I Just Called to Say I Love You

A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my friend “Nick.” He was at work. I was at home. We were talking about what all men talk about on the phone: nothing.

He told me about his acting class. We made plans to see a comedy show. Then we performed our daily in-depth, “Pentagon Papers”-esque critique of the previous night’s 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. “Simpsons.”

Only men appreciate the subtlety of the dance, because only we can properly sidestep ever saying anything remotely meaningful. Blah-blah Browns defense blah-blah stupid Flanders blah-blah might rain this weekend, then again, might not. First guy to let an actual emotion slip dances alone.

And so it came as a shock when, in mid-sentence, Nick cut me off and said “I love you.”

Click.

I was stunned. Sure we were friends — I was the best man in his wedding — but I never knew he felt this way. He had completely bypassed every intermediate step on his way to the Big One. No “I like you,” or “I enjoy spending time with you,” or “You complete me.”

I love you.

The words hung in the air like a Hello Kitty fanny pack in the Oakland Raiders’ locker room.

Clearly he was joking, I reasoned. He’s giving me the Tenacious D friendship test. He’ll call back any minute, laughing.

So I waited. And waited. And waited.

(For the record, I now know how it feels when a man says he loves you and never calls. It just hurts — so much.)

Finally, I called him back. He wanted to know if I noticed what he said. Like if I said no, maybe we could both deny it ever happened. Sweep it under the rug. The temptation was overpowering.

But there was no way I could let him off the hook. This type of situation comes along maybe once a decade, and it can and will be used against him until we are old men.

He quickly explained that his boss had burst into his office and surprised him. Because he’s new at his job, he didn’t want the boss to think he had been on the phone with a friend for 20 minutes. Even though he had.

So Nick pretended that I was his wife. (For hopefully the first, last and only time.)

Well, I’m happy to say that today our friendship is stronger than ever. We have overcome what was nearly a friendship-destroying profession of love by forthrightly acknowledging the important lessons learned from this incident.

If you’re on the phone with your best friend and he says, “I love you,” it’s probably because his boss just walked in. In these situations, it’s best to hang up the receiver calmly and begin calculating how much beer he now owes you.

Secondly, straight men should say “I love you” only if: (1) You are both running backs for the Chicago Bears and one of you is dying (2) It will keep one of you from getting in trouble at work.

On all other occasions — birthdays, weddings, NFL playoff victories — it is best to use the less-controversial “Dude, you complete me.”

(Originally published 3/17/03.)

Click here to read the previous column “Disco Dopes.”

If you have a comment, e-mail me at joedonatellicolumn@gmail.com.

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