Quentin Lucas says there’s one thing about his immature, single years that still haunts him: He was a terrible wingman.
Occasionally, I find myself reminiscing on the days of my extraordinary bachelorhood and all the escapades it entailed. Liquid courage fueled bawdy celebrations of life and bacchanalian festivities unfit for the virtuous gaze of a bright blue sky. Strangers became companions and then strangers again after the sun had risen. Slick dance moves. Public unseemliness. Romantic victories. Having laid that era aside for years now, I look back on that time with admiration, remembering a meandering adolescent with a rare passion for random conversations and bizarre conduct.
Nevertheless, there is one aspect of those heroically immature years which still haunts me: I was a terrible wingman.
The way Watergate stains Nixon’s legacy is how poor wingmaning has marked mine own. There was a time when I was delusional enough to believe that I could, at least, fill in during an emergency state of affairs. “Stash me away in your ‘break glass in case of desperation’ category,” I would counsel, believing that I could muster the enthusiasm of a true team player and occupy the less appealing friend while my brethren charged once more unto the breach.
But, no. I could never gather the zeal needed to mount the ass of a stranger on the dance floor so my comrade would know if it were safe for him to approach her friend. If payment were involved then perhaps I could summon the spirit of my most noble ancestors and mouth lyrics like “she had dumps like a truck, truck, truck; thighs like what, what, what; baby move your butt, butt, butt; I think I’ll sing it again” in order to break the ice and make my friend look cooler by association. However, while Sherlock had Watson, Frodo had Samwise, Shrek had Donkey, and Han Solo had Chewbacca, I languished in my “Sexual Pursuit Sidekick Ineptitude.”
My first inkling toward the possibility that I may have a problem came a few years ago when a childhood friend overwhelmed me with a gale of frustration because I had not tried to sleep with the friend of the woman he was angling to take home.
“I wasn’t attracted to her!” I explained.
“What the hell’s that got to do with it?!” he fired back.
In my heart, I knew he was right. I had been selfish, knowing that it had been said many times before that there is dignity in sleeping with a person you’re not attracted to because it requires discipline. Perhaps, sloth was my sin. As penance, I have, on occasion, considered adopting the mindset of Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules Winfield from Pulp Fiction, and dedicating myself to simply walking the Earth in search of enlightenment borne through bedding the most unattractive women who would deign to have me. But I never did.
Instead, I silently reveled in my anti-wingman behavior. On another occasion, when I simply wanted to have a few drinks, an associate tapped me on my shoulder, nodded toward a pair of women, and said, “What about those two? They’ve been looking for someone to pay attention to them.”
Understanding my companion’s fragile mindset, that weekend nights are attrition warfare, where only the resolute, the stouthearted, and the broad chested built for withstanding rejection after rejection are likely to triumph, I swallowed my displeasure. I averted my eyes so he would not see them roll at the idea of approaching someone because he or she looks lonely enough. This was one of the common but forlorn moments of weekend night tomfooleries. Trapped in the trenches with only your brethren and raging hormones, there are times when you can look a partner in the eyes and realize that the fear is beginning to set in, that last call is nigh and he has yet to close any deals.
For a while, I thought pride may be my sin. Instead of following my compatriot into the unknown that night, I carved my own path toward a woman whom I had spoken with earlier and was now leaving the bar. “Mind if I walk you to the train station?” I asked.
“Why?” she replied.
“Because you’re cute and I’m bored,” I answered.
As I walked with the redhead to the nearest station, we discussed the DJ’s weak transitions from one song to another, our typical weekend shenanigans, and when we might bump into each other again. Meanwhile, I wondered, “What is the purpose of wingmen? To allay our fears? To make ourselves seem worthy in the eyes of a stranger? Why is it so difficult to just know whom we are, and that what we are is enough?”
But my hubris was eventually snatched out from under me, and I realized the error of my wingman antagonism. By this time, I had hung up my charms and committed to the quiet march of monogamy when another friend sent me a text. He was in need. A place. A time. A plan. And an exit strategy. All of these details were sent to me immediately after he requested my talent for reinforcement. He wanted to take a woman out to dinner, but she had a friend who needed her own friend.
I was flattered by the invitation to revisit my days of glory, and even told my girlfriend. She shook her head but could not deny the times when she too had been called up from the reserves to serve on the front lines. But did I go? No.
All the same, I admired the request because it was not one of desperation. This was not a moment when a friend had lost sight of his self-worth, and needed someone to help him court undeserving prospects because the fear had set in. This was a man with a plan who was looking for a fellow crusader to bolster his campaign in proving what he was already confident of, that he was indeed worthy of what lay just beyond his fingertips.
In the end, I learned that there is nothing tawdry about the service of the wingman. Instead, what must be understood is that just as one would not light the bat signal because somebody was jaywalking, the wingman’s services are to be respected — to complement swagger, not supply it. I wish I had learned this when there was still time. But, those days are long behind me. Now, in my quiet days of fidelity and exclusivity, I can only stroke my graying beard and remember. And, on occasion, perhaps, I will raise my glass the next time I find myself in a bar, witnessing the valor of a wingman entrusted with rescuing the night.
Photo: Guian Bolisay/Flickr