There was a conversation on the radio, on the terrible morning radio talk show that Lil E believes in his heart of precious hearts is "news radio" and I, for some less-than-stellar parenting reason cannot quit. What we should be listening to is NPR or a classical station or, for the love of all things holy in the morning, a DJ who will help me school my kid on the Beatles. But we don't. We listen to the alternaterrible station that gives me writing fodder and plays Katy Perry with enough regularity for us to have daily dance parties in the car on the way to school or camp.
And that's what we were doing when the music stopped and the talk about whether men and women can really be friends started on the airwaves that filled our car.
We listened, me waiting for the signs of inappropriateness to creep up and with one finger poised to switch the station and Lil E staring out the window like he wasn't paying any attention, which always means he is devouring every single word.
I wanted the topic to stop. It's been played millions of times. It's cliche, it's unnecessary, it's easy filler at 8:37 a.m. in the moments before a celebrity guest dials in and the obligatory make=fun-of=the-ditzy-traffic-lady slot's been covered. But it is clearly a topic people love to discuss and maybe I should be there to teach my boy to roll his eyes when it comes up 437 more times in his young years.
I finally had enough, switched over to a playlist on my plugged-in phone, let whatever song shuffled through play quietly while we sat at a stop light.
"Do you think men and women can be only friends?" And there it was,Lil E asking from the back seat.
"Of course," I said as nonchalantly as possibly. "I have lots of men-friends. Walt. Shawn. Dad bloggers. Other guys I've known from camp and high school."
"And the Not Boyfriend," he added in. But there was a lilt at the end of his sentence that told me he was asking more than adding.
There was a pause. Then he finished his question, "You two are just friends, right?"
I didn't allow a single second for processing or a purposeful pause. I jumped right back.
"No! He's my boyfriend." I looked at him in the mirror and smiled. "We're lots more than friends."
I smiled then. I wanted him to know it wasn't a silly question -- I got it was coming from somewhere deeper. Wishful thinking? Standing on the precipice of asking more about sex or love or something bigger? Whatever it was, the answer was obvious but the question was certainly not silly.
"But he's your boyfriend," he reasoned. "There's a friend in there."
"True," I came back quickly again. "But you don't smooch people who are only your friend."
His mouth opened to say more. But something happened -- a green light or his beloved Black Eyed Peas through the speakers or was it a distracting dog panting out of the back window of a car next to us? -- and we moved on.
The Not Boyfriend is indeed my boyfriend. I jokingly gave him that alias waybackwhen, after I read his face when someone called me his girlfriend: "Ohhhh, you're one of those who doesn't need labels," I teased, he nodded and smiled. But he is every bit my boyfriend.
Lil E has seen us kiss and hold hands and I've been open about being madly in love with this man who is edging closer and closer to our everyday lives. So he knows those parts well.
We've opted to handle the situation and each other and Lil E carefully, taking his visits and the information-sharing slowly. He sleeps on the couch when he's in town. He'll have his own place for plenty of time when he moves to our city. Even though the three of us are familiar with each other, we are still on the third date or so of this whole triangular relationship.
But, yes, the Not Boyfriend is very much my boyfriend, the man who is my greatest friend and a divine smoocher.
Lil E gets it. I heard it in his question. And as the definition of what we are and how we are expands -- the NB and me, as well as the NB and me and Lil E -- so must the questions and clarifications. I answered quickly on this one. But I will let the rest sink in slowly and trust he'll speak up when there's more to process.