My girlfriend challenges me. As I hold her hostage on the phone, ranting, depressed and confused about my new boyfriend, she says matter-of-factly, "Treat Gerald the way you treat me." "Treat him the way I treat you?" Though I understand exactly what she's saying, I also don't get it.
"Call him, be cool, be friendly, and if he's too busy to go out, say, 'That's OK, maybe next week. Call me when you have some time. '"
It's a crazy idea, yet it sounds so simple. "I hear what you're saying," I tell her, "but I don't know if I can pull it off without sounding upset."
"Of course you can. Would you freak on me if I were too busy to hang out?"
"No, but that's different."
"It isn't, but we treat it differently. That's why relationships don't work and friendships last so long."
Nadine sets off a light somewhere in my mind. I have faith in my girlfriends, but men might as well be walking time bombs as far as I'm concerned. I decide to go for it.
1) I'll treat Gerald with respect at all times.
2) I won't jump to conclusions (giving him the benefit of the doubt).
3) I'll actually go with the flow rather than coming in with all my (hidden) expectations every time I see him.
The next morning when Gerald calls, I'm feeling horrible. My first instinct is to put on a cheerful voice and pretend everything's great. I scratch that idea right away.
"How are you?"
"My back is really sore".
"Oh yeah, what did you do to it?"
"Nothing. I got my period."
"Hmm" is his vague reply.
There's a moment of silence. Suddenly, I feel like apologizing. My "period disclosure" has somehow put him in a position he doesn't deserve. Then I remind myself, Gerald is now Geraldine.
On the first real warm day of spring, Gerald and I sit comfortably silent, enjoying the weather and people-watching. I spot a man who looks a little like Drew Carey and notice Gerald trying to figure out if he is Drew Carey. The TV star look-alike starts earnestly picking his nose. He seems to pick forever. I chuckle to myself.
"What's so funny?" asks Gerald.
"This guy was picking his nose." I begin laughing uncontrollably for some reason. "He pulled out his finger and looked at it."
"I didn't know you found those kinds of things funny."
"Sometimes I do."
"You're too much, Chaka," he smiles, looking slightly impressed. I smile to myself - who knew?
Weeks go by. For once I feel casual, relaxed. I'm not obsessing over this relationship. Am I becoming the kind of girlfriend I always wanted to be?
I realize that Gerald loves to gossip, and his stories begin to inspire my writing. Our patio critiques and conversations as people pass by become an entertaining way to enjoy the nice weather. I feel comfortable blatantly sharing my thoughts, unworried that he'll take them as personal attacks or that I'll appear less desirable.
I begin to see what a great sense of humour and storytelling he has, and I share stories with him that I usually reserve for my girlfriends and random strangers. Yes, maturity does feel nice.
I'm flipping through a fashion magazine when a model stares out at me under the headline "Clothes that will make you hotter than summer." I wonder if Gerald will think she's hot. I'd ask one of my girlfriends, but part of me doesn't want to know his opinion. I've never been one of those girls who ask their boyfriends what they think about another girl's looks, but if I'm really going to treat him as a friend....
"Tell me what you think of this girl."
He gives a quick yet thorough look.
"She has a great body."
That was quick.
"What about her body?"
"Nice tight stomach. I'm a stomach guy." Gerald smiles at me adorably. "But don't worry, your tummy is cute."
Where did that come from? I look down at my stomach bulging slightly over my hiphuggers. I'm too tired to even attempt to suck it in.
But, boy, am I pissed all of a sudden. Suddenly he's morphed into the guy in the club standing by the bar eyeing all the girls. Yuck. And that comment about my stomach.
"OK," I say, turning back to the magazine. After weeks of being the perfect girl/friend, I've lost interest in my project of treating Gerald like one of my girlfriends.
"To tell you the truth, I don't see the problem in his comment," my friend remarks later, after I relate our conversation, complete with his expressions.
For days I feel distaste when I think about Gerald's comment, but then I realize I'm being ridiculous. I've always put honesty at the top of my list of relationship musts, but in reality maybe I don't truly value it.
I like it when the honesty's coming from me, but I'm petrified of my boyfriend's. My belly and personality faults have always been off-limits - until we break up. Yet seeing what I'm beginning to create with Gerald makes me want to try.