it would have been harder to keep him

Because of napkins, we’re no longer friends.  We were sitting at the bar at—oh, what’s the name of that restaurant with the ridiculously absurd coconut sticky rice?—Ruby Foo’s, the one on the Upper West Side, near where I’d eventually live.  I was still living on the Upper Least Side, and in the coming weeks, you’d visit me there, overnight even, and complain that you felt “icky” there.  “It gave me the creeps,” you’d later say because his things were still there, because it was your introduction to our divorce.  You were relieved once I moved across town, but of course by then, you and I weren’t what we’d been before. 

Straight Up And 30

I’d taken a cab across town to meet you at Ruby Foo’s.  “Appetizers,” I said, and we shared some, I’m sure, with wine, but it might have been sake.  Or maybe I ordered mine dirty, as I was apt to do back then.  It was before we dated, before we stopped dating and became the kind of friends who said, “Yeah, we’re totally just friends,” and meant it. You drew a finger across my face and asked if I knew how beautiful I was.  “You’re the one with the dimples,” I said smiling back.  And I remember the light that night, rutilant, on our bar stools beginning to learn each other’s beginnings.  “Let’s play, I remember,” I said perking up out of the smitten stir between us.  You cocked your head and raised a brow.  “Come on; it’s fun.”  And I felt fun, like the creative one, like you liked me this way, adding to the relationship, enriching your life.  Maybe you thought, “This girl’s on crack.”  Maybe you though, “She’s fun and passionate and has things to add to my life.”  Either would have been okay. 

“We need something to write on, and two pens.”  I looked toward the coasters, but they were marked with colorful logos.  “Napkins.”  And I handed him some.  “Okay, write a bunch of sentences.  Each one has to begin with ‘I remember.’  Just write whatever comes to mind.  Do a bunch, and then we’ll trade.”  This wasn’t something I normally did on dates, or ever did again.  It was just happening, a written conversation where I learned his mother bought the dented cans because they were cheaper.  I loved what came out, learning about him, hearing him tell stories as he was remembering them, about summers at the shore, his favorite smells, his atrocious time at jury duty, and the way he laughed in the telling of it.  I felt high and giddy and infatuated, strung up in the bloom of a relationship when you’re usually busy restricting the conversation to “us talk.”  Like the new gadget you just purchased, you noodle around with it, pawing your way through the manual, excited to master it.  You want to get to it fast; you can’t get enough, and in the bud of a young relationship, you speak about future things, assuming it will always be this intense and exciting, even though experience has proved otherwise. 

Many years later, the napkins returned, only this time we were different.  We were friends, the kind who shared everything and asked eagerly for dating advice.  “She read my email and signed on.  So I know she read it.  Shit, she’s online right now.  Why hasn’t she emailed back?  Should I IM her?”  And he’d help me through my own anxieties, though now I was in a serious relationship, the kind that would lead to love, then marriage, then two babies in a baby carriage, or at least a designer jogging stroller.  He sent his new napkins to Phil for my surprise Straight Up and Thirty scrapbook, where each of my friends wrote something, sharing with me what our friendship meant to them.  He remembered our courtship and handed the words over to my man, speaking of our sexual life, remembered in private jokes.  It was inappropriate and to say the least made me uncomfortable. 

If roles were reversed, if I were accumulating letters from Philip’s friends for his birthday surprise, had an ex of his who really was now “only a friend” provided me with her account of their intimate lives together as lovers, how would I have reacted?  For one, I’d probably still be hurt by it today.  And I’d certainly want him to have absolutely nothing to do with her, ever again.  “Disrespectful” is a restrained word I’d use often with my arms crossed.  And even if I’d been in an extraordinarily giddy mood, it could turn, quite quickly, to closed and miserable at the mention of her name.

