Other than the pages related to the forthcoming book, this is my favorite page of the website because most of the philosophical and psychological exposition is here. Besides my memories of the warmth, these thoughts are all I ended up with from my time with Ms. Lopez.

Many of these writings are just separate thoughts, with no real continuity from one to the next.

I’ll never know exactly why she got me fired, but the answer assuredly lies in some combination of the following:
  • She wanted to keep my critique of her lack of cooperation from having a negative effect on her performance appraisal. What better way to do that than to discredit me, to turn a valid work critique into something else? That was crafty of her, but I never would have thought her capable of something so mean. If she really did have a problem with me, why wouldn’t she talk it over with me first? I gave her four opportunities to help before I critiqued her lack of cooperation; I wanted to get the project done, not to get her in trouble.
  • She feared I’d mention to others, particularly to management, that she’d asked me for money. I think this was an important motivation for her, and that she struck out preemptively in order to keep this from ever coming up.
  • The end of our times together would require an explanation, both to herself and to our coworkers. For her, it was easier to make it about me being a bad person than to admit it was about her being a bad person. Getting me fired would imply that I, not she, was the bad person. And better still, it would leave nothing for her to explain simply because I’d no longer be around either to give or not to give her any attention.
  • She would find it stressful just seeing me around from day to day. After all that time together, I knew a lot of things about her, and whenever she’d see me having lunch with someone else, she’d probably wonder if we were talking about her. It reminds of a time in summer 2007 when she came by to see if I wanted to have lunch with her. I said I had lunch plans with two male coworkers that day and with a female coworker the next day. She wanted to come along, and I said the fewer the people, the better the conversation. Still she wanted to come, and I couldn’t understand why she wanted to have lunch with the guys. It turned out she thought I was having lunch with the female coworker that day, but she went along anyhow. I knew it was going to be trouble because one of the guys wanted to talk about women and about my upcoming vacation, and he wouldn’t want to get into the good stuff with a woman present. Later that afternoon he told me I shouldn’t have brought her, that her presence had disrupted the conversational dynamic. And the next day there she was again for the other lunch. I think she just wanted to feel included. She was on friendly terms with the other person and could have had lunch with her anytime, but the more situations you insert yourself into, the more popular you appear to be. I have to admit, though, that for three people it was a good conversation.

  • It made her feel she had some power in a life otherwise devoid of power.
  • It gave her the personal validation that comes from having someone take your side in matters. And since whatever she said probably portrayed her as a femme fatale, it would reinforce, both to herself and to others, that view of her. All the more so if she’d played a similar role in the dismissal of the other two men. Sometimes you simply create yourself from nothing...
  • She finally realized she wasn’t going to get the money from me and that the free lunches were over, so she felt I had no further value to her. She saw me only as a liability then.
  • She wanted revenge. Until then, she’d probably held out hope of eventually getting the money from me.

I know how she would have felt if I’d done to her what she did to me, so I’ll never really understand why she did that to me. I doubt if she herself knows. None of it really matters, though. There are any number of things it could have been with her, and if there were a corresponding number of parallel universes, then each universe could have a Ms. Lopez for which a different set of those things was her real reason. And because my friendship with her is over, it doesn’t matter to me which one was true of the actual Ms. Lopez. It’s all just a case study now. She can add that to her life’s résumé...mother, daughter, sister, friend, acquaintance, software developer, femme fatale,
case study.

My time with her continues to fascinate me because it’s still outside the parameters of the other things I’ve encountered in life. And I find it interesting to speculate on the reasons behind her actions because I know that I’m outside the parameters of the other things she’s encountered in life.

For her entire life, she’s bent the facts to make them more palatable. It’s easier that way, but the only thing it really gets you is
through the day.

Regarding her need for my attention, I think she wanted to impress someone—someone whose only contact with her life would always be limited to the things she said and who would never be able to see firsthand the reality of her life, someone who would never be able to talk with the other people in her life.

I heard many of her stories again and again, and they were all of a nature that either made you feel sorry for her or made you admire her. I soon realized she had a limited stock of stories she felt were safe to tell. The effect was that of a prerecorded loop, and if you passed by it often enough, you’d hear the same things again and again. But a real conversation is dynamic, not something safe and known and fixed.

Whenever we talked about the kind of conceptual things I’m interested in, it seemed as if I were speaking in a foreign language and she could only guess at my meaning. While she was intelligent in her work, she had neither the native speculative intelligence nor the acquired cultural and educational background necessary to make someone a fluent conversationalist. But there are other people for that. I enjoyed all those lunches with her because I could sit across from her for a couple hours, look at her face and listen to her voice, and simply feel that it was okay to be still for a while. There was something about her face and her voice and her way of moving that had that effect on me...that was the warmth. I was at peace then, not just distracted for a while by happiness or by something else.

Often there’s more truth and meaning in a person’s silence than in their words. My time with her is a prime example of the importance of listening to what’s not being said. She never once expressed any real friendship for me. She never wished me Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday, and yet she wanted to have lunch with me every day and she wanted money. For me, it was a case of
unrequited friendship. Why did it take me so long to see that, to feel that? Because I was blinded by the warmth I felt for her. Warmth can blind you to other things because, unlike love, it doesn’t have to be mutual; you feel it and that’s enough. But it’s not enough if it’s based on a false apprehension of the other person. Before Ms. Lopez, my mind’s archetype of warmth didn’t run deep enough; now it does.

In retrospect, I realize that I had to work, to do things, in order to have what passed as her friendship. That should have been my sign that she wasn’t a friend to me, that it was all about the attention and the free stuff. With a friend, it’s effortless because you simply like to be with that person in some way.

For a while I wondered if it was simply that she wasn’t comfortable having a friendship with me that went beyond our lunches and evening walks but that stopped short of romance or love. But she’s had such friendships before. She was friends since college with the man who recently became her tenant and then became her roommate, and she wanted to stay friends with the man from Boston even after their recent romantic relationship had fallen apart. So it couldn’t have been that she was uncomfortable with that kind of relationship. She didn’t need her friendships to exist purely within the confines of time together as students or coworkers or roommates. So it had to be simply that she didn’t want a real friendship with me, that she wanted only the
stuff she got out of our relationship—attention and money—and that she wanted them only while she could get them at no cost—when we were together at work.

