My poet friend—call her Sylvia—thought she had a guy for me. “So dateable,” she told me. “Cute, smart, funny. Weirdly confessional, but in a good way—like you, actually. And an architect.”
I sat up. “Sold!” Architects have a certain cachet for me: They’re creative but more practical and stable than the writers and artists I usually fall for. “Hook me up.”
“Well … it’s not that easy. Because, also like you, he can be a little neurotic—”
“Me, neurotic? Why’d you say that?”
“See?” she groaned. “Anyway, I think it stands a better chance if there’s no romantic pressure and you get to know each other as friends first.”
Then I groaned. “Get to know each other? Become friends first? That’s so inefficient. So horse-and-buggy. Wasn’t Internet dating supposed to do away with that crap? You look at a picture, read the profile, do the meet-and-greet over cocktails—then you take him or leave him. Right?”
“Let me ask you: How many Internet dates have you been on?”
“Yeah, how big is the new national deficit? That many.”
“And how many have turned into a lasting relationship?”
I saw her point.
“Come cat-sit for me in a couple weeks,” she said. “And I’ll ask him to entertain you—but that’s as far as I’ll go. I refuse to bill it as a setup.”
“I don’t want another friend,” I grumbled. “I want sex.” But when the time came, I sucked it up and drove to the college town where Sylvia lives to tend her felines and have a platonic beverage with the architect.
“Frank Lloyd” came by to take me out the night I arrived, a Thursday. Opening the door, I saw a blue-eyed blond—not my usual type, but so adorable that I could be flexible. Plus, I liked his style: Euro glasses, a plaid button-down with cowboy snaps, jeans, green Pumas. Hip without trying too hard. Before he put his key in the ignition, my crush was on.
But over drinks at the bar in an old unmarked Victorian, he started telling me about a girl he’d just met—which obviously meant he had zero romantic interest in me! As if to emphasize that point, he asked if I’d be his temporary dating guru during Sylvia’s absence. Suddenly, I was grateful she hadn’t officially set us up; therefore, I hadn’t been officially rejected. Trying to be a good sport, I said to him, “Tell me everything.”
Two nights earlier, he’d gone on his first date with some Ph.D. student he’d met through Nerve personals. They ended up at her place. After a little smooching on the couch, she went into the kitchen and returned with two beers—completely naked.
I was dying to know if she’d kept her heels on. (I would have!) But I blurted out the more pressing question: “So did you guys—” I did a disco-roll with my hands. “You know. Did you?”
“Let’s just say enough happened that I feel weird about our second date. Which is tomorrow. Am I a jerk? Or a prude?”
“Neither,” I said. “Being slightly freaked is understandable. But give her another shot. First dates can be hard.”
Frank and I kept talking: trading stories about relationships, careers, our big dreams. It was more fun than I’d had in a long time, and though I was still bummed that I’d never be his babe, I was strangely excited about being his friend.
Later, I was getting out of his car when Frank asked if I could do dinner Saturday. Could it be—a date?! “Sounds great,” I said—and then I impulsively hugged him.
Without lifting his hands from the steering wheel, he gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look. “My best friend Andrew’s around,” he mumbled. “And his girlfriend’s not. We’ll all hang.”
When I met up with the guys that weekend, Frank tersely reported that date No. 2 with the Ph.D. hadn’t gone so great. Our “boys’ night out,” on the other hand, went fabulously: After tapas and sangria, we stayed up late drinking beers and listening to music. The adventure continued Sunday, with brunch in town, a drive to the country, a hike and a picnic dinner. But as much as I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help wonder what things could have been like if there’d been only two of us.
After we’d dropped Andrew off Sunday night, Frank asked if I’d like to see his place. That old line? I thought. He wants to make out!
Well, no. He wanted to show me his architect’s portfolio.
The next morning, I spent my trip home reminding myself that I never liked blonds anyway. But 24 hours later, when the blond in question e-mailed asking if I’d rabbit-sit for a pal of his so we could hang out again, I knew I did care. A lot.
On the evening I arrived for bunny duty, Frank came over to where I was staying with Thai take-out and microbrews—along with his best female friend and her sister. Both were smart and funny, but I was too distracted by disappointment to really enjoy their company.
Around midnight, the girls left. “Maybe I should take off, too,” Frank said as we watched their bumper lights disappear from the driveway.
“Whatever you want,” I said, thinking, If you’re not going to manhandle me, definitely leave—and go straight to hell.
Instead, he went into the kitchen for another drink. I followed him and flopped down cross-legged on the floor, feeling too polite to kick him out but too exhausted to make any effort. He mixed a gin and tonic and hopped up on the counter. Then, lit only by the glow of the orange moon coming in the skylight, he asked if I was seeing anyone.
Hadn’t Sylvia told him that I was—how do you say—between men? Then I realized she wouldn’t have had any reason to mention it, because she hadn’t set us up.
“Oh, I’m single,” I said. “And if I read one more online profile by a guy looking for a woman who’s ‘just as comfortable shooting pool in a dive as using chopsticks at Nobu,’ I’m going to scream. Enjoying exorbitantly expensive sushi is not exactly difficult, people! And another thing—exercise doesn’t count as an ‘interest.’ It’s like … calling flossing your teeth a hobby.” I sighed. “I think what I’m trying to say is I’m really sick of Internet dating.”
“Me, too,” he said. “The more I do it, the more I’m convinced it’s no way to meet someone.”
“Totally,” I said, undoing the strap on my stiletto.
“Sylvia’s theory is that you should get to know someone slowly. Become friends first.”
Frank took an audible breath. “I guess that’s why I haven’t kissed you yet.”
I was still fiddling with my heels when that sunk in. “Wait. What?”
“I figured if you and I became buddies first, we’d have a better shot at—at becoming something else later. What should we do?”
“Maybe we should start slowly. With a hug?”
He nodded and pushed off the counter, then helped me up. In the middle of the room, we put our arms around each other. Since I had one shoe off, I had to put my other foot on his Puma to stay balanced. And then our lips finally touched. It was worth the wait.