For the last two months I've been carrying a reporter pad notebook around with me. It's always in my apron at work or in my jacket outside of work so I can write whenever the need hits me. And the need has been there a lot lately.
The books are not filled with cute stories about waiting tables (maybe a few, out of habit). The books are filled with the most horrible of all writing: minor post-break-up mental breakdowns.
For the last two months I've been all kinds of fucked up, mentally speaking. It hasn't been so bad that I couldn't function. I haven't missed a single shift at work, and I've done a few other odd things besides. I flew to Minneapolis the first week of December to be best man in an old pal's wedding. For Christmas week, I flew home to Missouri and spent some time with my family and friends.
I took notes and wrote about almost everything I've done for the last two months, but I can't concentrate on any story long enough to finish it. More than that, the prose has this terrible dread hanging over it, like everything's being seen through depression-tinted glasses. I think it was just a lapse in my general mood that allowed me to write that bit last month about how I didn't urinate on my car.
To repeat the girlfriend basics, in 1992, when I was twenty, I met my (now ex) girlfriend in Missouri. She was from the D.C. area. I followed her home and have been here ever since, with a few extended stays in Missouri from time to time. She's the only girlfriend I've ever had.
Despite having met and worked with hundreds of people in my time out here, at various restaurants, a tv studio, and a recording studio, I don't have many D.C. area friends. I count four of them--all male--and two of them I see very rarely. These are good friends, too. I've got no complaints against any of them. Well, against one, I suppose, but he's a good guy, just a little… ah, young. He'll grow out of it.
I have no close female friends out here. There are a lot of girls who I know, talk to, and am on friendly terms with, but for any number of reasons, none of these girls have made the jump from acquaintence to actual friend.
I like having girl friends. Or, more precisely, friends who are girls. There are certain things that I can discuss with girls that are somewhat awkward to talk about with guys. Sports, cars, drinking, fucking. Those are guy subjects. But try having a conversation that starts with "I feel like this and I'm not sure why…" with a guy and you're going to get some pretty weird responses, followed--at best--with some very practical, rational, reasonable advice that isn't quite helpful. I think this is because, being a guy myself, I already know that sort of thinking. I want to know what the other half thinks. Women have a fantastic way of approaching any given subject from a point of view that I usually hadn't even considered. It opens up new ways of thinking, and rarely is the conversation ended without me receiving several new points to ponder.
But, as I said, I have no close female friends out here.
This became painfully apparent to me recently, right after I split with my girlfriend. The reason, obviously, is that when I was with her, I didn't need any close female friends. She wouldn't have objected to me having any "girls who are friends." I just didn't bother looking for any.
As of right now, I feel really weird talking to my ex (still hate that phrase) about any sort of "What I'm feeling" stuff. I imagine that in a few weeks or months, we'll hit that good "Remember when…" stage where we can talk about anything, but right now, talking to her about personal depression stuff feels really awkward, to say the least. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does.
In Missouri, I have people I've known since I was ten who I can talk to about anything. But they're eight hundred and fifty miles away. I can send them e-mails. I can call them. I can feel bad I didn't get to see them that week I was in Missouri recently. But phone calls and e-mails only go so far. There's no substitute for a real, live person sitting across from you, reading your expressions, catching your inflections, and being able to take a long pause to consider things without having to wonder if the cell phone lost its signal.
I wrote a piece for this blog in late November called "Friendship" but never posted it. It looked a little too unfinished (and, as I said, depressing). Now that I'm quoting from it, I guess I don't need to post it, and maybe it's better that way.
The piece was about the various kinds of friends a person has. I focused on the big two: work friends and real friends, and gave a few examples.
A work friend is someone you pal around with on the job and have a good time with while you're working, but as soon as work ends--as soon as there is no set reason for the two of you to be together--you go your separate ways. Maybe stop off for a drink or two, but that's it. If work was somehow removed from both your lives--the company went out of business, whatever--you two would not see each other again except by accident, no matter what promises were made to "keep in touch."
A real friend is a person who spends time with you no matter where either of you work. Effort is made on the part of either your or him to get together and do things, or just talk on the phone.
