Just Friends

The caretaking of men is not easy. I'm sure you know that far better than I do. It's certainly too much work for just one woman, and that's precisely the reason I have others in my life.

It takes a lot to complete me; there's just no way around it. I grew up the middle child squashed between two sisters. And while I'm pretty sure all that estrogen made me into the man I am today -- one who has never left the toilet seat up and who forms strong relationships with women -- a long time ago I learned that I'm not a one-woman guy. In fact, I collect female friends.

So let me introduce you to the other women in my life who make me a happier, healthier husband -- while my wife, Piper, reaps the benefits.

Jennifer The Healer

Nobody touches me like Jennifer. She's a dark-haired beauty with strong hands I worship. Piper could not be happier when I take off my clothes and pay her money. She even encourages me to see her. Jennifer, as you probably have surmised, is my massage therapist.

Piper likes to remind me of a certain definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So after the 700th time of begging, "Baby, will you rub my wrists?" (I have tendinitis) and getting a half-hearted arm knead, I dialed up Jennifer, a professional whose job is to feel my pain and make it go away. My time with her isn't about ocean music and toe tickling; we do hard work. And hell, it's my $90. But if I ever were short of cash, my wife would gladly write a check to this healing force in both our lives.

Shawna The Straight Shooter

I'm no psychologist, but I can't help wondering whether there's a difference between the way a guy listens to someone he knows will have sex with him and the way he listens to someone he knows won't. If there's a man who ever tossed out a ratty tee his girlfriend or wife told him "needed to go," I haven't met him. But when Shawna says, "You're too old for that Aerosmith shirt," it hits home.

Piper encourages our kinship, not just because she's fond of Shawna -- half of Tate and Shawna, a couple we've become good friends with in recent years -- but also because she knows Shawna's telling me where to buy her a dress, the cool spot for weekend getaways, and why I should apologize more often. I certainly don't get this counsel from guys. Sure, there's a twinkle in Shawna's eye when she talks to me -- maybe because she can't get her own guy to toss his fraying concert T-shirts and relishes her power over the ape before her. I'll never know. But I do know the twinkle in her other eye is aimed at my wife. That one says, "Baby, I got your back."

Rosally The Office Wife

I met Rosally the old-fashioned way: eating grilled cheese in my favorite lunch joint. We both were working on independent Web projects, which gave us tons in common besides our sandwich choice. In short order, Rosally jumped on board as a marketing advisor to the online magazine I had just launched.

As my wife will attest, being married to me is challenging, but never as much as it's been since I became an obsessed entrepreneur. Rosally has boundless enthusiasm for our efforts and a high threshold for listening to me spin myself into circles. This makes her the perfect partner at professional events. No one gives our elevator pitch as well as Rosally or makes me look as good in a roomful of strangers. Piper has never stopped being a champion of my cause and one of my best counselors. But cocktails three nights a week while I schmooze with potential investors? Forget about it. That's why she's Rosally's (second) biggest fan.

Donna The Tough Nut

I'm Clintonian in that I sincerely want people to like me and am a four-star flirt. Not only does Piper put up with this, but it's part of the reason she was attracted to me in the first place. Watching me talk my way into a VIP room or cozy up to a woman who normally wouldn't give me the time of day reminds her of the charmer she sometimes forgets in the shuffle of our daily lives together.

When I first met Donna at the café where I often work for a few early-morning hours while Piper sleeps in, I could tell she was wary. She's an L Word lesbian with a jumpy dog named Lola; I'm a guy with no dog and a wife she never sees me with. But during a series of chats over the ensuing months, we became pretty good buddies.

Whenever I'm excited about something new, I go overboard. Piper's used to it, not to mention far too self-assured to lose any sleep over Donna -- or her dog, whom I'd been really talking up. One recent morning she came with me to the café, and we ran into Donna and her girlfriend walking the dog. Somewhat awkwardly, Donna and I introduced the main women in our lives. Later, as my friend and her partner headed down the road, I saw my wife slowly drink in Donna, who just happens to resemble a long-haired earth goddess/professional acrobat. As soon as they were out of earshot, the most important woman in my life, the one who knows me like no other, said in a way that reminded me why I love her with a fever: "I can see why you like that dog."

Susie The Kid Sister

When my younger sister, Susie, was born, I was a nervous 3-year-old prone to repeating, "Don't drop that baby on the floor!" My mom tells this story adoringly, usually adding that she knew I would be a great father one day. I'm still not a dad, but for more than 30 years I've been a pretty good brother. Susie was the first person who ever turned to me for advice. Big-brother power, I knew even at age 8, came with great responsibility. "Think this swing is too big for me, Larry?" became "How do I ask my boss for a raise?" in the quick blink of three decades.

Even though we live on different coasts now, I always have an eye on my kid sis. She can make me beam with pride (the day she got her master's degree in public policy) and grit my teeth in frustration (you will hold dinner for her if she hasn't had her run). Moments before she walked down the aisle last spring, I whispered, "I'm so proud of you." Piper wasn't nearby to see the exchange, but she didn't need to. She's watched me watch my little sister ever since we met. She likes what she sees.
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