Office Hours: Coming Un-Clued

Jul 03, 2009 |J. Budziszewski

She tells her Uncle Theo that he's "just a friend." That's not how others see it, though.

"Hi, Uncle Theo!"

"Gwennie! What are you doing here?"

"Excuse me?" she said. "Do goddaughters need permits now to visit their godfathers? Besides, I believe I'm enrolled at this university. Let's go to Starblunks."

"Starblunks?"

She sighed dramatically. "Mom and Dad are darlings, but they're uncharacteristically being pills."

"Pills?"

"Small compressed balls or tablets of medicinal substance, taken by means of —"

"I know what pills are, Gwennie."

"Oh, you meant how are the beloved immediate lineal ancestors being pills. I'll explain over coffee. That's why we're going to Starblunks."

I glanced at my watch. "You're in luck —"

"— because your office hours just ended, and you don't have a class until two. I know."

"Do you, now?" I smiled.

"I know everything, Uncle Theo. C'mon, let's get going."

We didn't have to walk far. Not counting the dozen on campus, there are 52 Starblunks within a three-block walk. Gwennie sparkled, fizzed, told me the latest Clitherow family news, and did Ethel Merman impersonations.

"A small espresso, please," I told the clerk.

Gwennie added, "I'll have a solo grande five-pump peppermint, four-pump mocha, non-fat, extra-whip, 140-degree peppermint mocha. He's paying."

I gave her a sidelong look. "Don't you need an engineering degree to order that? I thought a pump was a machine for getting water out of the basement."

"It's a drink, Uncle Theo. Also a kind of shoe. See?" She tapped out a six-point riff by way of illustration.

"Is there coffee in it?"

"Of course not, silly. You'd burn your foot."

"Not in the shoe. In the drink."

"Sure. Didn't you hear me say 'solo'?"

"I thought that meant you were drinking it by yourself." Thinking I was joking, Gwennie laughed. As we waited for our drinks, Gwennie whistled a show tune and tapped out a shuffle-ball-change. The moment we were seated, I said, "Now. What's this —"

"— about Mom and Dad." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "That's what I wanted to tell you. I need your support."

I raised an eyebrow. "Divide and conquer? Is that your game, my dear?"

"Of course not," she said. "I know you'd never go along with anything like that. But they're being so needlessly absurd. And they listen to you, Uncle Theo. So my plan is to convince you of how wise and reasonable I am, then have you convince them. Flawless planning, don't you agree?"

"Not exactly," I smiled. "But drink your pump and tell me all about it."

"It's not a pump, it's a mocha. You weren't listening, were you?"

"On the contrary, I was totally absorbed. Please continue."

"Well," she said, "it's about guys."

"Not surprising."

"Do you remember a few months ago, when I told you my new resolution?"

"'To stop dating jerks,' I think you said."

"Yes. Well, I've stopped. But Mom and Dad say I haven't."

"I see."

"There's one guy in particular."

"His name wouldn't be Dickey, would it?"

"I think that's beside the point," she said loftily. "Besides, it's not Dickey, it's Mickey. Have Mom and Dad been talking with you?"

I laughed. "You're talking with me. Shouldn't they have equal rights?"

"True. One must be just. Anyway, they're being an eensy bit difficult."

"So they say Mickey is inappropriate and you say he's not?"

"No. He's obviously inappropriate."

"One of the 'jerks,' is he?"

"No, I'd say he's more in the 'lost boy' category."

"Then —?"

"They say we're dating and I say we're not."

"I see." I cocked my head. "Are you?"

"Am I what?"

"Dating."

"No."

"Why do you say you're not?"

"Oh, really, Uncle Theo. Mickey is a friend. Not a boyfriend."

"And why do your parents say you are?"

She gave another of her stage sighs. "They think every social engagement with a person of the opposite sex is a date."

"Let's consider the problem logically," I said. "To people of your parents' generation, a social engagement with a guy is by definition a date, and someone a girl has dates with is her boyfriend. So do you meet this fellow socially?"

"Mais naturellement. But of course."