You should always want to give more to a friendship than what you’re getting from it. That excess of giving over getting actually evens things out for you because it’s really something you’re getting. The warm feelings are found in that excess.

It’s always easier to stop taking from someone than it is to stop giving to them. Often you have to stop taking simply because they’re no longer giving, but when you have to stop giving, it kills the source of that giving, and that source is in you. It kills a part of you.

A person of substance has a lot to give to others, and so delights in giving those things to certain people. But a person of little substance has little to give to anyone, and so delights in taking things
from everyone.

Our friendship had always been one-sided and I’d always been okay with that until she started asking for stuff. If I hadn’t been okay with that, I could’ve gotten out anytime. But in retrospect, maybe not—when I did get out after she asked me for money, I got fired.

A coworker once told me to be careful, that she wasn’t the friend I thought she was. At the time, I didn’t believe it. Later it got to where I neither believed it nor disbelieved it; for me, it was just a possibility. In the end, it wasn’t just that I
believed, it was that I knew.

Another friend of mine recently said in an e-mail, “There are a lot of users in this world, who will give up the time because it doesn't cost them anything.  Basically, what she gave up was work time. Now whether she made it up, or also took from the company, I don't know, but I'm guessing some of both.  She did not give up her own personal time and she got to flaunt the attention and money that you lavished on her.”

My time with her perfectly illustrated the difference between a friendship of intention and a friendship of coincidence. Anyone who’s been to college knows what this means; you perhaps have a few friendships that may last beyond those few years when you’ve thrown together with the other person by chance, but mostly what you have are friendships that last for just that time. I felt a friendship of intention for Ms. Lopez, but she felt a friendship of coincidence for me. And that was okay until she started asking for things from me, the kind of things you should ask only of an enduring friend. People ask those things of a temporary friend only when they’re needy or when they’re taking advantage of the other person. In her case, it was both, and the latter reason meant she wasn’t really a friend of any kind because she was in a position to be a friend of intention but didn’t want to be. She just wanted

It’s often said that you can identify a true friend as someone who will help you when you are in need. I disagree with that. For me, a true friend is someone who simply enjoys being with you—not being with you out of boredom or loneliness, but for the simple pleasure of your company. People help others for all kinds of reasons—personal kindness, human charity, religious duty, the expectation of something in return, and also friendship. I would help anyone for whom I felt friendship, but I would not necessarily feel friendship for anyone I would help. Help is common, friendship is rarer. In Ms. Lopez’s case, the extent to which I would have helped her financially and in other ways was as nothing compared to the friendship I felt for her. Sadly, she wanted and valued only the help, not the friendship.

You can understand and properly value only the kinds of feelings you yourself have felt. She doesn’t understand or value warmth because she’s never felt it for anyone; that’s clear from the things she told me about the best relationships in her life. She understood and valued only the symptoms, the trappings, of the warmth I felt for her—the things I did for her because of the warmth I felt for her. She liked those things—the attention, the free lunches, and the gifts—and she tried to use the warmth to get more of the things she did understand and value. For her, it was always about the stuff.

For me, it was always about the warmth that lay behind the stuff. It’s ironic that she could have had whatever she wanted from me by just being a real friend. If she’d been a real friend, I’d have loaned her the money even knowing that she’d be unable to repay it on time if at all. It would’ve been enough simply knowing that she intended to do that and that she would try to do that.

I didn’t do those things for her in order to make myself feel warm, I did them because I wanted to do them for her. But I wouldn’t have wanted to do them for her if it didn’t make me feel warm. If you were to say that I was just using her to feel warm, that would be an inaccurately constructed statement. You can’t feel warm by using someone; if you’re using someone, warmth is not what you’re feeling then. Warmth is about the other person as much as it’s about you. It’s like the two sides of a coin; one is the warmth you feel, the other is the person for whom you feel that warmth.

I wonder how it’s possible that all her experiences in life—growing up in a good family, becoming a mother, being in love—have left her so shallow she’s unable to to understand that kind of warmth
with her heart. Or perhaps it’s that somewhere along the way, her experiences took away what was an inborn ability...

You can’t blame someone for not wanting to be your friend, but you can blame them for using you.
I don’t blame her for not understanding the warmth, but I do blame her for trying to take advantage of it.

A coworker once asked me if she and I were dating; I said no. Then he asked if I thought he should ask her out for a drink; I said no. He asked why, and I said, “Because you’re married.” He was surprised that that would be a show-stopper for her. That kind of thing keeps happening to her in life because when you deal with people at the surface, they tend to deal with you at the surface.

She wants as much as possible from others, but she gives as little of herself as possible. People like her will never really be happy in life because they’re users, and people just like them will use them in return. But perhaps they all know that and they’re okay with that because that’s the price of playing that game. In their world, it’s okay that someone’s using you as long as you’re getting something you want out of it.

I once told her that I’d always be there for her no matter what she needed in life, no strings attached. I was wrong about that; I required her to be a real friend in return, but I figured that that went without saying.

The litmus test for a friendship is if you and the other person like to just hang out together sometimes—if that’s enough. Fly fishing is one of the great solitary pastimes; you’re hanging out with nature then, maybe thinking long thoughts, maybe not. But it can also be enjoyable with a friend; if you’re serious about catching anything, you’re not going to be talking much, you’re just going be hanging out together, and that’s enough.

But she never wanted to just hang out together. She never called when she was happy and she never called when she needed some cheering up. None of these were things she wanted to share with me. And so she failed the litmus test for friendship. But she aced the litmus test for self-absorption and greed.

You should only get into the kind of friendships you can handle. This is particularly true of friendships with coworkers because if the friendship ends, you’ve still got to work together...well, unless you get them fired. She shouldn’t have asked me for money if she couldn’t handle not getting it from me.

