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The Friend Zone

September 27, 2012

Hiya! Long time no see. Remember how I said how this blog thing would not have a schedule? Yeah, I wasn’t lying. I am not too good at the whole “keeping to a schedule” thing. But, being disgustingly late with articles is better than no articles; or at least that is how I see it.

But you know what? I think the wait will be somewhat worth it. What I want to ramble about today does not deal with video games, music, movies, technology, or any of the stuff that I am usually known to discuss. I tend to leave philosophical or emotional aspects of my psyche cooped up in my mind until I meet someone who is comfortable with trying to help me decipher these problems. Basically, I try not to think about the big stuff too much; the world already throws so much shit at us, why ruminate on complex ideas for the sole function of a “mental exercise”? But this write up is different. I have tangentially spoken to some people about this, but nothing too in depth (except for the people who proofed this thing for me, Lucas AKA Transylvanilla, and a wonderful lady by the name of Lucia). My reasoning is simple: I wanted to write something “emotional.”

People who know or have even crossed paths with me will (hopefully) come away thinking that I am on the bearable side of quirky. I try not to be overly annoying, and         generally have a smile on my face. Happy people tend to attract happiness around them, or multiple death glares from those more cynically-adjusted folks. My jovial nature comes from the desire to see other people happy; that said, I am not a saint and I have, and will in the future, hurt people. However, I try to limit those actions and try to lift someone’s day, however briefly. So I am content with myself, right? I understand my humanity and that the many {many[many(many)]} mistakes of my past and dealt with them, right? Rhetorical questions are stupid, right?

Yes, but they are a fun tool to explore the emotional spectrum that I tend to show. Goofy intertwined with some seriousness, sitting on top of some snark; that is Giovanni in a nutshell. But how many of you have ever seen me sad? Broken? And most pertinent to this discussion, Angry? There are very few people who have seen me get mad another person; if you are curious to learn what that looks like, read on. Four hundred words and I haven’t introduced0 the actual topic, but the title should be self-explanatory. Regardless, I think the position I take is somewhat unique. Here goes:

If you profess to be/feel like/are identified as someone in the “friend zone,” you deserve no pity or remorse. Those who know such a person in this “zone”: do not give them any quarter, they deserve none. The “friend zone” is a selfish and dishonest status that cowards inflict upon themselves to hide or divert the emotions they do not have the courage to confront.

These are polarizing words, which is good because I want to make my position known on this issue. However, there are some caveats to how I define “friend zone.” Being lead on by an overly flirtatious person only to be turned down does not fit this understanding; neither does having a friendship with a person that turns into more serious feelings which doesn’t work out. Those examples are fine, they are common, they are human. What is left? Here is how I see it (and replace the genders as you see fit).

Man meets Woman. This Man likes the Woman quite a bit. His infatuation turns him into a smitten Boy. The Boy feels like he should explain his feelings but can’t. His reason? Multifaceted. He is nervous, he doesn’t know how; it is not the right time. It is not “romantic.” Instead, he waits. He acts like the perfect boy. He says all the right things, hates all the right fads, and listens to all of her rants; he waits. He waits long enough to gain her trust, to be a part of her inner circle. He thinks that this is finally making progress. During a particularly deep conversation, the Woman states “you are one of my best friends.” The Boy now waits, endlessly. He has already passed beyond the optimal threshold.

What do you feel for this Man/Boy? Is it pity? For those born in the nineties and grew up on a heavy dose of syndicated Friends episodes, did you pity Ross for being unable profess his love to Rachel? Did you feel bad for Ryan Reynolds in that dumb ass movie where he wears a fat suit? I don’t think you should. I think that this boy should be ashamed of himself.

My qualm with the “friend zone” breaks down to a discussion of agency and motivation; namely that the ‘zoned one perverts both concepts for his or her selfish desires.

“Boy meets Woman. This Boy likes the Woman quite a bit. The Boy feels like he should explain his feelings…”

…And this is where the story should have ended. The strength of those feelings would reasonably drive the Boy/Man to one of two options: admit his emotions to possibly start a relationship or take the time to peruse these thoughts further. The latter presents an interesting wrinkle in this discussion because, optimally, no one should rush into an unknown situation. Nevertheless our Boy takes neither of these paths. He chooses to commit his emotions in a particular way. I mentioned the concept of “romance” in the little narrative above, and it drives the Boy’s upcoming falsified actions. What he becomes is a strategist and, in his own mind, an imperfect one. Every movement is thought out, measured, yet fret with emotion. The Boy sees himself completely immersed in his feelings; one of the initial causes of his freezing act.

