The times you need a fake boyfriend

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No, I can’t recall the precise moment when Frank and I got together; it was five, maybe six years ago. But I do know that it was in the back of a London cab, one that I was taking at the end of a night - any of a hundred nights, it could have been - because I was returning home alone to my flat in a slightly dodgy neighborhood. 

‘Where’s your boyfriend?’ said the driver, as so many taxi drivers had asked me before, leading to a range of helpful advice from ‘you’re a pretty girl, you’ll find someone’ to ‘career women like you need a man who will beat you up and then make love to you afterwards.’

I paused before responding. This time, I decided, this time I would not be drawn into a conversation with a complete stranger about my romantic life. 

‘My boyfriend is out of town,’ I said, ‘Frank. His name is Frank.’

(Frank seemed like a nice, average name; like a name you wouldn’t make up.)

‘Oh,’ said the driver.

We continued home in silence. For me, it was bliss.

It’s not that I don’t like talking to strangers; it’s just that I resent it, just slightly, that my relationship status is so often the default topic when the air needs to be filled with some chat. It’s comparable, I suppose, to how men sometimes talk about sports: a subject that’s assumed to be of universal interest, always available to fix dead air between two people who know nothing about each other. I have several male friends, in fact, who have confessed to me that they’ve made purposeful decisions to accumulate basic knowledge about football teams in order to have something to talk about in these moments; so that they don’t seem strange. Frank is my Manchester United.

No one ever asks me for any details about Frank: invoking his name shuts down conversations, rather than opening them up. Frank freezes things whether it’s in a situation with someone who’s just being nosy or a man who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer: the latter scenario an odd one where telling the truth -  ‘No thanks, I’m not interested’ - often feels less socially acceptable, more fraught with potential difficulty, than namedropping a man who doesn’t exist.

Post-Frank, silence prevails unless I break it. The search for a partner is a narrative with universal appeal; once it’s concluded, it seems, there’s nothing left for us to talk about. Except, of course, everything.

It’s not just men who have heard about Frank: he’s come up when I’ve been buying a dress from a chatty shop assistant and while I’ve waited in line for a long-delayed flight at an airport. Frank is never present at any family gatherings, alas, but should any long-lost third cousin press me with too much persistence about why I’m attending alone - well, it’s because Frank’s just so busy saving lives on his double shift as a globetrotting fire-fighting neurosurgeon. Or whatever it is that seems most appealing for Frank to be doing at any given time. What can I say? Frank is pretty perfect.

There was a time when I feared that admitting to the existence of my non-existent boyfriend would cause others to glance askance; no more. ‘I’m writing an article about my fake boyfriend, Frank’ I said to a friend this evening. ‘Oh, I have one of those,’ she said with utmost ease. ‘Jack.’  They protect us, these imaginary men, prophylactics against criticism, pity and even harassment. 

Of course, it’s been on and off with Frank over the years: more than once, he’s been replaced, for varying periods of time, by an actual man. Sometimes I forget about Frank completely, like the other day, when the barista in the cafe where I pick up coffee every morning grinned at me across the counter. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ he said. ‘No,’ I said, with knee-jerk honesty. The grin turned to something like a leer. ‘Husband!’ I blurted out. Frank is back, I realized. And until I met someone more worthy than he: well, I guess it’s serious.

11 comments so far

  • I can understand how 'Frank' may be useful in the taxi driver scenario, or the chatty shop assistant - but when a man is interested in you, and instead of saying 'I'm not interested' you say you have a husband or boyfriend - that's silly.
    Why is it NOT okay to say that you're not interested? By choosing to opt for the fake boyfriend, instead of saying that you just are not interested - you contribute to it being 'less socially acceptable' and 'fraught with difficulty.' As a woman, you don't have to be in a relationship, lesbian, pregnant, going to a meeting, insane etc. to not want to have a drink/dinner/sex with a man; you can be simply 'not interested.'

    Commenter
    Grace
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    February 20, 2014, 2:16PM
    • And, as a woman, you don't have to explain yourself.

      I have a John, instead of a Frank, who appears like superman whenever I need him.