On our evening walks, she’d sometimes give a couple quarters to one of the homeless people we passed. Once a woman asked for a meal at the McDonald’s she was standing in front of. So the three of us went inside and the woman ordered a bunch of food and Ms. Lopez paid for it. But eventually Ms. Lopez stopped doing that, and I wondered if it was because I myself never gave to people I’d just met on the street or if it was because her finances were deteriorating further. Either way, it was the kind of charity you do for humans in general; it has nothing to do with a bond of friendship.

I don’t feel much in the way of charity toward people I don’t know. I once passed a homeless person who was sitting on the sidewalk. A sign was propped up next to him; it said, “I’m just hungry.” I stopped, leaned over, and said, “What about bored? Aren’t you bored?” It was insensitive of me, but it was an honest question and I wanted to know how he felt about that. I would be bored to death before I starved to death, but I know that it’ll be coldness that gets me in the end.

And yet every time she had some new financial trouble, she made sure to tell me about it.
She was still paying off her student loans, her purse was snatched and she lost a couple hundred dollars, there was water damage to her house, she had to spend thousands of dollars to repair the sewer line, she racked up thousands of dollars in vehicle fines, she was unable to get further refinancing on her house, she had large medical and orthodontic expenses, her car was damaged in an accident. I think she told me all that mostly just to keep the free lunches coming and to get some sympathy. But towards the end of our time together, I’d come to think it was more that she was simply laying the foundation for asking me for an even greater amount of money. None of that was really necessary. All she ever had to do was simply to ask and to be a real friend.

She made two mistakes in how she asked for the money. First, she waited too long to ask for it the second time; I would have given her whatever she needed the first time, on the strength of what I mistakenly believed to be our friendship. Second, in the interim between the time she first brought up the money and the time she asked for it outright, she began to ask for other things and to tell me lies.

It’s interesting that, purely in terms of maximizing the chance of getting money from me, she lied when she should have told the truth and she told the truth when she should have lied. She started lying about things months in advance of asking me for the money, when there was plenty of time for them not to come true. She told the truth about things just hours before asking me for the money, when they would be fresh in my mind. What does that say about her? That she’s an unskilled liar, or simply that she told the truth when she was caught off guard? I think the latter was the case, that, with her, manipulation generally carries the day.

One day I amused myself in speculating on how she would have tried to get out of repaying me if I’d loaned her the money. I don’t think she would’ve had the audacity to say she’d thought it had been gift; we would’ve talked about the the specifics of repayment before I loaned her the money. I don’t think she would’ve tried to get into a sexual relationship with me in order to make it awkward for me to bring up repayment; she wouldn’t sell herself that way.

I find it hard to believe she would’ve gotten me fired just to make it easier to avoid repayment. Perhaps as a last resort because I could’ve made trouble for her at work. But I don’t think she would’ve felt I’d ever do that to her.

I think she would’ve just continued to talk up her ongoing financial problems, perhaps embellishing things a bit here and there, and hope I’d just keep letting it slide or, better still, tell her it wasn’t necessary to repay me. And that’s exactly what I would’ve done for her if she’d been a real friend to me.

I could tell that money wasn’t important to her in a friend, and when it became apparent that that was what was important to her in me, that told me all I needed to know.

For her, the quality of the attention I gave her didn’t particularly matter, and it didn’t matter at all that the attention was coming from me. What did matter was simply that she was given some attention and that people saw her being given some attention; for her this was simply a reason to feel good about herself. People like Charleen and Alma have enough of a positive self-image that they don’t need the attention of others. People like Ms. Lopez don’t have enough of a positive self-image and they don’t want to put in the necessary work to improve themselves, they just want you to compliment them and to give them attention so they can more easily believe all those nice things they want to believe about themselves.

What you chiefly bring to any nonbusiness relationship is affection. There are different kinds of affection for different kinds of relationships—one for a lover, one for your children, one for your parents, one for other family members, and one for friends. But you also bring
stuff—material things, common interests, conversation, sex, and personal characteristics such as kindness or a sense of humor. For some people, there’s a tradeoff between the affection and the stuff. But it’s not really that way, is it?

I don’t care about all the money I wasted on her, but I do care about all the time I wasted on her—my getting to know her, her getting to know me, and my doing things for her. For me, it was all a waste; for her it wasn’t a waste, it was

One measure of your value to someone is where you’re located in their spectrum of choices, and that’s exactly why I stopped spending time with her. We both deserved better. She deserved to be spending her time with someone for whom she felt some kind of real friendship, and I deserved to be spending my time with someone who felt some kind of real friendship for me.

Our friendship didn’t mean anything to her and it didn’t cost her anything. They’re really the same thing; the measure of one is the measure of the other. Something means something to you in proportion to what you would be willing to pay, in time or money, in order to have it.

I would never have spent all that money and, even more so, all that time, if I weren’t getting something all along the way. That would have been far too much simply to
invest in the future. What I was getting was warmth.

I understood why I wanted to spend all that time with her—
the warmth. But I didn’t understand why she wanted to spend all that time with me, always doing only that one thing. Eventually I came to understand it intellectually, but I’ll never be able to feel what such a motivation is like, and so I’ll never be able to fully understand her. Only someone like her can do that...

She felt she shouldn’t have to give me anything or to give up anything in order to be with me or to get things from me. And she was right about that, but she should have at least
wanted to sometimes.

I have never been as wrong about another person as I was wrong about her. I wonder if that’s what the other men in her life have thought about her, too, or if it’s just that they never thought highly enough of her to begin with.

For a while I wondered how it was that a person could treat someone as poorly as she treated me. When a woman has been used by men her entire life, there are two ways she go with the next man. She can appreciate the way he treats her, or she can do unto him as others have done unto her. Which way depends on what’s inside her, what she’s made of.

I always knew our friendship cost her nothing in terms of time or money. But it never occurred to me that that was a sign that our friendship meant nothing to her.

