I’ve had quite a number of imaginary boyfriends. When I worked downtown my boyfriend was this excruciatingly handsome dude who caught the 147 bus I intentionally started taking after the first time I saw him on it. His name was “Ham Sandwich.” Because every morning dude would get on the bus and eat a goddamned ham sandwich. I was smitten immediately. I made sure i got the 6:55 A.M. bus every single day, and I would spend our entire commute trying to think of a casual way to introduce myself.
What I knew about him: 1. Fond of charcoal gray suits and tortoiseshell glasses 2. Lived somewhere in the vicinity of Sheridan and Granville 3. Loved the shit out of a ham breakfast sandwich. What he knew about the creeper staring at him from the back of the bus: NOT A GODDAMNED THING. Homie had no idea whatsoever that I was standing in front of my closet for fifteen minutes every morning deciding what to wear that might get his attention. OFr that I made myself a mixtape of really earnest love songs to listen to every morning while I gazed at his lovely face.
See also: mechanic boyfriend, who replaced my clutch three times before he figured out that I had some sick variation of Munchausen Syndrome and was essentially fucking my car up just to see him; reggae singer boyfriend, whose marginally interesting band’s shows cost me approximately $2,763,984 a month in bar tabs; DHL boyfriend, who made dozens of deliveries without ever showing me his, ahem, package; liquor store boyfriend, who remained surprisingly not-alarmed at the frequency with which I purchased bourbon and champagne. Not to mention taqueria boyfriend, Starbucks boyfriend, Best Buy boyfriend, Peapod delivery boyfriend, cab driver boyfriend, my boyfriend at the dry cleaner, my boyfriend at DIRECTV, my boyfriend who DJs at Slick’s every tuesday night, my boyfriend from the fourth floor with the green laundry basket, my multiple boyfriends working out at the gym. I FALL IN LOVE FAIRLY EASILY, OKAY.
Did any of my brainfriends know that he was in love with me? OF COURSE NOT. That ruins the fucking fun of it. Brainfriends are a harmless distraction from the mundanities of every day life. Am I ever going to speak to any of them for real? Ask if he’s ever noticed in the nine months I’ve been ordering my americanos from him how nice my shoes are? Probably not. But sometimes it takes a reason outside of myself to hike my tits up and throw a dress on to go out and face the outside world. And if that outside world contains that adorably chubby bearded gentleman who works the express lane at Whole Foods during the lunch rush, then I’m going to face it with two handfuls of exposed cleavage and smile real hard while that young man weighs my nine pound container of “salad.”
THIS IS HOW I PREFER IT. I’d rather sit in my dark apartment in my cheese pants for weeks at a time, emerging only to limp to the corner store for scratch-off lottery tickets, ice cream, and overpriced fancy beers, than navigate the tricky, complicated universe of dating other human beings. Ten months celibate and it’s still fine. But I am not unsusceptible to the overabundance of attention and affection that could possibly signal romance. Try though I might, I have not yet developed an immunity to hormones.
And it is through this little crack in my armor, the tiny sliver of light in my cold dead heart, that a new breed of emotional terrorist has slipped through to lay waste to my tender, precious feelings: the total fucking asshole who pretends to want to have sex with you when he really just wants to be friends or whatever. What a dick. Here’s a handy guide to how you, too, can experience this love miracle.
1. Be a person.
The animal kingdom has it a little bit easier than we do. There’s no cat-and-mouse who should text who first bullshit; no “how many dinners does he have to buy before I let him see my apartment?” nonsense; no hopeful “call me!” shouted to the shadowy retreating figure tiptoeing out of your apartment the morning after you brought that asshole home from the bar. If i was a dog I could just mount whoever smelled good to me and that would be the end of it. But because I’m a people I gotta do lame shit like negotiate sex acts and drive myself crazy trying to decipher the intent of someone who communicates solely in emojis.
2. Have a working email address and/or Facebook.
This step is crucial in the “I didn’t like you until I thought you liked me” game. When I meet a motherfucker in person, I can tell instantly whether or not he wants to put his hands down the front of my pants for real or if he’s just gassing me up because I’m funny and all my goddamned friends are cute. Oh yeah, you’re into the Asian one? COOL STORY, BRO. Thanks for not wasting a single one of my anytime minutes.
But these new jerks will send you a message on Facebook and shit, one that toes the line between sexual interest and “let’s just eat pizza together!” so hard that you have to forward it to, like, six of your smartest ladyfriends. I got one a few weeks ago that basically read like this:
sex sex sex blowjob! finger you, sex sex boyfriend cunnilingus?
no wait, best friends. friends forever. totally just going to talk to you about other women.
but sex? boyfriend boyfriend hot dripping wet sex! sex sex!
dick pics, sex sex sex, cum.
but on the other hand, BFFs. friend friend hangout friend things not a date. buddies hanging, friend friend like a sister!
on second thought, FUCK ME. fuck suck eat you out blow me, okay? maybe week after next? fuck fest dick stroke anal? SEXY SEX. sext me at 312-xxx-x46x
we should get a pizza sometime. you’re amazing, girl. like the best friend i always wanted. and wanted to fuck in the eyesocket. but like a buddy only. love, your new sexpenis.
