No Experience Required

Jane told me how pretty "what's-her-name" is, and I guess it's all true. What was it she told me when she got off the phone after setting up this disaster? "I think you'll really like her! I mean, she's got a great rack, know what I'm saying?" she said as she poked me in the side with her elbow and smiled sarcastically. "Seriously, I've known her for, like four years now. She's cool. And, dude, she knows the lead singer of The Strokes! You could talk about that. You both like going to concerts and everything. Anyway, I heard this band you're seeing is really good. They're local, but they've been together for about a decade, so at least you know they can play their instruments."

Of course, I agreed to go. I would never want to disappoint Jane. She's always talking me up to all of her female friends (and one of her guy friends, but that was a result of some confusion early on in our friendship). Whenever I'm permitted to eavesdrop on her telephone conversations to all of her girlfriends, comments like "a young Tom Cruise, only taller," "you ever see Matthew McConaughey in 'A Time to Kill'?" and, "picture a young, studly Johnny Depp," infiltrate the minds of these women. These descriptions are almost always followed by, "don't worry, they're so desperate for a nice guy, they won't know the difference," with a sinister laugh while holding her right hand over the mouthpiece.

My Forrest Gump complex really prohibits me from having a loving relationship with women. First, we become friends and that's great. Then, after we've been friends for a long time, my feelings turn to love. Meanwhile, they see me as their confidant for all of their bad dates and bitchy friends. I'm not a guy they want to obsess over. I'm the guy they want to joke with, to make fun of, to hug platonically. It never feels platonic to me, though. I hate all the men they see specifically for the reason that they aren't me. This has happened in damn near all of my relationships with women. My real problem is that I can't find dates on my own. I think I have managed to find one date by myself. Even then, that was on a dare when I was in Eddie's Tavern last year. I'm a man in my middle twenties, and now my friend Jane finds all of my dates for me.

So, here we are: Jane's friend and me, sitting at the bar of Hell's Kitchen, and boy-howdy what a time we have! The band, I can't remember what they're called, Instant Winner or something like that: they're in the other room. With the crappiness of the acoustics, our conversation can be heard just fine between us. Great. She sips her Mike's Hard Cranberry-Lemonade, while I guzzle my rum-and-cokes. I've lapped her twice and now I'm at the point in the evening where I start making loud, obnoxious, absurd comments about the people around us. "Does her mullet make her the president of the band's fan club?" "That guy has bigger breasts than the chick he's with! You know, I read somewhere that men can give milk from their nipples if you suck on 'em long enough. I bet he works for Darigold. He makes his own cheese for his hash browns! Dude, you should go up to him and ask him for a stick of - "

"All right! That's enough. Can we talk about something else, please?" She sounded mad. Probably because I called her "dude." Now, lips pressed tight, head averted to avoid eye contact, she sits with her legs crossed on the bar stool.

Maybe I should attempt some conventional "small talk." Deflated, I ask, "How long have you known Jane?"

"We've been friends since senior year of high school." Indifferent, not entertained, she rolls her eyes in plain sight of mine.

"Ahh, I see," I say feigning interest. "Well, we met at a frat party. It was my second year of college. She was drunk off her ass, and I only had a couple beers. Some guys were talking about fucking with her, you know? So, I stepped in real casually and led her away. We ended up talking for like five hours, as she sobered up. I still had to help her to the bathroom, as she tasted the liquor for the second time. We've been like best friends ever since."

"That's interesting. Yeah, she's always talking about you. I really thought you two were gonna hook up. Why didn't that ever happen?"

"Uhh, well, you know how it is. We got in that 'friend-zone' and have been camping there ever since. It's cool, though. I really see Jane as more of a sister anyway. Only, you know, a sister I can actually get along with. We can always cheer each other up and shit like that. It's great; I usually enjoy it more when we hang out, rather than with my guy friends or the dates she sets up for me." As soon as I said that, I knew it was a mistake.

With a look of surprise, she exclaimed, "So, you're not having a good time?"

"No, it's not like that. I just, uhh - "

"I see. You do have a thing for Jane. That's why you've been acting so standoffish tonight. Does she know this?"

"No! I mean, no I don't have a 'thing' for Jane. I'm just, uhh, you know, shy. I don't know how to act around women, so I get real quiet."

"You're not shy! You've been gabbing about Jane all night. If you're not talking about Jane, you're going off about man-boobs or some weird stuff like that! Why don't you just go out and tell her that you like her?"

She read me. She didn't even bother with the cover, because the text was so damn obvious. Suddenly sobered, I respond, "It's just too difficult now. She just doesn't see me as someone who she would love, you know?"

"Wait, you're in love with her? That's huge! You've got to tell her now. You can't just keep those feelings inside. Or else, you're gonna keep having these bad experiences on dates you have."

"So, you're saying this hasn't been a winning date?" I say with a knowing smile.

*(~)*

"All right, punk ass. What happened this time?"

Fearing her friend exposed me, my face loses color. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I'm talking about. Jamie told me how you guys weren't compatible, and I want to know what's up."

"Ohh, so her name is Jamie! I kept struggling with that all night. That must've been the reason why."

"B.S. I want the truth this time. You never have any return shoppers with the women I set you up with. I take a lot of pride in finding you the perfect girl, and you always seem to fuck it up!" She sounds angry, but I can tell she's not too mad. Just . . . irritated.

I take a casual sip of my iced tea. The people walking by our table on the sidewalk all look so downtrodden with the approaching storm clouds. I turn to retrieve my jacket from the back of my chair and put it on. This stalling game cannot last, I realize. She has ceased all movement, and I know Jane's just staring at me. My gaze returns to her stern eyes, glued to mine, as I imagined. I relent, and finally speak. "I don't know, I guess we just didn't have anything in common. I didn't feel that 'spark,' you know?"

