When my friend Cara called to ask what was new, I was champing at the bit to share the good news. “I have a boyfriend!” I cried.
“That’s incredible!” she said. I told her the story: I was throwing my 29th-birthday party and had decided I needed some art on my walls so my guests would think I was sophisticated. My friend Evan told me about a guy he knew named Jake, who did paintings of Jewish boxers from the thirties. I called up Jake and he came over with some samples, and as soon as I looked into his warm chestnut eyes, I wanted him to be the Krasner to his Pollock. He loaned me two paintings. And I gave him a copy of my novel as a thank-you.
The morning after the party, he called. “You want to pick up the paintings?” I asked. “No, I wanted to tell you how much I love your book.”
“You do?” I cooed. “Do you want to go for a walk?” he said. “It’s such a beautiful day.” We went out that whole afternoon, and the rest … “I’m so thrilled for you!” Cara cried.
“Me too,” I said, feeling wise and settled. “And the amazing thing is, I really wasn’t looking. Physically he’s not my type. He’s six-five, with red hair.”
“Ewww!” said Cara. It took me a second to speak. “Did you just say ‘ewww’?” “Sorry,” she giggled. “I have a thing about redheads. In England, they’re mocked. We call them ginger. It sounded like you had a thing against them, too.”
“I don’t,” I said quickly. “I just never expected to have one as my boyfriend.” I held the phone in my hand a long time after we hung up. Cara had caught something more common in single gals than chlamydia, and likely to last much longer. It was shedenfreude, one woman’s misery at another’s romantic bliss.
When two girls are friends, and neither has a boyfriend, they serve as each other’s surrogate boyfriends. They go to parties and dinner together, get drunk, go on vacations, and say, “Yes, you do look fat in that.” When one suddenly gets a boyfriend, neither knows who to be. Coupled Girl feels guilty for getting there first, and Single Girl resents her for turning into a Banana Republic ad. I knew this because I’d been on the other side so many times.
A couple days later, I told my friend Rebecca the good news. “What’s he like?” she asked. “Amazing,” I sighed. “He cooks me dinner, listens to me, and says he really likes me.” “I don’t get it. Do you like him because you like him or just because he’s good to you?”
“I don’t know if this is a good idea,” my mom said. “The last time you introduced us to a guy and it didn’t work out, you said we jinxed you.”
“Both,” I said, wondering how she could have the nerve to ask that, even if she was thinking it.
She asked if I was free for dinner that night, and I said no, Jake and I were going to watch Raging Bull on DVD. “Be careful,” she said. “Don’t drop all your girlfriends just because you have a boyfriend. Then if you guys break up, you’ll be totally alone.” “I won’t,” I said, but I wondered how she could be so fatalistic. Maybe I shouldn’t have cited his good traits. Maybe if I had lied, said he was abusive and obnoxious, she could have believed it would last.
That night in the kitchen, Jake spotted a photo of my friend Hannah on my refrigerator, and he admitted they’d been set up on a blind date many years before. “It was the worst date I’ve ever been on,” he said. “Before I even sat down, she asked if I’d had sex with a man.” “Did she have reason to think you had?”
“No. She had a written list of questions that every guy had to answer to see if he was worthy. She also asked if I was on antidepressants or into S&M.” “What did you say?” I asked, recognizing an opportunity when I saw one. “I wouldn’t answer. I thought it was odious that she asked.”
The next week, I went to meet Hannah for lunch at a café in Soho. “I’m going out with someone you know,” I said. “I think I know who it is,” she replied, and said his name.
“What a funny coincidence!”
“He was a real screw-up when I met him,” she said. “Did you know he has a foot fetish?” “Yes.” He had told me he loved women in stockings and platform shoes because he came of sexual age in the seventies. “It doesn’t bother you?”
“Are you kidding? He’s taken me shoe shopping! And if he was a screw-up when he met you, he’s not one anymore. He’s caring, sweet, and responsible.”
“That’s terrific,” she said, scowling out the window.
I wanted to bang her forehead against the glass. Hannah was married, which meant she didn’t have the right to be jealous. And even if she thought he was a screw-up, it was totally gauche to say so. The only time you spill privileged info is if the guy’s got a wife and six kids in Louisville. With everything else, it’s let the buyer beware.
Each and every one of my girlfriends was looking my new boyfriend in the mouth. So I turned to the one woman I knew I could count on: my mom. We went out for coffee and I told her the story.
“Jews boxed?” she said. “I want you and Dad to meet him,” I said. “How long have you been together?” “Three weeks.” “I don’t know if this is a good idea,” she said. “The last time you introduced us to a guy and it didn’t work out, you said we jinxed you.”
“I was kidding!” “No, you weren’t. This is asking for trouble. Why don’t you wait a little longer?”
“No problem,” I said. “See you in 2006.” A month later, I decided it was time. Jake suggested I invite them for dinner, so there would be less pressure. I said, “Whatever, as long as you cook.”
Dinner went without a hitch. Jake made a monkfish-and-pepper stew, everyone had seconds, and dad wore a nice sweater with no stains.
When Jake left the room to make a phone call, I turned to my parents: “Whaddaya think?”
“He’s a very classy guy,” my mom said. “He sure is,” my dad said. “Articulate, funny, smart, and he even cooks!”
“I know,” I said.
“There’s just one problem,” he said, stroking his beard. “What’s that?” “Don’t you think he might be too good for you?”