I was out on a run with a close male friend this weekend. We started off with the usual chitchat about work and recent events. Eventually, the conversation turned to age, and time’s influence on our bodies. Running hard over the weekend takes longer to recover. “Twinges” need to be taken more seriously. “Masters” age divisions and scrolling endlessly to find your birth year on registration forms. Still we run and embrace the body available to us today.
A little-known benefit of having close running buddies is that you can talk about anything with them. Literally anything. I know more about bathroom cycles and bodily processes than their life partners do. When it becomes acceptable, even encouraged, to text another adult at 3am “did you poop yet?” – that, my friends, it a closeness shared by runners.
And this transparency crosses gender lines; gleefully, at times. I’ve had male running partners stop to adjust a pinched testicle, and then spend the next mile actively exchanging with their non-male running buddies on various treatment options. Talking about difficult periods gets equal coverage; to the point where most of the men now carrying an extra tampon on race day. It’s being considerate for their sometimes-menstruating running buddies. We’re all in this together.
Does it ever go too far? Sure, that’s where boundaries and active consent come into play. Running gives people equal footing (no pun intended) in deciding subjects that are out of bounds. In my circle, I can’t remember a subject or bodily fluid that hasn’t been explored while we clock miles off together. Weather, travel plans, abortions, pooping (too much / not enough), bleeding nipples, politics, weak urine streams, personal bests, periods, hopes and fears….running creates an off-leash park for our minds. We have a shared experience of running together in that moment, with our aging human bodies.
What I didn’t realize is that men don’t always have this depth of sharing among their peers. Talking about intimate issues can be surprisingly off the table for men, even with close friends. That seems strangely isolating to me.
As much as I’ve heard about erectile dysfunction on commercials, I’d always thought it was a hot topic among men friends. Turns out, not so much. Guys, you are missing out! Yes, it’s scary to be vulnerable and talk about things you see as shortcomings. Those commercials about female leakage? Seriously, we talk about that with our friends all the time. Vulnerability is empowering.
Women have that available to them. We’re socialized to feel less stigma in sharing very personal aspects of our lives with friends. Everything from weird facial hair (ours) to avoiding vaginal dryness (ours and others). The recent confirmation hearings sparked a number of conversations that started with, “when I was raped…”. All shared experiences that gain power the more they are articulated; becoming “ours” instead of “mine”.
So, guys, at least think about it. The next time you’re with that close circle of friends, talk about what’s on your mind. I know there was probably that one time back in 7th grade when you did, only to have someone make a joke about your mom. Opening up about personal experience is powerful. Changing the game takes courage. Speaking your truth means leaning into fear. Just do it.
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