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Playing Chicken

September 14, 2007

Relationships can be broken down into benchmarks. Not all of them landmarks, but they do chart progress – the extent to which people have connected/interacted with one another. It’s strangers becoming acquaintances; people who meet in a larger social circle making plans directly for the first time. A local proprietor/vendor learns your name and before long – you’re a regular.

On occasion the transition in question is that of friendship to romantic involvement. Whether or not this switch is a good idea is debatable. Most times the outcome, itself, is irrelevant. Making the call one way or another has a way of restoring balance, peace, love and understanding.

Still ambivalence (not to be confused with apathy) is a pandemic virus that can now be transmitted digitally through networking communities. These online hubs quench the same voyeuristic thirst for aging Gen X-ers once sated by hanging out at the mall. Let’s call the relationship status option “It’s complicated” for what it is: “It’s simple: simply a waste of time.” (My friends have been instructed to duct tape me to the furniture should I ever select that from the drop down menu.) Relationships are complicated enough without adding lithium to the beer keg striking a match next to a powder keg.)

To wit, I am reminded of a situation that cropped up a while back while I was advertising for two new roommates on Craigslist. One of the guys who threw his well-worn baseball cap into the ring was a dynamic and outgoing guy relocating for work. He ended up going with a less expensive place a bit further out of the way. We had a good rapport so I added him to my circ list for social stuff. When my relationship status changed from “In a Relationship” to “Single-Girl-at-Large” the exchanges exploded into a rapid-fire laugh riot. He possessed, and I imagine still does possess, a delightfully warped mind and uninhibited sense of humor that, for the most part, stayed on the right side of ‘the line’ by the grace of wit and general charm.

On New Year’s Eve day we met for scrambies and hot cocoa. The tone of the brunch was a skosh date-like. The first thing he said as he walked up the stairs was that my hair was different and he liked it. Mind you- I have oodles of male friends and they do give compliments from time to time. Usually that’s further along into the friendship and not our second time hanging out. Before buddy status is established, hair and eye color comments are indicators of attraction from a man who has been taught better to than to compliment the feature actually being admired. (i.e.- “Killer rack!” or “Suh-weet bedonk!”)

So, back to this pseudo-date: the conversation was easy and the sense of humor overlap gave way to laughter. Still the acquaintance could have gone any number of ways after the fact: full fledged dating, platonic bliss or a communication black out. The weird part? NONE of the above came to pass. He followed up, we wrote back and forth. Clearly, time and thought was put into e-mails and the average response time got down to less than a an hour. Good sign, right?

Not so much. No future plans were discussed. Invitations to join me at yoga class or happy hour were met with perfectly reasonable excuses. When my yawn became to big to stifle, I stopped writing. I get it: you’re just not that into me. Hell- I even bought the book*. Not for nothing, but the last thing I have time for is following the daily ins and outs of a stranger who is too busy recounting the details of his exciting life to drive the five miles between my house and his. Bud- hop in the jeep and let’s get on with changing our status from that of pointless pen pals to real-life friends. Otherwise, I have oodles of dear people in my life with whom I don’t keep up to my satisfaction already. I’d just as soon put my energy there.

Here’s the part that, for the life of me, I could not understand… The moment my interest waned I received overtures seeking my attention. What was up? Hadn’t heard from me. Unsolicited updates about his current week’s cross training regime flooded my inbox. He’d share a follow up getting-wasted anecdote or three. So I bit and replied. Maybe he was interested after all and his busy schedule would loosen as he adjusted to the new job?

Again, not so much. It was more of the same. Ready to crack this nut once and for all, I consulted one of my guy friends legendary in my circle for similarly quizzical dude-like behavior. I forwarded him the recent correspondence for analysis. He reviewed the raw data and zeroed in on this elusive gents account of the home-made chicken florentine recipe he had mastered in his quest to learn domestic self-sufficience. My friend’s suggestion was brilliant: “Ask him when he’s going to make you chicken florentine.” This harkens back to the old adage: a bird in the oven in worth two in the bush.

Email: drafted. Push send… Cue: crickets. And there you have it. That was my answer. Would I have liked to had an exquisitely prepared main course followed up with a little sumthin’ sumthin’ for dessert? Duh. Ultimately, the only thing this guy was cookin’ up was a red wine reduction of my discretionary time. Closing that door did wonders for eliminating the cold draft.

Since then I’ve come across several incarnations of the very same beast… the harried executive far too important to be bothered with the business of being my boyfriend… the disillusioned idealist sacrificing authenticity at the altar of originality… the creatively frustrated code monkey who balked at every chance to tell truth as he knew full well the only hand he had to deal was lousy with deal breakers. The list goes on and will no doubt continue to grow until I find that rare (likely extinct) bird with whom holding hands beats out coveting the upper one.

At the end of the day (or more importantly – at the end of one’s life), what good is emotional connection when maintaining the status quo takes precedence? How satifying is witty reparteé over e-mail when the good humor isn’t put to good use fueling an actual relationship? How wasteful is it to squander intellect constructing smoke screens out of existential equivocations as a means of obscuring uncapitalized potential? Lastly, is there, somewhere, a person with whom I will have that Hepburn/Tracy like banter and effortless candor whose cold feet are at least close enough to wake me in the middle of the night?

When I find myself in these epic moments of introspection, I turn my gaze up the sky – specifically towards the wisdomry of the Flight of Conchords. “How come we’ve reached this fork in the road / And yet it cuts like a knife.”

I love those buddha-like kiwis. Their musical stylings may well carry me through ‘til I find the person ready to go a few rounds over the important stuff: toothpaste- cap on or off? toilet seat- down or up? I have very strong feelings about both these issues and look forward to one day battling it out… on equal ground… to the death.

*The spine is facing the back of the bookshelf along with a few other self-help titles I own on the ‘down-low’. Anyone one who wants to know about my lovelorn inner child will have to dig for it.

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