Are we wusses for opting out of male-bonding rituals?
The question was innocent enough.
“Are you going to join us camping this weekend?” my roommate, Ben, asked.
He caught me off-guard and I didn’t have an answer right away.
“Yeah, maybe,” I said, letting my reply drift into an awkward silence. I hoped that he would forget that he brought up the topic.
“You didn’t go all summer and promised you would,” he shot back a few seconds later.
He caught me. I was stuck.
“Let me think about it,” I said.
It’s not that I’m trying to avoid my friends, as much as it may seem that way to them—I’ve been charged, half-jokingly, for making up excuses not to hang out.
I just don’t like camping.
No, I take that back: I loathe camping.
There are few things in this world for which I have such a strong dislike. I hate when my socks get wet, I hate when a date is rude to the waiter, and I hate camping.
Every other month or so, I’m invited to head north for the weekend with Ben and our friends. Our buddy Dustin has some land in Vermont, which I am told, from January through December, “is beautiful this time of year.”
Yes, I’m sure it’s lovely, but oh darn, that thing is this weekend. Maybe next time.
I still have some not-so-fond memories of my last camping trip. I was a senior in college, when drinking cheap beer and updating my resume for the job search held equal priority in my schedule. My fraternity was hosting a camping get-away to a brother’s property in western Massachusetts. It will be great, the planning committee told us—an opportunity to be outside, enjoy brotherly company, and, oh yeah, get wasted.
This was in January, before the start of my spring semester, when the brown, crisp leaves that fell from the trees a few weeks earlier were being suffocated underneath a blanket of snow. Iced-over earth and sub-freezing temperatures wouldn’t stop us, though. We had beer to drink and hell to raise. We were college dudes, and we were unstoppable.
I prepared for the winter trip with an overnight bag that included three pairs of socks, two skiing caps and a dozen loose cans of Natty Light, left over from the night before. This will be great, I told friends. I haven’t been camping since I was a kid!
It wasn’t long before I remembered why it had been so long since my last trip.
It was cold enough to see my breath, even while sitting next to the fire. My fingers were numb despite wearing two pairs of gloves on each hand. Cans of beer that we left in the car, we discovered, turned into cylinders of ice when we went to get them a few hours later.
And then, of course, there was using nature’s restroom. I waited until the last possible moment to stumble through the dark and find an area of privacy, only to spend ten minutes trying to loosen up my multi-layered uniform with my double-gloved hands. I was incredibly uncomfortable by the time I finally dropped my drawers, but it was nothing compared to the cold that shot at my body as I tried to go about my business.
This, I thought, is miserable.
The next morning, I woke up with the sun and hopped in the first car that was leaving our campsite. In the end, I lasted less than 10 hours in the woods. I swore that it would be a long time before I ever tried to break that record.
When I was living in the frat house, I took on an invisible competition to out-dude the guys next to me. If they drank two beers, I drank three. If they hooked up with some girl, I coyly kept mum, letting them think I did the same. And if they were going camping in the snow, goddammit, I would be there.
On that car ride back from the trip, I admitted that joining the trip was a terrible idea. I only agreed to go because I didn’t want to be the wuss who slept in my bed and enjoyed a hot shower back at the house, while the other guys went into the woods and tapped into their primal instincts of survival and beer drinking. I wasn’t ready to suggest that instead of camping, how about we all enjoy a nice night in with some wine and a viewing of The Devil Wears Prada?
After a night of putting my fertility in jeopardy, however, it was time to do some reflecting.
Ben, Dustin, and my other friends, loyal as ever, stay persistent. I have yet to join them on a trip to Vermont, but they continue to offer a spot in the car anytime I would like to join. (For the most recent trip, however, Dustin sent out an email inviting the usual campers and he did not include me. I have been demoted from being explicitly asked to being privy to an open invitation.)
I would like to think that I’ve matured a little bit since that last trip in college. I have owned up to my dislike for camping, but, more importantly, I realize that it’s foolish to fear being knocked further down the pole of masculinity if I don’t want to spend time outdoors with a bunch of dudes.
One recent, cold Thursday night, as Ben packed up his sleeping bag and whatever else they bring on these trips, I threw on an old sweatshirt and made a pot of coffee.
“Last chance to come along,” he said, before heading out the door.
I thought about it for a minute.
I pictured myself in the woods of Vermont, three layers of long johns deep, trudging along in the dark, through the blankets of snow, trying to feel my fingers.
I pictured myself marching to the campsite. Everyone huddled around the fire pit. The food that will have to last us until the end of the weekend. The bottles of beer, chilling in the snow and waiting for an opener. And in the distance, the stump. The stump that doubles as the toilet.
That’s where I stopped. I didn’t want to imagine how this story would end.
Instead, I smiled at my roommate, sat on the couch, and hit play on my DVD remote for an evening of The Devil Wears Prada.