It was a feisty summer evening in 2011. It was around ten and I was with my best friends sipping cheap beer and chilling endlessly at an infamous park in my hometown, where I have spent an inordinate amount of time. As it is often the case in big gatherings, our crowd kept getting larger. A small group of people that I did not know arrived. Of course, as I always spot the cutest person first, he instantly caught my eye. He was black, beautiful, dressed pretty well and he seemed funny for some reason. He was instantly nicknamed the ‘‘blipster’’ (black+ hipster) by my best friend.
I was twenty-two at the time and I was sporting huge glasses that people either loved or hated. He said ‘‘I love your glasses’’, and I responded: ‘’I love you!… well, your outfit’’. We both laughed, but I felt a little awkward. We talked for a bit, and he asked what I would be doing later. He took my digits as we were off to different bars. Like many these days, this is a relationship that started by text messages. He came over to meet me and subsequently, we made out on the dance floor. We left the bar as it was closing, quite drunk and full of juvenile energy.
We were heading back to my apartment on bicycle, and on the way, we tagged a warehouse building in the Mile End. I wrote ”Lili loves you”, my classic and silly tag, with hearts replacing the ”i” dots. A couple of days later, he tried to find the tags we did to no avail. It seems like those tags were the product of a single encounter and that they disappeared into the city landscape pretty quickly, just like the possibility of being a couple.
I was living in Mile End at the time and there was a couch on my front porch. He used to smoke cigarettes in the morning, a trashy hangover gesture. He used to call me from outside ”come on baby, come over here!”. He made me laugh and it was comfortable and fun sitting next to him despite the foul smell.
After a couple dates though, I came to realize that he wasn’t boyfriend material. I felt that we had good conversations, sure, but not the most enlightening ones. Also, the sex wasn’t working, and it was tedious to get his member up and running. He became heavy or annoying at times, and I realized that I did not liked him like that. I especially recollect one afternoon when he tagged along with me and my friend to the Mount Royal and I felt that I had to take care of him. I thus ”broke up” with him shortly after this, and enhanced that we would never be more than just friends.
A couple of weeks later that same summer, I ran into him outside of a bar in the Plateau. He was going elsewhere. ”Do you want to come with me? I was going to this other bar. I’ll buy you a drink if you come!”. I agreed, but in a friendly manner only. I did not realize then but my PMS was taking over so I was moody and highly sensitive that night. I did hold his arm at some point while walking, while simultaneously clearing the fact that we were just friends now. How to send mixed signals, basically. I was also wearing my chic black cape dress and being a little princess-y. When we got to the bar, his friends were gone so we had a beer and talked. We were both feeling quite knackered and he was living around the corner at the time. He told me to come over, but I did not want to for obvious reasons. I ended up staying the night, but I slept in my fabulous cape dress. I woke up drenched in sweat in the summer heatwave. I left his house before collapsing from sweat or being obliged to take my dress off. I stopped by my godfather’s to give food to my cat that he babysat at the time. Evidently, I had my period.
Fast-forward one and a half year, he invited me out for coffee. We might have looked like a couple as I ran into one of my college friends, but I was actually on a break with my then-boyfriend at the time. He invited me to his place to drink wine. I still found him insistent and I did not want to go, especially since I was at a weird place relationship-wise. We left it at that, and we barely talked for a while. He texted me sometimes, but I made it clear that I was in a relationship with somebody else. I heard about him sometimes. For instance, the following summer when I was in Germany, he took a German class with my best friend.
A year and some months later, I was working the cloakroom at the venue I work in. I turned back to the counter and I saw him standing there, a black panther shining in the night with a neon yellow beanie like a signpost. He was with one of his friends, a small nervous girl who I initially mistook for his girlfriend. I asked her if she was, and he came back at the same moment. I guess my question kind of showcased a jealousy and a puzzlement at his romantic situation. He came back to talk to me twice and after last call, he tried to convince me to go to an after-party. Being exhausted and having something the next day, I declined. He took my number again. He asked ”if I text you, will you be answering?”. I nodded in agreement.
The next morning he texted me that he was really happy that he had seen me again, and that he had forgotten how honest and good-natured my smile was. We texted a couple times. He subsequently invited me out for diner on Valentine’s Day. Being single but not desperate, I thought it could be fun to spend time with him to rediscover our relationship under a different perspective. We went to this insanely decorated restaurant, with an incredible array of weird objects. We came back to my place to smoke a joint and he tried to come closer. I felt noxious and I kept pushing him away. ”You know, your’e like an old friend, it’s just weird, I don’t want sexual contact. You can hold me, sure, but that about it for tonight”. He tossed and turned and was sweating so much that he decided to leave. He was not mad, just annoyed I guess,as he wanted to have brunch the following day. That was a good sign, I thought. He did not necessarily want to sleep with me.
We have realized that we are a little more than just friends, but at the same time never to be lovers. He loves touching me, although he respects my boundaries. I can massage his shoulders and give him long hugs. We are very different but there is a kind of fun tranquility when I am in his presence. He expresses himself best through music and images, while I can and write, read and talk endlessly.
‘‘That’s why I love hanging out with you Lili, you’re so fun and alive and you talk constantly, you always tell stories… I’m not that great with words’’.
He told me over beer on Bernard Street one Monday evening: ‘‘your name fits really well with you. When you think about Lili, you think about a sweet, gentle girl, no?’’. That night, we kissed a little bit but could not go beyond that without feeling awkward or uncomfortable. He said: ‘‘we’re really platonic’’. I don’t know if it’s because I aimed to try to prove him wrong, but I aimed to unbuckle his belt, something I have never been skilled at doing (I think it’s the equivalent of boys trying to open girl’s bras). I put my hands in his pants, trying to go further, maybe. It had been so long and I needed some but he stopped me right there and then. I was happy that he stopped it afterwards, because he was right. We are too platonic. I just cozied myself with my head on his shoulder and my hand on his chest. Ifelt asleep in seconds.
I woke up slowly the next morning, and I could already hear him tap slightly on his keyboard.
I opened my eyes, stretched, and looked at him: ‘‘coffee?’’
‘‘Yes! It should be ready by now’’.
He came back with two cups and gave me a vintage one with ‘‘The Toronto Skyline’’ written on it in a dark orange. It was a fitting match since I was about to move to Ontario. He told me that he thought of me when he saw it and that he had chosen it on purpose. We gave each other a big hug that morning. I put my boots on, and we hugged again. I left his place to find a misty and foggy Mile-End under a slight rain.
A week or so later, there was a party for his birthday on a Friday night. It was a hype event with three other roommates and a slew of familiar faces involved. There were many people that I did not know, of which many seemed self-important. I was about to leave but he kept trying to convince me to stay. I agreed after much frustration and argumentation. We went to his bedroom, he closed the door, he poured me a glass of wine and showed me a book he made for school. I critiqued it and we talked about it, and he told me that I was the most important person to come that night. He kissed me, and was being a bit heavy on me. I left while feeling that I had to fight with him to quit his place. It made me sad as I made my way home. That night, I was battling with demons in my dreams. I woke up thrice drenched in sweat.
The next day, he texted me. ‘‘I’m sorry, I was a bit heavy last night’’. He rang me up later that night and it was probably the first time in a relationship that has always evolved around text messages.
I have come to realize that being friends with benefits is not that simple. There is always a push and pull happening and an aura of mystery and deception. But most importantly, this is a friendship I can count on. It’s another kind of love that doesn’t need to be labelled. As I moved, I found his set of keys that he had lost at mine’s a month ago. He wrote to say that he will miss me, and I responded that I will too.
Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism at the University of Western Ontario.
Photo: Lili Monette