By and large I don’t like using the term “female” to describe a woman. It’s clinically true and I imagine its heavy use by those in law enforcement, science, and the military – and media centered around such figures – helped lead to it becoming part of the common vocabulary. It always seemed too clinical and robotic for me, even for someone as anxious as me. I sometimes struggled to come up with something more acceptable; as a teenager in college I once got roughly half of a “Psychology 101” class to all but glare at me by referring to women as “chicks” more than once. But, I use it here because the term “female friend” seems to be the one best used for the instance where a man has a friend who happens to be a woman. Because society at large (and by that I mean, mostly men) seem to pit the sexes against each other a lot and because it’s seen as rare when men and women can be friends without one or the other seeking something romantic directly, such a term remains distinct. It’s darker twin is the term, “friend-zone”, which I typed about disliking back in January.
Boy, did I allow that introduction to lead me off track a bit! Let’s start to get to the meat of it. This is an entry which I have talked up since the start of the year. It is the last major recollection of a dynamic I had with a woman during my past which is relevant enough to cover more than a paragraph. I saved it for last for one very key reason; it was easily the longest lasting dynamic I’ve ever had with any single woman who wasn’t family in my life, which dates back to the end of high school. As promised, the woman I have dubbed “Sonia” will finally be getting her own entry after her cameo in “The Everyone is Doing Better than You Party”. This blog is non fiction, but I have made some attempt to put some forethought into the posts so that they have some sense of flow or theme beyond the ramblings of a lonely madman. That’s the benefit of flashbacks, after all.
As with many of the people I’ve met in my life, Sonia was someone I didn’t directly seek out to meet, but was someone who began in the periphery of my social circle. She was the close friend, roommate, and occasional lover of the girlfriend of one of my pals. We met during one night where I and a few of my friends were just aiming to hang out and wander the area seeing what hit us. By now I was in my late teens and either completing high school or months shy of college, but since I was older than some of my friends they were still there. I was with two of my friends and we went to pick up one of their girlfriends, and her pal was tagging along. We hung around her apartment (in her room, mostly, as they played metal music on their computer and we chatted amid a few cats) and that is when I met Sonia. She was roughly 2-3 years younger than me, had several piercings, and her long curly hair was dyed either purple or red, I forget. She’s both Polish and Latin and is proud of her heritage, and her bisexual status seemed to be known almost immediately. She liked tight jeans, black nail polish, “goth” colors, and a lot of mascara and eye liner. I was in this odd position in that I frequently teased my friends for dating girls younger than they were by more than a grade, yet despite being of similar age if not older, I would have done the same had I been given the chance. In other words, I was a raging hypocrite then, although I tried to hide it (mostly by not being aware of it). I met Sonia and did what I usually always did at hang outs and gatherings – try to act all aloof and too cool for school while ultimately being a bit awkward and stand off. One example was by not sitting down while we were hanging out, so I’d be the only one standing. I would talk and joke around, but I usually tried to act like I was the sagely man of wisdom around my group – which usually came off as me being the stick in the mud.I don’t recall many specific exchanges during this meeting, but Sonia and I seemed to make a few exchanges with each other, as if she found me perplexing and didn’t quite buy the layer of baloney that I always projected. It didn’t raise to the level of “bickering”, but there was some ragging on me a little. Naturally, I found her attractive, and naturally, I made no attempt to betray any of this to anyone.
