Love Letter to Pretend Girlfriends

[Note: I don't usually do favors of this sort, but they asked me to write this. Personally, I think it turned out pretty well; hopefully they agree.]

There’s a picture on the wall across the room of two young women dancing. On the right is the cute blonde with the kind of eyes that keep you looking and the kind of smile that makes you smile back. On the left is the pretty brunette, oh-so-graceful and effortlessly cool dressed in the sleekest shade of Saturday night black. The two laugh and giggle with each other while the rest of the club blurs by, boys and men all looking on, hoping for even just a moment where the girls are looking back. Hoping for a chance to say things like “hello” and “you look great” and “let me give the world to you.”

And the girls, ever so beautiful, dance on into the night.

It’s a poster for a movie, actually. One about nightclubs and social lives and dancing and unbearable day jobs and young men and women trying to find their place (and each other) in the world. The kind of semi-pointless thesis on the fact that life after college is really tough that seems to resonate with those of us who have discovered just how true it is.

At some point, though, it became more than a picture from the movie, acting more as a postcard from a chapter of life. A time when that movie went from being a good movie about young adulthood to a good representation of it. Some of this can be blamed on things like job-related stress and uncertainty about the future; most of it can be blamed on the blonde and the brunette. My blonde and brunette.

Their real life counterparts are two friends of mine. Roommates, as it were, bouncing around the North Side of Chicago from apartment to apartment, bar to bar, day to day, inside joke to inside joke.

Once, in real life and not in a movie, the three of us were getting ready to go out one Saturday night. “I like your shoes,” the blonde one said to the brunette.

“You do?” gushed the brunette.

“Yes,” the blonde said back. And the two, inexplicably, burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Nothing,” they both answered, and burst out laughing again. We hadn’t even left their place and already I was lost. The two giggled away, and all I could do was wonder what I was missing out on.

And the girls, ever so beautiful, danced on into the night.

Once, in real life and not in a movie, I lost a bet to them. They wanted to say one last goodbye to their neighborhood before they moved out, so I told them they needed to go to every bar on their street in one night – thirteen in total. On the table was dinner, my treat, at Green Dolphin Street. Top-shelf and trés swanky.

Throwing away all regard for their health, for their best interests and for the massive hangover they would have to fight off the next day, they did it. I asked the blonde one how they possibly made it and all she could say was “You should know better than to bet against us!”


Reservations were made, and I did something I’d never done for a night out before: I went shopping for a new outfit. We had already agreed we were going to dress up, and it’s not every day (or ever, for that matter) that I was taking two girls out to dinner. This had to be special. I had to be special.

“I’m wearing red, I think, and she’s wearing black,” the brunette told me. How awesome is this, I thought. I was going to dinner with rubies on one arm and onyx on the other.

Most of the evening stuck with me not as one continuous episode but as a series of moments. Of things I remember.

I remember wishing I’d brought them flowers.

I remember the three of us walking down Ashland, over the river, and thinking that the lights of the skyline would never shine brighter than these two did that night.

I remember being the envy of most men in the restaurant and of every man on the street.

I remember stumbling out of a cab towards the Hancock Building, arm-in-arm and arm-in-arm and feeling like the richest man in the world.

I remember wondering when the champagne would ever taste sweeter than it did up there, looking out on the world.

On paper, they chose correctly in our wager. In reality, what happened was the furthest thing from losing. Not by a long shot, not in a million years. Anyone would agree.

And the girls, ever so beautiful, danced on into the night.

"Did people ever really dance in bars? I thought that was a myth."

Once, in real life and not in a movie, the blonde one asked me to marry her if she’s not already taken by her 33rd (my 35th) birthday. I thought about it for a moment and said yes.

Then she changed it to her 35th.

Then she changed it to my 33rd.

Then she changed it to my 42nd.

Then she demoted me to her alternate for her 33rd.

Then she removed me from consideration altogether.

Then she said okay, her 33rd again.

