It was approaching midnight as we drove back toward the city, but neither one of us was ready to call it a night. So we stopped at a downtown restaurant and made our way over to the bar. I ordered a Rum and Coke. She ordered a Mint Julep.
Then she dropped the F-bomb.
She wanted to be Friends. Not "friends first." As in, "Let's not rush things." That I would have understood. It was clearly, "friends, period." As in, "There is no potential for romance here, and there never will be."
"So what are we doing here?" I wondered. If friendship was all I was interested in, I would have taken her to dinner at Chuck E. Cheese.
Instead, I'd invited her to a dinner show at a playhouse an hour's drive out of town. I thought we were hitting it off. Apparently, it was all in my head.
"Oh, were we on a date tonight?" She asked, suddenly sounding confused.
Apparently, the red rose I'd given her seven hours earlier hadn't made much of an impression, nor had the emails we'd exchanged specifically referring to the evening as a "date."
Why don't women get it? With so many dating manuals and self-help books out there, why do women consistently overlook one simple truth when it comes to men: If we ask you out on what appears to be a date, we are not interested in just friendship. Burn that rule into your brain.
Straight men don't ask straight women for their personal phone numbers, call them up out of the blue, and invite them to spend an evening together for the purpose of becoming "friends." We're men; we don't do that sort of thing. When we ask women out, we're acting on a hunch. We want to test our compatibility, explore the possibility of romance, or in some cases, just have sex.
Yes, men and women can be friends, and some of my best friends are women. But that requires a different approach altogether. There's no flirting, no suggestive physical contact, no romantic signals of any kind.
And even then, it only works when both parties mutually agree friendship is all they want.
There was no such agreement here.
"So where did I go wrong?" I asked my companion that night, thinking I could turn my latest dating disaster into a learning experience. "Help me out here... Did I do something that turned you off?"
She didn't have an answer. "You didn't do anything wrong," she began. "I had a really great time. You're funny, I enjoy your company, I think you're nice, I like your wit." She sounded sincere.
But if I'm so great, I wondered, then why didn't I get the girl?
Plenty of longtime bachelors I know have the same problem. We're the "nice" guys. Friendly, trustworthy, down to earth, good sense of humor.
We're not bad looking, we don't sleep around, and women find us "easy to talk to."
You'd think those would be plusses. But the women who see the best in us—who bring out the best in us— never want us as partners. We're not "boyfriend" material. Every attempt to date romantically eventually ends with a "Let's Be Friends" speech.
Frankly, it's insulting. Friendship is not something you offer up as a consolation prize in the dating game. Once the game begins, we play to win. If it doesn't work out, well, that's that. Game over. Gotta move on.
But in this case, when I told her we wouldn't be seeing each other as friends, she became offended. It was as if she was now playing the victim, when in fact she was the one who had rejected me.
"Why does it have to be all or nothing?" She asked.
Because I'm a guy, I wanted to say. Are women really this clueless about how we operate?
Seriously, why would I agree to deny my true feelings, suppress all passion, and check my emotions at the door, while she sits back and gets all she ever wanted out of the relationship all along? She gains another pal to hang out with at the mall, meanwhile I'm fighting off desire every moment I'm with her. And she expects me to be okay with that? I think not.
For men, dating is like a job interview. We're applying for the position of boyfriend. If the job is taken, or a woman already knows I'm not qualified, then there's no point in going through the motions as if I'm actually a candidate. And I'm certainly not interested in becoming "friends" with someone who is so insensitive that she would lead me on in such a manner.
If I sound like someone who's been down this road before, it's because I have been. Too many times. Some of my single friends who've made this same journey have decided to make finding a partner a project. They've joined singles groups, taken out personal ads, and tried to become dating machines, so far with only limited success.
The rest of us have given up and withdrawn from the dating scene. Nothing's worse than hearing yet another dating prospect say she's determined to keep things platonic. So we put up barriers to prevent the disappointments of the past from recurring. Among our closest friends, we'll spout phrases such as, "I'm relationship-challenged," or "I have a dating disability," all the while secretly hoping that love may still be just around the corner.
Intellectually, we've come to the conclusion that we were not meant to be coupled. Settling down with a wife and kids just isn't a part of the plan. Our experiences have taught us that the normal rules of engagement when it comes to the opposite sex don't work for us. No matter what we do, "always the friend, never the boyfriend" is a familiar refrain in our love life.
Having no confidence in our ability to create and sustain a relationship, we turn our attention to other areas of our lives where we have a proven track record of success. We've decided that our happiness and fulfillment will have to come from our careers, hobbies, community involvement, and relationships with extended family and friends. We set about to mine those relationships for all their worth and celebrate the freedom we enjoy from being unattached. In doing so, we grow accustomed to our independence and confident that we can live just as happily as our married counterparts. Why bother with all the headaches of trying to make a relationship work?
But then just when we think we have it all figured out, someone crosses our path who makes us want to believe in love again. Suddenly we find ourselves open to the possibility. We lower our defenses, silence those voices of self-doubt, and put ourselves out there once more just to see what will happen.
"Didn't you have a good time?" She asked, still hoping we could end the night as friends. We had finished our drinks, paid the check, and were ready to say goodnight.
"I was having a great time up until about 10 minutes ago," I told her.
"So can I call you sometime, just to hang out?" She asked.
"Only if you're available."
I never heard from her again. I think it's just as well. With each romantic failure, I become more convinced I was born to be a bachelor. Living single suits me best. But I still can't shake the feeling that somewhere, maybe there's a special someone who will one day prove me wrong.
About our guest blogger: Elliott Lewis is a former television journalist, current law student, and the author of Fade: My Journeys in Multiracial America. The book explores biracial identity and interracial family issues. He is also single. Visit his website at www.lewisfreelance.com.
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