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The Importance of Being Earnest | 2009 | On Coupling

09.16.09 11:26 p.m.

Angels, like parables and fine poetry, speak in many layers of meaning and mystery, trying to express the inexpressible. If we ignore them, our lives are the poorer.  

-Archbishop Desmond Tutu


On Bromance

There's a dapper chap

He calls, saying he wants Mongolian stir fry. This is Daniel's version of an invitation, one I instantly accept to sate my own need for adequate sushi. I don't bother asking what business is drawing him to Dutchess County, though he comes straight from work and seems to go home after. He eventually admits that, frankly, he needs the company more than the buffet. As do I.

A week ago, Melissa showed me the movie I Love You, Man, the plot of which is that a guy with nothing but female friends embarks on awkward shenanigans to find a best man for his upcoming wedding. I have been and still am in that boat, sans the wedding plot device to speed things along. While I have had close male friends (Conor, Zack, Dan Kessler) in my adult life, they tend to disappear into themselves (the former two) or New York City (the latter). Stevehen and I have been friends for a decade, but I never felt we hit it off as well as he does with most his friends. Given that, promptly after the movie, Melissa and I tried to endure a few minutes of a Skinamax softcore porn called Cleavagefield, she almost ranks as the closest thing to a male best friend I have, aside from Daniel. In fact, when I returned home and explained the movie to Melanie, I added, "So I guess Daniel will be my best man."

"Why?" she asked.

"One, he will look fantastic in a suit. Two, and most importantly, he's male."

I've never really been the type to get along with other men. In high school, I wrote a psychology paper all about flirtation, but one of my realizations was that I flirt like a girl (averted gaze, blushing, wetting the lips) because I am mimicking my social group. I had a few male friends then, but they were not friendships that survived past graduation. I wasn't interested in sports or drunkenness, happened to like (and succeed with) women too much to denigrate them as a group activity. There simply wasn't a lot of shared ground on which to build friendships. Even the other guys in my extracurriculars (drama, improv, debate) were only chums until the set was struck or the final debate lost. However, for the most part, I was simply too busy with my female friends (or outright girlfriends) to take a conscious census of those around me.

It's not as easy to make a male friend than it is a girlfriend. Even putting aside the homophobia (in the most literal sense of the term), the utter fear that someone in America will assume that two men hanging out engage in sodomy behind barely closed doors, there simply isn't an elegant way of asking someone of your gender to hang out for the first time. Were I single, I could go up to a woman, chat for five minutes, and have set up a meeting for the weekend. That interaction has clear parameters, a "I will buy you dinner/a movie and you will decide if you wish for me to buy you another or engage in mutual groping", a clarity of intention (albeit lascivious) that homosocial friendships lacks. I've spoken in the past of the concept of romantic friendships, how people once thought little of intimate but nonsexual friendships (though people today snicker that Lincoln was a queer or Dickinson a lesbo). American culture tries to enforce such rigid gender roles for male friendships that they are gay unless they materially resemble a beer commercial.
The snow defies him

It's a lonely world out there. From what Daniel says over dinner, he is not exactly surrounded by people who operate close to his level. I'm not sure most can fathom what his level is. His problem is not so much that he doesn't gel with most men, but that he doesn't gel with most anyone. They acknowledge one or two salient characteristics and drop him into a schema so they can return to living more commonplace lives. For the most part, he lets them because those who so readily pigeonhole him are never going to be worth the effort of making them understand. He isn't alone in this, at least. We are given these niches, small worlds of our own populated by only a handful, where we feel understood. Our bubble worlds bump into innumerable others daily, but there is so little cause to allow their integrity to be breached.

Some days, he will go without speaking to anyone for twelve hours after waking, until he orders tea at a nearby café and realize that he doesn't comprehend how softly he is speaking.

He references a moment after we had left the Dutchess County Fair. Rosie and I were walking the mile to our respective cars. Daniel had gone off to find the bus that would return him to his car. Ten minutes after parting, Rosie and I ran into Daniel walking in the opposite direction and I made some weak joke about it. He looked flustered and said hi, but that he needed to keep walking. It wasn't that he didn't want to see us as much as that this was outside the parameters of that social contract, that we were operating beyond of the expected context. We had made our goodbyes already.

I tell Daniel that Melanie proclaimed him our only truly mutual friend, that everyone else implicitly belongs to one or the other of us.

"I assumed that Hannah was the main attraction and that I was just the side show," he says.

"No, but I can see how you would think that. We focused more on Hannah because Hannah gave us more need to focus on her, especially with the issues she was having with men. You tended not to, you kept your issues to yourself for the most part." I really tended to only know what was going on with Daniel in respect to Hannah, things he had done or said to her.

There is a value to male friendships that female friendships, by their implied sexual differences, can never fully have. I personally need to have someone I feel I can genuinely talk to about things like relationship issues who will be more capable of seeing it from my perspective as well. We are not the type to sit around, drinking beer, belching, scratching ourselves, and watching wrestling, but that doesn't need that we don't need these interactions. If anything, as we defy that stereotype, we need it more. We don't want insubstantial interactions.

I tell him of my books, something I am generally reticent to do because I feel that I am being selfish and pretentious by explaining the physics of the world I created. As much as I love writing, I hate talking about the what and wherefore. My writing tends not to be a subject I can share with Melanie, as her first instinct is to criticize it and point out flaws (which has its place, but isn't what I need when I am first excited about an idea). As Daniel spent years with Hannah, a fellow confirmed writing addict, he can understand where I am coming from to a greater degree. He also mentions that he is endeavoring to write, albeit in a cynical way. He is aware how well romance sells and how formulaic and trite it is, so he is going to write more artful "smut", in his words.

Our dinner ends when he says that his conversation meter has expired and that, with most people, he would make some excuse for his going. I tell him not to, that I prefer and respect the truth about these things. We gather our things and go in our separate directions after some awkwardness in the parking lot, the moment where I would go for a hug or a kiss on the cheek with my close female friends, but we end this with a second goodbye.

Soon in Xenology: Relationships. Maybe a job.

last watched: Soul Music
reading: Skinny Legs and All
listening: Garfunkel and Oates

The Importance of Being Earnest | 2009 | On Coupling

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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