Obviously, in my long restauranting career, I have made many, many work friends. People who I liked and liked me but neither of us had anything in common with the other aside from the job, and it was only because of certain personality traits that we got along with each other better than with some of the others.
A work friend can make the jump to a real friend, provided enough outside activity happens. The two of you get together, find you like lot of the same things or are just comfortable with each other, and then the get-together times become self-sustaining almost by themselves. And there you are: A new friend.
(I've never seen it happen where a real friend becomes only a work friend. That would be weird, I think. An extremely soul-crushing job would have to do it.)
So those are work friends and real friends. You get what I’m saying.
Sometimes, the line between real friend and work friend gets blurred, and you're not sure if this is the start of a real friendship or if you're just intruding on someone's personal time and you need to get the fuck out. It's a tricky thing. I'd say that if you have doubts, it's not gonna work out.
I was trying to think of a simple way to separate the real friends from the work friends. A common characteristic, or some action to define a real friend.
And this is what I came up with. No, it's not elegant like String Theory, but it says what I mean, and even though I wrote this a long time ago and have been attacking it with newer ideas ever since, I haven't found anything to prove it wrong in my personal experience. Maybe you'll find that you have in yours. Regardless, here's the line:
A real friend is someone who calls you when there is no need to do so.
Awkwardly written, sure. Maybe "A real friend is somone who spends time with you needlessly." Or, to use less words, "A real friend calls you without need."
I still like the first one better. It works like this:
The work friends only call about work. "Can you pick up my shift tomorrow night?" "Did you get the memo on the TPS reports?" "You're fired, jerk-off." "Will you be picking me up tomorrow morning, Frank?"
There is a need to call, because something related to work needs refinement or explanation or planning, and work is necessary because without it, we don't make money and we can't pay bills and we die slow deaths. Chances are, the person would be calling you even if he hated your guts (in that case of that last one, depending on how much he disliked public transportation).
It's possible that it could be a little more personal than that, such as calling to remind someone to bring in a movie you wanted to borrow or ask if plans were still on for everyone to go out to a certain restaurant for lunch the next day. But it still involves being at work.
So all these kinds of calls say nothing about personal feelings, because a separate need was there which is what caused the call to happen.
Now onto the needless call.
If a person calls you for no other reason than to inquire as to your day, ask if you knew a certain bit of humorous information, or make plans for a get-together later, then he must genuinely want to be reaching you. Not the copy boy. Not the office manager. Not the door guard. You, personally. So he must like you, and he must want to give up his own free time to spend with you.
(I'm not going into corporate politics, manipulations, and all that crap. Nice thing about waiting tables is there's hardly any political shit at all. Fuck all the managers you want, you're still not getting more than $2.38 an hour, just like everybody else. Unless you plan on suing later, that is, you dirty bastard.).
Notice that I said need instead of reason. Nobody does anything without reason. People say stuff like "He did that for no reason!" but that's not at all accurate. Look softly enough, and you'll see that every action a human being makes has a reason. Most of the time, the reason is "'Cause I felt like it," but that is still a reason in itself.
Now I feel like I got all pedantic without properly explaining what I really mean. I think it's that self doubt creeping back in. I have a good deal of that lately.
Over the years, I've met a few people at various jobs who I really liked a lot and wanted to make the transition from work friend to real friend. Without exception, every attempt has failed.
As I said in a previous post, "How the heck do you make friends, anyway?" I don't think you can, and most people seem to agree with me on this. In my experience, all of my friends just happened, gradually and without much notice. Usually, it'd be a case where I went to school with them or worked with them and somehow we just ended up being outside of work friends. Wasn't planned at all. It happened and here we are.
All of these "happening" friendships were with guys. It has never happened with a girl. There are reasons for this, as I'll write soon enough.
I wasn't interested in any of these "female work friends" in that way. I genuinely liked their personalities and wanted to spend time with them. Have conversations. Watch movies. That sorta thing. I wanted those same enjoyable work experiences to happen away from work. This is very practical because, as every work friend knows, when one of you leave, the friendship is over. I was looking for ways to sustain that friendship.
