Dating your friend is complicated, no matter how you slice it. Advice from our loved ones may have us fooled into thinking we should be friends first and then lovers. I think you should be friends with your lover, but that should develop overtime alongside your love for them as your partner. But I only came to think that after attempting a relationship with Tommy, even after he told me, “You’re gonna hate me D.”
“I can’t believe we both live in Brooklyn now!” Tommy laughed. I missed that gap. It had been two years since we’d seen or spoken to one another.
I sipped my Bloody Mary. Tommy asked me to brunch at a spot in his neighborhood in Bushwick. “So what have I missed Tommy?” I watched his face and that beautiful splatter of a birth mark that made him look like God had given him something extra.
“You know me D. I take care of my mother, I see my son down south, I like to spend my time alone.” He laughed because even he didn’t believe himself on that last one.
“Responsibilities.” I laughed with him.
“I’m glad you’re here,” He grabbed my pinky.
I shook my finger from his grasp, “Don’t be trying to romance me Tommy!”
He laughed. We laughed.
We left brunch and walked through the neighborhood, he showed me ran-down warehouses, snapped photos of me posing like a high fashion covergirl in front of them, and by the time the sun went down, we were holding hands and walking to his house. We’d talked all night about our new jobs, new apartments, how our parents were, and goals we had for the future.
“You want to have a drink at my place?” Tommy squeezed my hand and stopped in front of me.
“Just one,” I said and pushed him away.
One drink turned to three and with every song Tommy played from The O’Jays, I felt more and more inebriated. He sang along and stood up, performed some of the lyrics and grabbed my hand. We danced in the middle of his apartment and even though I felt like melting into his arms all night and kept having to go in the bathroom and hand wash my panties in the sink, I was determined not to give in to Tommy. I couldn’t help from hearing that warning he gave me, “You’re gonna hate me D.”
There were more days that turned into nights just like this one and one of those nights, I decided to stay at Tommy’s house. He warned me that his bed is the most comfortable place on earth. He was proud of his bed, called it his number one investment, and apparently you had to earn you way into it. I’d earned the right weeks ago, but finally gave in.
He was right. It was like sinking into your own piece of heaven. His bed could be eaten with a spoon. It was decadent. I still wasn’t giving in to Tommy, although we were face to face. His fingertips glided against my thighs. We were both smiling.
“I want this with you,” Tommy kissed the corner of my smile.
I gave in.
And…OH MY GOD I am so glad I did. Tommy’s skills showed me the moon, the stars, mountains and rivers. Lordt. That night together thrust Tommy and I into a passionate relationship that lasted about a year. It was bliss. Or a blur of blunt smoke, mind-blowing sex, brunches, singing and dancing to O’Jays’ records, him frying chicken and me not being able to keep my hands and lips off him, him calling me to come downstairs from work to see him for a few minutes because he worked nearby, and, oh yeah, Tommy’s unrelenting need for me time that had him disappearing for chunks of time. Ok, so it wasn’t always bliss.
The holidays came and he stayed and worked overtime and I went home to North Carolina to be with my family. We spent every moment we could on the phone. He worked in construction and couldn’t always have his phone, but he made it a point to cupcake with me on the phone each night. I was telling my high school best friends about Tommy when we all got together. They gushed over how I adored him. On my last night in North Carolina, Tommy and I were on the phone and he asked me, “Do you love me D?”
I laughed. “Why are you asking me that on the phone Tommy?”
“Do you love me D?” Tommy repeated himself.
I hesitated. This was a moment I’ve waited on since I laid eyes on Tommy all those years ago in Harlem. But not like this. I wanted to have this happen face to face. But I gave in, again. “I do.”
“I love you too,” Tommy exhaled like he’d been holding his breath. “I’ve been wanting to say that for so long, but I just, I get scared D. For real.” I could tell he was trying to puff his chest out.
“You’re not alone Tommy. I’m in it with you and I’m not here to hurt you,” Tommy and I talked about the boundaries of our relationship, the things we want from each other and how we were going to make it work. One of the biggest issues that kept Tommy from ever wanting to be in a relationship with me was that he thought I deserved better. Tommy was older than me. I was 27, he was 45. Tommy was locked up for half of his life. A Black and Puerto Rican young man who grew up in the Bronx, he was lucky to still be here. I understood what he did to get him in jail and I made peace with that. But Tommy couldn’t help but think that his age, his stubborn institutionalized ways, and his routines were enough to keep us apart. Still, he chose to believe in use anyhow.
