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Antidote - Essays

October 1, 2005

Zipper was living in a fake utopia

by Jeremy Gill


We are debating the fate of Veronica, the five of us, while Zipper studies his domino tiles and smiles. Zipper answers our questions but refrains from commenting on the wagers. Sometimes we think he finds our discussions puerile, yet amusing; sometimes we suspect he is secretly delighted by them.

Zipper has been seeing Veronica for thirteen weeks now, which puts her among the top five in recent memory. The life of a Zipper relationship, like that of a fruit fly, averages two weeks. Our debate, however, is not about whether Veronica, given her staying power, might be "the one". That Zipper will eventually break it up is a foregone conclusion. The betting, instead, revolves around the timing and manner of Veronica's departure. Will she make it to seventeen weeks (the record)? Will she see it coming and give Zipper the easy exit by ending it herself?

Veronica is a feisty Sevillian woman, recently arrived to the U.S. She moves with a bullfighter's grace and speaks with a thick, sexy Spanish accent. Though none of us would admit it, we're all rooting for her. Not because we are fond of her, no. We've seen more of Veronica than most of Zipper's girlfriends, but we learned long ago (the uncomfortable, painful way), not to grow attached to any of them.

Have you driven her up to Devil's Peak? we ask him. How many times have you taken her sailing? Did you spend one or two nights at your uncle's cabin?

The answers to these questions hold clues to the state of the relationship. Zipper likes to follow certain routines, and the passing of a particular milestone can emphasize the strength of a relationship—or signal its impending demise.

Text BiteIt would be easy to dismiss Zipper as a player, but dating is not a game for him, nor a competition. Ten years we have known Zipper and still we don't understand him. Back in the early days we called him the pickiest man west of the Mississippi. We chided him for holding out for perfection. It took us some time to conclude that Zipper was not searching for the right girl; to realize that for him, every girl is the right girl—albeit only for a little while.

Zipper is a sweet guy—anyone will vouch for that. He's also a gentleman. Much as we've asked, he's never revealed an intimate detail. Once Zipper shuts the doors to his pad, we can only guess what transpires. We can only imagine the look on the girl's face when she steps onto Zipper's pristine Brazilian cherry floors, when she takes in the art deco poster collection or the lush green potted plants, when she first notices the Chet Baker piping in from hidden Bose speakers. And there are more treats beyond the living room. Our lucky girl will soon discover that Zipper's kitchen is a Food Network junkie's dream, that he has a five-hundred-bottle wine cellar in the basement, and, when she makes her first trip to the master bathroom, that Zipper has a full Jacuzzi tub ready and bubbling. All this, we remind each other whenever Zipper invites us over, is what one does with money when not spending it on raising a family.


In the summer you should meet women in the park, Zipper liked to tell us. We'd traipse about the city, from shady groves to open-air art exhibits, watching Zipper turn on the charm, trying to learn a good line from him, playing wingmen to the master.

Zipper's summer's relationships are usually the most short-lived. He tends to woo younger, foreign women who are vacationing in the States. Nadya, who hails from the Czech Republic, is a typical example. Zipper met her at the Farmer's Market and followed her onto a bus. Three stops later, she had decided to extend her stay in the city an extra week—the fact that her boyfriend was waiting for her in New York notwithstanding.

These days Zipper has a new set of disciples. They're all in their twenties and single—whereas we're all married now, we all have kids. We don't go out to bars, we don't start drinking at noon on Saturdays, we don't visit the park without strollers and diaper bags. But Zipper understands. If he's disappointed in us, he's never shown it. And even though we're officially retired, we still love to watch from the sidelines.

Zipper is the single guy every man wishes he could be, and the man every woman wants to meet when she steps into a bar. Zipper has some innate gifts (tall, baby-faced, smart) that help him, but more importantly, he's been in the dating scene long enough to write a doctoral dissertation on it. He is funny but not overbearing; smooth but not sleazy. His small talk never seems small, his compliments are so subtle most girls can't pin down why he makes them feel so attractive. What prevents Zipper's approach from coming across as shtick is his honesty. He is genuinely interested in every woman he meets. He has nothing but good intentions. He doesn't see himself as hitting on women as much as socializing.

Another side of Zipper's secret formula is patience. He bides his time, waiting for the right opening. He might have a crowd of girls laughing in a corner, or he'll be engrossed in conversation with the bartender that reminds us of Angelina Jolie, but if you know Zipper, you know he's only warming up. Zipper will never be the best looking man in the joint, but he can out-charm and out-maneuver any frat boy, yuppie I-banker or troubled-artist type that gets in his way.

All this is not to say that Zipper doesn't deal with his share of rejection. Unlike most of us, however, he always handles it graciously. Zipper knows that, sooner or later, he'll meet the same girl again—he'll get another chance. Text BiteIt's curious that he will go to such lengths, pursuing every woman he likes, despite realizing, as he must, that whatever romance results will be, in comparison to his efforts, disproportionately short. This behavior used to strike us as irrational and we hypothesized that Zipper was not acting intentionally, but rather, that he suffered from a particularly acute fear of commitment that nullified his wooing efforts. We also speculated that, as had happened to ours, his fear would eventually be tamed by love, by the desire for stability, and by the even greater fear of being alone.


