In the midst of my experiment, who should appear, but a blast from the not-so-distant past. Friend Zone Ryan and I have been pals for a few years now, starting back when we used to be neighbors-ish. We sort of hooked up a couple times that first summer, with me pumping the brakes pretty swiftly. FZR stopped trying and I proceeded to pine away. Because there's nothing more addictive than that oscillating trifecta of affection, ambivalence, and disinterest.
A few months ago, he skipped my birthday for a stupid reason and I decided we weren't friends anymore. The next week, I ran into him at a mutual friend's party and decided his reason was totally valid and we were totally still friends. A few shots, one very platonic sleepover, and a room service brunch later, FZR was dropping me off at home, saying he was going to take me out for a birthday dinner.
And then I never heard from him. We were so not friends anymore.
Until last Monday.
Walking home from a writing session, I hear my name being shouted from a familiar vehicle. Oh, hello stranger. Brief catch-up sesh. We're still friends.
FZR: I still owe you dinner!
Me: Oh, that's right - you totally do. [So much nonchalance.]
FZR: Just let me know when and where...
He continues on to his office; I head back home. We may still be friends, but I have zero expectation of a follow-up to this conversation.
A few hours later...
FZR: Where/when are we dining?
Well, color me surprised.
I slot him in for Thursday (So weird how calendar space can open up like that!) and suggest a smattering of restaurants that run the gamut from casual/trendy to fine dining. He makes a reservation at Hatfield's -- or, as the LA Times termed it back in 2010, a gracious restaurant for grownups. Look, Ma -- I'm a grownup!
Really excited for this best friends forever reunion dinner. Right? This is a friend thing. Totally a friend thing. Not a date. Why would it be a date? That'd be weird. Gross. No way.
...I'm a child.
FZR's house is pretty dead center between my place and Hatfield's, so he sends an Uber to grab me, with further instructions to swoop him up en route. Belted in the backseat, it doesn't take FZR long to inquire about my personal life. I pause. We've never really talked about our personal lives before. Is this his way of making it clear that this is a BFF situation? Or is this him attempting to get a clearer view of the landscape before the night's momentum kicks in?
I decide he's asking because he heard about my 30 Days of Online Dating from one of our mutual friends, and is just trying to make conversation without coming off like a stalker. I delve in real deep to the stories of my multiple suitors. He hadn't heard about my project. Oh, that's cool. NBD. This is just me cementing my feet in the friendliest of areas.
FZR is all manners and charm every step of the way, as per usual. Be still my etiquette-obsessed heart. We cozily settle into the back corner table -- my favorite spot in almost every restaurant. (Feel free to pocket that piece of information for future use, gentlemen.)
Over the Croque Madame, we chat recent trips, etc. Just a month before, I had travelled to his hometown for the very first time. "Why didn't you tell me you were going?" Because you said you were going to take me to dinner and then you never called, so I decided we definitely weren't friends anymore? In lieu of way too much truth, I fumble out something about not knowing why I didn't, but I should have, and would absolutely hit him up for the phone-guided tour next time around.
Thankfully, the next course arrives to alleviate my awkward. Momentarily. Just as I'm about to take a bite of buttery black cod, FZR launches into a story about a girl he was recently set up with by a friend of ours. Apparently, she is just as smart and witty as I am, and he totally f*cked it up. Of course she is. Of course you did. Did I mention this cod is delicious? The topic of my brainy twin somehow bleeds into 50 Shades of Grey, a book I have not read and refuse to endorse. FZR says he has encountered more than a few senoritas suffering from post-Christian Grey syndrome -- they come into the bedroom hot, but not necessarily in a good way. Oh man! All this talk of whores has me dying for another cocktail.
We're still friends. Just friends.
The LA Times said we were not to miss Hatfield's "sugar and spice beignets shaped like soft little pillows and served warm with a complex Venezuelan chocolate fondue and a charming milkshake shot dressed up with preserved ginger". So we don't. FZR immediately spills the charming milkshake shot, attempting to slice into one of those soft-ish pillows. The server's there in seconds to clean it up, assuring us that it happens all the time.
FZR: Thank you for that; I appreciate you trying to make me look better in front of her. Isn't she the best date ever -- didn't even skip a beat.
My pathetically slutty lashes flutter at the D word. Calm yourself, children; it's merely a polite turn of phrase. Seriously, stop that. You're making us all look bad.
We Uber me home; FZR walks me to my door; we say goodbyes.
FZR: If you feel like going out and getting really drunk, you know who to call.
Right. Yes. Yes, I do. I might just go ahead and wait a few weeks for my dignity to piece itself together, though, if that's cool with everyone.
We're still totally friends.**
*not his real name
**We really are, though. FZR, if you're reading this -- don't make it weird.