Despite our years as platonic friends, we stopped speaking, completely.  Because he was disrespectful to someone I loved, and even to me.  But also because as much as I hate it, I have to try to live by the whole “do onto others” code, and there is no way in hell I’d be okay with Philip still including her in his life, at any level.  So the napkins were just the evidence that despite all we said, sometimes the “just” part of “just friends” just isn’t the case.  And it was hard letting go of a dear friend, but it would have been harder to keep him.



  1. you couldn't have maintained that friendship after that. you're right, it was entirely disrespectful of that person to do that…
    is he one of the six? i miss those entries… you went from three to six with nothing in between…

    FROM STEPHANIE: Yes, this is FOUR, though I liked this title better. I also tried to play with the second person voice, then changed it mid-way to "he."

  2. I´m curious reading this if you´ve ever confronted him about it directly and if he had any justification or just wanted to be provocative??

  3. Wow some nerve he had…that was seriously uncalled for and in bad tatse. I could see sending a napkin with memories such as I remember Ruby Foos or whatever….anything besides your sex life together.

    How snarky of him. Did you confront him or cut ties without explanation? I'm sure there wasn't an explanation that was needed.

  4. This still falls under the heading of "things that are temporary" to me. I've never had a "now we're just friends" work out for very long. I think it's cool you sustained it as long as you did.

    Did the napkins make it in the scrapbook? Or did Phil tell you about them later? I hope they're not in the scrapbook. I'd surgically remove that page, personally.

  5. Props for being able to remember 'do unto others'. I'm having to remember that too, with my beau. He's so much more patient and understanding than me sometimes and I have to remember that and always respect it.

  6. This kind of confused me.
    He sent Phil the napkins in which you guys played this game and he wrote things like "about summers at the shore, his favorite smells, his atrocious time at jury duty, and the way he laughed in the telling of it" on the napkins, right?

    You say he sent Phil his new napkins? New? As in he took some random napkins and wrote stuff on them? Im confused.

    Blonde with big titties too so it might just be me. :D

    FROM STEPHANIE: Yes, when it came time to add something to the scrapbook, he recreated new napkins just for the scrapbook, focusing his "i remembers" on our times together. His creative way of saying, "I even remember the night where we wrote everything on napkins."

  7. Was this "Gay Max' from the book? I wonder if that was his way of telling you that he might still have feelings? Or, maybe he just wasn't smart enough to realize how odd his "gift" was. I agree, it would be hard to keep him as a friend…after that. What did Phil say? Did you at least confront the "friend" or did you just stop contacting him altogether?

  8. I really enjoyed this post. I love the idea of the napkin game, because it's so much more than a game, even if the premise is simple.

    I don't know the guy, but sending what are essentially long-and-buried secrets to your new love (your real love) seems passive-aggressive. Or maybe just aggressive-aggressive.

    Another thing: I really like how you switch up your writing style when you're talking about the past. It's very breezy and sexy but still a little unsure. Now that you've gotten the whole happy ending, your writing is more at ease, warm and comforting. Awesome.

  9. First let me say I just discovered your blog last week and I am loving it!

    Second…clearly the guy had some unresolved feelings for him to pull a stunt like that. It was insensitive and totally out of line. You were right to end the friendship.

  10. I confronted him, and he understood and apologized. But it was too late at that point. You can't take something like that back when more than just US are involved. I also explained that had things been reversed, I'd have been rife with anxiety and unable to even hear Phil bring up her name. It was something you couldn't undo.

    For a while, I mistakenly hoped we could still be friends, but when I looked at how hypocritical I was being, I realized otherwise. I couldn't handle Phil being friends with "overlap girl," so he certainly shouldn't have to bear my friendship with Napkin Boy.

  11. You are in my brain. I just got back from a long weekend. With my "just a friend"- who isn't just a friend in all reality. He told me how he felt about me all this time while his current GF sat less than 4 ft. away in a loud bar. He kissed me when she went to the bathroom and totally destroyed me in the process. I am not that girl and yet I want/ed more than friends. I feel napkin guy's pain, but I wouldn't push it on my "friends" new other half. I only want (honestly here) him to be happy and that includes her happiness now.