One of the dangers of dating for so long in a small city is that you eventually start running into women you've dated before. Julia is a more striking coincidence because she hails from Vancouver. She was one of Zipper's summer girls eight years back. A few weeks ago Zipper's Siberian husky pounced on Julia's puppy schnauzer while strolling down Market Street. She recognized him immediately (that baby face), but it wasn't until Julia's accent betrayed her that Zipper knew.

Zipper tells us that Julia has blossomed, which is his way of admitting that, even though she is older than most women he dates, the years have been good to her. Julia got a green card, moved to the city, dropped ten pounds, traded in Banana Republic for Prada, lost the bangs and grew her hair midway down her back. And as smitten as she is with Zipper, she's diligently applying lessons that reveal a degree of maturity Zipper rarely encounters. Julia gives Zipper more space than he's accustomed to. He finds himself, he bemoans, leaving her twice as many voicemails as she leaves him. He was so distraught last weekend, when Julia left town for two days without a word, we had to talk him out of calling in a missing person's report.

It is not uncommon, as the year winds down, for Zipper to express more forthrightly—perhaps even wistfully—his affection for whomever he's dating. With Julia, these sporadic mutterings have turned into involuntary, blurted-out confessions that are almost as embarrassing for Zipper as they are to us. We've never seen him like this, we tell each other. Then we shake our heads and smile. No way, we say. There's no way.

We've all surely tried to imagine Zipper paired off, Zipper walking down a church aisle, Zipper with a rattle in his hand and drool stains on his shoulder. The truth is that if Zipper settled down, we'd be happy for him, but also disillusioned. Zipper is our last tether to the freewheeling days of our lives. Without him we would drift fully away into parenthood and adulthood.

We all went through a brief period of feeling sorry for Zipper, usually around the time when each of us got engaged. For us, dating was a means to an end—perhaps not to an immediate end, but to an eventual, ultimate destination. It was never an end in itself. Zipper, we feared, was living in a fantasyland, a fake utopia. He had found contentment in a life without promise.

Maybe we pitied Zipper because we were trying to justify our choice to commit, or maybe we were suffering from our own delusion of paradise found. Maybe we Text Bitewere genuinely concerned that one day Zipper would wake up in his vast, luxurious apartment, possessed by the utter, debilitating loneliness whose menacing shadow we had all spied from under the door of our bachelor bedrooms.

Some of us suspect that buried deep in Zipper's past is a wrenching heartbreak that has rendered him incapable of sustaining a relationship, that has imbued in him a wariness of women truly rooted in miserable experience, and doubly painful to a man who so manifestly adores them. If Zipper dumped women coldheartedly, our assessment of his dichotomy could reasonably be called into question, yet it is more often Zipper who bears the brunt when he ends another relationship. He hates to inflict pain, but like the good doctor that he is, he knows—he is certain—that it's always for the best.


Another of Zipper's favorite sayings is that winter is not a season, but a state of mind. This is particularly true in our sunny city, where the most prominent signs of winter are the Christmas lights that adorn the streets and the rampaging flocks of gray-necked geese that descend on our lakes.

Yearend holidays are the bane of the lovelorn, and even Zipper does his best not to enter the latter half of December without a girlfriend. Sharon, who grew up in Kentucky, met Zipper at a mutual friend's holiday party. Zipper says there was an instant connection. Sharon boasts a curvy, taut body. She has curly, cinnamon hair and stands almost six feet tall, two inches shy of Zipper. On the other hand, her taste in jewelry verges on tawdry and she has an annoying knack for clichés.

All in all, we're betting she won't last past the first week of January, though you wouldn't guess it from looking at them. At his annual holiday bash, Zipper can't keep his hands off of Sharon, nor can he wipe the dreamy smile from his face when he talks about how much fun they've been having the last few days. A stranger might opine, and not without good reason, that Zipper is in love.

Love is a topic that we do not raise with Zipper. Not because he has any objections to it—though he never brings it up himself. More so, it is our discomfort that makes it a taboo subject. We don't know whether he is completely immune to love, or whether he falls in love with every woman he dates. Perhaps he is a love agnostic, or perhaps his definition of love, if we dared ask for it, would be too unusual, too disquieting, for us to understand.

We no longer suspect, as we once did, that Zipper is dying from lack of love, nor do we confuse his temporary infatuations with Julia or Sharon with budding love. We have finally accepted that nothing is wrong with Zipper, and that our efforts to ascribe some manner of phobia, mania or disorder to him were a reflection of our own inability to comprehend that Zipper is wired differently than us, that he operates under a different set of rules, and that to attempt to judge him by the commonplace standards that apply to us mere humans, is folly.

As the party winds down, we dawdle our way to the entrance, hoping for one last glimpse of Zipper and Sharon before we leave. It's not inaccurate to say that we're attracted to Zipper's relationship circus in a freak-show kind of way. Zipper has pitched his tent in the waiting room between post-pubescence and maturity; he has settled there, built his funhouse, and turned a phase of life into a permanent stop. Not every man's concept of an ideal life is the same, but to see a friend who succeeds in achieving his and who lives by his own precepts—however sad they may sometimes seem—is like the carnivalesque attraction that reminds us there is a bigger, richer world out there, only a small part of which we will ever fully appreciate.

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