The Centuries-Old Story Continues...

Sunday, May 22, 2004

By Jessica Adler
Herald News

The 21-year-old gentlemen occupying the silk- and velvet-upholstered couches at Eros Cafe can't help but make eye contact with the rear end of the short-skirted waitress who delivers the cappuccinos, light and sweet.

Still, they remain focused.

A conversation - which had centered on the personal exploits of the young men, and had bordered on the pornographic - has evolved into something deeper. The three college students, Brian Lyver, Arthur McMahon and James Moore, are pontificating about how much of a difference the letter "I" can make.

"'Love you' is very impersonal," says Lyver. Sitting on the edge of his plush seat, he brings up his girlfriend: "She gets very mad if I don't say the 'I'."

McMahon and Moore nod knowingly.

"You got to be careful how you throw that one around," says McMahon, eyebrows raised.

Whoever said that hormone-soaked, high-five-exchanging young men are one-dimensional hasn't met these three friends.

McMahon proudly proclaims he's a virgin, or, as he puts it, "I haven't cashed in my V-chip." At the same time, the tall, lean, square-jawed gent - who's not afraid to sprawl himself across the whole of the three-person couch he occupies in the Rutherford cafe - can call up seemingly infinite memories of escapades that would make a qualified Casanova blush. His claim of having 50-plus female friends makes him the utmost authority on female character. He knows they need security, he knows they take a long time in the bathroom, and he knows it's best not to call right away.

McMahon recently met a girl he likes. He knows he likes her because he doesn't have to think before he speaks when he's with her. And because he didn't want to kiss her on the first date.

"It's like a piece of steak," he says. "You have to let it sit and marinate and it becomes better."

Moore is the one who decides if the three will stay for another round of coffees after dinner, instead of heading to the arcade as they had planned at the beginning of the evening. He's the one who tries to keep McMahon from saying stupid things when he drinks too much beer.

Moore is an Eagle Scout. And on his friend's 21st birthday - a messy affair involving cake, beer and half-dressed college students running across the campus of Montclair State University - he wore his uniform. Moore isn't sure which is more attractive to a girl: an Eagle Scout uniform or virginity, but he's certain they like innocence. He admits that he's cheated on girlfriends in the past. The fact that he's not ashamed of it, and the fact that he makes comments like, "I can cheat, she can't," makes both his friends shake their heads disapprovingly.

Then there's Lyver. When Moore interrupts McMahon, Lyver usually says something like, "Yo, let him finish." At the same time, he's the fall guy, ceaselessly taking grief from Moore about how often he fights with his girlfriend. In a sort-of-coincidence-type situation, McMahon used to date the same girl. Even though he can relate to a lot of the stuff Lyver goes through, McMahon mostly keeps his mouth shut. Sometimes, the fact that the two have shared a girlfriend definitely gets weird, even though it's been more than a year already, and even though McMahon's the one who broke up with the girl - a whole two months before she and Lyver started dating. Mostly though, it's all good.

"This isn't really us," explains McMahon in the smooth, inexplicably Southern-sounding drawl adopted by certain middle-class youth and some rappers. "This is just stories that happen to us."

As the three debate the peril and promise involved with the opposite sex, they can agree on plenty: You can usually tell if a girl is slutty by what she's wearing; girls think about sex as much as guys do; being able to have a conversation is imperative for a relationship; Valentine's Day is way too much pressure; "chicks talk" - alot.

Also, as McMahon puts it, "girls have expectations. And you don't know what they are until you (screw) up."

How surprising is all of this?

Not very, if you ask the three women sitting at a table across the room. Evy Zavalos, Sophia Venetis, and Sophia Sifonios, all about 30 years old, are also spending their Thursday night over coffee, discussing the peril and promise involved with the opposite sex. Through years of relationships, break-ups, singles bars and, now, singles Web sites, they have learned much about men, and about what men think of women.

Whoever said that eligible circa-30 women are one-dimensional has never met these three friends.

Sifinios has just finished telling a story about a gentleman who "flipped out" on her in the middle of Morton's Steakhouse, simply because she asked him a question about his ex-girlfriend.

Zavalos and Venetis have both heard this one before. It's a favorite among the many dating horror stories they share.

"I never wanted to be a man-basher," says Zavalos. "Because I love men, and I have faith in relationships." At the same time, she says, "you meet guys who are like stalkers or players. You never meet a guy who's in the middle."

"It's not hard," she adds, glancing down at the table. "It's just timing."

Actually, Sifinos met a good one about a year ago whom she's still dating. Equal parts free spirit and stable, (musician and engineer), he's a catch. She can't help but tell gushing stories about him throughout the night.

Getting a lot of attention from a guy you like, Sifinos explains, is no problem. He can call two hours after a date, and it doesn't seem overbearing. But if there are no mutual feelings, any amount of attention is too much attention.

"At this age, we know who we are. We're just living our lives, and if we meet someone, we meet someone," says Venetis.

Sifinos nods her head, doing what women do so well: relating. "Yeah, I really liked not having a boyfriend for a while."

Like their younger male counterparts, these three can agree on plenty: Don't move in with a guy until he's proposed or until you're married; keeping a relationship healthy requires "working at it"; married life can be just as volatile as single life; if a guy is nice, he can eventually seem good-looking.

The three women aren't so sure how different the phrases "Love you" and "I love you" are. But for the most part, they agree with each other - and the guys - on one thing: It's probably best to avoid being the first to say either one.