I like spending time with girls. I enjoy girls. I enjoy the company of girls. There's no way to say it without sounding like a fat, sweaty businessman justifying to his idiot friends why he's spent £680 in a strip club on a Tuesday night. But, in the cleanest of senses, I really like hanging around with girls.
I wasn't always so comfortable with them. As an insecure, shambolic teenager with the romantic prowess granted by a single-sex secondary education, I learnt to keep women at arm's length at university. I had plenty of good female friends, don't get me wrong, but I lived exclusively with boys. Girls were fun to chat to, go to the pub with, and occasionally kiss, but I'd always return to the safety of our boys only house. Curry, PlayStation, beer. Security.
In 2000 however, I started living with a female friend. First in a house share in Southfields with a revolving cast of males, and then (after it became apparent that we were ill-suited to living with other humans) on our own in an Ealing cul-de-sac. I think it was then that I started to love hanging out with girls.
There are great advantages to living with a girl as a young, single man. Assuming she's heterosexual there's no competing for women's attention, so, as long as you've picked a housemate with whom you have a purely platonic relationship, dating can be pretty stress-free. I also think hanging out with an attractive, intelligent female friend provides some kind of romantic reference. A proof of concept to potential new partners. "Well that girl he hangs out with appears to be normal, so he can't be as much of a dick as he seems." I proved them wrong.
I like the softness of girls. Not just their skin, but the softness of their personalities, how easy it is to chat with them, and how much they'll share. I like that there are girls I've met a handful of times whose feelings and pasts I know more about than male friends of twenty years.
I like the variety of girls. I like the bubbly, outgoing ones and I like the ones who always seem a little uncomfortable, like they were given the wrong skin at birth and didn't want to kick up a fuss. I like the career-driven ones and the lazy ones. I like the sporty ones and I like the thinky ones.
I like the different angles they come at things from, the perspectives they offer that I could never achieve. I like the questions they ask and the answers they give.
Since becoming a father to a daughter though, I've become more aware of how tough being a girl is. I'd always have identified as a feminist, but news stories that don't affect you personally wash over you after a while. I know a car bomb in Iraq is terrible, but you become desensitised to them. With my own little girl to think of, gender news became more urgent, more pressing.
I started to notice the women around me who are damaged, broken down into their constituent parts, sometimes by other women, sometimes by becoming mothers, by life or by society. But all too often by men: pathetic, abusive men. I see them sat on the floor looking puzzled, knowing they need to piece themselves back together but unsure what bit goes where, and it breaks my heart.
My little girl is a five year old hot mess of unicorns, rainbows and best friends. Everything is an adventure and she soaks it up like a giggling sponge. I know things will change eventually, she'll start to look at people differently and I need to prepare her for life. Down the road are serious chats, but for now I teach her what I can. I teach her that her body is her own and encourage her to set her boundaries. I tell her she's beautiful and I surround her with examples of good, strong girls. I've bought her The Secret Garden for Christmas. We'll read it together.
But I also have a son, and a duty to teach him too, so he can learn to enjoy girls as much as I do, and so other fathers' daughters feel safe and secure around him. One day we'll talk about the big issues like consent. One day I'll teach him how to talk to girls, to ask them questions and listen, really listen to the answers. I'll teach him to respect and love women, and warn him not to falter in his teens when girls date idiots. It's in their genetics son, they can't help it - hold out till your mid-twenties and you'll dine like a king my boy. Like a king.
He's two now so there's not much to do yet, but I see the way he looks at his big sister and I feel we'll be alright.
Girls, eh? I love them.