  12. Oh no he DIDN'T!!
    Wow, that is so insensitive to Phil and to you. Parting ways was probably the best thing to do. I would have been livid if my man's ex did something like that.

  13. Okay, I understand now. I can definitely understand how it would be hypocritical but I dont know if I would have just ended the friendship, especially if wasnt of malicious intent. Then again, I might give up the friendship to make a point to Phil- as in, see, I gave him up so you better not talk to overlap girl.

    Im manipulative like that though so my reasons would be different, b/c I sure as shit wouldnt want him talking to overlap girl, AT ALL. But that's b/c I know how women are, men not so much, but women always tend to want what's on the other person's plate.

    FROM STEPHANIE: Sadly, you so get me.

  14. I'm married…just under a year, and I can honestly say if it was me and it was an ex of my husband's I wouldn't have been bothered. I find his ex's quite interesting and would love to interview them myself…so, had one did something like that, it would give me the perfect opportunity to get personal right back. But, I am a strange minority. He might have been bothered if it was me and an ex…but I think only if it was a certain one. But, I get it…

    I actually don't think men and women can really be friends. I wrote a whole article on it once, but to sum up: You don't go into a bar, coffee house, book store- and pick out the ugliest person of the opposite sex and say "wow, that person looks like they'd make a GREAT friend". Most of our opposite sex friendships are made from some kind of chemistry.

    Over time that chemistry can dissipate, but most likely, the guy would bang you if the situation arose and the girl leans on him for emotional support. If she finds another guy for a relationship, she'll end up giving to him the emotional connection she gave to her "friend".

    No matter what, one side of the equation still hopes for more, or would do more if they could. If neither wants to get in each other's pants, then neither end up really caring that much if they talk to each other that much. All of a sudden it's been weeks or months, or a year when the convos used to be daily when neither had an "other". That then makes you "acquintances" at that point, not friends.

    This guy with the napkins was realizing he'd never be your pants and he prob had some residual animosity about it.

  15. The why is so obvious. He was marking his territory. You, my dear, were the tree. Men can be such dogs.

  16. Wow, I can't even imagine what was going through his mind to think that this would be a cool addition to the scrapbook. And how sending it to your husband would be acceptable.

    I also like how you switched voices/persons in this one. It had a really good flow to it; it wasn't even something I noticed until you mentioned it.

  17. so true. so so so true. i've just gotten myself into the "do unto others" thing, and it gives me more peace in my relationship.

    i can't believe he put commentary about your sex life on napkins for the straight up and thirty scrapbook.

    i'd be pissed too.

  18. I just pushed a boy out of my life who was "just friends." We had dated for almost a year and he moved half-way across the country because he got scared and didn't want to be tied down. We stayed friends and visited each other in the months that passed, exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts and he even sent flowers on Valentines saying he knew how much girls like having flowers delivered to the office on that day. I realized that no matter how many times I said we were "just friends" I was only being his friend just to be there when he was ready for a relationship with me. I couldn't do that to myself anymore so we are no longer anything except exes – ex friends, ex lovers, ex everything.

    My group of girlfriends recently had a long dicussion on whether you can have friendships (other than casual work friendships where you only socialize at the office) with someone of the opposite sex once you are married. Those of us who were divorced thought it was inappropriate – that that sort of intimacy can be had with your S.O. or with a friend of the same sex only. Some of the single gals agreed but others didn't think there was anything wrong with it. Just curious what others think.

  19. Yeah, what I always get caught on with this sort of seemingly innocuous stuff that eventually makes you go "hey, wait a minute, he's really being a DICK!" is that there is just so little possibility that he didn't know that what he was doing was somehow off color. Better that he show his true colors then than you keep him around as a ticking time bomb of a "friendship". Friends after dating is such a delicate social arrangement to maneuver. It seems to work best when you're both enjoying the same level of success (or not) in your new relationships. Bottom line is that he just couldn't get over himself enough to play nice when your friends and family were trying to make you happy and celebrate your birthday. You and Phil should be gloating all the way to your perfect married life.