We made plans to see each other as soon I got back to Brooklyn the next day. We spoke the entire day and I sent him a final text when I was taking off. I waited until we were literally off the ground to turn my phone off. He hadn’t responded. I was sure he was busy at work, but I wanted to make sure were still going through with our plans that night. I waited for his call back and it never came. I texted. No text back.
It was typical of Tommy to disappear. He’d do it in tiny pockets. Couple hours here, few days there. It never bothered me when we were just friends because, we were just friends. I didn’t need to know his whereabouts. But when he became my man, those disappearing acts where a knife twisting in my chest each time.
The night before, after Tommy and I had said, “I love you,” and talked about our relationship, I asked him to stop disappearing. I told him that alone time was fine, but he needed to let me know when he needed that time instead of just taking it.
“I can do that D,” he chuckled. “You’re trying to get a ring, man.”
Goosebumps flooded my spine. “One day. I’m good with what I got right now.”
“Yeah, you want that ring,” Tommy laughed.
When I got back to Brooklyn from the holidays, Tommy was nowhere to be found. Days bled into weeks, then months. I gave up.
I went to dinner with a blogger friend of mine, Kimmie. She was gushing over her boyfriend and suspected her ring would be coming soon. (And it did!) And she asked me about my love life and I told her about Tommy. She stopped me after I mentioned the bakery in Harlem.
“On 148th?” Kimmie asked.
“Yeah,” I said, mostly irritated because I wanted to finish my story so she could hate him too.
“Tommy?” Kimmie was smiling now.
“Yes girl!” I almost yelled.
“That’s my cousin. That bakery is my Uncle Tommy’s! Girl, stop! You’re crushing on Tommy! Yuck!” She laughed.
My jaw hung wide open. Tommy was Kimmie’s cousin. What are the chances? They shared a last name, but I thought nothing of it. It’s a common last name.
Kimmie took out her phone, “Come here. Let’s take a picture and send it to him.” She motioned me to sit on the booth beside her. We posed for a selfie. She typed Tommy a message. My heart was playing hopscotch on my ribs. “Crazy!’ Kimmie said sipping her drink. She had no idea I was dying inside. Her phone buzzed. “It’s him!”
Kimmie told Tommy she was friends with me and that I was talking about him. She sent him the selfie and he said, “Tell D I said she’s still so beautiful.”
“Tell him I said, ‘As if that would change?'” I told Kimmie.
“He said, ‘You’re still funny too.'”
“Tell him…” Kimmie cut me off.
“Tell him yourself! I’m not playing messenger. I sent him your number. He’s got a new one. Tommy’s always got a new number girl.” Kimmie laughed. “I can’t believe you love him. I mean, I can. Who doesn’t love Tommy?” I knew she wasn’t being hurtful, just honest.
Tommy texted me, “D, you’re so beautiful. I need to ask you something.”
“Thank you Tommy. I need to ask you something,” I said back to him.
“What’s up, D?” He paused. “I didn’t mean to leave you hanging like that. I told you, you’re gonna hate me D.”
“Is that still the case?” I asked.
“Maybe, after I ask you. But I just need to. I miss you,” Tommy said. I prepared for him to profess his love for me, tell me he got scared and slept with other women and it’s out of his system now and he only wants me and is ready to settle down with me.
I watched those dots pulse on my screen. When Tommy’s question came through, I dropped my phone. Kimmie looked up from hers. “Girl…?”
“I hate your cousin!” I slid my phone to Kimmie.
She read it out loud, “I want you to do a threesome with me.” She slid the phone back to me. “Yeah girl, that’s Tommy.”
“Is he serious? Kimmie, this is a man I had a relationship with.” I couldn’t believe Tommy, but Kimmie could.
“Girl and Tommy is like, yeah, this is a girl I had a relationship with, so of course I can ask her that. Of course it’s not a problem. She’ll do a threesome. Listen, I don’t know what Tommy does to women, but they’re always tripping when Tommy lets them go. Girl, he hit on me at a family reunion one time, thinking I was a guest.” Kimmie laughed.
I blinked back the tears in my eyes and laughed with Kimmie. I couldn’t believe I ignored so much about Tommy thinking that it would be different with me because he’d fallen in love with me.
I texted Tommy back, “You’re right about me hating you Tommy.”
Our relationship and the friendship before it were both flushed down the drain. I haven’t heard from Tommy since and I’m not sure how I would react if I do hear from him. I miss what I thought we had mostly and I have to be willing to look past the fantasy of something to see that the reality doesn’t serve me.
I do believe friendship is necessary when there’s love involved, but I don’t think dating a friend is a smart thing to do. Your relationship will never be the same.