For her, it was simply a friendship of convenience and opportunity...and money. Having lunch with me simply saved her the time and the cost of making her own lunch, or the cost of buying her own lunch. And you can’t even really say that she
spent any time with me. It wasn’t spending because she had no real alternatives then. And when someone is only taking, you can’t loan them money because they have no experience giving, at least not to you.

I wonder if she was oblivious to all the time and money I spent on her simply because she spent none of that on me. It’s like what your parents told you about being given things rather than having to work for them.

And yet she talked a lot about people who were always taking advantage of her generosity. There were the relatives who stayed in her house for months while they had some work being done on their house; one of them was too demanding for a houseguest. There were the relatives who always left it to her to do all the work for setting up family events. There was the husband who never helped out around the house. There was the roommate with whom she split the grocery bill even though he and his son ate most of the food. It went on and on. For her, it was probably that her surplus with me partially offset her deficit with them. That was selfish of her because it meant that, for her, there was just one balance sheet—hers—instead of a separate one for each relationship.

Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that perhaps she didn’t really need the money she asked for, that she’d asked for it simply as a bonus.
Like reaching down to pick up some money you see lying on the sidewalk...

For her, all our lunches and walks were simply discrete events. They didn’t have any cumulative effect or synergy consistent with developing a real bond of friendship, and ultimately it was as easy for her to let go of me after seventy-five long lunches as it would have been before our first lunch. I was essentially just a cheap and easy way to fill in some open space on her daily calendar, and her friendship for me was simply an extension, a reaching out, of her own wants and needs.

Some things in life are cumulative, and eventually they can acquire critical mass. For me, the warmth I felt for her after out fiftieth lunch was pretty much the same as what I’d felt for her after out first lunch; warmth either is or it is not. But my friendship for her had grown enormously over that time. For her, however, it was all just a bunch of separate lunches. They could just as well have been with a different companion each time because everything was always about her. That arrangement would have given her the attention of the many rather than of the one, and those are different things. But the one thing it couldn’t have given her was someone she felt she could hit up for money.

You should get out of a relationship as soon as it’s no longer right for you. Don’t hang around until you start treating the other person poorly; that’s selfish. From what she told me, she’s never mistreated any of the men she’s been with; it’s always been her who was mistreated. Given how she treated me, how she
used me, I find that impossible to believe; there are infinitely more satisfying ways of mistreating someone you love than there are of mistreating a friend like me, an acquanitance, or a stranger. It’s simply not possible for her to treat someone the way she treated me and yet to be capable of being a friend to anyone, no matter how much she might think she loves him.

If your first relationship ends because your boyfriend treated you poorly, you can’t with any accuracy say
Since my first boyfriend treated me poorly, all men will treat me poorly; there’s simply too much variety at work in the world. But if it keeps happening in your subsequent relationships, then you have to take a look at things, starting with yourself.

But you can with greater accuracy say
Since my last boyfriend treated me poorly, he’ll treat me poorly again if we get back together. It’s been my experience, both directly and in what others have told me, that people don’t change much in substantive ways. It’s more the prioritization of their needs that changes over time. You might come to have a fruitful relationship the second time around, but it probably won’t be love. It depends on what happened the first time you were together. If the two of you thought you were in love, it’s not going to work out the second time around. If you were friends and lovers but neither of you loved the other or pretended to love the other, then it might work out the second time around. In Ms. Lopez’s case, she’s had children with two men, she’s said men have cheated on her, she’s said one man was a keeper, and she’s said she wanted to marry another man. Those were all relationships in which she was let down more than once, and she’ll be let down again, probably for the same reasons, each time she goes back to a man. I wonder if, for her, there is a limit to the number of times she’ll go back to a man, and if it matters whether the relationship keeps ending for the same reason or for a different reason.

I’ve tried to reconcile two seemingly contradictory behaviors of hers: repeatedly going back to men who have treated her poorly, and not wanting to be with men who show indications up front that they’ll treat her poorly. The latter is easy to understand, the former is difficult to make any kind of sense of. Regarding the men with whom she’s had a past, she had at some time come to feel that they loved her, and she wants to validate that feeling the second time around, to show that it really was love. But perhaps all she wants is to once again feel the way she felt then, to once again feel whatever it is that passes as love in her world. Some people can do that; they can just invoke a feeling, but it’s not the same as when you feel it naturally; otherwise, you wouldn’t have to invoke it.

After a person has cheated on you, words may later come out of their mouth to the effect that it just happened, that it didn’t mean anything, that they were lonely and you weren’t around, whatever. But what their
actions have already told you is that you aren’t enough for them in a way that, in a committed relationship, you should be. Perhaps their actions have also told you that you and the other person simply don’t share the same values, one of which should always be not to do things that hurt the other person.

It’s not possible to love a person who treats you poorly. Then it’s the case that you’re simply attracted to one or more things about that person—that they take care of you financially, that they’re physically attractive, that they want you, that they need you, or simply so that you won’t be alone. But there’s not much in any of that, is there? It depends on what you have in yourself—your sense of self-worth, your tolerance for being alone, and your personal code of honor unto yourself and ethics unto others.

No one keeps going back to a person who has treated them poorly, much less to a number of people who have treated them poorly, because they want to be treated poorly again. They do it for another reason, for some
thin attraction they have to those people. With Ms. Lopez, that attraction is to the way those men look. And maybe there is some enjoyment to be had from that, night after long night. And they are long nights, aren’t they? Nights you want never to end, nights you want never to have to see in the light of day.

She seems to simply replace one man with the next. None of them seem to mean anything to her other than that they continue the stream of attention she needs. When she does give something of herself to someone, it’s not done for an unselfish reason, it’s done simply to get something from the other person, to make that person want her in some way that she will enjoy.

I don’t believe it’s possible for her to be a real friend to anyone, simply because I was a real friend to her and yet she treated me so poorly. The most she will have is some people from whom she wants things other than attention and money, and for her those things will be limited to sex and for them to want her.

She once told me she could love a man with all her heart, but that if he did the wrong thing, she could let him go forever
just like that (imagine her snapping her fingers here). I thought Must not be much of a heart.
The things she valued most in a man—his looks and that he treat her reasonably well—were things she could let go of so quickly and easily because there was nothing of
her in all that.

