Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dating Friends?

The other week, my friend, Mary, told me that she wanted to date her best friend, Steve. My initial reaction wasn’t good. I was about as optimistic for her as if she had told me that she wanted to get pregnant for the hell of it. As you can guess, I don’t trust friend dating. It is an epidemic that I know all too well.

Back in college, my friends and I saw ourselves as tied to the Pioneer Valley dating tree. People were shameless. Our college was small and, worse, dating and sleeping with our friends and their ex’s was a normalized trend. We lived in our own social solar system, in which we were connected in more than one-way to everyone we knew. Much of the time, we would rationalize our predicament. Where else would we go? Dating through friends was easy. Senior year however, everything backfired. A chain reaction of break ups had begun. Soon, certain places and people were off-limits because one couple or another was no longer together. Friend break-ups brought on a maze of awkward social interactions. The year turned me off to “dating within the circle” completely.

Now a semi-adult, living in one of the largest cities in the world, I recognize that old social habits, such as dating within the “friend circle,” are now viewed as obtuse. We are in a social pool, in which most people have no connection to us, our friends, our exes or some combination of these roles. We, in theory, should be able to maneuver healthy relationships with people separate from our “friend pools.” But, let’s be honest. This doesn’t happen.

I was at Webster Hall back in December, for the Curve magazine party. It was a big event. The hall was flooded with sensitive, moppy-haired guys and hoards of lesbians. One of my close friends had managed to drag me out of my apartment to mingle. The event itself wasn’t that great. Dani from Tila Tequila, was the headline. She however, was piss drunk and struggled to say a coherent sentence on stage. I instead, focused my attention on the crowd around me.

Similar to college, everybody stayed within their clique. You could tell who knew each other because, well, each group of people looked exactly alike. I told my friend that being there was like being at another college party. Even though I didn’t know everybody in the hall, I knew everyone in the hall. What the hell? Could our age group not grow up? Were we all too comfortable with remaining within our set bubbles?

It was at this time that a lanky girl approached me. At first I was startled that my supposed protective shield of friends hadn’t blocked this strange intruder. Weirder, this person, who didn’t even know me, wanted to dance. What was I supposed to do? I hadn’t had this kind of social training. I followed the girl a few feet away. We began to awkwardly move around each other, while she tried to get to know me. It was a disaster in heels. She saw me as potential. I saw her as a predator. All I could think was, “Why does she want to talk to me? I don’t know her. Freak.” In actuality, the only freak in that situation was me. I was just as bad as Dani. Both of us were staggering in the spotlight, trying to get out a declarative sentence.

After that disastrous night, I realized something. I concluded that I was in, what I describe as, college vision that night. In college vision, you are an adult trapped with the social skills of an 18-year-old. When that girl approached me at the party, we spoke different social languages. She wanted to meet me and I wanted to know how many degrees of partners separated us. It was a mess.

The debacle made me realize that our generation needs help. We need to be able to transition from being awkward college kids into less awkward semi-adults. For example, in semi-adulthood, people keep references of friends to a minimum. In college, friends are your psychiatrists, assistants, bodyguards and small-army. It is ok to mention them because they are your entourage. In semi-adulthood, you pay professionals to do these things for you. While it might be normal and true that you see the same four faces every the twenty-four hours, the semi-adult world does not want to know this. In effect, talking about your friends in every other sentence carries the same effect as if you consistently talked about your mother. People, well, mentally stable people, want to see us as solo players not a social cripples.

The second rule of thumb is that we should want to meet new people. The concept that our support systems will not evolve is antiquated. It is not our fault. We have been brainwashed by our generation’s pop culture couples. The Kevins and Winnies, the Corys and Tapengas modeled to us that all we needed was our next-door neighborhood to be happy. As I have come to learn, that is just not true. If I thought and acted on this rationale, I’d be co-habitating with my pre-school friend, Pete, whom I used to push around during playgroup. Come to think of it, I am pretty sure my mother told me that Pete became somewhat of an effeminate homosexual. Had I “stayed in my own backyard,” my domestic gender stratosphere would be completely out of whack.
What do I suggest? My advice is to say no to dating friends. A friend is not a used pair of shorts that can have more than one purpose. Friends are intended to hear about your significant other, not to be him or her. This doesn’t mean that you need to entertain every new Tom, Dick and Mary that talks to you. Instead, the next time you are intercepted at a bar, give the person the benefit of the doubt that they are doing something socially acceptable. Once those two minutes are up, you are completely relieved to return to your fortress, your friends.

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