Friend with Benefits

March 15, 2011
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Somewhere and sometime while I was growing up, my mother began exposing me to romantic films from the 1940’s and ‘50’s, often screwball comedies. I don’t know how, but I learned that if you want to woo a girl, you buy them things. Even if it means you go broke. Ah, I can remember every dapper actor, waltzing in with a large bouquet of flowers that was big enough to place upon a hat at the Kentucky Derby or box of chocolates that had over 10,000 calories, only to make his lover swoon and take the gift bright eyed, even perhaps with a small, glistening tear. Dressed to the nines, the two would break out in some cute dance, effortlessly swaying to the music. Or, if I had been placed in front of the television watching a musical, the dance steps would be complex, fast, and beautiful. And this happened in everyday life. “Shall we dance?” “Yes, of course it wouldn’t look weird if two people started dancing on the sidewalk to music only we two, the composer, and the director can hear.”

I seriously wonder why and where people got the idea to put such cute and amazing ideas down on film. Because, were I to meet these people, from whom I have learnt all of my personal qualities and ideas about romance, I’d kick them. Life, sadly, is nothing like Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story. At least, not today it isn’t. Rarely can one woo another with gifts as easily as they do in films. They’ll accept the gift, sure, but there’s a mingling awkwardness to it, as if you’ve done too much and your statement, instead of being a subtle “You’re swell, I’d love to go out with you” suddenly and unexpectedly turns to a blaring “Oh MY GOSH, I LOVE YOU”.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always feared losing my friends. I’ve always treated a fight like the end of the world. This is not a good thing. Unlike my compatriots who can shrug off a fight in a few days and simply learn the lesson needed, I, in my weary voice, will begin to apologize incessantly. Not that each apology is insincere, just that it grows exasperating after the third time. But, having me for a friend is sometimes quite beneficial.

When I was twelve, I used to fantasize about all the wonderful, personalized gifts I would get my friends. Knowing them well enough, I would base it upon their interests. And I could, of course, never really afford such expenditures. “Oh, Alex, I had no idea you liked the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. Isn’t Hans Zimmer great?” My mind would boil with ideas, and I would imagine purchasing the box set with all three soundtracks for Alex, and imagine his face when he opened the perfect wrapping. This need to please people I used as compensation for the fact that I worried about losing people in my life. But, it never bothered me.

They say you can’t buy someone love, but apparently, I have a few people in my life whose friendship can be measured in monetary value. Joking though it may be, it’s quite amusing for my darling friend Fanny perk up and say, “Well, you could buy something for me…” Her voice takes on a soft tone, as if she were moving cautiously behind enemy lines. She enjoys my gifts with exuberance and cunning, and she always takes an opportunity to ask. Not in a rude way, but in a “While you’re thinking of it, could you…” way. Her eyes fill with light, like the super bleached paper on the book she wants to the high definition transfer of her favorite film. This is the girl that I argue with in math class every day. We sit in the back together and she calls me her little twerp and I call her my little b****.

I have taken many, many opportunities to buy my friends things. Maria loves books. Maria, I thought, shall get a gift card to Barnes & Noble. And so she did. Completely without question or request. After she gave me a hug and asked me why, I shrugged and told her she was my best friend. That’s how I roll, I thought. Sometimes, though, I feel indebted to my friends. My big brother, as I like to refer to him, took me to see David Sedaris. He is our favorite writer. It was kind of a funny story. It was Christmas day and he told me that his father had gotten tickets to see him and I thought that was really cool. Unexpectedly, he said his father wanted to give me his ticket. I refused, because I thought that was too nice. A very generous thought, but I wouldn’t take it. Later that night, I came back to hear that his father had bought another ticket for me. I was flabbergasted. Since then, I have been trying to repay him, both for his kindness to me in general and for the ticket. Often, in random moments, I will hand him a book or a candy bar, thinking this will be appropriate compensation. His answer always is “Your friendship is a present enough.” Yeah, right! Friendship is fun and dandy, but c’mon, material stuff is so much better!!

While certainly this is not productive in any means while I’m saving for college, probably the biggest flaw is I sometimes try to buy people off. If I upset them or make them mad, I will quite often offer to buy them something. I have yet to realize, money can’t buy your forgiveness. I would often start out using the same phrase after annoying someone even in the slightest. It would be calm with waves of panic and franticness running through my voice. “I am so sorry! Oh dear, I am so sorry for doing that. Let me buy you a…” And from there I would list off several items, usually food. Throughout the year, I seemed to become an odd source for food. I was especially generous to those of my friends having a hard time in their personal life. It’s a little odd how I became a confidant to some people, oddest perhaps especially to the seniors, but regardless, I became a trusted person. And what do people do when they feel crappy? They eat. So, if people needed coffee, I was there. If they needed juice, I was there. If they needed pudding, soup, chicken breast, pasta, prime rib, Caesar salad, golden crusted Mahi Mahi, or even shrimp fra diavlo, I had it for them. And it was all free. I was like a little restaurant on legs.