After a while we left the apartment and walked about a half mile away to a pool hall. I didn’t know how to play pool so I watched and engaged in the conversation as best I could. The hall also had an air hockey table, and that I knew how to play, so I engaged in a few rounds with one of my friends. A few hours of that, and we walked a few blocks further for some pizza and more neighborhood wandering before it was time to split up and go our separate ways. Sonia made an impression, although at the time she was only an acquaintance at best. Not long after another acquaintance of mine – a short long haired, bearded fellow who had earned the nickname “Jeebus” – was having one of his semi weekly binge drinking parties in the basement of an apartment building owned by his aunt. Most of us couldn’t legally drink at our ages, but that never seemed to stop anybody. It wasn’t my scene even then, as I didn’t care for it and felt it was not only a slippery slope of a crutch to rely on, but I found it aimless. Naturally, my friends didn’t agree and seemed to always want to encourage me to go out and drink more with them. On one occasion I went to one of those parties, and Sonia was there. As usual, there was a crowd of a baker’s dozen in attendance (if not more) and a lot of heavy metal music blasting from boom boxes. A small TV was on and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” happened to be airing. This sparked a conversation between Sonia and I about a shared love of Mel Brooks films, and despite my usual sensibilities I’d had enough to drink that I was “buzzed” at the least, if not slightly tipsy. Sonia was just as far gone as I was if not more. As my friends used to say about me at the time, “When he’s drunk, the bug up his ass slips out.” Such a fact was likely proven true since I seemed to have no qualms about reciting many of the lines from “Spaceballs” (which is my favorite Mel Brooks film) that I knew from memory, which seemed to amuse Sonia. This second interaction with her seemed to go a lot better and we both seemed to enjoy each others company more. After a while the party ended and Sonia wanted to go with a group of them to a diner for food to sober up with. For reasons I forget (likely a lack of money) I opted to return home and cook my own food, but I hinted that I might try to drop by the diner later as they left. I made it hope and put on some hot dogs to cook, but I quickly fell asleep for a while and was only awoken by the burning food about two hours later. By the time I got to the diner they were gone, and I chalked it up to another wacky teenage outing.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to mention that Sonia had a “reputation” with some of the men that I knew. I don’t recall ever asking, but it being freely told (in low tones) to me by friends or other associates that Sonia was “loose” or “a slut”. This naturally meant that she seemed as willing to engage in sexual activity as is normal for guys to do; just as a woman (and especially one who was openly bisexual), she got more flack for it. Despite my hypocrisies, this was not a philosophy I believed in. I saw no need or fairness in denigrating women who slept with whomever they chose. These statements never shaped how I saw her as a person. I didn’t exactly stand on a soapbox and preach about feminist ideals as I avidly defended her honor, either. But I did not agree with or engage in that sort of rumor mongering. It was just noise I happened to overhear.
I actually got to know Sonia a lot better after talking with her online. When I got to college and had access to their library and computer labs, I got to spend a lot more time online than before. Before long I had my own username on AIM and through the social grape vine, Sonia got it. Less than a year later, she instant messages me out of the blue, and we began one of countless online conversations. She had moved to New Jersey, was going through a lot and needed someone to talk to, and had chosen me. I guess she had a positive opinion of me, and my efforts to come across as sagely seemed to sink in. In truth I always tried to be fair and helpful amid my sarcastic wisecracks when I could. I won’t go into the sordid details of Sonia’s life, because this blog is about airing out a lot of my baggage, not other people’s. The Cliff’s Notes version is that her past involves family turmoil, sexual abuse, and a lot of struggles with her self esteem and seeking the comforts of others, only to usually wind up mistreated or venting at them. Yet despite all that, Sonia often tried to have an upbeat and sassy demeanor. It was a past similar in some ways to that of my mother, which is probably a major reason why I try to have more empathy towards women in general. I became aware at an early age that they usually face a much different world than I did, even as someone who was bullied and didn’t easily fit in anywhere, either. It was quickly obvious that Sonia needed a friend to vent to in a safe manner who wouldn’t judge or reject her for it. I chose to be that friend to her, partly because by then my major was in “mental health and human services” so it was something I envisioned myself doing professionally. The other part is that I’m just that sort of goober sometimes. I never had a father, so it was those over the top good guys like He-Man or Spider-Man who filled that role, and I wanted to feel like I could save people (even if my world didn’t reward me for it as theirs did). And with that, our online correspondence began.