  20. I wish I had the brains to step back and remember to "do unto others" in my own relationship. But it seems men have a hard time doing it themselves… that their actions would be drastically different if they just stopped and thought for a moment.

  21. I'd say you did the right thing. My husband used to have this friend who would constantly bring up other women he dated. (Ex. "So and So said the trip you took to Italy together was her most romantic experience ever.") She would say these things right in front of me and it drove me crazy and hurt my feelings. I finally confronted her about what she was doing. But it would have been better if he had been the one to confront her (or drop her as a friend as you did with Napkin Boy).

  22. I'm discovering more and more as I grow how important it is to cut the bad people out of your life, its for sure a hard thing to do. But like you said it's hard to keep [them]. I love reading your blog, it sheds light onto so many things that I can reflect into my own life. Thanks for being fabulous :)

  23. I think it is entirely possible for people of the opposite sex to be friends, even when they are in relationships with other people. I have been in a relationship for five years and have at least two good guy friends. In my opinion, if you are with the right person, no one else compares to them and there is no problem. While I admire my guy friends and would set them up with my girl friends if the chance arose, I know I have the best catch for me.

    Side note. Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people would have so many issues if this theory that men and women can’t be just friends was true.

  24. Hey Tara. I think you CAN be friends with men, no sexual tensions involved. The key thing I think is not to have a sexual history with them. Just my opinion.

  25. I think I can be friends with my ex-boyfriend but only because I have someone new in my life that is head and shoulders above him… (-; Once you close the door on sex with the ex-, and I mean, really close the door and lock it with a deadbolt, only then can you have a true friendship. Not friend with benefits, not friend who lusts, not friend who is waiting for a weak moment to strike again…..granted, I am only talking from my side, not his.

    Sure, he is probably wondering if I am going to have a weak moment but in the meantime, I am enjoying just talking to him by phone and seeing him briefly from time to time. Do I still relish the fact that he is turned on by me? Hell yeah. Will I do something with that knowledge? Hell no.

    The new man in my life keeps my sexual self constantly excited and all of my lustful thoughts are with him in mind. How refreshing….he uses the words "we" and "us"….. after all those years of "I" and "me."

  26. You can definitely have sheerly platonic friendships with men – although clearly not when they do what this guy did. I think people who have trouble having non-sexual friendships with members of the opposite sex are often people who have trouble viewing the opposite sex through anything other than a sexual lens (this doesn't necessarily mean they are sex crazed – often it just means they derive their self-worth from being desired by the opposite sex, so they want or need their opposite sex friends to want them). If you are capable of seeing a man as a person first, and a man second, you are capable of being really just "just friends" with him. He has to have the same ability, w/r/t you, of course. I've seen plenty of platonic opposite sex friendships. My ex had female friends, good female friends, whom I was completely confident he did not lust after. It was a non-issue in our relationship, as were my platonic male friendships (although, to be honest, at that point all my guy friends were dating female friends of mine, so it wasn't a big threat or anything – a lot of my friends married each other).

    That said, there are plenty of male-female friendships that are trying to pass themselves off as truly platonic and are not. (I think that other people, especially those who are mutual friends of the pair, are pretty good at instinctively telling the difference.) It's better, whatever type of friendship you have, to be honest with yourself about whether there's a sexual component, so that if it comes to the point where it is an issue, you can handle it without lying to yourself, your friend, or your sig other.

  27. A lot of your posts have recently been about losing friends & missing friendships. Am I totally of the mark, or are you feeling a little isolated in Austin with the new beans?
    I do not mean that you are unhappy, its just that you do seem to be musing on the topic if loss & friendship quite heavily.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I do miss my friends in New York, though quite a few of them are coming to visit soon. However, these posts aren't written real time. One day, I decided to write about friendships that ended. I've posted each loss throughout this blog, not all at once. People have to remember, and try really, not to analyze every little thing on this blog.

