"Ex-girlfriends are like bellybuttons!" A homeless man once announced this while sitting next to me at a Los Angeles dive-bar called the Frolic Room. "It feels good digging around in there and sometimes it's even healthy," he continued, "but if you keep poking and prodding, sooner or later you're going to hurt something."
For a brief moment, I considered the wisdom of this bizarre metaphor: Are men and women not meant to remain friends once they've lost that lovin' feeling? Is there always some painful agenda? And how has a homeless man come to understand women in such an odd yet profound way?
Then he threw up on himself. As he was being escorted to the door, I realized he wasn't the relationship Yoda I'd hoped he would be. No, he was just some paranoid dude who had too much to drink and too little money to pay the rent. Still, it got me thinking: How had I remained on such good terms with my former lady friends? There's hardly been any animosity, even with the ones I've fallen out of touch with. So I decided to call a few, reminisce over old times, and figure out how we'd managed to part ways so amicably. Oh, and if I happen to let it slip that I'm writing the first installment of a Men's Fitness column--that a national magazine is not only paying me but also trusting me to dispatch life wisdom-- well, that'd be the icing on the cake.
It begins with a phone call
First up, Nicole. A dancer. We were together for about a year three years ago and, sadly, even at the time I knew I wasn't in love with her. Perhaps this is the reason we've been able to maintain a friendship.
Me: "Hey, Nicole. I know it's been a while since we've talked and all, but--"
Nicole: "Remember my boyfriend Brian?"
M: "Yeah. Listen I was calling to--"
N: "We're getting married!"
M: "No way, that's great news, congratulations. Listen, the reason I was calling is I wanted to--"
N: "Can you believe I'm engaged?"
M: "When's the big day? I'll send a gift. Maybe a subscription to Men's Fitness. Did I tell you I'm--"
N: "Oh, we haven't actually picked a date yet."
M: "Well, how did he propose? Was he down on one knee? Maybe I could use this for my column, the concept is--"
N: "He hasn't proposed yet."
M: "Then how did he ask?"
N: "Well . . . he hasn't actually asked yet."
Apparently, Crazy Nicole, as I now call her, wasn't actually getting married. She just wanted to have something to show off--like me and my column--her own little way of saying I'd let something good slip through my fingers, even if there was hardly any truth to it. Undeterred, I moved on to bigger game: Kalle.
If at first you don't succeed . . .
Kalle was my very first love. It's unclear who dumped who--I'd slept with her roommate, though she didn't know that until after she told me she'd met someone new--but the mark she left on me can still be seen by most women six years after the fact. I don't think I'll ever give myself to another human being as completely as I had to her.
Me: "Been a while, K. What's new?"
Kalle: "How'd you get this number?"
M: "It was in the phone book. Is there some problem?"
Strangely, our conversation went on like this, with her acting as if I'd been rifting through her trash to find clues about her love life for some time. Finally, after exchanging pleasantries, Kalle gave me the info I'd called for. "Of course, we're friends," she pleaded, "but only because I moved 3,000 miles away from you. We're not the kind of friends who should see each other. Ever." Obviously, this wasn't the time to tell her I'd just relocated to within shouting distance. Or that I still remember how fantastic her breasts were. Six years after the fact and I was just beginning to get the idea: Maybe we never will sleep together again. That's a shame . . .
Upping the ante once more, I decided to call Lindsey.