“He’s kind of a douche,” I say to Jess as the hot Argentinean guy she’s about to go home with waits for her in the car with his friends.
“He totally douche,” she says in her thick French-Canadian accent and shrugs. “It just sex.”
I love this girl already.
But I’m supposed to hate her.
Only two hours ago, this same guy had picked me up at a club in this Patagonia town, grinded against my booty for a good half-hour, then took me on a joyride. Where we were going, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get laid.
His name was Sebastian, but that’s about as much as I learned about him, which was fine for both of us.
After the worst car sex ever (and I’ve had plenty), he tied the condom in a knot, threw it out the window like a grenade, lit a cigarette and whisked us away from the lake we’d just had sex by.
Being 34 and shamelessly slutty ― oops, I mean sex-positive ― I assumed we were having a good ol’ one-night stand. Wrong. Back to the bar we went! Turns out this was only a half-hour stand.
After picking up the friends he’d left behind, he drove us all to another club where everyone was beyond trashed and the floor was so caked in spilled beer that my flip-flops got stuck with each step. Sebastian was too busy texting someone else to pay attention to me anymore. When a girl 10 years younger and way prettier than me walked through the door and right over to him, it all made sense. Duuuuh, Melanie ― this dude’s banging TWO chicks tonight.
She smiled at me, but I wanted nothing to do with her. Despite calling myself a feminist, the patriarchy had successfully trained me to loathe any woman who dare stand in the way of a man validating my worth. I told Sebastian I needed to go home but that my sweater was in his car. He decided we should all leave now.
Great idea! Let’s go together ― you, me, your friends and the girl who’s gonna replace me.
I trailed five feet behind the pack, but the girl hung back to talk. “So, you’re American?!”
“I’m from Canada!” she said, like us sharing a border would somehow change my mind.
It’s hard for me to be mean, even to people I hate, so she didn’t pick up on my you-better-back-the-f-off vibe.
By the time we got to Sebastian’s car, much to my surprise, we were like two hens, clucking away. And I was warning her he’s a douche.
“So ... would it be weird for us to be, like, friends?” I ask her before I leave.
“Are you joke me? I don’t care about dis guy,” she says and swats at the very idea of him like an annoying fly. “I like you, though!”
“I like you, too!”
Sebastian and his friends stare at us, utterly confused, as they watch us type our phone numbers into each other’s cells.
“You independent woman. I need strong woman in my life,” she says.
“Me too! I feel dead inside without a sister.”
I am pretty desperate for a surrogate sister at this point in my life. Not just because my real one had just gotten married, but because I hadn’t met any female friends in my first month traveling solo around South America. The only people I’d gotten to know were the men who hosted me on couchsurfing.com, but half of them had tried and failed to get me to surf their bed instead.
I finally gave in when I got to Patagonia, though, and had since been sleeping with the guy who hosted me the week before. OK, full disclosure, the whole reason I was even at this club to begin with was because he’d blown me off that night. So I went out dancing to prove I don’t need no man to validate me.
I stand corrected!
Despite being single my entire life, fearlessly traveling the world alone for years, doing comedy in NYC among mostly men, living in my truck for half my 20s as a white-water raft guide, ski instructor, rock climber and backpacking guide, when it came to dating me, I was an utter coward. Hence why I only slept with guys I didn’t like.
But this couchsurfing guy was different. I kinda fancied him. Which was making me feel bananas. I’d actually been begging the travel gods early that day for a woman in my life. Someone to ground me. This wasn’t the ideal scenario, but whatever. I’ll take what I can get.
Beep-beep. Sebastian is growing impatient with all this female bonding.
“We sisters now,” she says, then offers to pay for my cab home.
“Aw, you’re sweet. But I prefer to walk my shame off,” I say, then give her a hug goodbye.
There’s no shame in having one-night stands. But hooking up with a guy who does absolutely nothing to pleasure you, all because you feel bad about yourself over another guy? That’s plain self-destructive. I deserved better and I knew it.
The next day Jess and I go for coffee. Three days later, she joins me for my weeklong climbing expedition in Patagonia. We talk for all of five minutes about Sebastian, then spend the rest of our time talking about ourselves. We sleep under the stars at night, climb steep routes in the shade, and meet some of the coolest climbers from all over the world.
In mere days, we are best friends, which is miraculous if you think about it. How many women do we punish for the bad behavior of selfish men? How many amazing friendships do we pass up before we realize men come and go, but women, the quality ones at least, are forever?
Over the next few weeks, I split my time between Jess and my couchsurfing lover. He takes me to his band practice, invites me over to watch River Platte football games, and plays guitar for me by the lake. I get practice at doing normal “couple” things ― like hanging out with your clothes on and ... talking.
I find myself actually liking Guitar Guy, much to my horror, and yet I get the feeling he isn’t all that into me after a while. I am only invited over on nights between his revolving door of couchsurfers, all of whom are female.
After a night of dancing and too much drinking on his part (I don’t drink at all, if you can believe it), we run into Jess. She is thrilled to see me, per usual, and starts gushing over me to Guitar Guy.
“Dis girl change my life. Before I meet her, I so depressed. She take me climbing. She fill me with love. She dis precious pearl I find at the bottom of de ocean.”
“Awww,” I blush.
“Isn’t she a pearl?” she asks him. “Like dis gem we both find?”
Drunk people don’t know how to fake emotions, so Guitar Guy responds exactly the way Guitar Guy feels.
“Sure,” he shrugs, as apathetic as possible.
Days later, in bed, I tell him about this comedy podcast I’m about to record over the phone for a producer back in New York. He says, “That’s nice” and goes back to talking about himself and how much he hates Chile. As a comedian, I’m obviously not a private person. I will take every possible opportunity to shamelessly talk about myself or my work. But only if the person seems the slightest bit interested, which he does not.
Come to think about it, does this guy even know I’m a comedian? I can’t think of a single time he’s asked me anything about myself.
On the contrary, when I’d told Jess about my podcast, she’d thrown her arms in the air, “This amazing! I so proud of you! ... What is podcast?”
Caring, or at least pretending to care, is what people who like each other do.
And that’s when it hits me. This guy doesn’t think I’m a precious pearl. I’m just a convenience. A groupie who will clap when he plays guitar.
I may have been new to relationships and dating then, but it seemed only rational to expect the guy I was sleeping with to like me as much or more than my friends. Especially since they not only get to be my friend, they get to HAVE SEX WITH ME.
The next day, when he blows me off to “host” another couchsurfer, I decide never to see him again.
You know who does see him again, though? Jess. At a party days later. She humiliates him in front of all his friends, calling him a douchebag who preys on vulnerable foreign women.
I spend the next few months teaching English in Chile, where I meet two more awesome women. When the gig is over, Jess and I travel around Argentina together for weeks. Later that summer, when my parents invite me on family vacation, they tell me to bring a plus-one since my sister is bringing her new husband. Of course, I bring Jess.
My family can’t get over how close we are despite only knowing each other a few months.
“How did you girls meet anyway?” my dad asks one night over dinner.
“Uh … mutual friend!” I shoot back.
We kick each other under the table and smirk the way my sister and I used to when we had a secret.
Later that night, Jess gets a message on Facebook from Sebastian. He’d friended her (not me!) after their hookup. He’s so confused by all these pics of us together. Had we been friends all along?
“No, I wish!” she narrates as she types. “But thank you so much for introducing us!”
Jess and I haven’t lived in the same country since Argentina, but I think about her whenever I meet a cute guy. Not only do I ask myself if I actually like this dude (instead of his attention), but does he act like he truly likes me? If not, he’s just biding time until he finds his pearl.