There may be a reason grooms don’t choose a best woman for their wedding. Soon after I got engaged, I noticed a growing chasm between my best gal pals and me.
These were my people in New York, friends I’d had for half a decade. We’d nursed each other through breakups and bad jobs. But the call-backs became less frequent, and, when they did come, it was hard not to detect a fair amount of frostiness on the other end of the line.
I’d meet each of them a couple of times a month for booze-fueled marathon meals at Raoul’s, followed up by a nightcap somewhere we considered suitable: quiet, expensive and not overrun with colleagues in media or fashion. In retrospect, these evenings did have the feel of well-planned liaisons. An all-around terrific platonic date was I. But now these women were nowhere to be found.
“You’ve become just like all the girls I have to deal with at work,” Alexandra said during one of our final conversations. She’s a fashion editor and, coincidentally, a distant relative through marriage. For several years, we spoke a few times during the day, no matter where we were in the country. “All you talk about is your wedding, your weight and what you’re buying next,” she accused. “We used to talk about interesting things like art and books.”
I had to disagree-I don’t recall that we ever discussed anything that interesting-but maybe she had a point.
I phoned up a few other female friends to see if I was, in fact, turning into the kind of person we’d always avoided. Consensus had it that I was the same superficial person I’d always been-no better, no worse. So I decided to ask Carrie, my fiancée, for her take on the situation. She was frustrated and amused in equal measure.
“For someone with so many women friends, you really aren’t very smart when it comes to women,” she began. I saw where she was coming from. (The same could be said about my career and my finances, but those are other stories.) “When Alexandra says, ‘We used to have interesting conversations,’ what she means is, ‘We used to have conversations about how wonderful you think I am’-and to her, that was interesting!”
I may lack the stoic solitude of my male predecessors, but then again, they weren’t faced with the challenge of fathoming the New York female’s mind. It stung to think I’d been doing such a lousy job at it. I got back on the phone and began asking the wives of my guy friends for their opinions.
These women explained the scenario I’d been caught in: A woman chooses a guy and takes him to bed, at least once, though she has no intention of making him her boyfriend. “The single boudoir romp establishes a dynamic where the man’s job of pleasing her continues outside of the bedroom,” as one wife explained. “This also lets her think he’s totally in love with her, and she could have him if she ever really wanted.”
Initially, I had taken Carrie’s critique of the situation with a grain of salt, as she’s the first to admit she’s not the greatest fan of her own sex. I, on the other hand, love everything about them. Merely watching a woman eat a bagel is as entertaining as an episode of The Apprentice to me. Now, of course, I realized that was part of the problem. I was being brought up to speed by women who no longer needed to worry about giving away the game. All this useful information-about 10 years after I needed it.
And yet, I still entertained the notion that my female friends’ scorn was rooted in their frustrated desire for me. How could they not want me-right? Again I asked Carrie. She laughed not a little derisively, and then let me in on another of the biggest secrets of Manhattan single life. (I think of this period as the Week of Revelations.)
Here goes: Contrary to popular opinion, a gay guy isn’t a stylish chick’s most desirable accessory, in this or any season. On the contrary, what every New York woman needs is a smart, presentable straight man with whom she has no intention of becoming a couple, but who nonetheless treats her with the kind of old-fashioned attention she’d demand from a boyfriend. What a single woman wants, in other words, is a perma-suitor, and I was a prime specimen.
Typically, a new girl would enter my life-or, rather, I’d insinuate myself into hers-and I’d quickly become a confidante. Mine was the traditional man’s courtship role, mindful of doors, stairs, curbs and cobblestones, and I loved every minute of it. One of my finest memories is of standing outside of Rockefeller Center unsticking Alexandra’s stiletto, her foot still sheathed inside, from a street grate, as approving tourists witnessed this genuine New York moment.
Both of us knew the relationship was not headed for “friends with benefits” status. But soon enough, one evening after one too many mudslides at the Stinger Club in Williamsburg, we did spend a few hours as much closer friends.
I can say, for the record, that I’ve fooled around with almost all of my female friends at least once. Each time, I attributed it to my insatiable curiosity about all aspects of their lives. Now, I’m rearranging my thinking. I might go so far as to say I’ve never seduced anyone. I now think these women slept with me in order to become my friend, only on their terms-perma-suitor terms.
There was plenty in that for me, too, of course. Everyone agrees that the chase is better than the catch, but for me it was a full-time occupation. I always assumed that the official pursuit stage ended after a few weeks or months because my desire was either satisfied or deferred. I then congratulated myself on my ability to maintain the friendship. It wasn’t that I thought exercising good manners was going to get them back into bed, exactly; I just couldn’t imagine behaving any other way. I always chose smart girls, and they were still more fun to look at than a bartender while I nursed a beer by my lonesome. My desire to score may have passed, but my full courtship press never did.
All of that is out the window, of course, once a guy gets engaged. Basically, I entered into a social contract to be there for my women friends in a particular way, and now I was breaking the deal. It’s no wonder they were annoyed.
One of the last times I saw her, Alexandra and I went to see a movie at the Angelika. I said I wanted to move to one of the first couple of rows. She didn’t, and remained sitting alone in the middle of the theater. Later on, she was sure to point this out as just one example of how I’d changed. Since she’d often claimed she wanted me to treat her like one of the guys, I had a reasonable excuse for my behavior. But I should have seen the handwriting on the wall right then: Even a modern man can have only one master. Alexandra, of course, knew this all along, and it all must have seemed ridiculously obvious to her that day as she watched me sitting several rows ahead of her in the theater. The show was over.