Not long into it, Sonia reminded me of that time at Jeebus’ basement when we bonded over mutual intoxication and a love of Mel Brooks. The added wrinkle was that she added quite a pivotal line, to the effect of, “I started to develop a bit of a crush on you.” It certainly surprised me, to say the least. It also wasn’t lost on me that she had phrased it in past tense. By this point she was dating someone and part of her current angst or turmoil, besides talking about her issues of the past, were issues with him. We talked daily or every other day for years of time. Even as the years wore on it was often once a week, or twice a week, or at furthest once or twice a month. Due to a variety of circumstances, Sonia moved a lot; typically to New Jersey (where she had family) and other areas of New York many miles (and hours) away from me (such as further upstate or on Long Island), since I can’t drive. Although she’s bisexual, she seems to prefer men, despite the fact that dealing with them can sometimes “trigger” her, among other complications. Unfortunately, like a lot of troubled people, she tended to fall into a lot of abusive or otherwise toxic relationships. It quickly became clear to me that I was one of the only friends she had who she felt genuinely listened to her without judging her or trying to get into her pants. Which naturally made me feel terrible every time I realized I was also attracted to her. I never mentioned it and I never acted upon it. She needed a true friend (among other things) more than she, or I, needed a lover.
Sonia would visit the “old neighborhood” now and then. One of the first time she visited during our online chronicles, she came with one of her friends, and we met up at Penn Station before heading back to the old haunts. Subsequent visits were usually more sporadic and unannounced. A couple of times, she’d turn up at a few bars where my friends and I were known to go on occasion on some of the rare occasions I was out with them. Her life always seemed to have a of tragic ups and downs. Every time Sonia would try to dig herself out, some new complication would arise. She’d try to go back to college, or to land various jobs or reconcile with her family, but things tended to not work out for her. Without a stable home environment for any extended period of time, it was hard for her to get out of certain ruts. I did what I could to help, but unfortunately there was a limit as to what I felt I could do. All I could do was try to be there for her online when she needed me.
About five or six years ago, Sonia settled (briefly) in an area somewhat closer to where I was so I could visit her on a sporadic basis. Once again, Sonia was living with another boyfriend, but this one seemed more long term and serious. They spoke of being engaged many times, and shared the same interests (video games, DC Comics, anime, horror movies, etc.). Sadly, as time wore on it became clear that this was another toxic relationship, although it reached a point where it was near symbiotic. As much as I liked being there for Sonia to vent to, I was always hesitant to give her advice many times. For one thing, she rarely asked for direct advance. For another, I always feared getting some situation wrong and being the cause of further turmoil if someone followed my advice and it didn’t work out. Secretly, I imagine that my own feelings for her caused me to second guess some of my own instincts. Could I accurately judge one of her relationships as toxic if I myself had feelings for her, even if I never acted on them? Besides, ending a toxic or abusive relationship is rarely so simple as to simply state what it is and tell one or both parties to leave. There’s entrenchment, there are deep emotions involved, and sometimes efforts to do so can wind up causing one or more people to dig in their heels. In the end all you can do is try to convince someone to see it for themselves.
Not long after she moved back to NY, I landed the job that I still have (as of this writing), I suggested that Sonia try for a position as well, since she needed the money and it was something she could do. She took me up on the offer and despite the long commute she worked for the company for roughly a month and a half through the end of 2011. Considering the ratio of male to female workers (with the men tending to be young), I did warn her in advance that while nobody would harass or trouble her, it was likely that someone would flirt with her at least once. Sonia was fine with this, as she seems to have a flirty demeanor herself. In an odd way, I probably should have warned myself. One of my co-workers (who then had seniority on me) developed quite a bit of a crush on her and even asked her out (which she declined), and she proved to be quite popular with the staff. Despite our long history as friends and my desire to keep it there, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t find myself becoming jealous for brief, fleeting moments. I never felt that way around her then boyfriend (who I’d met and hung out with a few times), perhaps because I knew of the sporadic turmoil the two had. For much of 2012, I wound up visiting Sonia at her place once a week (or every other week) to hang out, watch DVD’s or play video games, and in general to keep her company as her boyfriend often worked on the road for long, odd hours. Around this time they’d supposedly worked through their latest rough patch and were engaged once more. Yet despite this, they still argued and bickered quite a bit, and Sonia took to drinking more. Her boyfriend once said that, “You’re one of the only guys I trust to not try anything with her”, but his possessiveness usually couldn’t be hidden for long. Sonia would often defend him, citing her own temper issues and mental health woes. Once more, while I did my best to be there for her, and tell her that their relationship was toxic more than once, she had invested both time and what little money she had into it, and was reluctant to leave. I did have some temptations to throttle the guy, but of course this isn’t fiction and that doesn’t work in abusive relationships.
