After getting out of a short-term relationship last year, I made a decision that changed my life: I got a fake boyfriend. He isn't a figment of the George Glass variety or a surprisingly realistic-looking blow-up doll I cart around in a wheelchair; he's a flesh-and-blood person I call upon to be my plus-one for events, especially if I know an ex-boyfriend of mine is going to be around and I want to project the illusion that I'm successful and "doing so well!" My fake boyfriend completes me. If left to my own devices, I would never leave the house to go to things -- because I hate mingling with random strangers. At parties, I like talking to the people I came with, playing people-watching games where we make up elaborate backstories for every person you see. That guy may look like your average, 30-something Coldplay fan, but he's actually a rich widower with a terrible secret.
I never tell anyone that he's my boyfriend specifically; he's more like the unnamed companion that your Catholic grandmother gets late in life after her husband dies, less a partner to bang your genitals against than someone to play tennis with on a Saturday afternoon. (They might be the same thing. I've never played tennis.) We regularly have movie nights where we stay up and watch The Age of Innocence and as much of Peyton Place as I can stay awake for, and I fall asleep on the couch without him bugging me to have sex. I just get to sleep. This is helpful for me, because a) I love sleep, and b) I would prefer that no one ever see me naked. In an ideal world, all lovemaking would be conducted through full-body armor or protective HAZMAT suits. I spend a great deal of my day without clothes on, but for me, full-on nudity is something you only do by yourself, like watching The Good Wife or masturbating and crying at the same time. I have no experience with the latter, but Dylan McDermott didn't make it look appealing.
I explained our situation to an ex over coffee, where most discussions about my facsimile of a dating life occur, and he responded, "So you mean a friend. You made a friend." I insisted that the arrangement was something more, a marriage of convenience, ingenuity and a desire to sexually burka myself, and he responded that he couldn't see the difference. "You hang out all the time, and you don't get physical," he said, starting to get agitated that I wouldn't see logic (See: Why We Broke Up, Section 2: "I Am Not a Functioning Adult.") He asked me what else I would call it. Hoping to lighten the mood, I quipped, "My parents' marriage?" However, in my mind, our version of marriage was better than that. The romance never had to die, because there was none in the first place. I would never become frigid and irritable when my proverbial vagina dried up and start reading Danielle Steel novels to soothe my lonely, aching womb. He wouldn't turn into a chronic wanker who hid his tentacle porn addiction from me while he started shoplifting women's lingerie, just to feel something again.
Instead, I argued that we had cracked the code. Yes, that's right. We invented friendship.
A recurring problem I have is that I often mistakenly believe I'm the first one to think of something, and that my brilliant idea will make me instantly rich. It's not just that my ideas already exist; it's that almost everyone else on the planet knows it's a thing. One time I thought I'd invented credit cards for laundry machines, but it turns out that I've just lived in really shitty apartment buildings my entire life. When I announced my innovation through a Facebook status update, the universal response was, "Oh, sweetie. You're not a genius. You're just poor." I'm a professional writer (read: basically unemployed), and my refrigerator currently looks like The Grapes of Wrath. Perhaps they had a point.
Lo and behold, the rest of humanity and Sex and the City beat me to the revelation. I've never been a diehard fan of the show, because I hate Carrie with the fire of a thousand suns. (If Carrie were an SAT analogy, it would read, "Carrie Bradshaw is to television what Kim Jong Un is to international politics.") But when it comes to friendships, the show hit the nail on the head. During Carrie's 35th-birthday episode, Charlotte sagely says, "Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with." SATC posited that while boyfriends come and go, our most meaningful relationships are with our best friends; these are the people who will still be there when it doesn't work out with that great guy and you need someone to complain to. If not for trading dating war stories and finding community in your hungover misery, what else do you think Sunday brunch is for? You're not up before noon on a weekend for your health. Boyfriends come and go, but brunch is for life.
This is why I've never believed in being single. I don't judge those who aren't in a relationship (or else I'd be in Tom Cruise levels of denial); I just don't think that "single" exists. In classical terms, "single" means "unmarried" or "not dating," but it also means unattached, as if the act of singledom means you have no commitments. Unless you're Boo Radley or have been accidentally buried alive, that's hardly the case. We all have lots of fake boyfriends who feel very real. I'm very committed to my husband Netflix, who helps fill my evenings with joy, wonder and Leslie Knope. I'm in a complicated relationship with Chipotle and a very serious one with coffee, without whom I don't know if I'd function properly. I can live without a man. I cannot be expected to get through the day and not murder people without freshly brewed java in my hands. I've heard of these people who drink tea, and I think they all must be sick fucks. Drink your plant water, perverts, but know that my day is powered by Colombian rocket fuel.
Friends are a lot like coffee, except that Starbucks won't overcharge you for friendship. They're the perfect companion for everything, whether it's walking in the snow or staying up late to study for finals, and so ingrained in your life that you might not even notice how attached you are. Up until now, I've been absurdly relationship-focused, due to years of brainwashing from Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan movies, and I've always thought of myself as not being good at friendships. I'm too self-involved, too immature and too fucked-up to be there for anyone else, but as I get older, friendships have snuck into my life while I wasn't looking. These days I can barely tell the difference between love and companionship, and I'd like to believe they're one and the same. My hope is that by having all these fake boyfriends (aka "friends") around, we might be prepared for the real thing.
It only took me 25 years, but I learned how to be in a relationship with my friends. Sure, approximately 6 billion people figured out this friendship thing before I did, but we all have to get there sometime. Now if I can just invent a watch that's also a calculator, then I'll really show that code who's boss.