Love is possible only when you’ve invested a significant part of yourself in the other person—shared time, shared feelings—and it’s hard to turn that off because it’s in you. If what you’ve always felt was more of a surface attraction to the way the other person looked or to some aspect of their personality, that kind of thing can easily be dropped. But it’s not love, and it never was...

It’s like that in her simpler friendships, too—just look at what happened with me. And she once told me that when her roommate moved in with her, he didn’t do his share of the work necessary to turn a one-family living space into a two-family living space. She said if it happened again, he’d be out of there even though they’d been friends since college. That’s not a real friendship; just as with me, it was simply an economically advantageous situation. I wonder how she’d like having someone like herself for a friend...I bet that wouldn’t last long.

She told me that he was very overweight but that in their college years he worked out a lot and was in good shape. She told me she would have dated him back then, but having failed to bond with him that way, she was never able to bond with him at all. And yet she doesn’t want men to value her just for that...

For her, friendships, particularly those with men, seem to be tools for making her less lonely, more confident, and better off financially. There’s not much for the other person in that, is there?

Once I told her that the problem with dating in your forties is that most of the people you meet either have been damaged by their past or haven’t had the kind of past that allowed them to develop properly. Most of the men she’s dated have been younger than her, but I think she dated them simply because younger men tend to have better bodies than older men.

Charleen was six years older than me, but we were both in our thirties when we came together. Julie was my age and Alma was eight years younger than me. I’ve always tended to prefer women who were a little older than me, but in recent years the women I’ve dated in one way or another have ranged from twenty-three years younger than me to seven years older than me. For some reason, a disproportionate number of them have been anywhere from a couple years younger than forty to a couple years older than forty. A woman younger than that is unlikely to be at the right stage in life for me to be attracted to her, and she’s likely to feel the same way about me. But what I’m wondering is if there’s something about the early forties that tends to make that the time when people either become damaged or become fixed in a way that makes further development unlikely.

For me, at this stage in my life, a woman’s ideal age is as follows: for her face, early thirties to early forties; for sex, upper twenties to early forties; for snuggling, early thirties to upper forties; for her personality, upper thirties to infinity. So I guess I should be looking for women in their upper thirties to early forties because that age range overlaps all my best-of age ranges. And that’s exactly the age range in which I’ve recently found the women I’ve most enjoyed being with.

It’s one thing for a person to age after you’ve come to love them, but it’s different for them to have aged, past a certain point, before you meet them. You hear stories about men in their seventies and women in their twenties falling in love with each other. That’s not possible; they’re both settling for something less than love. There’s no way a woman in her twenties is going to be physically attracted to a man in his seventies, and there’s no way a man in his seventies is going to be emotionally attracted to a woman in her twenties. They can be attractive in the way of a father figure, a former lover, a mature and wise spirit, a free and capricious spirit. But they cannot be attractive in the way of love, in the way of someone who’s at the same stage in life as you are. And you need to be at the same stage in life in order to really be
together rather than merely to supplement one another.

It’s one thing to lose out in life to someone who’s better or who’s in the right when you’re in the wrong. But sometimes you get over on yourself and sometimes other people get over on you. It’s one of the things I dislike most in life. Ms. Lopez was able to use BCBSA’s internal politics to leverage her ethnicity, gender, and employee status in order to get over on me.

It’s not so much that she’s a bad person as that she’s a weak and needy person. She’s desperate for people to see her as a good person, as a beautiful woman, and as a skilled and dedicated professional. She often told me stories that were intended to show me that people felt that way about her and that I, too, should feel that way about her. People like Charleen or Alma never tell that kind of story, perhaps merely because they don’t have to do that kind of thing in order for people to think that way about them, but more likely because they simply aren’t the kind of person to do that kind of thing.

I don’t think of people in terms of good or bad. Those concepts are too general to be of much use, and too much of their content comes in the form of a moral judgment. It’s more accurate to think in terms of specific strengths and weaknesses. Hers is a systemic weakness, one that is rooted in a lack of self-confidence and that flowers abundantly in self-absorption.

It’s hard to be angry with someone who, because of numerous bad or otherwise limited experiences in life, has matured as poorly as she has. How can you be angry with someone whose past is
Hey, baby, I’m going out to the clubs with the guys and you can’t come along? But I am angry that her self-absorption cost me a job I enjoyed and cost the company a good worker. In her world, everything is all about her—what makes Anita feel good, what’s easiest for Anita, what’s in it for Anita. You’ll never be happy that way because your focus is too small. It renders the smallest possible picture, the smallest possible life.

People ask me if I hate her. They say that, were they in my position, they would hate her. But that kind of warmth can never turn to hatred, just to sadness and disappointment...both for her and for me.

Nor do I want to see her hurt or punished, much less to do those things to her myself. For people like her, life is in great part the continual pain and punishment of being used and taken advantage of, of enjoying and yet mistrusting each little period of hope before the inevitable setting in of reality. And yet, if I were to see her walking along the street and suddenly collapsing of what appeared to be a heart attack or stroke, I don’t think I’d try to help her. I’d just draw close and watch her die, and I’d think two things:
Well, you don’t see that every day and Good-bye, but the world is a better and safer place without you in it. It would break something inside me to see that and to feel that, but maybe that would be the point...to die a little bit more.

It saddened me immensely to find that she was the kind of person who would do such a thing. In part because she did it to
me, and in part because it doesn’t bode well for the rest of her life.

Almost everyone I’ve talked about her with, including people who know both her and me and people who know me but don’t know her, has said it was obvious that all I ever was to her was a free lunch, and they wondered why I stayed in that friendship so long. I stayed as long as I felt warm. It was that simple.

For more than a year, she was the closest thing to a constant in my life...because of the warmth. Romances came and went, and through it all there was the warmth I felt for her. With Alma, I felt one less drop of warmth, but with her there was also unfathomable romance, splendid companionability, and engaging conversation. But there was always an edge to all of that because I couldn’t fully love her...all because of that one missing drop of warmth. With Ms. Lopez, it was just warmth; there was no edge to it because there was nothing but the warmth.

