ive been meaning to call you for a while," my childhood friend Kevin said on the phone when I finally caught him in. I'd been trying once a week, for months now. "But then I got so busy, and I've had to grade all these papers, and it's the end of the semester ..."
"And then you knew I'd be mad," I said, and I was, but only a little. Kevin was a flake and always had been a flake. When you reach your 30s, you start to accept these traits in your friends. "And being male, you thought you'd just avoid it for a while, and hope it would go away until you had the time and mental energy to deal with it."
"Sort of," he allowed. "Or until you got me at home." I heard him close the door of his bedroom, even though he lives alone and I knew no one was there. His dog whined and barked somewhere in the background.
"Persistence is key with you, Kevin. How is your, your ..." I never knew what to call her. "Uh, Laura?"
"Linda. And she's fine. I mean, I guess she's fine." He paused and I heard him open the door again and start walking around.
"I interpret that to mean you're not together anymore."
"You interpret wisely," he said, and I could tell from his tone that the subject was closed. He seemed tense, or maybe he was just feeling guilty about his closed-mouthedness. I did what I normally do when Kevin is about to divulge personal information: I sat back and waited. I heard his steps down the long hallway of his sparsely furnished apartment, and the sound of dog food being poured into a plastic bowl. Finally, he said, "Well, I'm seeing somebody."
"That's good," I said brightly. "I mean, I guess it's good." I waited again. "Kevin? Hello? Good? Or not good?"
"No, it's not good," he said. "You know, Courtney, you spend a lot of time grousing about the Mr. Troubles of the world, but I have to tell you the female counterpart is a lot worse. First of all, you women seem to know a Mr. Trouble when you spot one. At least you have the option of walking away while you can."
"Never mind that most of us don't, and instead become all the more intrigued. Go on."
"What is it with these Ms. Troubles? I mean, I meet Shelley, and she seems like a normal person. She's sweet, she's beautiful, she's really into me. And then, it turns out she's actually Sybil. We're at a party, she acts like she doesn't even know me. She's talking to all these other guys, flirting with them, and then leaves the party without me. So I think, 'fuck her,' and all of a sudden she's calling me again, being all sweet and nice. And things are going great, and then suddenly I hear that she's coming on to some of my friends at a bar one night while I'm in the bathroom."
This was sounding terribly familiar. She sounded exactly like Ashley, the love of Kevin's life who broke his heart and who thus held a special place: She was the woman against whom all subsequent girlfriends would be judged. "Where is your head?" I asked. "Excuse me for putting this bluntly, but this is an area where men usually have so much more sense. They get burned by a woman, and they vow never, never to get taken for a ride again. And 99 percent of the time, they don't, and the girlfriends afterward get all the shit and abuse for this one bitchy Ms. Trouble."
"What a sexist you are," Kevin snapped. "You think women are any different? You think I don't have to bend over backwards for months and months just to prove that I'm not the same asshole who dumped their ass one time, long ago?"
"You see, that's just it," I said. "Women will go back again and again, and reexperience the same thing over and over, trying to make it right. Men learn their lesson the first time. They take a vow -- 'Never Again!' -- and they stick with it. I'm shocked that you'd allow this Shelley person in your life." I didn't add that Kevin always had a profoundly feminine streak in him.
"This Shelley person, as you call her," he said slowly, "can be really great. We really click in ways that I never have with anyone else before."
"You mean you have great sex," I said. "Of course you do. That's the thing about Ms. Trouble. That's one thing you can count on."
There was silence on the other end. Then, "Well, Smartypants, what else can I count on?"
"That's just it. You can't count on anything. That's where Ms. Trouble and Mr. Trouble differ. Mr. Troubles are so predictable, they'll do everything the same way, and what's more, you know from the outset that they are Mr. Trouble. Ms. Trouble is different. She morphs from being sweet and affectionate to being cold and bitchy to being sexy and demanding. Most of it is situational -- where you are at the time, and who is around you. And sometimes it has to do with the guy. If you're at all wimpy about it, you can expect to see Ms. Trouble morph a lot more. She's like the Jim Carrey of love."
"How do you know all this?" Kevin demanded.
"Who do you think you're talking to?"
"Don't tell me you're part of this evil female conspiracy."
I sighed. "Yes, I admit it," I said. "I am a recovering Ms. Trouble. But that's the second thing you need to know about Ms. Trouble, at least all the ones I know. We're all in recovery, or we haven't gotten there yet. It just depends where on the time line you catch us."
Kevin sighed. "Courtney, you know I love you like my sister. But now I remember why I never call you back."