongst men regarding the kind of harassment that women experience. 

I don’t mean to say our fears aren’t well-founded. But I think in our attempt to hammer the message home, we accidentally overstated the level of daily fear most women experience. Everyone took that damn Margaret Atwood quote too seriously. “Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.” OK Margaret. But I don’t live in fear of being killed by a man, any more than I live in fear of being hit by a car. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but I don’t flinch at every Subaru I see. 

Do I feel safe walking home through an unlit area at night? Not always. But I think it’s important to admit this isn’t exclusively a female problem. Lots of people need to be vigilant against male violence, including most men. Unless your name is Sergei Knifehammer and you’re built like an industrial corn harvester, you probably have decent cause to be wary. And it’s not just men who are dangerous. If you’re a Pasifika man in your early 20s, say, going for a morning stroll around a suburban area can easily result in some neighbourhood watch lunatic calling the cops on you.  

The world isn’t a safe place and everyone’s at risk of violence, even if that violence is expressed differently based on gender, race, or sexuality. I’m not saying this is your cue to start approaching random women in parking lots at night and asking them if they want to come home and see your corn husk collection. But I think your concern is counterproductive. Take upskirting, for instance. Unless you’re walking around with giant mirrors taped to your shoes, I really wouldn’t worry. As for “dodgy internet activities,” I’m pretty sure most men spend more time researching the JFK assassination than looking at torture porn. 

I mention all this because being fixated on counteracting negative perceptions is no way to win hearts and minds. Curiosity about someone else’s experience is important. But if you treat women like spooked horses, you’re going to get a hoof to the solar plexus. Not to mention “I promise I won’t extract your teeth in my basement” is not a great basis for friendship. A good basis for a friendship is both really hating Janice in apartment 2B, or having a shared interest in the biological longevity of lobsters. 

A line of fluorescent green card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

So how do you make friends? 

First of all, ask yourself: do you actually want to be platonic friends with women, or do you want to get to know more women for friendship while also remaining open to the possibility of romance? Either scenario is fine. But a lot of women’s irritation comes from men deliberately obfuscating their motives. 

A lot more annoying and common than predatory men are the guys who send you an allegedly platonic message, and when you don’t write back within 24 hours, bombard you with 100 texts saying “hey, i noticed you haven’t responded to my messages, have i done something wrong?” It’s galling to hear these guys misinterpret irritation as fear. Just because someone doesn’t want to hear an unsolicited rant about your Naruto card collection, it doesn’t mean they inherently view you as a sexual predator. 

In my experience, most guys are chill and normal. And most women are extremely good at reading vibes. If you’re genuinely having trouble making platonic connections with women, maybe you’re bringing some kind of weird or nervous energy to these interactions, even if you’re not intending to.

I think your self-professed emotional neediness is something you’re going to have to address. There is a particular subset of men who specifically seek out female companionship because they see all women as freelance therapists. You can and should complain about your problems to your friends, but there needs to be a real basis of love and reciprocity first. Otherwise, you’re just forcing someone to do your emotional homework. 

I can see that you’re invested in combating sexism. So I have a challenge for you, which is to revisit your prejudice against male friendships. Perhaps, for whatever reason, connections with men haven’t come as easily for you. But perhaps you’re looking in the wrong kind of places. Friendships between men can be just as deep and intimate and caring as female ones, and I’d hate for you to write the boys off so soon. 

Honestly, I think a lot of your problems have more to do with time of life. It’s easy to make friends in your early twenties. It’s practically your only job. But a lot of people in middle age don’t actually want new friends. It’s a difficult time to form new relationships regardless of gender. But if you’re lonely and want more people in your life, there is an easy and beautiful solution.


I know I’m a broken record on this subject. But there is truly nothing like having a hobby to meet new people. Here are my reasons why joining a club is a great solution: 

  • Women love hobbies. And the kind of men who participate in hobby groups are probably more likely to be open to the type of friendships you’re seeking.
  • It’s a low emotional risk. There is time to build up a rapport with people, friendships can evolve naturally, and people will be less on guard with you. 
  • You meet lots of different people, of different ages and life experiences, which is not only interesting but massively increases your chances of meeting someone you click with. 
  • You’re already hanging out with a group of people who are explicitly interested in having more social interactions in their lives and don’t have to weed out those who would rather be at home. 
  • You already have a common interest AND an inbuilt activity. if you’re engrossed in a conversation about the beauty of snapping turtles, or learning to paint sunsets, you’re already halfway there. 

You’ll probably have a few failures. But no more than anyone trying to make new friends in midlife. And if you take an Indian cooking class or Foxtrot lessons and don’t meet anyone, you can always try again somewhere else. The worst that can happen is you’ll learn to make a halfway decent paneer. As long as you treat women like normal people, and don’t start offering free backrubs, there’s nothing to fret about. 

Like Coach Taylor says: clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose. 

Good luck! 

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