It didn’t help that while I had vowed to myself to keep things as platonic as possible with Sonia, that I had developed feelings for her over the years that I did my best to bury. Despite my long reservations about seeking to date someone who already has a boyfriend (for perfectly good reasons), I don’t know how I would have reacted had Sonia sought to come onto me or seek to initiate…something. More than once, Sonia suggested that I stay the night, since I usually left very late and mass transit from that area is spotty past midnight. I often refused, citing plenty of reasons while being mum about potential temptation for either of us. One weekend, however, I was simply in no mood for a walk and a wait and took her up on her offer. Her boyfriend was working an overnight shift and I knew that the risk for such a “something” was highest now. I suppose having feelings and conflicted emotions was normal, but I didn’t like that I had these feelings or conflicts, seeing them as a moral failing to even consider. It boils down to wanting to be better than most people, yet here I was caught between eagerness and dread that Sonia might seek to capitalize on the opportunity. Despite cheating on previous lovers (and this boyfriend being suspected of cheating on her, even as he was possessive), Sonia would have deeply regretted it and I like to think that had some sort of temptation happened, I’d have been the stronger, wiser man and shut it down. I like to think that, but I’ll never know. And I am glad I never got the chance; I wound up sleeping in a spare room abandoned by some roommates that’d skipped out on them, with a full living room and closed door between bedrooms. It was a restful night amid a bare mattress and oodles of cat and dog hair. Did I mention that Sonia’s an animal person? She almost always has multiple cats and a dog, if not more animals, anywhere she lives.
Sonia and her beau went with me for one of two days I spent at the 2012 New York Comic Con, which was a fun outing aside for yet another argument the pair had. When I was irritated with catching my friends having a laugh at my expense over my virginity on Facebook (“The Dark Side of the Internet”), I spent my 2013 birthday with Sonia and her boyfriend as well, and the three of us had a nice dinner. Not long after that, Sonia finally split from her toxic boyfriend and gave living with her family another go for a while. Unfortunately, that didn’t take and she’s currently somewhere in upstate NY with her newest fiance (and his kids, and her usual flock of cats and a large dog) and seems to be happy despite having to face more challenges to both her mental and physical health. We don’t talk online as much as we used to or I’d like to, and not for lack of trying. She usually doesn’t respond to private messages beyond a brief greeting, even though we interact via statuses and shared links almost daily. The last few times she’s sought me out that way, it was usually in hopes that I could wire her some money for some crisis or another; I never was able and she’s never held it against me, likely because I’d been willing to give her money (never more than $20-$30 at a time, and not that often) when I could if things were that dire in the past.
Sonia’s been slow to realize it, but she’s stronger than she realizes. She’s come from a lot of abuse, which sadly has not only taken a toll on her mental and physical health, but sometimes seems to be like bait for the wrong kind of men. These problems, as well as the difficulty she has settling in any home setting (either with family or a lover) for longer than a couple of years makes continuing her education or keeping a steady job difficult. Despite all this she is at heart an upbeat person, and tries to acknowledge her bouts with depression head on. She’s very beautiful, although she’s always been waxing and waning between struggling with her weight and being proud of her curves. If someone asked her what kind of friend I was, she’d probably offer a laundry list of compliments; meanwhile, I wish I could do more. We’ve grown up from teenagers to being in our 30’s and shared a lot of emotions together, her more than me. My vow to be the one guy in her life who was willing to do right by her without wanting something romantic in return hasn’t been easy, but maybe integrity never is. I’ve never shared my feelings in the past with her, and at times Sonia has wanted to help me move on with my own love life – she once offered to set up an OKCupid account for me or critique my current profile (which I barely touch). Sonia isn’t the only “female friend” I’ve had for over a decade, but she’s the only one in which my own personal feelings shifted beyond being platonic for moments here and there.
