Not long ago, I ran into a guy I know, Ambiguboy, at a panel discussion I was participating in called "The Modern Woman Unbound." I was pontificating on my rise from pathetic nobody to poster girl for the urban literati when I spotted his angelic puss in the largely female crowd. Ambiguboy and I had a bunch of mutual friends, and every once in a while we'd run into each other at a party.
Though he had an unflatteringly boyish haircut, he was witty and even-keeled, and I'd always been vaguely attracted to him.
I gave him an effusive hello after the event, but he seemed distracted and eager to leave. A few days later, he e-mailed me: "I'm sorry I wasn't able to talk with you more; I was actually on a date and she was waiting for me outside. Maybe we could get a coffee or a drink and catch up."
I figured if he was mentioning his date, it might be a veiled way of letting me know he was taken, in which case I didn't want to waste my time. So I wrote back, "ARE YOU ASKING ME OUT ON A DATE? GREAT!"
"Is Thursday good?" he replied, ignoring my question. I should have known then that we were doomed. He was either too self-protective to admit it was a date or under the gross misperception that I was interested in being his friend. Which I wasn't, for one very simple reason: I don't need new male friends.
I definitely need new female friends, because I had a recent defection, and because female friends, despite said defection, are kind when you're psychotic, support you when you're down, and are willing to set you up on dates.
A male friend, or MF, on the other hand, is not really a friend. Every MF I have falls into one of two categories: guys who have gotten into my pants and guys who are trying. The first group I don't mind having around -- they're grandfathered in -- but lately I've been downsizing the second.
I wasn't always so anti-MF. In my early twenties, I had plenty of them, guys with names like Mike and Dave. I would meet them in bars like the Brooklyn Inn and Sophie's, playing pool, and though sometimes we'd hook up, other times we wouldn't. But if they were funny and wore corduroy, we'd wind up staying in contact.
It made sense then, because we were in similar boats. We had bad jobs and crappy apartments and we were all trying to figure out who we were. But when you are single, female, and nearing 30, you develop a one-track mind. You're not interested in generational unity. You want to find a mate -- and if you know you're not romantically interested in an MF, he becomes redundant and annoying. (Unless, of course, he is gay -- in which case you can trust and confide in him because there is no sexual tension.)
"Women and men cannot be friends," agrees my friend Chris, 27, a counter boy. When I point out that he and I are, he says, "But you know what? I'd love to fuck you. The guy always wants to. If the right opportunity comes around and a guy can slip through that door, he will. So how do you feel about me now?"
"The same as before," I say.
"Let's just be friends."
Some guys love having female friends -- because they find the ambiguity sexy. "Not knowing what I want from a girl can be pretty interesting," says Theo, 38, a rock critic. "If I'm lucky, I can sustain that kind of friendship for years."
Denise, 29, a writer, believes in opposite-sex friendships but complains that her male friends have limited attention spans. "My boyfriend and I broke up recently," she says, "and I was talking to a male friend about how upset I was. He said, 'Are you going to stop talking about this soon?' Having male friends in foul weather doesn't work."
For all of these reasons, I have been blowing off my MFs. When I get calls from Mikes and Daves, I don't return them. I've stopped going to their parties on large, rotting boats. So far, it's been good. I have new girlfriends instead, who come with no ambiguity, except they can't hold their liquor and they're not as good at pool.
So when I agreed to meet Ambiguboy, I was hoping his dodginess was a sign of timidity and not platonic intentions. We met at aKa Cafe, and I wore a slinky James Perse dress and high gold sandals and sexy underwear. But when I walked in, he didn't even glance at my figure.
The food was good -- I got the slider on a bialy -- but from the moment we sat down, it was clear there was no spark. The conversation dragged and he seemed gloomy. To keep things moving, I asked him about his graduate program.
"Why do you ask so many questions?" he said.
"I'm a naturally curious person."
"But you don't seem very organic. You seem so controlling, like an interrogator." He was staring at me coldly.
"Why are you being critical?" I said. "This is supposed to be fun. We're on a date."
"Oh, this isn't a date," he said.
I slammed my slider down. "Then what am I doing here? I could have been on a real date. I could have been home reading The Bitch in the House."
"You don't want to spend time with me unless it's a date?"
"No," I said. "You're a boy and I'm a girl."
"I don't think in terms of gender. You seemed like an interesting person I could get to know better."
"I'm not an interesting person at all!" I shouted, pointing at my two greatest attributes. "I'm a hot chick!"
"But don't you think in order to date someone you have to know them as friends first?"
"But if you don't, and then you break up, you can't stay friends afterward."
We stared at each other sadly. "This isn't fun," he said.
"No, it's not."
We got the check. I offered to split it, hoping he'd say no. He said he thought 30 bucks would be fine. That was when I realized the very worst thing about male friends: They never pay.