But anytime you want something, you risk appearing obsessed, especially if you want it badly enough. And that brings me to another term I think I made up myself: the "Platonic Crush."Never heard that anywhere else, but I came up with it some years ago to explain how I felt about certain girls. It sums my feelings up rather well. I see a girl, get to know her, realize she's really cool and fun to be around, and then I get sorta hooked on her. But, at the same time, I have no desire to have sex with her. I usually don't even find these girls attractive, even when I know they're attractive.
It's genuinely not freakish obsessive behavior. I've had several of these crushes now, and they all happen the same way. And this goes back as far as middle school.
It happens like this: First of all, the girl and I are put into a situation where we see each other frequently. Way back when, it was being in the same classroom. Now, it's just working together.
Secondly, I realized I usually didn't notice these girls for months or longer. Each girl was just one of many that I went to school with or worked with and didn't pay any attention to. They were background people, members of a crowd that I had no feelings about one way or another
And then the change happens. It's usually like this: (really)
I'm minding my own business, being goofy and weird in my own special way, when the girl I didn't formerly notice asks something very personal of me. Either confiding in me all kinds of personal shit or saying I'm really cool and we should hang out or something in between.
Most of the time, I'm playing Mr. Counsellor to them. But the "let's hang out" thing happens a lot, too.
And I think, "Wow! This person likes me because she confided all this really heavy personal shit in me and wants my opinions, or she said that we should go out and do stuff together. Cool!"And, for the last twelve years, all the girls who treated me this way knew I had a girlfriend, so I never felt like I was "being hit on." Not that I could feel that way, anyway. I'm a gawky sort, you see. Charming in my own way, sure, but gawky, and not the sort of boy a girl hits on abruptly like that.
So I always took it as "This girl wants to be friends."(It sounds so stupid to say that. "Wants to be friends" is a horrible, horrible line, and dredges up memories of all kinds of shitty kiddie books and after school specials.)
Here's what happens the next day. Either I show up and say, "I thought about your problem and have a few ideas…" or "Hey, I know what would be fun for us to do…" and the response is always the same:"What the fuck are you talking about?"Not in words, no. In attitude. Like that little girl in that graduation story I wrote, it's as if she was saying, "I confided in you 'cause I needed it at the time, but it didn't mean anything, so please back off." In the other case, it's usually, "Oh, that was just talk. I didn't mean I really wanted to go out and do stuff with you. You're just fun to be around at work. And just at work."
It's like saying "We'll keep in touch" to the departing coworker. You mean it when you say it, all full of good-bye sentimentality at the time, but a week or so later, when the feeling is gone, then you're left thinking, "Why did I say I'd keep in touch with that guy? I barely knew him."
You didn't lie. Just felt differently at the time. And it's the same way with "We should go out." Maybe that was a really good day, and work was fun and we were both laughing a lot, and she thought it'd be cool to do this or that and we'd have just as much fun. But then the day ended, and a few days later, when the mood had faded, she might remember saying the words, but not the reason why, and so she's left with the embarassing feeling of hoping I don't ever ask when we're going out, but I do ask, and am usually met with some sorta weird vibe that's like "Uh… I can't believe we had sex last night. Let's pretend it never happened and never mention it again."
(Y'know, it occurs to me right now that I could just be making myself sound like a total perv/skeev/freak who scares the hell outta women. But in defense against that, if I was so off-putting, then why would I get told such incredibly personal shit from coworkers, and invited out in the first place? Every job has the token "unsanitary, lecherous sloth who probably molested someone at one time or another." This could not be me because, as far as I know, I am not perceived as slothful.)
This is how all six of my "Platonic Crushes" have ended up. (Yes, six. I counted.) A girl confides in me or heavily compliments me, I respond in what I think is an understandable or appropriate way, and then I get he big smackdown, which, sadly, isn't a smackdown so much as a let down, a slow and uneasy parting of the ways, resulting in awkward glances and dismissing comments until one of us leaves for good.
Also, I'm not such a sensitive fool to think one or two nights of conversation should lead to a good friendship. Usually, the relationship (such as it is) grows over the course of a few weeks. I always get lulled into a sense that, no, it's not my imagination, this girl is genuinely comfortable around me.