  28. I actually don't think Napkin Boy did anything that wrong. Men who are used to being a woman's one and only can have a hard time transitioning mentally and emotionally (it's harder for men to open up and once they do, harder again for them to let go). I had exes who were friends who still called me for inappropriate conversations. Girls just have better sense of these boundaries. That said, I think you did the right thing by respecting your union and cutting him off.

  29. There are two Tara's posting on here. I just noticed it. I'm now Tara N. and I'm not the one who said men and women can't be friends– just an FYI :)

  30. I'm Tara D-K who stands firm on (straight) men and women not being able to be friends.

    As a previous person posted: "Not friend with benefits, not friend who lusts, not friend who is waiting for a weak moment to strike again…..granted, I am only talking from my side, not his."

    That's exactly my point- YOU could feel just friendship- but you can NEVER speak 100% for someone else…and what their motives, feelings, or intentions are. And if they would have sex with you if the situation arose, that is NOT "just friends"…And if there was never a sexual relationship- that just leaves room for sexual tension.

    I have plenty of male acquaintances. I like them well enough. Some have been in my life for years and years. But, I don't feel a special excitement when I hear from them, if I don't talk to them for 6 mo or a year, I'm cool with it, and I don't talk for hours on the phone with them like I used to when I was single. Some I fooled around with or slept with and some I didn't. And I still bet most of them would still sleep with me if given the chance.

  31. It's so sad for everyone when this happens. Four years ago, I was the girl he could never see again if he wanted his girlfriend to stay with him. Bless his heart, he tried to figure out a way to keep our pledge of friendship true but she gave him the ultimatum. I, of course, had no choice but to lose a soul-friend whose perspective on the world I've never been able to find again.

    The saddest part is WE WOULD NEVER have done anything to hurt their relationship. It was important to me that he be happy in his life. I wouldn't have — and didn't stand in the way. But I'm still sad that he lost a friend, I lost a friend, she was so threatened and made it all happen.

  32. i'm not sure. i think you might have been ok with it in the end. it's part of your past. i'm all about the past leading to what we are today. he's got to know that you have two babies are are married today. he's just a friend at this point. trust me. i'm 36 and have a six-year-old daughter. no matter how much i might dream and imagine about another man, there is nothing that could make me cheat on hubby, because i equate that with cheating on daughter/family. it just won't happen, no matter how much i daydream of a relationship with somebody new. i value what i have too much to ever jeopardize it with an affair.

  33. you are so quick to give up friends. why is it ok for you to publish your sexual endeavors but he is no longer a friend b/c of it?

  34. I don't know if I will ever get to explain this, but I just wanted to tell you that the title of this post helped me more than anything else anyone has said to me today. It has been a bad day, for no reason related to this story whatsoever. And there were no (human) hims involved.

    Comfort comes from the most unexpected places. Thank you.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I am sure your pet is happier now. I'm sorry for what you must be going through. Loss is never easy.

  35. Julie's comment made me think ("you are so quick to give up friends. why is it ok for you to publish your sexual endeavors but he is no longer a friend b/c of it?")

    BUT ..those were psuedonyms, if you will, used in your book and it's not like you dropped off a copy on the doorstep of every ex's new 'it' girl.

    i think it's just a lot easier to be oblivious and sometimes dumb in life.

    people who are smart think too much and it ruins things…i have found. this is your problem, as is mine.

    cogito ergo doleo.
    [i think therefore i am, depressed]

    -Natalie Anne
    …Constant Comparer and Contraster of Her Own Life With SK's So She Can Rationalize and Justify the Irrational Things She Does…
    (my new skblog name since there is another natalie h as well)

  36. Julie-

    "you are so quick to give up friends. why is it ok for you to publish your sexual endeavors but he is no longer a friend b/c of it?"

    Did you eat paint chips growing up? He is no longer a friend because he obviously couldn't handle the line between friend and more now that Stephanie is in love with someone else.

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