I first realized that my friends and I didn’t have regular relationships when I workshopped my first real short story in Creative Writing 101. Like literally everyone else’s first “fictional” story, it was about three-fifths true and used the names of Fall Out Boy band members as pseudonyms for my loved ones. At one point, one of my classmates raised her hand, brow furrowed. “So, does the narrator secretly love her roommate, too?”
“No,” I said, frowning down at my paper. “She loves Pete Wentz. But he doesn’t know ‘cause he’s in love with Patrick.”
“Kay,” she said. “Because the way she acts with her roommate in this scene…I really can’t tell who the love interest is supposed to be. Are THEY secret girlfriends, too?”
Apparently, yes. Because naturally, the conversation she was referring to had been cunningly remastered from a real-life one I’d had with my best lady-friend, Morgan, the night before writing that story.
Weirder still, when I told Morgan about it, she didn’t seem bothered at all. In fact, I think she said something like “Aw, baby, they know we’re in love!”
I can think of maybe four adult friends with whom I wouldn’t at least make out after a few shots of peppermint schnapps, and even that’s mostly because I think they would be scarred for life. I don’t want to permanently traumatize anyone here.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe it’s a virtue of the whole “pansexuality” thing, but my physical attraction to people stems primarily from how attractive I find their personalities.
Sure, we have to have SOME chemistry, but I’ve never been able to get it up for a one-night-stand the way I can for a renewed debate about the latest iteration of “Star Trek.”
And because I think all of my friends are genuinely awesome, intelligent, hilarious people, I think they’re also incredibly hot.
That’s why the “friend zone” is so hilarious to me. For me, the chances of our hookup skyrocket proportionally to the number of times I’ve had to hear about your mean ex-girlfriends and that weird mole on the underside of your boob. Forget waiting ‘til the third date to sleep together: we’re either fucking within 10 minutes of meeting or after two years of fart jokes and Lifetime Movie marathons.
It’s actually even worse around couples. Armed with the knowledge that it is WAY too easy for me to go from lingering hugs to birthday makeouts to celebratory May Day sex, I get very cagey around monogamous pairs. I fear that they can sense the lion of my simmering, barely-contained affection, ready to pounce on the first sign of a wounded friend-zebra separated from the pack.
This makes me sound like I intentionally try to break couples up for shits and giggles, which isn’t the case. It’s more that it’s hard for me to tell where the boundaries lie between “affectionate hug” and “hoyden encroaching on your partner with her presence.” In those cases, I tend to overcompensate by enacting what I call the “Shout a line from ‘Mean Girls’ and flee the premises,” maneuver every time the three of us are alone together.
But for the most part, my friends seem to be okay with all of this for now. They’ve almost all been on the caboose of the Kate Conway Drunk Makeout Train -- they know that I hickey because I love.
Lately, though, I’ve started to worry that this kind of catch-all, gormless devotion is actually an unsustainable way to approach friendship.
Despite having not actually dated anyone since high school, moving out to San Francisco was the first time I’d felt well and truly single as an adult. Suddenly, there was no one to eat ice cream and watch “Arrested Development” with on Friday nights. No one to tell me that they loved me, or to spoon with me on Sunday mornings, or tell me that they’d saved the photo of my new nipple ring as their phone background. And it sucked.
With that singlehood, too, came the total weirdness that came from going on Dates. Even when I’d had boyfriends and girlfriends in the past, they’d been the tentative fruit of an awkward friendship plant. This whole business of meeting someone at a bar and engaging them in tooth-grinding small talk made me deeply uncomfortable. Where was the graceful dismount opportunity if you decided a hookup wasn’t on the horizon? Where was the bond? I even found myself saying things like “Fuck you? But I don’t even KNOW you!”
Shockingly enough, this did not jive with the Hip Young Slutface self-image that I’ve been cultivating for the last 20-odd years. According to my libido, “casual” sex is apparently all well and good when “casual” means “we’re not a couple.” But I’ve at least got to know your feelings on Joss Whedon / 9/11 conspiracy theories / your own mortality before I’ll put your dick in my mouth.
Even when I do get to that point with dates, they’re-- surprise -- none too thrilled that they have to contend with the ghosts of my faraway friends. You thought it was bad when your girl couldn’t get kick her habit of Facebook-stalking her ex? Try a date who has to make up code names for her friends on your behalf, because their names come up in conversation so often that you’d get confused otherwise. UGH. Even thinking about it makes me want to punch myself in the face.
Meanwhile, I’ve started feeling betrayed when my friends find primary romantic partners in their new home cities. I want them to be happy, of course, but it scares me a little to think of them perfectly complete without me.
This is why I find those “I fell in love with my best friend and it was a giant surprise” movies so fascinating. I can’t even fathom how it must feel to suddenly blink and find yourself head-over-heels with someone with whom you already have a deep, intimate connection. The adoration I feel for my friends is a pervasive one. It lives in my gut, in the same place you’d find loyalty and admiration and wry humor. They’re all bound up in the one package. Because of course you fall in love with your best friend. Doesn’t everybody?
I’m okay with being single for eternity. I really am. But the idea of my friends moving on and having relationships without me scares me to death. And that’s the part that I don’t think is healthy -- for anybody.
So give it to me straight. How do I learn how to like without falling in love?