Meade Memorial

Eastern Standard Time:
The 'Just Friends' Talk


This column appeared in February, 1994, in The Washington Blade.

By Lawrence Biemiller

It was going to be one of those just-friends talks. We were in his car, driving back from the movie theater to my apartment. "Maybe I should cut to the chase," he said at Florida and R.

"I thought you already had," I said.

"When?"

"Nobody's really too tired to go out for coffee at 11 on Saturday night. I can take a hint."

But he had planned out what he wanted to say. I was one of the most interesting people he'd met in Washington, I was someone whose friendship he valued, he just wasn't ready to -- I'm sure you know the speech, from one side or the other. This one was longer than most, more baroque in its reasoning, more elaborate in its compliments. I sat there feeling sillier and sillier. There's no way not to. The nicer he tries to be, the stupider you feel. Jeez, you want to say, why didn't you just tell me I was making a fool of myself? Why'd you let me go on like this all these weeks? Why'd you let me kiss you?

Instead, I played with my gloves and thanked him for his honesty and assured him that no harm had been done, no bad feelings provoked. (These were lies. I was heartbroken.) All this took time, of course, and the scene played itself out to its final, awkward handshake in the icy parking lot in front of my building.

If you want the truth, the just-friends talk was no worse than I deserved. I had been interested in two guys at the same time, and both had been interested in me, and I had put off deciding between them, telling myself I didn't know enough about either to choose. Now, in a roundabout way, I was paying the price: One of them was cutting to the chase, and the other had just left town. Frankly it had never occurred to me that two attractive, intelligent men might kiss me in the same week, much less that I might lose both of them in one weekend.

"Whole years go by in which nobody even returns my calls," I complained over the phone to G. Hiroshima. "And then -- Pow! -- two nice guys at once. Go figure."

"Well, Sam still likes you, even if he's not there," G. Hiroshima said. "Could be worse."

"Yeah, but he lives in Rhode Island, Gregory. The long-term prospects are what we call not good. Two more years there, then he gets his Ph.D., then he goes off to Lord-knows-where to be a professor."

"You forget that I'm seeing a professor who just got tenure in Los Angeles," G. Hiroshima said. "I hope you're not expecting sympathy."

"I guess not. Actually, I think it was knowing that Sam had to go back to Rhode Island that kept me from doing whatever it is I do that drives men away, you know? From being clingy, I guess, or from saying too much. Right from the start, from our very first phone conversation, it was clear that there was no point to getting serious or involved. So we didn't. Neither of us had to be asking ourselves whether this was really the right guy, or whether we were moving too fast -- all that stuff you worry about in the shower every morning. Instead we had five weeks to enjoy each other's company. It was kinda neat. No-risk romance, you know?"

"No-risk romance?" said G. Hiroshima. "You?"

"All right, so I got all choked up when he left. Sue me. He's a very nice guy, Gregory."

"And Bachelorette No. 2? No risk there either, I suppose?"

"Apparently there was, or I wouldn't be complaining about the just-friends speech. And I know what I did wrong -- I said too much. I was honest with him. We had this long conversation one night, and I let on that I found his intelligence a little threatening, that I had no idea what he saw in me, that his -- "

"Never level with them, Lar. Never. It's all a game, isn't it? And the object is to keep him off balance, not to tell him he's got you off balance. Didn't that boy Dalton teach you anything?"

"You know I've never been any good at games, Gregory. And his name was not Dalton."

"Yeah, well. What did he tell you after you broke up with Mark?"

"He said everyone wants to date someone stronger than they are. He said confidence is everything. He said that's what people respect."

"Exactly."

"So we spend the rest of our lives pretending to be confident every minute of the day?"

"Shall we talk about men both our mothers have lost respect for, and pretty late in the game at that? Shall we talk about ugly divorces?"

"Let's not."

"Did you ever tell Sam you didn't understand what he saw in you? That you found him threatening?"

"No."

"And what happened?"

"He hung around."

"And Bachelorette No. 2? Whom you leveled with?"

"History."

"No further questions, Your Honor," said G. Hiroshima. "Except one. Did you tell Andrew Sullivan yet that he has to go out on a date with me?"

One New Year's a while back I resolved to be quieter and more confident, and to complain less. I thought this would make me a better person, or at least a more pleasant one to spend time with. For months I repeated "Quiet, confident, uncomplaining" like a mantra -- showering, walking to work, dialing the phone numbers of friends and potential dates. For the sake of convenience I even abbreviated: Q.C.U.

Q.C.U. -- Q.C.U. -- Q.C.U.

And a happy St. Valentine's Day to you all.

Copyright © 1994 by Lawrence Biemiller. Published February, 1994, in The Washington Blade.