After my father died, I felt that I needed, by the end of the year, to repay all of my friends for dealing with me through the year. I made a list of the names that I thought had helped me the most. The list contained some 24 names; seniors, juniors, a couple sophomores, and a few freshmen. My goal was to spend as much money on them as possible! No, my goal was really to get one meaningful gift for each person, something that really fit their personality. And I succeeded, sort of. Mostly, people got iTunes gift cards, because I’m really too poor to afford all of it. But, every so often someone would get something meaningful. My Big Brother got a David Sedaris book, Maria got the Barnes & Noble gift card, my other friend got a book of the funniest things ever said about Democrats (because she’s a hardcore GOP person), et cetera. I made another even more idealistic list for people, basically titles “If I Had $1 Million, I Would Buy My Favorite People This”. Luckily, if I really did have a million dollars, the list would only cost me about $12,000! This list was a bit of a whopper, containing things that most people would dream of. What could my two friends who are Rolling Stones buffs possibly want more than signed LPs of Exile to Main Street? And my friend Bruce loves Eminem, so why not get him tickets to see him live in concert and a signed LP of his newest album Recovery?

But there was one person in particular for whom I would have bought anything. Soleil has an incredibly feeble internet connection. She is a brilliant photographer. Her desktop is slower than an old man on pot driving in the slow lane on a highway. My solution would have been to buy her an internet wireless router, a digital SLR camera, and a Dell Inspiron 2100B laptop complete with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010. But, really, not only could I never afford this; I realized I had gone nearly broke buying her stuff anyways. In a word, I had at that point been madly in love with her. And to me, love meant being able to please someone anyway you could. And I was under the delusion that I was pleasing her by buying her things. Did I mention the best part? I had unrequited feelings for her. I was buying her stuff when she didn’t have feelings for me, when I was never with her, probably things she didn’t even want. But, I felt I had to. Something in this little heart of mine said, “Keep buying her stuff! She’ll appreciate it! Yes, buy her earphones! You feel bad she doesn’t have any! Buy her coffee! Buy her candy! SHE WILL LOVE YOU FOR IT!” One could tell towards the end she was getting slightly, if not extremely, exasperated from all the gift giving. At one point, she forbade me from doing it, feeling bad that I was going to the trouble of doing it at all. In my head, I shouted, “But I love doing it…for you!”
While nothing came to fruition, I was still buying her things. But then it hit me. I had spent over $100 over the course of the year for her. And I was disappointed it took me that long to come to that conclusion. I kept thinking, I COULD HAVE BOUGHT MYSELF FIVE BLU-RAYS! AHHH!!! It was a selfish thought, a very selfish thought indeed. Keisha and I made a rule I was no longer allowed to buy her treats or anything at all, lest I fall into that hell hole of depression and unrequited love again. I mentioned my mild epiphany to my art teacher, whilst flailing my arms about, and she said, “Well, aren’t you glad you made someone happy?” And to think of it now, yes I am. I may not have gotten exactly what I had wanted, but I still have a close friend. And I think she did appreciate the little gifts, as exhausting and frequent as they were.
She was probably the only one who got such the expenditure in my budget, but hardly the first crush to get a little something. There was at one point Maria, but for whose numerous allergies I had to stop buying food. There was Christine, a charming Mormon girl with gorgeous hair and an infamous reputation for causing a stir on buses. There came a joke from some of my close friends due to the many things I had gotten my crushes: “You know you’re in trouble when he starts buying you things. And you know you’re Kyle Turner if you can’t tell the difference between a letter and an essay.” The latter half of the joke was in reference to a horribly embarrassing period of infatuation, where I took it upon myself to really pour out my feelings. If to pour your feelings out to someone in a regular, normal way is to fill a glass of milk, I managed to give Soleil something comparable to a few gallons of milk. A six page “letter of affection”, paired with my alleged inability to adhere to word counts in essays, gave me a reputation for being long winded. But didn’t the people who had heard me talk know that already?
Moves like this - pouring one’s heart out; incessantly buying things for people; and continually landing yourself in the friend zone while continually hoping for something to happen - has in and of itself coined a term.
“To Pull a Kyle”
verb -
1. To pour out one’s feelings to someone when the other person cannot reciprocate.
2. To dive into something; To not wade.
How did you get that bruise on your face?
Well I didn’t know how shallow the pool was and I pulled a Kyle

Hey, how’s that girl from work?
I pulled a Kyle and she got a restraining order.

Lucky this is humorous, but also fairly understated in my personality. My big brother created an in-joke with me about wading versus diving, an analogy about going about being attracted to someone and how to act on those feelings. I tend to dive, meaning I go head first into “will you go out with me” followed bye “I love you” followed by “will you marry me?” followed by “how many kids do you want?” Apparently, the correct way is significantly slower, almost as glacially paced as I want the actual romance to be. Start out getting to know the person, have conversations as regularly as one is comfortable with, transition to deeper conversations, create a romantic bond, and then perhaps ask her out. The main point being, don’t buy her stuff all the time. Wait a little, and let your romance blossom like a flower in spring time that’s not being sprayed with weed killer or pesticide.

I’ve always loved buying stuff for people and making them happy. I love the look on their face when they look at me as if I’ve lost my marbles, and then I give them an awkward hug that says, “Yes, I love you, and yes, I spent my own money to buy this, so you better appreciate the hell out of this little gift.” But all these gifts come with sincerity and heart, not just the need for material items. Each is a little thank you for being in my life. I will never be able to buy enough gifts for the people in my life to show them how thankful I really am.





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