"So why did you two break up?" Harriet wanted to know. "I would like to see if you can possibly explain this one."
"I told you why," I said. We were sitting in Swingers Diner in Los Angeles. "When do you suppose this kitschy 'Pulp Fiction' style is going to go out of fashion in L.A. diners?" I asked as I scanned the beer list and Morphine blasted out of the jukebox. Was 4 o'clock too early to begin? With Harriet, a full night of drinking was ahead of me. She'd arrived the night before from New York, and I'd decided on a whim to jump on a plane and meet her for the weekend. She was my kind of friend, but one look at her raised eyebrows and it was clear that the Spanish Inquisition was closing in fast.
"I like this motel we're staying in," I told her. "Thanks for encouraging me to come down. What kind of beer do you want? Does this diner serve cocktails?"
"You can buy me a beer," she said, "but I know what you're doing. Tell me what happened. I thought everything was going well."
"It was. I mean, it is. He's very nice and I really like him. But it's just not that love thing and we're both too old to waste our time. OK? Next subject." I swiveled my head, looking around for a waiter. "God, it's hot in L.A. I can't believe people really reside here."
"How do you know it's not that love thing?" Harriet asked. "Sometimes that comes later."
"Because I know." I waved at the waiter, who, bored, blinked at me and continued talking to his friend outside in the blazing heat. "One knows. One knows at a certain point. You know?"
Harriet was looking at me through narrowed eyes. "You don't know."
"Harriet! I know. Give me a little credit here. I like him, he likes me. We like running together, we like drinking, he's very generous and we have nice sex. But that does not a commitment make. OK?" I considered getting up and pinching our waiter, who was apparently reenacting his last night's acting class by doing a mime version of being trapped in a box. "How was your flight last night, by the way? I think I'm going to have a Bud Lite. Me, the beer snob. Surprised you, didn't I?"
Harriet drummed her fingers on the Formica and sat silently. Finally, she spoke. "When are you going to stop running away from committing to someone?"
I groaned. "Oh, God. Not again."
"I'm serious. What is wrong with this guy? You have not told me one concrete reason why you're not going out with him anymore. He sounds sweet, kind, smart -- you like doing the same things, you're attracted to him and him to you, so what is the problem here?"
"Harriet," I said, "it's not that simple ..."
"It is that simple. I think you're waiting for Mr. Ideal, Mr. Prince Charming. And that is ridiculous, because everyone has something wrong with him. Didn't they teach you to compromise in kindergarten?"
"I can compromise as well as the next person," I said testily, "but I don't like settling. Is that what you think I should do? Just grab the next good old guy who comes along, because -- because -- well, why? Age?"
"You have to admit you're not a spring chicken anymore," Harriet said loudly.
"Oh, thank you." The waiter spied me doing a pantomime version of drinking a beer, mouthing "Bud," and finally sauntered over with two bottles. "Why are women the worst ageists?" I asked her. Taking a gulp of my beer, I glared at her. "Do you say this to your guy friends who are 32?"
"Tick tock, tick tock. That's all I'm saying. I think there's going to come a time where you just can't handle this breakup stuff anymore, that it just is going to start to get a little tiresome to go through the let's-be-friends discussion all over again. It happens to women in their early 30s, this tiredness. Men have a little more leeway -- they get tired in their late 30s." She delicately wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
"So what you're telling me is that all couples in their 30s who get together on a permanent level are primarily driven by exhaustion?"
"I'm telling you the truth," she said, with the wisdom of a 38-year-old. "It's something I've observed. When you get older, you find that they aren't all lined up saying, 'Pick me! Pick me!' The good ones are all taken."
I started to laugh. "Another sexist comment! When will women ever stop saying that?" Harriet cocked her head and looked at a point above my head. "And besides, whatever makes you think they're all lined up now? They've never been lined up. I don't care if you're Cindy Crawford -- there's never an abundance of men saying, 'Pick me, pick me.'"
"If you think it's bad now, it only gets worse." She looked at me darkly. "And I'm saying if you liked this guy and you used to have great sex with him ..."
"Oh, we're still having sex," I interrupted. A pregnant pause descended. "Just because we broke up doesn't mean we're not sleeping together." I wiped the bottle across my forehead. "Many friends can have sex and have it not ruin the relationship."
Harriet rolled her eyes. "For how long? A week? Until one of you throws a fit in a frenzy of possessiveness and the other one walks? Give me a break." Harriet swigged her beer and grimaced. "Listening to your little fantasy world is enough to drive me to drink this horrible Budweiser."
I finished my beer and pried her hands off of her bottle. "Well, if you don't mind, I think I'll just hold out for Prince Charming, or until I get that 30something tiredness, whichever comes first." Harriet sighed and looked at the menu. "Until then, I think I'm happy with my little Disneyland consisting of sex with a friend whenever we feel the urge strike us." I smiled brightly across the table at her. "Silly ol' me!"