Whatever romantic love is, I wonder if I got close at times regarding some of my feelings for Sonia. While I have tried to avoid waiting for “the one” in terms of dating, there have been moments over the years where I wondered if Sonia was my “only chance”. At least one of my friends tried to talk me into making a move with her over the years. At a BBQ several years ago, my pal M*** (another reoccurring figure in these posts) seemed to have been inspired by being at a bar and seeing us interact when Sonia came by for one of her sporadic visits. The two of us were leaning against a fence and M*** and he was convinced that she had feelings for me and said in no uncertain terms something to the effect of, “If you don’t make a move, maybe I will”. He wasn’t the only friend to make that suggestion regarding her, and my answer was always, “That ship sailed”. Sonia seemed to always be in the midst of a relationship when we’ve interacted, and her relationships have been getting longer as she has matured and sought to settle down. She deserves far more than to be the first stepping stone to anyone’s romantic voyage and she also deserves someone who has far more to offer than I can, especially in practical terms such as having a car and a larger place to move into. There were times I was in turmoil over stifling my own feelings, and even envious of some of the men who were dating her during my 20’s. Fortunately, I overcame those feelings without dumping my baggage onto her and without mangling our friendship.
I suppose this could be an extended case of how timing can really be everything. Maybe had I hung around her more when both of us were teenagers, and maybe if “something” had happened then, things could have been different. I certainly wouldn’t be the Dateless-Man. Yet on the other hand, maybe all of the teenage hormones and drama wouldn’t have done either of us any good. Maybe things could have gone wrong and we’d not have been friends for as long. As some recent Disney films are seeking to ingrain into kids, not all kinds of love are romantic. The love between friends can be just as important, at times more so, than romantic love. I merely wonder about things, rather than have any regrets, in this matter.
And this is it. In terms of substantial flashbacks regarding the women in my life who weren’t family, this is really the last one I can think of. Naturally I don’t have total recall of every interaction I have ever had with someone of the opposite sex from birth until now, but this is the last of the series of flashbacks which I felt had any weight or shaped my outlook on things in any way. Overall I see this as a success, although not exactly the way some would expect. Sonia’s life has been full of tragedy, and I am glad to have been part of an element that wasn’t. And in a way, she’s been there many times for me as well; simply by being a woman who is willing to talk to me or who considered me a worthy individual for even a moment puts her in very rare territory in my life. She really is the total package despite any “flaws” and I am glad she is closer to seeing that in herself now than when we first met. It simply is a shame that I couldn’t have met even one or two other women who offered at least half of what she did in all of these years. Maybe then I could have been a normal person and not, well…the Dateless-Man. But, if this narrative proves anything, it is that for good or ill, life is rarely what you plan for it to be. Perhaps had I not suffered and been alone for all these years, I wouldn’t appreciate the suffering and loneliness in others.
Not surprisingly, this has also been the longest post I recall doing, covering many years of time. There’ll be at least one more entry coming; either a recap of the comic con speed dating in a couple of weeks, or a recap of why I flaked out on it. After that…who knows. It has been quite a journey and quite a lot of typing. It’s been good to read and reread these entries as well as the wonderful replies I’ve gotten from them and evaluate things. I can’t say I have reached the level of zen that I’ve hoped for yet, to be absolutely free of all emotional romantic desire, nor have I decided to take more swings at futility on a regular basis. There is more to life and more to do in it than being angst ridden over my lack of romantic success.
To date, she’s been the only person who wasn’t family who I have ever shed tears about. As a man, even admitting something like that in text feels like a weakness. No matter what happens, she’ll always have a special place in my heart.