      Sometimes people go in for the details, like, what does he do, or what is his surname, then it can get awkward. I say he's a teacher. Science, high school. John ..... Doe .... brovski...

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      February 21, 2014, 8:15AM
  • An absolute neccessity when you're travelling overseas alone. If it's to a country you feel unsafe, a fake wedding ring and a photo of you and a cousin/friend/whatever can work wonders.
    Also works well here too to extricate yourself from uncomfortable social situations. Though on one occassion I had the odd experience of a guy calling me on the ruse. At that point though you're left wondering what he wanted to accomplish? Either 'Matt' really existed, or I was making 'Matt' up as I wasn't interested. Either way his chances were as non-existent as Matt is. Was he trying to make himself feel bad or me feel bad? And no matter which the answer was, making up 'Matt' then was obviously the correct choice as why would I want to date someone who would think that either of those were good options?
    Then there was the other time when the response was that having a boyfriend didn't mean I couldn't cheat on him. In that situation, just turn and walk away.

    Commenter
    Kate
    Date and time
    February 20, 2014, 2:18PM
    • Very amusing article Ms. Edelstein, with an edge. :-)
      Males also have fake male friends, or personas.
      Oscar Wilde's Mr.Bunbury (perhaps an allusion to his repressed homosexuality) comes to mind...
      Algernon: Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.
      Jack: That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won't want to know Bunbury.
      Algernon: Then your wife will. You don't seem to realise, that in married life three is company and two is none.

      Commenter
      suburban dad
      Date and time
      February 20, 2014, 2:31PM
      • An imaginary male friend is the single travelling woman's best companion. I have left mine carrying the luggage to the other platform, off buying tickets, off on a training ride (I'm a cyclist), he has potentially been more interesting places then me in my travels around Australia and Europe. I also travelled Europe with a ring that could move around my left hand as required by the situation. And yes he has occasionally been invoked back at work (we had a mutually agreed breakup when I actually got a more interesting offer).

        Commenter
        Rosie
        Location
        Slightly soggy southern city
        Date and time
        February 20, 2014, 3:02PM
        • I have only used a fake boyfriend a few times.
          One of the times it didn't work straight away.
          I was walking passed a park in Sydney, in the middle of the day, and a really creepy man came up to me and asked me if I had a husband. I said yes. Normally here they slink off.
          But this guy decided to follow me. It was about 250meters to the closest shop or pub and there were no other people walking near me. It was like the longest 250m ever
          I eventually got to the pub and sat down with a group of young women and just said, "Pretend to be my friend that guy is following me."
          It was the only time the fake husband/boyfriend didn't work instantly.
          It is terrible that the fake husband/boyfriend is needed at all.

          Commenter
          Shell
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          February 20, 2014, 4:28PM
          • I think this kind of situation is the only time a fake boyfriend might be necessary and understandable. It's never occurred to me to pretend that I'm with someone when I'm not simply to meet other people's expectations. I find that completely bizarre. I've never even heard of that before!

            Commenter
            Kim
            Date and time
            February 20, 2014, 9:20PM
        • I have used my fake BF in all those situations. The guys that are interested though is a little hard, as I feel bad because i would hate to know a guy had invented a girlfriend to get out of talking to me, so I only use it in extreme circumstances, such as when the guy is a proper creeper. I tend to use the name of a real guy I know, so if I get asked questions about him I can just use the real guy's information. My friend Mike is very handy.

          Commenter
          Emily
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          February 20, 2014, 6:47PM
          • I've faked having children due to the judgemental nature of some people at work. It shuts them up.

            Commenter
            ljb
            Date and time
            February 20, 2014, 8:13PM
            • The fake husband/boyfriend is a must when travelling alone. It did backfire once in Fiji many years ago. I was asked if I was married, to which I answered yes. What was his name -James ( who happened to be a serious crush at the time). Then a couple of hours later, they turned up at the hotel with a huge carved wooden sword with the name James on it!

              Commenter
              sow with lipstick
              Date and time
              February 20, 2014, 8:50PM

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