The Fri(end) Zone

Unrequited love – the stuff of love songs, poetry, and movies – seems pretty romantic in theory. We’ve all been through it. There’s someone we think is PERFECT for us, that we like to daydream about when they’re not with us, who gets our hearts racing when they’re next to us, completely unbeknownst to them.

As a woman who has dated men, I've had a handful of male friends profess their love for me to my complete surprise. (Mostly in high school, if we’re being real here.) And for a long time, I liked someone who seemed to date everyone except me, to my dismay—and eventual relief. For years, I hoped that someday he’d realize what a catch I was and stop dating all the wrong people and date me. But of course, I never told him this. I found the ambiguity of our relationship, the something between friends and lovers, too special to accept the truth: he did not have fully-fledged feelings for me, and he had them for other girls instead.

But then, thankfully, I woke the fuck up and bothered to actually ask myself: why did I like him so much? Why hadn’t I told him this? What did I think he could give me that no one else could? What could I give him? Why am I in this trap I have built myself—the one that keeps me longing for his affection even as he moves to different states and countries, each time farther away from me?

What am I doing here, anyway?

I came to realize that I had fundamentally misjudged my own needs, and his ability to meet those needs. I had placed unfair expectations on him (to somehow magically pick up on all this ~emotion~ I was feeling) and myself (to automatically take any relationship I was in less seriously than my relationship with him). This relationship was not based on mutual trust, respect, and communication. It was barely a friendship at all. Too afraid to commit to someone who cared about me and who actually lived within 20 miles of me, I needed an out. I needed someone who was better that I could use as an excuse to get out of any relationship that bored or frustrated me.  He was my out. And he barely even called me every six months to check in.

Then, all of a sudden, he cared. He came to visit me. All it took was ten minutes with my friends and I realized: he is so out of place in my life. He does not belong with me. And I don’t belong with him. This is what it took to finally tell him about everything I’d been thinking and feeling, and all he could say was, “I wish you had told me sooner.”

And he was right. If I had been any kind of friend, even if sex was my endgame instead of a relationship, I could have explicitly indicated my interest. That would have been the kind thing to do. Instead, I wallowed and wandered aimlessly for years, waiting for and secretly hating someone I allegedly needed to catch up to me when he didn’t even know how I felt.

I’m writing this as a roundabout way to say that I get it. The friend zone is a strangely comforting place to be, albeit perhaps subconsciously. It’s a place where all your intentions are honorable but you’re just misunderstood by the person who matters most. It’s where someday matters more than right now. It’s where what you want matters more than what anyone else wants because you can’t handle your lack of control over others.

But instead of daydreaming and wondering whether someone else feels the same way, maybe just tell them how you feel. We’re not in the 7th grade. Sure, the stakes are high when it’s someone you really care about. But relationships based on mutual communication are so much more fulfilling than those that aren’t, so if the person does feel the same way as you I can promise they and you will be happier if you both know that.  Making sure your expectations of yourself and others are fair is critical to the success of almost all relationships — and, you know, life — so you might as well get some practice doing it.

Ultimately the friend zone is a place you put yourself. No one else can put you there. You put yourself in the friend zone anytime you decide that the object of your affection should feel differently about you — essentially when you start making decisions for someone else. You put yourself in the friend zone when you make a relationship, any relationship, about solely you and your feelings.

You know what I hear when someone says they’ve been friend zoned? Delusions. I hear a delusional person casting himself as the romantic lead of an imaginary John Hughes movie.

What happens when you decide that you are entitled to the affections of someone who isn’t interested in you?  You objectify the object of your affection; you’ve decided without consulting the other member of this so-called “friendship” that this is a romantic situation. You have imposed your own expectations unto some unsuspecting person who just wanted a pal. You may have not made this step consciously, but here you are.

Rather than being put in the friend zone yourself, you put your friend in the “girlfriend zone.” You have forced her into your worldview without consulting her. You have decided to see your female friend as only a girlfriend  making the assumption that sex is the endgame of a relationship. If your ultimate goal for spending time with someone has only or will only be sex or romance, then maybe you were never being a great friend to begin with.

Friendship is not a consolation prize; it's something wonderful to be valued on its own. Don’t assume otherwise.


Feature photo VIA Unsplash.