Perched on a bar stool at the Lionheart Brewery, I listen to Kevin finish his story.
"...and that's when I decided I couldn't date bartenders anymore," he says. We are attending our weekly meeting of the Depressed Single People's Club. It meets only in bars, every Monday evening, and there's only ever one item on the agenda: the members will convince themselves and each other that they are happy in their current lifestyle, and that they won't die alone. The agenda stays the same from week to week because Kevin and I never quite manage to complete the task. Instead, we make positive small talk until we've drunk enough to be honest. Then, Kevin reiterates his stance that we're both too picky and weird to ever meet someone we'll stay with for the long haul, while I insist that being alone and happy is better than being chained to someone who doesn't make you happy.
Okay, Kevin and I have never actually named this club, or even acknowledged that it exists. I've just started thinking of our regular outings as meetings in a support group of a sort. As our friends have steadily either moved to places more exciting than Indianapolis, or coupled up, popped out kids, and settled down, Kevin and I have found ourselves in the slightly odd position of becoming closer by inertia, rather than choice. We met in the same circle of friends, and we always enjoyed each other's company. Now, with both his best friends and mine more interested in lawn care than shooting pool, we're spending lots of time together.
Tonight is the third time we've met at the Lionheart since it opened in January. This building was a grocery store before it became a brewery and bar. Kevin likes the atmosphere, and I agree. With the concrete floor, the high corrugated steel ceiling, and the low lighting, one is left with the impression of a warehouse during second shift, when the lights are dimmer and the workers fewer. No matter how full the bar gets, I can always feel the space between patrons here. Other people never feel too close.
"You can't date bartenders anymore? I've definitely heard you say that before," I reply as Kevin gestures to our bartender for another round. This bartender is a scruffily good-looking guy, although I hate the Sesame Street tattoo sleeves visible on his forearms from underneath the rolled-up sleeves of his button-down shirt. I think his name is Jonas. Jonas's friendly smile reaches his eyes as places a new Blackberry Wheat in front of me. Being a dude, he's more my type than Kevin's, but what's the point, anyway? I always find something wrong with everyone I attempt to date.
"Well, I mean it this time," Kevin says, taking a sip of his fresh beer. "It's already too hard for me to tell who's actually interested in me. Throw in the fact it's part of someone's job to flirt for tips, and I'm just in over my head."
"Okay, I understand," I say absently in reply. My eyes are back on our bartender, watching him take a dingy white towel and wipe down the oak counter on another part of the bar. Did I dismiss the idea of dating him because I have no faith in my dating ability at this moment, or because of his tattoo sleeves, or his job? It seems the longer I'm between boyfriends, the more inflexible my attitude is.
"Um, hello, Nina? Are you paying attention?" Kevin playfully tries to nudge me off the bar stool with his elbow.
"Sorry, I was just thinking. I'm worried that the longer I'm single, the less able or willing I am to accommodate other people's quirks or schedules. And I don't even think I care. I'm afraid I'm becoming more rigid the more I live alone, you know?"
"I'm becoming more rigid the more I look at you, if that helps," Kevin says with a smirk.
"Fuck off," I say, but I'm smiling too, because it does help. Pathetic, I know. But, Kevin's still a man, and I'm still a woman, and I have my pride. Even though Kevin and I will never date, it doesn't hurt to have a guy say something that makes me feel attractive.
Every once in an alcoholic while, Kevin tries to make a case for why we should date. What he's really making a case for is why we should have sex, as he knows that he doesn't actually want to date me. One, his type is tall blondes with large breasts and at least two tattoos, because according to Kevin, "One tattoo could be a youthful or drunken mistake; two means she's serious about them." As I am a petite, un-inked redhead, I don't meet his stringent criteria. Two, we are alike in some very irritating ways, and Kevin has admitted, "You're great and all, but I don't want to date the female me."
I couldn't agree more. Not to mention, while I know Kevin is objectively attractive, I am simply not attracted to him. I think I know him too well. I know what kind of porn he likes, and why. I wish I didn't possess this information, but I do. The line has been crossed, and on the other side of the line lies the Permanent Friend Zone. Oversharer that he may be, I value Kevin as a drinking buddy. If I can't sidestep his rare attempts to get physical with grace, I'll lose his friendship. My lamely humorous deflections have worked so far, but I'm sure this topic is a time bomb.
After three beers, we're ready to go. My apartment is a little over a block away, and I'll bet Kevin parked outside it in anticipation of walking me home. As Kevin and I amble toward the front door, I glance back at Jonas. He's now drying pint glasses with a graying towel that I hope is different from the one with which he was mopping up beer sweat on the bar earlier, but I suspect isn't. I wonder if on his way out tonight, he'll sling his Bert-and-Ernied arm around one of the waitresses, walk out to his car, and drive back to her place. Or maybe he'll drive back to the house he shares with his wife or girlfriend. Or maybe, like me, Jonas is relieved to be heading to an apartment that will be empty when he walks through the door.