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True Stories: Dating My Ex's Friend
Should I have expected trouble?
By Litsa Dremousis
Bob's erection took on the consistency of Silly Putty. He repositioned himself on my sheets, looked down, then up at me. "I think the condom has come off," he noted clinically, as if I were a lab monkey and he were Jonas Salk. Under different circumstances, my vagina might have played a role in curing polio. Right now, it was semi-occupied by a blue-eyed, thirty-year-old Seattle engineer who held two patents, but little sway over his penile carriage. He was six years older than me, and I'd foolishly imagined that that would make him a sophisticated lover.
"You think or you know?" I asked, alarmed by the condom's ambiguous whereabouts.
Bob withdrew entirely. "It has definitely come off," he answered, realizing he was unsheathed. "It must be still inside you. Do you want to get it out? Or do you want me to try?"
So far, nothing about this Saturday night had gone according to plan. My heart recently broken, I'd seduced Bob in an attempt to mend it. As such, I'd called and told him I'd made spaghetti sauce from scratch and was about to watch an episode of Northern Exposure on VHS. Not the most scintillating offer, to be sure, but I was newly unpaired and late to such machinations. It was lucky that I was in superb shape and owned many black underthings.
"You're down there anyway," I said. "See if you can reach it."
"I should use my hands, right?"
"Well, I have pliers in the junk drawer."
"No, that won't work," he replied, missing my joke.
"Oh, Jesus. I'll get it myself," I said. And after much contorting and nearly giving myself an appendectomy, I located the rogue latex barrier. In the background, Rob Morrow and John Corbett exchanged laconic quips about their beloved Alaskan hamlet.
"Should we give it another go?" Bob asked, as I noticed we'd gotten spaghetti on my bedspread.
While this remains my worst sexual experience (and possibly Bob's), Bob was a decent, smart guy. We shared a bunch of the same friends and were amiable when we ran into each other at parties. So when he asked me to peruse used bookstores and then grab coffee one afternoon almost a year later, I accepted. To me, it was clear this was a platonic outing, and we had a surprisingly good time. We happened to be reading different translations of Camus' The Stranger, and we compared observations over mochas at a battered coffeehouse that pre-dated our city's association with caffeine. I'd always had as many guy friends as girlfriends, and Bob and I fell into an easy routine of hanging out every few weeks. We related to each other's inner nerd, and I assumed we'd maintain this easygoing, occasional palling around.
In friendships, as in relationships, it's universally recognized that opposites attract, but it's equally axiomatic that like attracts like. So it was maybe unsurprising that Bob's housemate Keith and I found ourselves flirting whenever we intersected. I'd known Keith since college, and he was the one who'd introduced me to Bob in the first place. Keith and Bob had much in common: both were well-educated, thoughtful, in good shape, and could hold forth on a myriad of topics. Keith, however, was the more playful of the two. And, unlike in college, we were now both single at the same time.
Now, I'm aware of my flaws — perfectionism, a tendency to overanalyze, a Greek temper that occasionally gets me into trouble — but I've never cheated on anyone, and I'm open with the people I date. I don't view dating or love as power plays or sources of validation. So you'd think I'd have known better than to go out with the close friend of someone I'd already slept with.
But even though I was now twenty-five, I hadn't caught on that I seemed to be perceived as attractive — as someone for whom certain guys might compete. I still viewed myself as the frizzy-haired and studious teenage art-geek I'd been, the girl who had to ask her then-boyfriend to the prom because said boyfriend, also an art-geek, had been "philosophically opposed to proms." In my high-school graduating class, I'd won Most Likely to Become President and Most Liberal by landslides, but didn't receive a single vote for Best Eyes or Best Legs. I know, because I was editor of the school newspaper and tallied the results. As a feminist, I officially didn't care; as an eighteen year-old, I was crushed.
So Bob and I continued swapping Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks and seeing subtitled films, and when Keith took me aside at a Halloween party and we began making out in the kitchen and slept together that night, it didn't occur to me that trouble might arise. Bob had been out of town that evening, but after Keith and I went out a few more times, I assumed Keith had told Bob — his housemate, after all — about our dates. (Another thing I hadn't yet learned: straight guys aren't always so quick to share emotionally-loaded information.)