Wednesday, March 28, 2007

“In a relationship”

Pumping my bike tires at the 6th Avenue Bike Shop this Sunday, a man leaned over my handlebars to ask if he could assist. While he aligned my tires and adjusted my breaks, he pushed a baby and stroller up against the nearest wall. “It’s not my kid. I’m watching him for my friend inside. My buddy. He’s a guy.” After he corrected my seat, he asked me out. And as I heard myself giving out my number, I suddenly realized that I probably should not. That I was now "in a relationship".

Last week, before Gabe and I had ‘the talk’, an attractive man gripping the leather of my seat would have been rewarded with a number and possible coffee date. But now that I have changed my MySpace status to “in a relationship” I need to gather some research on what that means.

It’s been awhile since a man called me his girlfriend in public. It’s been since 2003. A lot has changed in the past four years. What has not changed, is the fantastic feeling of acceptance and appreciation when a man introduces me for the first time as his girlfriend.

“Hey Juan, this is my girlfriend Inrid.” Tingles. Really. But a moment of short lived jubilance barely had time to register before being replaced by a creeping fear.

Oh shit. Wait. What did I just accept? Have I been labelled. Do I really like that? And it’s been so long, what does it even mean to be someone's girlfriend?

So far, it means regular phenomenal sex, an assured date on Saturday night, someone to talk to on the way home from dinner parties, an excuse to order three entrees and two desserts, an increase in text messaging charges, not having to shave my legs, a regular receptacle for tales of my daily resentments, and a reason to lay in bed on Saturday until noon. But in my joy of all the things you get from being "in a relationship", I had completely forgotten about the things you lose.

My friend Max has sworn off sex for the last year in order to avoid an accidental relationship. He despises the thought of being tied to someone, a label or his own lust. Max thinks a relationship is being denied access to an independent life, the punishment of copious amounts of restriction. He reminds me every time we get together that if he were in a relationship then we could probably not be friends.

“Does that mean that when you are in a relationship you can no longer be friends with the opposite sex?” I ask him over Panini at Vesuvio’s on a Saturday afternoon stroll through Soho.

“Unfortunately, I think the answer to that is, only if they are grandfathered in.” He continues, “The social rule seems to allow you to maintain your current opposite sex friends, but limit your ability to make new ones.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. If your partner is worried that your friendships will tempt you to cheat, then wouldn’t your partner be more concerned about your long standing opposite sex friendships.”

Max sips from the small Espresso cup in front of him.

“Listen Ingrid, it doesn’t make any sense. It merely reveals the human frailty of insecurity. Two confident individuals should be able to make and maintain true friendships with others as well as each other. To be quite frank, it is exactly these types of ridiculous rules that drive me to abhor sexual relationships.”

A few weeks ago, Gabe and I went to see a friends band at Iriving Plaza and afterwards my friend introduced me to the bass player. Gabe and I cracked jokes and traded stories with Mr. Bass, but the next day, the married bass player sent me a MySpace message.

“You and I should get coffee some time.”

The single Ingrid wondered what his wife would think of the request, but then the “in a relationship” Ingrid thought maybe he just enjoyed my company and wanted to be friends. We do have common interests and he is really hot. Does being married mean he can no longer make friends with the opposite sex? Am I allowed to pursue new friendships with hot bass players?

When I told Gabe the story he just sort of shrugged his shoulders. Was that the protocol? Am I supposed to tell the boyfriend? Won't that hurt his pride? Does being "in a relationship" means I have to think about these solicitations with more care?

My Souther artist friend Bella has a boyfriend that lives in Upstate New York and she was recently asked to a gallery opening by a gorgeous male model/art collector.

“I love my boyfriend, but it would be so wonderful to go out to dinner with this guy.”

Bella and I are catching a late Sunday brunch at Cafeteria in Chelsea.

“Well, why don’t you just tell him that you have a boyfriend and see if he wants to be friends?”

She leans in and lowers her voice, because our waiter has sat someone directly next to us and Bella's southern sensibility makes her cognizant that the table next to us can hear just about everything we are saying. “But what if he does just want to be friends? Then I’ve insulted him by insinuating that he has romantic interests in me."

I lean into her, “That’s crap Bee. You don’t want to tell him you have a boyfriend because you are afraid he will cancel.”

She falls back into the chocolate booth and sighs. “Oh God, you are right. It’s just that this guy is so great. He’s interesting and funny and talented. And Jack is so far away and I’m starting to wonder if he will ever propose. I really want to be this guy’s friend Ingrid.”

Bella has demonstrated what the boyfriend label does not mean. It does not mean security. It does not mean that your girlfriend will stop dating other men. It does not mean that your boyfriend is ready to get married. And I am right back to questioning what it means to be "in a relationship".

I’m not going to over think it. I’m not going to let my OCD brain develop a list of bullet points, format it into a power point and present it to Gabe over our next dinner date. Now I wouldn't do that, right? But one has to wonder, why I, an independent and self-professed professional single, was so eager for the false security of this clearly bogus label. Is it too late to take it away? Don't get me wrong, I'm happy being "in a relationship". But, if we just take away the label, can I go out with the bicycle guy?

Why was I in such a rush to get here? And while honestly, there is simply no other man with whom I want to spend my time, perhaps Gabe was right and we don't need a label. You see, like most benchmarks in a relationship, once you pass them there is no going back. There is no such thing as a second first kiss.

The truth is, I really don't want to go backward. I'm just scared of going forward. Scared and confused. I haven't been here in a while.


Anonymous said...

you have a true gift for narrating these mental-emotional crises that we ALL have gone through and still go through.
applause for you!

VA is for Lovers said...

You can't compare the married bass player with the bike guy. They are entirely different entities. I would say that if you want to hang out with the bike guy and Cole is okay with it, than go for it.

I've maintained my friendships with men and made new ones while my husband and I were dating.

Just be open with Cole about it and keep in mind that most men (and I'm sure you know this) just want to get in your pants. I would advise you to stay away from any alone time with the married bass player.

Happily and honest married men don't spend alone time with women (and men for that matter- I know all of the men that my husband hangs out with) that their wives don't know.

Another example: your parents know all of each other's friends. If he does however introduce you to his wife and you feel that she is comfortable with you, then by all means hang out with him.

You might not have a serious commitment to anybody, but he does have a commitment to his wife. The only time that you should go have coffee with a married man is if you are a family friend, you work together, or you are connected through some kind of organization, such as AA.

I worked in close quarters with 8 married men and learned that men who truly love and appreciate their wives don't keep secrets and don't have friends that their spouses don't know. I'm not trying to imply that you would do something to hurt his marriage and I'm not trying to sound all religious and preachy. I just think that you should be wary of the married guy . . . especially the kind in a band, because those marriages are already under a certain amount of tension.

Anonymous said...

We invent what we love, and what we fear. - John Irving

Metanoia said...

no ring. no thing. period. end of sentence.


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