How am I supposed to respond to this? Seriously, what the fuck should I have said? What kind of answer is warranted by a sort of hot, kind of ambivalent hastily written email? So, after thinking about it for a few minutes, I did what any normal person would do and wrote back: WHAT. (But I have to admit, I was a little intrigued. Dude was kind of fine.)
3. Be receptive to meeting new people and making new friends.
As much as I want to be a cold block of too cool for school ice, more often than not I am a slippery pat of melted butter when it comes to opening myself up to allow new people into my life. Because I don’t want to be that bitter asshole who’s all “NO CAPACITY” every time someone interesting wants to be my friend. Or my more than friend. Or my text person. Or my email pen pal. I like having people in my life. I don’t want to be one of those babies in Romanian orphanages who are starved for some human touch. I don’t want to be a feral barn cat that you can’t get near with a ten foot pole. People who need people are the (un)luckiest people.
4. Make unclassifiable plans.
Is Starbucks on a weekday a date? What about a morning matinee on a Sunday? Is drinks a date? Dinner is definitely a date. Unless he expects me to pay for my half, which means he totally doesn’t want to fuck me. But is dinner always a date? Is it a date if we go dancing? What about a free concert at Millenium Park? If I just hang with him at the arcade playing foosball, is that shit a date? Is running together a date? What about hanging out at the bookstore? If he takes me to Great America but doesn’t win me a teddy bear, should I consider that a date? We did karaoke, like, three different times: We’re dating, right? But he paid for my drinks! Does he just have a lot of disposable income so he doesn’t care about buying two bottles of wine for a woman he has no interest in sleeping with? Who wants to spend three hours at the MCA with dude who doesn’t want to kiss her? Can I wear my meat pants and a gravy shirt out to lunch since we’re just buddies? Why did he invite me on a road trip if we aren’t really a couple? WHO THE FUCK GOES TO A MOTHERFUCKING WINE TASTING WITH A BITCH HE ISN’T EVER GOING TO GO DOWN ON?!
5. Get the wrong fucking idea.
This is a weird stage in the clumsy, disconcerting are-we-or-aren’t-we? game. SO MANY UNCLASSIFIED DATES. SO MANY INDETERMINATELY FLIRTATIOUS TEXTS. SO MUCH CASUAL PLACING OF HANDS ON MY BODY PARTS. I am only a monkey of fair to middling intelligence, friends. I can’t possibly be expected to discern potential malice from swooning lust when they look and sound like the same goddamned thing. Why come people are so afraid to just say what it is they actually want? For instance, if I am hungry, I will say, “Bitch, let’s get some tacos,” and if I want to have sex with you, I will ask, “Can I please have sex with you?”
If the answer is no, that’s fine. But what I won’t do is pretend I want to have sex with you when what I really want is for you to look over my taxes one time and maybe go to see Tame Impala with me next week. I do not understand assholes who lead people on in this way. Subhuman intelligence or not, I think most of us are capable of being a friend without the dangled carrot of possible sex.
6. Be cool during the inevitable AWKWARD MOMENT OF REJECTION TRUTH.
Here is my favorite one: I went to a birthday party once with a dude I was pretty sure I was dating. We had kissed only once, but it was cool because HE REALLY WANTED TO KNOW MY MIND AND NOT JUST MY BODY, YOU GUYS. He was one of these progressive, sensitive cats who used the word “energy” a lot and referred to his penis as his manhood. We were hanging out four or five nights a week; really, um, according to him, “vibing on each other’s flow.” (Work with me here.)
Anyway the party was fine, at some stupid lounge on the South Side, the kind of place that is thick with incense and dreadlocks and wood bracelets. I felt out of place immediately. Desperate to connect with other people with natural hair, I struck up a conversation with this beautiful afroed woman at the bar about co-washing and herbal supplements. Ten minutes into our discussion homeboy rolls up on me with his arm circled around the waist of a woman who was wearing what appeared to be a tablecloth as a dress. A woman he introduced as his girlfriend. Well, of course! So nice to meet you! Don’t mind me, I’ve just been working on my astrology chart and cooking vegetarian meals (really) with your boyfriend EVERY SINGLE NIGHT SINCE MARCH, but of course you are his goddamned girlfriend! I left when no one was paying attention, and ignored every subsequent message asking if I might be interested in aligning our chakras.
Oh, and the well-meaning gentleman who sent that misleading-ass sexnote? VANISHED INTO THIN AIR. That’s right, I haven’t heard a damn thing. It’s just as well, bro. I fucking hate eating ambiguous pizza. Shit always leaves me hella salty.