This is the story of a symbiotic relationship. You know, a mutually beneficial agreement between two living things, who agree to exist together and perform services for the other one that they cannot perform for themselves. (Well, in this case they can, but it’s really not the same.) It started out as mutualism, where both individuals benefit, but then took a turn towards commensalism, which is where one individual benefits and the other is neither harmed nor helped. It’s all very scientific, isn’t it? Okay it’s not really I’m just talking about friends with benefits.
We met in an acting class, like probably half the FWB/failed love stories in Los Angeles. He was the new guy. I was the stage manager. Our teacher told me I should assign him to a scene to get him involved in the class. Naturally, I assigned him to mine. Partly because I was a good stage manager but mostly because he was very cute. He was about 5’11” with an athletic build, blue eyes, dirty blonde hair, and just the right amount of stubble framing his perfectly dimpled chin. I know butt chins/dimpled chins aren’t for everyone, but I’m a fan. My first “love” (or so I was convinced when I was 14) also had a very pronounced butt chin, so apparently I have a thing for them.
My friend Fred and I were doing a scene for class from Will and Grace where Grace has taken a lover, named Daniel, and he is leaving in the morning. Naturally Will catches Grace trying to sneak Daniel out and they all exchange sarcastic pleasantries as the two men meet and Will teases Grace about her life choices. I was playing Grace, Fred was playing Will, and we just needed someone to play Daniel. It was a small part, perfect for a cute new guy. So I cast him in the role. Side note: His real name is not Daniel but I’m just going to keep calling him that for both clarity and to protect the innocent.
We met at my place for rehearsal and I liked Daniel immediately. He was funny and easygoing, eager to learn the scene for class. In the script, Daniel kisses Grace on the cheek when he leaves, so naturally we ran that part a few times. There was chemistry, even with a cheek kiss. Ooooh that’s fun.
Fred later told me he thought that Daniel and I were going to hook up after he left rehearsal. We didn’t, but that made me chuckle. Just the idea that I could have electric chemistry with someone that was so obvious to another person made me feel like a celebrity, or some version of myself that people noticed and wanted to know more about.
When we did the scene in class, it was well received. Laughs all around. But our teacher wanted Daniel to kiss me on the lips.
“What is this kiss on the cheek? I want to see passion!” he implored.
Uhh, twist my arm! I. Was. THRILLED. Also nervous though because I had to do the scene again, right there in front of the class, and actually kiss someone that I was very attracted to for the first time with an actual audience. But we did it, and it was a good kiss. I knew I wanted more kisses after that. And we got accolades for our performance, although if I’m being honest, it wasn’t ALL a performance.
My birthday came soon after and a bunch of us went out drinking and dancing. My sister was in town and was supposed to share my bed with me, but she got kicked out by a drunk me and Daniel crashing through my bedroom door. We froze; stared at each other. I gave her that look that little sisters give their big sisters when they want them to do something for them; silently pleading with my eyes, both for her to leave the room and also not be mad at me. She of course did because she’s an amazing big sister, and as soon as she headed out to the couch and closed the door behind us, we just stared each other down, hungrily.
I waited for him to kiss me, but he just looked at me. I laughed semi-impatiently.
“Are you gonna kiss me or what?!”
As the uncertainty left him, he grabbed me, pulled me into him close, and kissed me hard. It was the most passionate kiss I had ever had. My only movie kiss, where we couldn’t wait to rip each other’s clothes off and devour one another. And we did. Four times. Four great times. In the morning, in the hungover sex haze, I happily rolled over to wake up to him. So we did it again, and lay there kissing until he said it; the sentence to shatter my fantasy:
“We should probably just keep this casual, since we’re in class together and everything.”
My heart sunk. All the butterflies flew away. I wanted to protest, to tell him that I really liked him, tell him that I hadn’t had chemistry like that with someone in a really long time, maybe ever; tell him that I’d like to give things a shot between us. But of course I didn’t. My reply was that of the passive, people pleasing 26-year-old that I was; “Oh, yeah, for sure. That’s totally fine.”
And so it went. We became friends with benefits. Yay! Every girl’s dream!
Me secretly pining away, wanting more, but at the same time genuinely enjoying our friendship. I never resented him, never felt like he was using me, never slept with him if I didn’t want to. We were actually very close. Neither of us really dated other people, just casual flings. We tended to come back to each other. Then he got an actual girlfriend for a while and was so uncomfortable around me he apparently forgot how to even be nice to me. We spent less time together. They broke up; we came back to each other. We were writing together, filming sketches and other projects, having fun, being productive.
Then we stopped seeing each other (naked anyway). The last time we slept together I felt like he just half assed everything. It felt like the kind of sex that old married people who are sick of each other are supposed to have, not the kind you can justify shoving your feelings aside for the sake of a passionate rendezvous for; not the kind we had started out with. There was no effort, certainly no checking to make sure that I had been taken care of. He just took care of himself and rolled over and went to sleep, and that was the first (and last) time I would sleep with him and regret it.
I didn’t sleep with him again after that for years. We stayed friends and fortunately it didn’t ruin anything, but I just didn’t want to sleep with him anymore. My romantic feelings had long faded and I was happy with our comfortable friendship. Then he met someone and dated her for a while. A serious girlfriend. I was happy for him but also a little sad. Maybe we never would get our shot, but did I even want us to have a shot? Wouldn’t we have tried it already if we were going to try it?
Then they broke up. I never knew her name or anything about her, just that she lived in Chicago and he went back and forth a lot to see her. After the breakup he returned to LA permanently and reached out to me, wanting to get together. I didn’t actually know what his relationship status was and assumed we were just meeting as friends. But he made sure to clear that up.
When I saw him, he seemed different, at least in how he approached me and our time together. He treated me like his girlfriend; paying for me, inviting me to an intimate birthday dinner with his close friends, holding my hand, and having passionate, albeit drunken, amazing sex with me. Oh, we still got it…
I thought, maybe this is it? Are we giving this a real shot? I was excited but trying not to be. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of us dating in a very long time, but all of a sudden it seemed like a reality. They always say you’ll find love when you’re least expecting it…
He called me and texted me more in the next few days, both witty banter and making plans to come see my standup show at the end of the week. Then all of a sudden, radio silence. I texted him to see if he had gotten his tickets for my show yet, not wanting to sound clingy but genuinely needing to know the headcount for my show.
His response made me cry laugh. Mostly cry, but also laugh; both at myself for letting me get my hopes up; for allowing him to make me want something that I had long since dismissed and hadn’t even wanted anymore, and at the utter finality of the situation. I just couldn’t believe my luck.
What did it say, you’re wondering?
“Hey Kel, I just found out that my ex-girlfriend is pregnant and I have to move back to Chicago.”
Gut punch. Game over.
My mind was spinning. What do I even say to that? Was he serious?
Sooo, does this mean you’re not coming to my show?
No wait, congrats?
Whew, I really dodged a bullet!
Enjoy the Windy City?
Womp, womp, womp, another one bites the dust.
And that was the end of our symbiosis. He was never supposed to be mine.