I really hate pushy guys. I'm not much of a regular guy, anyhow. I don't care much at all for sports or alcohol, and I never think "Man, I'd like to fuck that hot chick" just because she's hot (I've met far too many beautiful women who were actually very, very ugly.).
One trait most regular guys have is the arrogant belief that the girl he likes likes him back just as much and probably more. "C'mon, baby, hang out with me. Let's get some drinks after work. Come back to my place. It'll be fun. You'll like it."
That, to me, is an asshole. Forcing yourself on someone who doesn't want to be around you in social ways isn't as bad as doing so in physical ways (that'd be rape), but it's still horribly inconsiderate and unsettling. It puts the girl on the defensive, to where she has to stand up for herself (knowing she'll probably be called a "stuck up lesbian" by the guy), or just deal with it and politely put the guy off (in which case he'll call her "a tease"). Either way the girl looks bad, and all because a guy can't understand that he's not the center of the whole damn planet.
With this always in mind, I do not force myself on anyone. To people who say, "You gotta go for the gold! You gotta take what you want!' I say, "You gotta take a step back and pay attention to what's going on around you, you inconsiderate fuck."
So for me to get attached to any girl--to think she actually wants to make the jump from work friend to real friend--takes a whole lot of signs on her part.
The most difficult part of a Platonic Crush is because of how it is perceived. It's easy to try to have sex with a girl, but it's much harder when you don't want to. If you see a girl you want to have a serious "dating and maybe marriage but definately fucking" kinda relationship, you pursue her and hope she likes what you're selling. She gets that signal right away and knows how to respond to it, either positively or negativesly. I don't even think this is learned behavior. Females have been batting down eager males since the planet first cooled.
But that only applies to the big sex. When you have no romantic or sexual feelings for the girl at all--you just like her personality and want to spend time with her--you're left adrift in a sea of mixed signals.
All girls have a nice defense mechanism for warding off unwanted boys. They see signs quickly. "He's complimenting my hair, my shoes, my eyes. He wants something. I'm not attracted to him. I better laugh off the compliment with the standard 'This old thing?' or 'Oh, you're just being silly'…" That way I don't come off as stuck up and he's not encouraged."
If you ever get a Platonic Crush on a girl, try saying "I like you a lot and want to spend time with you" to her and see if she doesn't listen to your words and somehow hear, "This guy just wants to fuck me, like all the others."
(Boy, does it feel even more shitty when the girl in question is someone that nobody finds attractive, but she still tries to ward you off. Even in that situation, cries of "I just like hanging out with you" sounds more and more like reverse psychology.)
Anyone else currently hearing a few lines from "When Harry Met Sally?". "Men and women can never be friends. The sex thing always gets in the way."
Is that the universal truth, then? It would suck if it was true, because honestly there's nothing like talking to a really cool girl about some of the things that guys just don't get.
(Does this post make me sound gay?)
I've always liked girls. It's unfortunate that all the female friends I've ever had are much older than I am (usually women I met through the theatre, where people are much more relaxed on issues of sex and relationships). When in my early twenties, I had several really good female friends who I had enjoyable converstaions with. Not just about life, the universe, and everything, but about people and movies and art.
Boy, do I love me some platonic women friendships.
And so it's almost turned into a goal for me to find a female friend who's the same age I am. I don't actively look, really. I put up that singles ad last year in the hopes that I'd meet a few women to correspond with and then maybe go out with. Didn't happen out here. When I stayed in Missouri for a few months last spring, I changed to ad to the St. Louis area and got several responses, one of which turned into a genuine friendship I'm very happy to still have. And, because our relationship was internet based (a whole different kinda friendship), we got to know one another quickly and intimitely, the sex thing never came up, and we spent a lot of good time together.
(All this makes me think my sense of humor just works better in the midwest. But I'll leave the quirks and tastes of east coast natives to writers who have said it much better than I ever could. Fitzgerald, specifically.)
I think this is a long enough post for now. Come back later for part two, when I discuss how spectacularly I've fucked up several potential friendships, and how a few others took me totally by surprise.
[Editorial note: I'm on about my sixth pass editing this entry right now, and I still think the prose and general composition totally sucks. For that, you have my apologies. I promise you it's not from lack of effort, just lack of clear literary thinking, and I thank you for having read this.]