I’ve often wondered what kindled the warmth I felt for her. I understood the tinder that was inside me, but not in a way that allowed me to see what there was about her that had put a spark to that tinder. I’ve written all the material on this website and still I have not the slightest answer to this question.

A true friendship is rooted in the sameness of the feelings the two people have for each other. I may like different things about you than you like about me, but there has to be some commonality in our feelings for each other. That’s where the sharing and the real togetherness take place—in that overlap.

The kind of friendship you ultimately end up having with someone is the intersection of what’s right for you and what’s right for the other person. Sometimes it takes a while to get there, but you always do. And so it was with Ms. Lopez and me. What was right for me was the warmth; what was right for her was attention and money. And the intersection of those two is the empty set...

It’s generally the case that people’s positive feelings for us mean nothing to us if we don’t reciprocate those feelings. If you tell me you love me but I don’t love you in return, then your love would mean little to me except as a potential problem. But If you tell me you love me and I love you in return, then it would really be my love that matters to me. I can’t love you just because you love me, and I can’t love you if you don’t love me, so, for me, your love is just an enabler, not a cause, of my love.

The same thing is true of friendship. If I like doing things with you or just spending time with you, but you don’t share that interest in me, then my friendship means nothing to you. In the case of Ms. Lopez, my friendship, in itself, meant nothing to her. But as a means to an end—free lunches, attention, and a pile of cash—it did mean something to her...the value of those things.

One day I had a particularly enjoyable time at lunch with her (see the spring 2007 “sandals” incident on the Memories page of this website). For some reason, I felt very comfortable with her then. Later, I realized it was because I’d fully settled into that warm feeling.

That evening I was slowly enjoying a glass of wine out on the balcony, and I got around to idly wondering if the warmth I felt for her could ever turn into love. Most men wonder the same thing about the women they find sexually attractive. For them, sex is the precursor to love, but that’s only because they’ve yet to know warmth.

I considered the things about her that were right for me and those that were wrong for me. I considered them not as abstract attributes, but as they were, either present or not present,
in her. But love cannot be found in any subset, no matter how large, of the things about a person; it can be found only in the whole person. Therein lies the magic...the hocus-pocus.

It was essentially a flawed inquiry, though, because once you start changing things about a person, adding some and subtracting others, who knows what you’ll end up with. You can’t say
I could love you if only your nose weren’t so big, or I could love you if only you were a bit more dependable, or even I could love you if only you loved me. But sometimes you want to say those things, don’t you? You want to think It was that close...

In the end, I felt I probably couldn’t love her because something undefinable wasn’t right for me—
the whole person again. But none of that mattered as far as the warmth was concerned. And that warmth was so great, so seductive in its own way, that I revisited the possibility of love several times over the year to come, but I always came to the same conclusion. Perhaps the undefinable thing that was always missing was simply for her to have been able to love me. But that one thing encompasses so many things about a person, and it changes your perception of yet other things.

I also thought about the warmth I felt for her, about what might be causing it. I couldn’t figure that out. Typically I’m drawn to people who have a strong presence and an engaging personality; these are the people I tend to notice and want to get to know more of. Ms. Lopez has a weak presence and her personality is somewhat bland; she doesn’t stand out in a group of people. Her physical appearance is neither soft nor hard, and that, too is, unremarkable.

Then I thought about the differences between Ms. Lopez, Charleen, Alma, and Julie. Ms. Lopez and Julie were similar in that they were uncomplicated, but Julie was outwardly warm and giving whereas Ms. Lopez was more needy. Charleen and Alma were similar in that they were complex, but Charleen was more about power whereas Alma was more about sensuality; it’s not they wanted those things from life, it’s that in themselves they
were those things. I felt warmth for all four women and, in different ways and to different degrees, I loved three of them. But looking at the similarities and differences in the women has told me nothing about why I felt for each of them what I did.

I wondered if the warmth I felt for her would’ve been different if I’d met Alma before I met Ms. Lopez. I think it would’ve been the same, simply because feeling warmth for Ms. Lopez did not prevent me from feeling warmth for and loving Alma. At any given time, you can feel warmth for any number of people but you can love only one. Love is special in that way, but warmth is special, too, in that it can be shared.

When men see, and even more so later after they’ve gotten to know, a woman like Ms. Lopez, they tend to think of her as a plaything, as something to be dallied with on the side; this is shown by her past. But a person should never be just a plaything to you unless you’re just a plaything to that person and you’re both comfortable with that kind of relationship. I didn’t see her that way because of the warmth I felt for her; it somehow made her a whole person to me.

When most men see, and even more so later after they’ve gotten to know, a woman like Charleen or Alma or Julie, they tend to think of her as someone to fully
be with. And perhaps that is the difference between warmth and love...

Of Ms. Lopez, I’d say that if she couldn’t enjoy a friendship like the one I had for her, she’s going to have a problem for the rest of her life. When I think of the kinds of relationships she was able to enjoy for a while, and how they turned out, it’s hard to understand.

Of me, I’d say that if I couldn’t make such a friendship work for the other person, I, too, am going to have a problem for the rest of my life.
Two very different people, two very different problems...

The difference between her friendship for me and my friendship for her was the difference between wanting something
from a person and wanting something with a person. What she wanted, and got, from me was attention and money. What I wanted, and got, with her was something far better and far rarer…for the warmth to flow.

Once she told me she was in a club and, in the press of the crowd, Scottie Pippen brushed against her. She said he apologized and that she’d said she was honored. I’ve never known anyone whom I’d feel honored to come into accidental physical contact with...
excited, yes; honored, no.

