Friends (Without Benefits)
I hooked up with Ben on a cold winter’s night, fishing him out of a crowd on the sidewalk outside Fiesta Cantina at 2am. He was handsome, fun, and eager to please beneath the sheets.
“You are THE best kisser,” Ben kept telling me. I mean, I’ve placed several times at State Make out Competitions, but I’ve never gone to Nationals.
A few weeks after we met, Ben texted me (we had exchanged numbers that night) and asked if I’d like to do that again or have dinner, or both. I laughed and replied that I liked his vibe and that we should go to dinner.
Over sliders and beers at 8oz Burger, Ben and I got to know each other better. This Renaissance man had a Master’s in Education from an Ivy League school, ran marathons, and was an alternate on last summer’s Big Brother. I wasn’t quite sure if I was feeling a love connection, but there was definitely something there. He hadn’t lived in LA for too long and was just acclimating, making friends and getting to know the area.
A week later, Ben took me to one of his favorite chain restaurants down in Long Beach where we stuffed our faces with nachos and a flight of seven beers each. Ben was a character; he engaged the waiter in all of our conversation and made the guy sit and have a beer with us. I was having a blast, though I felt us settling into friend territory. I was uncomfortable because I didn’t know how he felt about that.
Ben went away for a few weeks on business but called, texted and Facebooked a few times. When he sent a text trying to set date number three upon his return, I knew I had to say something.
I really didn’t want to jeopardize what could be an amazing friendship with this wonderful man. Was I thinking too highly of myself that he’d be crushed if I put the kibosh on another date? I decided to be honest, to go with my gut, and to tell Ben the truth:
I had herpes.
No! Not really. I texted Ben that I had met someone (sort of true at the time) but that I thought he was amazing and I wanted to hang out when he got back. As soon as I sent the text, I wondered if that was worse, the fact that I had brought another fictional person into this. But there was no going back after I pressed ‘send.’
Ben issued a pretty cold response about us needing to return books we loaned to each other once he was back in LA. I figured that was probably the end of that, and I was sad.
A few weeks later, Ben messaged me about a TV show we were both into, and he suggested we grab a drink sometime. We set a plan and met up with mutual friends one Tuesday night, and to my pleasant surprise, it didn’t feel awkward at all. We ended up downing a couple pitchers of beer at Motherlode and then making our way to Rage, where several of the contestants from Rupaul’s Drag Race had gathered.
Ben, a huge fan of the show, pulled me aside and told me that his favorite dancer, Raja, was there and that we had to gush over her.
“But I haven’t been watching the show!” I protested.
“Just do your best,” he said, tugging on my arm.
We rushed over to Raja. Ben introduced us (as if he knew her intimately) and let her know how much she was loved. The booze must have started kicking in because I was suddenly all over this contestant.
“Raja!! Raja!! I can’t tell you how much your last performance moved me….I have never cried so hard in my life! We love you so much!!!” I went on. Even Ben was impressed that I – the more reserved one of the two of us – would go to these lengths. Raja was touched.
“And I can hardly see your Adam’s apple!” I added. Luckily, she laughed that off; I knew I’d probably gone to far enough lengths at that point.
I took Ben to a taping of the show I work on the next week, and we began having TV nights and other hangouts regularly. He even asked me to serve on a panel with another friend of his (and a celebrity guest) to set him up on a date the other night. I was just touched that Ben would trust me with such a decision, especially considering the way in which we met.
The guy that the panel and I selected turned out to be a phenomenal match. Ben called me after the date and we talked for hours about the experience and about how wonderful the date had gone.
It just goes to show that when you meet someone, whether it’s a date, a hookup, or just someone in passing, you never know where it’s going to take you. Ben and I went from one-night stand to semi-awkward dates to extraordinarily good friends.
How often do you get that from someone you met at a Sidewalk Sale?
Seeking a change in his life, the author moved to his own apartment in West Hollywood in 2008. The column is a look at the life of this single 29 year-old who's enjoying his life while casually looking for Mr. Right…or Mr. Right Now.