I am not ambidextrous, but I am ambi-social. I am equally comfortable socializing with groups of men, groups of women, or mixed-gender groups. There were very few women attorneys at my last firm and, at my current firm, there are very few mid-level women litigators. Consequently, I often look around the table at lunch, or at drinks after work, and realize that I am the only woman in the group.
Perhaps I should take it for granted that of course I should have no reason to feel discomfited in an opposite-sex group. But I have to admit that my comfort level in this situation is the product of some conscious effort on my part during adolescence. About twenty years ago, when I was entering high school, I was still painfully shy in general and petrified of boys in particular. I just did not understand anything about boys. They struck me as hulking, brooding silent creatures who didn't have much to say for themselves unless they were trying to one-up each other in some way. Yet, somehow, as I had observed from earliest childhood, they seemed to garner more respect than we lowly girls. And I wanted to date them.
So I went out of my way as a teenager to get to know boys and interact with them on their own terms. I didn't realize that just being cute and female might be enough, so I got to be pretty good at the one-upmanship game (primarily through humor) and just not being afraid of guys. By the time, I graduated from high school, I was definitely "one of the guys." My denist of all people even commented that he couldn't imagine how I would cope at my women's college because every time he saw me, I was with a gaggle of boys. Fortunately, I also valued my friendships with girls too, and was certainly "one of the girls" as well.
Now, in adulthood, I have come to realize that a full comfort level with the opposite sex is far from universal. My mother once commented to me that she has never had a male friend, except in the context of couples socializing. And I have noticed that even among my generation, people still seem to clump together in groups of their own sex.
This makes sense because I think men clearly relate to each other in a different way than women relate to each other. In a group of men, it's all joshing each other, and maybe arguing about something impersonal, like sports or whether x was a better movie than y. As the lone female, I will often strike an unusual note by asking about the men's wives and children. In a group of women, we always talk about what's going on in our work lives and our home lives. It's all personal and there is actual conversation, rather than just arguing and joking. In a lot of ways, although I enjoy my positive relationships with my male friends and colleagues, it's easier and more relaxing to be with other women than to be with men, because the way women relate to each other still feels more natural to me even after all these years. And, as a married person, I don't care about dating the men anymore.
So is there still value, I wonder, in being ambi-social? I think there is, and I will tell you why. Stay tuned for another installment . . .