One day we stopped in a convenience store on the way back from lunch. She pointed to a magazine, made happy sounds, and said, “I love him.” It was Matthew McConaughey. I was surprised. In movies he usually plays an emotionally-challenged womanizer, so I figured she meant simply that she found him physically attractive. Perhaps for her it’s mostly the same thing. Later I thought perhaps it’s also that people who don’t have much in their heart (meaning McConaughey’s characters, not he himself; I don’t know him personally, and he could be the finest man in the world) are attracted to people who don’t have much in their own heart. But then again, his characters seem to find a way to become a good guy by the end of the movie, and perhaps that was part of what she was attracted to—thinking of herself as the kind of woman who could turn a charming rogue into a loving man, as the kind of woman beautiful enough to attract such a man and deep enough to hold him to her alone forever. I wish her luck with that.

Recently I saw the movie
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past with a friend. Remembering Ms. Lopez, I asked my friend what she thought of McConaughey. She laughed and said he’s the one they’re always joking about how he always wants to take off his shirt. She said his face looks better straight on, that in profile his forehead is too pronounced. I asked her about the shirt thing and she said that was okay.

Later we talked about something a character said in the movie, that the person who cares less about the relationship wields the greater power in the relationship. That person can get the other person to make more behavioral changes, can get the other person to do more things for them, and can walk away from the relationship sooner than can the other person. I said that’s true, and that love is the only relationship in which both people care to the same extent. But even that’s not really true; each person cares to the extent that they’re capable of love. Then she pointed out that the balance-of-power thing was particularly true of my friendship with Ms. Lopez.

In the movie, McConaughey’s character is infamous for leaving a woman’s place as soon as he’s had sex with her. So later that night, just before we fell asleep, I asked her if she thought I’d still be there in the morning. She laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s your place.” I said, “Yeah, but what if it were your place?” She said I’d still be there in the morning because I liked cuddling more than I liked sex. I asked her if she didn’t like that part more, too. She said she did, that all women do. Then she said, “You’re like a girl that way. I’ve never known a guy who likes to cuddle as much as you do.” I said, “As long as I’m like a guy the other way. And besides, there’s always the possibility of morning sex.” She said, “Middle-of-the-night sex, too.” There you go...a win-win situation if ever I saw one.

I told her that not since my college years has a woman ever felt I just wanted to have sex with her. I suppose it depends on the big picture you want in life, and on how hungry you are for the things that can be fit within a smaller picture. When I was in the Gastown area of Vancouver, near the old steam-powered clock, I saw a man eating some pizza that had been discarded in the middle of the road. Number one, he was eating something that had already been partially eaten by someone he didn’t know; number two, it was lying on the street and had probably attracted some bugs before then; and number three, he was eating in a place where he could have been run over by a car. His big picture was that he wanted to live, and his smaller picture was that he was hungry enough then.

One of the things that makes cuddling better than sex is that you can enjoy sex with anyone who’s physically attractive and reasonably competent, but you can enjoy cuddling only with someone who’s special to you in a larger way. Cuddling engages more of you than does sex, but you’ve got to have inside you the stuff that can be engaged. When I talk about people who’ve become damaged or who haven’t developed in the right way, what I mean is that they don’t have that stuff inside them. They don’t have
the right stuff.

I can’t really be attracted to someone without having met them in person, but if it were going to be someone, it would be the French actress Sandrine Bonnaire. She generally plays complicated people or people who are in complicated situations, and she always has the right nuances of facial expression and bodily movement to bring all that complexity to life. And she has a stunningly beautiful face. I’ve seen her in movies ranging from those made when she was sixteen to those made when she was forty-two, and she just keeps getting more and more beautiful. That’s not uncommon for a woman, though. There’s something about the way a woman’s face matures that causes it to be at its most beautiful around the age of forty.

Interestingly, Julie, with whom I shared one glorious day in France, looked remarkably like Ms. Bonnaire. Julie had brown hair and was a couple inches shorter, but their faces were nearly identical.

Once Ms. Lopez pointed out a guy at work and said he was built like her ex-husband. He was big, but leaning to fat rather than to muscle, so it surprised me that she would be attracted to him. When you’re primarily attracted to a body type, you’re in for a world of pain in life. There will always be better bodies, and before long it’s enough simply that a body belong to someone other than the person you’re with. Her own experiences have told her this much. They’ve also told her that the important part of someone, the one that’s always been missing for her, is something else, but she’s never heard that part of the message.

It reminded me of walks north on Michigan Avenue, from the Chicago River to Oak Street, in summer. The walk is a little more than a mile, and in that time I’d typically see dozens of beautiful women. They’re almost as common as air itself, so if you’re looking for something special, something long-term, you have to look much deeper.

A woman’s body isn’t much of a draw for me. I don’t look at a woman’s body and think
Mmm, I’d like to make love to that. But when I look at a woman’s face and experience some of her personality, sometimes I think Mmm, I’d love to make love to her...with her. And sure, when I get to that point, the better the body, the better the sex. It all depends on what, for you, is the draw, on what it is that you really want. I want to feel warmth and love; Ms. Lopez wants to have sex with someone who treats her reasonably well. Her want is much easier to come by than mine, but still I wish her luck.

Once I asked her whom she’d most like being with in life. She thought about that and then said it was her son’s father, that it was because they had the most fun together. Then I asked her whom she’d most loved in life, and she said it was her ex-husband, that it was because he was the sweetest man she’d been with. She told me about how he’d sometimes have to bring his young children to college classes with him, and about how good he was with them. She also told me about how big and muscular he was, that he came by it naturally and didn’t have to work out much. Then she said he was lazy and never helped out around the house, that he just watched television and smoked. It’s an unusual mix, but in some way it seemed to work for her for a while.

Later I thought about how I would answer those same questions. I loved being with Anita even though I didn’t love her, and that made her very special to me. I fully loved Charleen and I fully loved being with her. I fully loved being with Julie and I could have fully loved her if I’d had more time with her, but you can’t really compare one day with someone to more than seven years with someone else; they’re two different things. I almost loved Alma fully, and I loved being with her as much as I’ve loved being with anyone. So I’d have to say that I most loved Charleen and, factoring out the love, I most liked being with Alma.