"To them, then, those are dates, and he's your boyfriend."

"Well, that's not how the terms are used by my generation. To us, a boyfriend is a person you have romantic feelings for, and if he isn't your boyfriend, then it isn't a date. I don't have romantic feelings for him, ergo he's not my boyfriend and they aren't dates. See, you can't out-logic me. You taught me too well." She grinned.

"My dear girl," I grinned back, "you'd be perfectly welcome to out-logic me. But you must admit that given how people are made, your parents' way of using the term 'date' has certain advantages."

"How could it? It lumps together people that you do have romantic feelings for with people that you don't."

"Maybe that's not such a bad idea."

"What makes you say that?"

"Any social engagement with the opposite sex is potentially romantic, Gwennie. After all, we don't fall in love with people we don't hang around with, but with people we do."

"I'm not going to fall in love with Mickey, Uncle Theo."

"How do you know you're not?"

"I'm just not, that's all. Like I said, he's inappropriate."

"I thought we were being logical. Women fall in love with inappropriate men every day. You enjoy his company, don't you?"

"For goodness' sake, Uncle Theo, I don't even see him that often."

"What do you consider not that often?"

"No more than once a week, on his off day."

I looked at her in amazement. "Gwendolyn Margaret Clitherow," I said, "you have a once-a-week standing date with a man, and you think your parents are silly for regarding him as your boyfriend?"

"But I told you," she said. "They aren't dates."

I saw that I would have to try another tack. "Call them what you wish. I can think of a few other people who might view them as dates, though."

"I've already conceded that the beloved ancestors think that way."

"Besides your Mom and Dad."

"Who, then?"

"Mickey, for one."

She stared in surprise. "Mickey knows they're not dates."

"How does he know that they aren't?"

"I've told him I'm not interested in him 'that way.'"

"Can you be sure he's not interested in you 'that way'?"

I know Gwennie pretty well. She wouldn't betray her thoughts by anything so obvious as blinking. Just for a moment, though, there was the merest change in the reflectivity of her eyes. "I see no reason to think that he —"

My advantage was only hypothetical, but I pressed it anyway. "You don't? A healthy young man has a standing weekly 'social engagement' — call it that — with a smart, pretty girl, and all this time he hasn't noticed she's a girl?"

"But he knows I don't think of us as dating."

"You think he's not hoping you'll begin to?"

She looked distressed. "I don't know what Mickey is hoping or not hoping. Let's not talk about Mickey."

"Very well. What about other young men?"

"What about them?"

"I take it that you'd like to date if an appropriate man did come along."

"Duh."

"Are you dating anyone now?"

"Not at the moment."

"Okay, along comes Suitable Guy X. You may not think you and Mickey are dating. Mickey may not think so either, though I doubt it. But won't Mr. X think you are? You give a pretty convincing impression of someone who's been taken off the market."

"That's perfectly absurd, Uncle Theo. For goodness' sake, I don't even do things with Mickey alone."

"Oh? Who else do you see him with?"

"His sister Sheila. It's always the three of us."

"You met her through him?"

She laughed. "The other way around. I met him through her. Like I said, he's kind of the lost-boy type. She thought I'd be a good influence on him."

"And you're telling me she doesn't hope you develop romantic feelings for him?"

Gwennie had been about to say something, but she stopped short. I noticed her pupils dilating. The other time I only suspected that I had gotten through to her; this time I knew that I had.

Of course she would never admit it. "Oh no, look at the time," she fretted. "You're going to be late for your afternoon class."

"There's plenty of time."

"No, there isn't. C'mon, revered godfather, we'd better start back." Obediently, I rose from the table. I wasn't worried any more. Gwennie is usually sensible. She's merely sensible slowly.

At the door of my office she turned and pecked my cheek. "Thanks for talking with me," she said, "although I must say, you've been a bit of a disappointment today."

"Am I as bad as all that?"

"You certainly are. Here I come, trustfully expecting an ally against the revered forbears, and you argue the other way. I guess we know which side you're on."

"We do," I said. "Always yours."

Copyright 2006 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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