The Friend Zone: Not the End Zone
I want to break down the Friend Zone for you (and for myself actually. I’m projecting my need for a pep talk onto you. You’re welcome).
There are a million articles about the friend zone – the angst of the unrequited crush, strategies to get out of it, how it’s some kind of weird in-between place where selfish people put those with SOMUCHLOVETOGIVE. It feels unfair. It feels like some kind of existential punishment for being a kitten-kicker in a past life.
But we’re smart, decent people, right? We know we’re being a little unreasonable when we get all offended that someone doesn’t return our take-your-pants-off-now-please feelings. So let’s take a deep breath, and adjust our perspective.
It all starts with the unrequited angst.
I hear you, sister. There’s this person and they are so great and so pretty/sexy/beautiful/perfect/imperfect-but-you-see-how-amazing-they-are-anyway that you want to put your face on their face. And maybe some other places, too.
This kind of thing starts when we’re in our teens, and we maybe don’t even know the object of our affection terribly well, so we take their pretty face and imagine this amazing personality to go along with it; some of it might be spot on, some of it is 100% fantasy, but our brains are working hard to justify our FEELS.
Sometimes we find out that they are in fact, a total jerk; we’re disappointed that they do something stupid or mean or selfish – it turns out they are so not who we thought they were. And we get over it, shaking our head at our own naïve faith in people.
The upside of this crushing disappointment, though? It teaches us what we love in people. The stupidity teaches us that we value knowledge, intelligence, or cleverness. The meanness shows how much we appreciate kindness and compassion. Their unthinking selfishness illuminates how important we find consideration and respect.
We start to see the shape of what we love through all the things we know we don’t.
As we get a bit older we start to crush on people we actually know – a grand step forward, since we’ve learned to be attracted not just to great cheekbones or killer biceps, but the special snowflake who lives in that pillar of flesh. We respect, admire, and appreciate them. Because they are actually such solid folks, it’s easy to feel that rejection from such a genuinely cool person is a reflection of our own uncoolness/unattractiveness.
And because, again, our brains are working hard to keep us from self-loathing, this is where it becomes tempting to treat this ‘no thanks’ as a problem to solve.
If you are actively plotting to make someone who is totally not interested in you romantically rethink their poor decision-making? Pretty much the only thing we need to say here is NOPE.
Wooing is one thing – that’s where you take someone who’s already a least a little romantically interested and endeavor to build on that by being adorable and charming. When the other person is into it, they’re doing the same thing right back at you, and the mutual reflection of interest builds into a puppy-eyed cuddly cute-a-thon.
And we all make little moves towards people we’re interested in, to see if that avenue is open, sometimes we get a clear green light, sometimes we get an indecipherable maybe (this is where we start analysing text messages with our long-suffering friends and coworkers).
But when we get a no thanks? We have to respect that. We don’t have to like it – feel free to indulge yourself by reading Cyrano de Bergerac and listening to Radiohead – but under no circumstances should we be foisting our issues onto our pal. Because it’s not their fault they don’t feel that thing. It’s not our fault either. It’s just bad luck.
This is the tough bit. This is where people start shouting FRIENDZONE like it’s some kind of purgatory into which we’ve been thrown by the unjust object of our affection.
Anything we do that insists that they change, that we think we can convince them, or trick them with some weird neuro-linguistic bullshit? That’s venturing into objectifying territory, where we’re refusing to acknowledge that the other person is, in fact, a person, and not a prize for us to win. Another person is never something to which we are entitled.
What we need to remember here is that if they are our friends. They already think we’re cool; they already want us in their lives. It’s just the sexytimes thing to which they’re saying no thanks.
So ignore the sexytimes thing for a minute (no, really).
Think about how you feel about your friends. Your closest friends who you admire and can count on for anything; the ones you see less often but who always make you laugh, or make you think, or just properly listen; the acquaintances you admire and are always happy to see.
Friends are not people we are anxious about. We don’t tie ourselves in knots thinking that they’ll suddenly stop being interested in us as people, or that if they don’t text us back it’s because we said or did something to mysteriously offend them. We don’t freak out if they see us on a bad hair day, or when we’ve forgotten to shave, or can’t be arsed to wear make-up.
Friends are those people that make us feel more at home in the world. We trust them. We like them. They help us remember that even on the worst days where everyone seems to be acting like a complete knob, not everyone is a total waste of space.
Any kind of friendship, from the closest and most sisterly to the distant, only see them once a decade ones, are based on mutual respect and appreciation. These aren’t people you need to convince of your finer qualities, or win over (though as with all relationships you do sometimes need to apologize). These are people who already like you and spending time with you; who get what you’re about and dig it.
I love my friends. They understand me even at my most bizarre and esoteric, they forgive me for my various imperfections, they bring out the best in me, and they care about me.
It is not an insult, to your looks or your character, to be someone’s friend. It is a privilege. Friendship is a relationship, too, and one of the most important we as humans have.
And all that SOMUCHLOVETOGIVE? Your friends are worth that, too.
The Friend Zone is not a bad place to be.
There will be other people to get sexy with, I promise. It’s way more fun to get busy with someone who’s just as enthused as you are, rather than someone you’ve convinced to be there. You are better than pity sex.