She told me that she didn’t kiss on the first date. I laughed and said that if a woman didn’t kiss me on the first date, there wasn’t going to be a second date. First dates are about getting to know each other, and for me that generally means dinner and conversation. If, after a couple hours of that, we haven’t developed that kind of connection, there’s nothing about a second date that’s going to make it happen then, and we’ll end up as just friends or as nothing. If she’s holding back just to test me, then she’s playing a game; if she can’t tell what kind of person I am in those first few hours, she’ll never be able to tell. And if she just needs more time to get comfortable with me, that means she doesn’t trust her own feelings, and that’s not going to work for me.

Once at lunch I was telling Ms. Lopez about a dream I had the night before. I no longer remember what the dream was about, but there was something about it that led me to I tell her I rarely dream about sex. She said she found that hard to believe. I’m forty-eight and sex means as much to me now as it did in my youth, but I have sex often enough that it doesn’t have to come up in my dreams. What I don’t have enough of is warmth, and so that is what I dream about. Night after long night, I dream about being warm again. Sometimes in those dreams I really am warm again, and when I wake up, I can still feel the warmth lingering as it did when I was with Charleen or Alma and I’d wake up just after they’d left the bed.

Based on the things she said and the things she didn’t say, I felt she was repressed sexually. People are uncomfortable with sex, particularly talking about it, when they don’t want sex for just sex but haven’t they been able to integrate it into their larger emotional framework. They view sex as its own thing, something pleasurable but somehow bad or awkward or embarrassing. I wondered if, for her, sex was just another kind of
stuff, one to be wanted from a certain kind of man.

I also wondered if, for her, sex was like a handle on a relationship. Not
I have sex with you because I know I love you but I know I love you because I have sex with you. When you can’t really tell that you’re in love, this simplifies things for you.

A couple years ago I dated a woman who never wanted to do anything other than have sex. We were together for a month, and in that time we saw each other for all or part of about twenty days and we made love close to a hundred times. I told her she was with the wrong guy, that she should find someone younger and better looking. But it turned out that sex was her way of feeling and showing love. It wasn’t just a handle, it was the love. But that didn’t work for me because I can’t really feel someone’s love through sex. For me, love is in the holding and caressing, the looking at and the talking with. I told a friend about it and she laughed and said, “She’s missing out on the best part of you.” She meant conversation and real romance, and she was right about that, but I felt obliged to remind her that sex is pretty good with me, too.

I think that what passes as love in Ms. Lopez’s world is simply finding someone from whom she wants to take certain things...sexual pleasure, the pleasure of being seen with someone who is physically attractive and who treats her well, and the pleasure of being treated well. And when she tells a man that she’ll love him forever, what she really means is simply that she wants to take those things from him forever. For her, it’s never about her giving any of those things to him. But in real love, giving is the greatest pleasure, the greatest thing you get out of it. And that really is such a warm and happy thought.

After having had enough of the wrong kinds of relationships in life, some people give up on trying to be everything to one person and settle for being something to everyone. She’s this kind of person, the kind of person who wants the attention of everyone, the kind of person who takes from all but gives to none. Of the men she’s been with, it’s as if, having failed to be the one woman from any of them, she’s content to say, both to herself and to others, that they were the kind of man who always has a woman in his life, and that she was good enough to be one of those women for a time.

What does it say about you if you can’t enjoy sex without also feeling that you are in love and are loved in return? It says that you don’t want to be used primarily for sex, and that’s good. But what does it say about you if you keep falling in and out of love in just a few months? It says that what you’re feeling then isn’t love, it’s just something you wish were love, something you force in your mind to be love. And perhaps it says that, in your natural desire for sex, you make yourself believe that this time it really is love. But if it feels like it did with the last person, then it’s not love this time either, is it?

She told me many stories about how she wouldn’t sleep with a man who wanted her just for that. The stories were meant to show me that she was virtuous. But I think she would sleep with such a man if she found him physically attractive and if she felt she had to do that in order to get what she really wanted from him. She’s okay with just using someone but she’s not okay with just being used, and that’s the most selfish combination of all. Then again, it could be that, for her, sex is something she reserves for a man for whom she cares enough that she won’t use him.

It saddens me that she doesn’t realize just how often she’s been used in life. Based on what she’s told me, all the men in her life have simply wanted her to take care of them in one way or another. They wanted someone to come home to, someone to have sex with, someone to clean the house and pay the bills. If any of them wanted someone to love, it wasn’t her. And that made me feel particularly good about having that warm feeling for her, about doing all those things for her and with her. Warmth is the better part of love, the part that’s so easy to share. But what the other person gets out of it is up to them. In her case, she responded to my giving by simply becoming a taker. I’d always thought my friendship meant something different to her than her simply being on the receiving end of things for once.

As long as her looks hold up, she’ll be able to use men and she’ll be used by men. In a way, that’s a wash—one symbiotic relationship after another, or, on balance, one symbiotic lifetime. But when her looks fade due to age or health problems, I wonder if she’ll find a kind of peace in no longer using others and in no longer being used by others. Perhaps just a different kind of emptiness...

Why is it that when we think of someone using someone just for sex, we tend to think of men rather than of women? Part of the reason is that it’s more common for men to be content with just having sex. But I think it’s also that when men think of sex, typically they think of doing something, whereas when women think of sex, they typically think of having something done to them. I’ve known some women who are more
proactive in sex, and I could easily imagine them using a man for sex.

I’ll never understand how one person could take so much from another person, and eventually ask for even more, all the while having no real friendship for that person. But I’m okay with not understanding that. There are some things in life you don’t want to approach closely enough to understand.

The best reason I can come up with is her consuming need for attention—both for her to be given some attention and for others to see her being given some attention—and, by extension, her need for both herself and others to see her as worthy of that attention. Well, that and the money...

I, too, enjoy many of the things money can buy—a nice place to live, fine clothes, good food and wine, and above all, travel. But I don’t enjoy those things enough that I’ll screw people in order to get those things. I think it’s simply that the people who will screw you in order to get those things have only a shallow connection to other people; screwing you simply doesn’t bother them, and it gets them the things they can appreciate.