"Don't feed me that clichéd bullshit! She told me what you guys talked about." At this, she smiles like the winner of a chess match. A haughty smirk.

I try to blow this comment off, hoping it is not true. Bluffing, I return with, "Oh really?" I clear my throat, "What did she say?"

"You know, I really thought we didn't keep any secrets from each other. I'm really hurt by this, you bastard! How could you not tell me about this? I would think you could tell me before some strange girl you just met on a blind date. God, if I knew you were into another woman, I never would have set you up with Jamie. So, who is this mystery girl that you're so 'madly in love with?'"

Relief! Success! I can keep up the façade until the next night I drink too much. Still, I seriously consider taking Jamie's advice. I wonder what Jane will say. What could she say? This would be the shock of her life. I mean, we've talked about what I would consider the "perfect woman." Every time, I've been talking about Jane. Laid back, a bit crude with a sarcastic sense of humor, slightly tall and athletic, but not to the extreme, someone I could not only find attractive, but someone I can get along with. Why not my best friend?

Now that I think about it, she shouldn't be surprised at all! If her friend could see through me, why not Jane? I bet she has known for years. Maybe she even feels the same way! Naw, that wouldn't make any sense. Why would she set me up with so many women? She's obsessed with getting me "laid." Plus, she's too forward. She's asking out guys all the time; she's not afraid to be the aggressor. No, it's never that convenient.

I run this dilemma through my mind for the few precious moments I have before I'm compelled to respond. On cue, she exclaims, "Well . . ."

*(~)*

She didn't say anything. She just left. Now, I'm afraid to call her. I know she'll call me when she's ready. I hope she'll call. I'm lying on my couch, in my pajamas, picking at a bowl of popcorn and not paying attention to the movie on television. I can't stop running this afternoon's conversation through my mind. I hate to think our friendship took a devastating blow. One second I was sitting and thinking, the next I just lost my mind and blurted it out. Everything I've ever done well, I've done on the spur of the moment, without conscience. Now, I can't help but think that I've gone too far.

"Actually," my heart started beating incredibly fast, "it's you. I'm just going to admit it before my balls completely retreat back into my body. I'm in love with you and that's why I can't enjoy the companionship of your friends. That's why I can never reach a connection with a woman. That's why I can't just go up to someone and ask them out, because I'm always thinking about what you would say or what you would think. Until we work through this, I'll never be happy with anyone else. As it is, when I'm not with you, I'm wondering what you're doing and where you are and who you're with and why I'm not with you at that very moment! And, now that I've said this, you'll never want to speak to me again and you'll never ask me out to coffee again and my life will be ruined." I breathe, refocus. "I'm sorry. I'm done. So, what do you think?"

*(~)*

I can't remember the last time I actually got a letter. I mean, who doesn't send emails nowadays? Jane sent me a letter, and I received it today, three days after the conversation. I haven't been able to eat much since we last talked. It's on the table there, I've read it five times, trying to make sense of the jumble of words on those four pages. The first three and a half or so are just rambling stream of consciousness; about how she wishes she felt the same as I did, and how I'm such a "great catch." The ending gets me every time, though. I'm not here. This hasn't happened. Damn that Jamie!

" . . . and you should know that I love you like a brother. I just can't be around you right now. I need to keep my distance from you, until I can reach a proper perspective on the situation. This revelation has left me in constant pain. I don't want to lose your friendship, but I know all I'll be thinking about whenever we're together is the love you have for me. I don't think I can trust you anymore. I've told you things I've never told anyone. You obviously don't share my candidness. I don't think I can trust your judgment anymore either. I've been in so many relationships since I've met you, and now I think I know why. Your opinion on the men I date has been a huge influence, and you've had some nasty comment to say about each and every one I've been with, even the ones you didn't meet. As far as I'm concerned, we'll never have the closeness that we once had. You have to find a way to get on with your life. You have to find a way to meet women. You have to get over me, because I'll never be in love with you."

I don't know how I should handle this. I only left one message on her answering machine, but I've been calling practically every hour. I need elaboration on this letter. I need to tell her that I can deal with this. I've been dealing with my feelings for years now! If I can ignore my feelings for her on a daily basis, she should be able to ignore my feelings. I hope she'll talk to me soon.

*(~)*

Distraught. All contact eliminated. We have spoken once. All she said was to leave her alone, she needed to think. I wrote her a letter: no response. I left more than a dozen messages: she turned off her phone. I flooded her computer with emails: it's been four weeks with still no word. I haven't gone to work for the last five days. I can't manage simple movement out of bed. My family has grown nervous. My doctor can't cure my pain. I've been thinking about visiting her apartment. I've been thinking about sitting outside of her door until she's forced to confront the situation. Maybe I could go to her work, walk up to her cubicle, make a huge spectacle in front of her friends. She'll talk to me then. I tried talking to Jamie. Obviously, she's on Jane's side. However, she told me Jane's dating some guy from work. I could find out who this prick is and talk to him. If she sees me talking to her boyfriend, then maybe she would be able to trust me. Hopefully, I won't feel the sudden urge in the pit of my stomach to knock the guy out.

I need to gain her trust back some way. I need one real "leap of faith" gesture to get her back in my life. I have to see her. I don't care what it takes. If she keeps all contact severed, I just might have to break into her apartment. I know how to climb up the fire escape and jimmy her window open. I could be there right now. I could get out of bed if I had a reason. I could leave my place at midnight. I could be sleeping on her couch by one. I could wake up in her apartment tomorrow morning and this dream will be over.