I told her I’ll be there, don’t worry. I told her we’d better be rich by then because I want to have the honeymoon to end all honeymoons. She told me I better be a “real writer” by then because she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life with some unhappy computer guy.

One night the three of us were out, drinking as we so often do, and she asked me why I went along so easily with the idea of being her backup husband. I told her it was because she asked me to. She said that was a bad answer.

“You’re not listening,” I said. “It’s because you asked me to.”

She smiled, briefly. Some song I can’t remember came on and their faces both lit up.

“Oh my god, do you rememb-” “Yes!”

And the girls, ever so beautiful, danced on into the night.

Once, in real life and not in a movie, the brunette and I went to a comedy show. At the time, they lived a good ten blocks from my apartment but it was a nice evening so I walked to pick her up.

It was September and the leaves were just starting to fall. The streets were lined with trees changing from green to yellow and red and brown. People were out walking together, playing together. Looks nice, I thought.

On one block close to her place, they had closed off the street for a neighborhood party. Little kids were out playing soccer in the middle of Greenview Street. From a few front yards came the smell of barbecues and the sounds of people enjoying the last light of summer. Looks nice, I thought.

She answered the door in black pants and a pink sweater, said something about needing to finish fixing her hair and she’d just be a minute, and disappeared again into the bathroom leaving me alone in the front room. She came back out a few minutes later and I suddenly realized that the lovely scene outside had nothing on the girl who’d been dressing herself up on the other side of that door.

Later, we met up with the blonde girl for some drinks. We were at a bar on Lincoln, talking about something I can’t really remember and probably wasn’t important, when a song came on that caught the blonde girl’s attention.

“I love this song!” she said.

“Me too!” said the brunette.

And the girls, ever so beautiful, danced on into the night.

Once, in real life and not in a movie, the blonde was trying to convince me to come out drinking with the two of them that weekend at some bar I wasn’t especially fond of.

“Come on, there’ll be all kinds of hot babes there,” she told me.

“Like who?”

“Like me,” she said. “And my roommate.”

Ah, I thought. Those two.

The same two who I went out with that Valentine’s Day where I ended up getting hit on by a woman who, once kindly rejected, turned her attention to the brunette.

The same two who conned me into wearing a Cubs shirt one afternoon by exploiting my weakness for women in White Sox t-shirts (the brunette wore one of mine; the blonde wore one I gave her as a joke).

The same two who, along with their then-other roommate, were sweet enough to bring me steak and dessert and wine while my head was still taped up and my thirteen stitches were still fresh. We laughed and joked and played video games into the night and for a little while, I forgot all about how those stitches had ended up in my head in the first place.

The same two who sat with me watching the lights shine on Buckingham Fountain while fireworks and music filled the night sky.

The same two who took me up in the Ferris wheel for the first time.

The same two who proved once and for all that it is possible to have fun at a Celtic celebration without getting drunk out of one’s mind. On the stage behind us, a band was playing traditional Irish songs while the blonde and the brunette did their best impression of an old-time folk dance. “Come on, come jig with us,” the brunette said. But I couldn’t. All I did was laugh.

And the girls, ever so beautiful, danced on into the night.

This is what happens. The girls in life become the girls in pictures, and vice versa. My own personal Last Days of Disco, starring the blonde and the brunette as themselves.

Not parallel in character, nor in demeanor, but in their place in a young man’s universe. In the way they remind him that somewhere out there, maybe closer than he thinks, is a reason to keep his eyes open. Some strange, magical combination of distance and intimacy, of friendship and romance, of promise and possibility, of tomorrow night and the rest of your life. In the end, I am left only hoping to find answers to questions that I know have none, the way all those other boys and men hope to catch the blonde and brown-haired girls’ attention, even if only for a moment.

Questions like “Why on earth do they keep me around?”

And “What am I going to do when they’re gone?”

And “How could you not fall in love?”

And I will try, and I will inevitably fall short.

And the girls, ever so beautiful, will dance on into the night.