Relationships are complicated – whether on the basic level of two friends or colleagues and more so when you toss in love and sex. And so it is with Phil despite our mutual mellowness and deep understanding of human imperfections. We are older, not looking to get married or have children and are quite laissez faire when it comes to comings and goings. This fits well into our parallel pathologies.
I still have the weekend wife who I speak with every day, extensively, and he still has the other boyfriend- Carrie and Stan, our bookends. Now Carrie was at an advantage knowing all there is to know and in theory a few weeks ago the imbalance was corrected for Stan as Phil explained to him the facts of life. When it comes to Carrie, there are no mysteries to me but all I know of Stan is through Phil’s eyes, a prism that at times is hard to gauge.
New Year’s Eve has never been my favorite holiday – a strange combination of forced gaiety combined with social pressure. In our society sitting alone on New Years is probably considered worse than a solitary turkey sandwich on Thanksgiving. As Phil put it succinctly, it is fraught with emotional danger. It was not that long ago that as midnight struck, Carrie had a meltdown when faced with kissing what she knew to be her future ex and more recently a little after midnight we held each other – not sexually – taking a moment of comfort in each other’s arms.
For the New Year’s we have known each other, Phil has conveniently been away – convenient for both of us – but not this year. Finally some weeks back we acknowledge that we should spend it together, albeit not really knowing what to do. I struggle with what to say to Carrie, my traditional New Year’s being with her and our children. She solves the problem asking "What are you and Phil doing for New Year’s". Problem solved.
Not so quick: As fraught as things are for me, things are equally fraught for Phil. He did explain the facts of life – his relationship with me – to Stan but I am not sure what was heard. As December quickly is winding down, Phil, a widower, announces he really wants to spend the evening with a group of old friends, friends from his married straight life, friends who know nothing of his present circumstances. He does not want to bring me, a combination of not wanting me to spend yet another evening in the closet I have left behind and also a fear: what happens as the bell tolls. Do we kiss, European cheek thing, or maybe just a handshake and pat on the shoulder. You get the picture.
I am not overly upset – spending the evening with my children is not exactly a punishment and is very much in my comfort zone. It is Anna’s first New Year’s as a mother and being alone under her circumstances is not easy, a fact that becomes clear as the evening and weekend unfolds. It is a good New Year’s as New Year’s goes, albeit not what was originally anticipated. It even was okay when a little after midnight we all hear my cell phone in the distance (no, I do not carry it on my hip like a modern day 38) and Carrie points out I should answer it, say hello to Phil. I would love to claim total comfort at those moments, but I am not there yet, but still I did answer the phone, express my New Year’s wishes to Phil.
Of course I think about everything, there are worse diseases, and come to realize that I could have gone to the party with Phil – it is not as if I have not met many of these people before, as the straight friend, and I have grudgingly accepted my place in his closet. The midnight moment, while potentially strange, was manageable, a guy hug if you would. No, the problem was Stan, or more accurately Phil’s loyalty to Stan. The thought of being disloyal to Stan, even though Stan would have been unaware of the circumstances weighed on Phil, weighed on him to the degree that he was willing to pull the plug that evening on both of us.
We have talked of this since that night and Phil has a little work to do. He needs to define who he is and where he is going. I am his friend and happy to stand by him as he works through this, but am also plain that like anyone I do have limits. The danger is that I, and of course Phil, do not know where these limits lie and unfortunately once the ramparts are breached they will be hard to repair.
So we are back at the parallel pathologies. I have a significant amount of my weekend time booked – appropriately with children and maybe inappropriately with Carrie. Phil gets his time with Stan – once again the appropriateness is a subject of some debate, but it all seems to work. The problem is that as my children continue to grow – it is rather inevitable – my weekends become more available, a trend that is already starting to kick in and with that will be the question of what my Saturday nights will look like, or maybe the question is really what Stan’s will be.
Bob Seger had a monster hit back in 1976 and one line from it has resonated as I have mulled the situation:
I used her she used me
But neither one cared
We were getting our share
Of course we all know that taking parallel pathologies and claiming everything is healthy because both sides are equally damaged is not a great formula. Relationships are tricky and some work lies ahead.