I call bullshit.

It is all a matter of perspective. The type of people who put themselves in the friend zone do not engage the situation’s emotional weight. The zoned one creates a dichotomous emotional state. They believe themselves to be completely sentimental, with a full understanding of their emotional facilities. In actuality, they are completely divorced from their feelings, looking from the outside in at the trembling shell that is their desire. That piece of them, the one that wants nothing more than to reveal the truth, becomes repressed; it is quashed to conform to some ideal form of romance that involves a deeply disturbing mindset. The story could end there, but it always seems to continue.

“He waits.”

No, he doesn’t. Engineering his/her life around the target’s schedule to try and spend every moment in their presence does not constitute “waiting.” That may be an extreme case, but even basic interactions like getting a coffee or manipulating a conversation to create time together become agential moments. Every instance that the prospective suitor has/generates with the target constitutes a choice; the choice comes down to expressing emotional truth or continuing on with the ruse. And yes, I am going to call it a ruse. Not just because it is a fun word (which it is), but for the sole reason that the actions are dishonest. The soon-to-be friend zoned uses subterfuge at almost every juncture of his or her relationship. He or She may not outright lie during their conversations, but the entire basis of their interactions become pure, unadulterated fabrication. How?

“He waits long enough for to gain her trust,”

Aye, there is the rub. This is the point that angers me, that caused me to take a hard look at the whole friend zone issue from this point of view. All forms of social interaction involve the element of trust. We trust that our parents have our best interests while raising us; we trust that the teller is not going to try and short-change us at the point of sale; we hope that our friends mean what they say. Why do some people become friends? Why do two people stick together in a relationship?

Since about grade eight, I used to try and play The Therapist. I would observe the interaction between couples at school, and listen to any person who wanted to discuss their problems. Think Lucy, but minus the stand and the five cent charge. My goal through this “data collection” was to formulate a theoretical framework for relationships; a guiding concept that I or others could use to better their relationships or just understand how they worked. It didn’t take me long to figure out the unattainable nature of that goal because relationships are too varied and complex to fit any strictly principled approach. However, it did take me some time to get the idea out of my head. I would constantly ruminate on how these interactions worked, and why they would fail. In the end I didn’t have a framework, but I could make a single observation. Relationships seemed to fail because the respective parties could not balance their expectations. The desires from both sides must have some sort of equilibrium, in regards to the expected level of commitment from each party. If one side wants a long lasting relationship, then the other must be on the same page. The couple will fall apart if there is no emotional equality. Dead simple idea, but one that hinges on two concepts: motivation and trust. So, how does this relate to the friend zone quandary? Friendship is a relationship form, and the same rules will apply. Both people enter into this kind of social union for a particular reason; mostly because humans are social beings. For most, we tend to like hanging out with people, talking about/through issues and such, and genuinely enjoying the company of people with similar interests. In the friend zone situation, ‘zoned one enters into the relationship for very different reasons than their target: the goal is to plant the seed of an emotional connection and let it grow into something greater, something special. But, what does the other person want from this friendship? If it is truly a friendship, it sure as hell won’t be what the lovelorn thinks. The emotional dissonance won’t even register for the zoned one; they cannot fathom that maybe, just maybe, this other person will not choose to follow through on the relationship. For the self-described victim, there is not variability in their process: the outcome, a perfect and romantic profession of love/like/whatever they actually desire, is inevitable. They are not motivated by being a good friend; what the lovelorn wants is to induce a relationship through manipulation. They actively divorce themselves from their own emotions, and the possibility that their target actually has their own emotions, to construct some romantic fantasy. It is this point that scares me, angers me, and brings me the most shame.

It is probably evident that when I speak about the “Man/Boy” I am really speaking about myself. A lot of the observations and discussions come from my own anecdotal experiences. So the person that I hate, that I think is a coward; yeah, it’s me. I don’t really know how to direct my anger, because I know (and have been told by someone I greatly respect) that to focus anger toward ones self is not what we would call “healthy.”

Regardless, in this situation I find it hard not to look at my actions as, in the frankest terms, kind of fucked. How could I dismiss and betray the trust of these women that expected me to be a friend, all for my own selfish need; and do all of this multiple times? When I started to think about this article and what I had done, I started to feel sick to my stomach. But I must reiterate; I or any person who goes through this process does not deserve empathy. I am not writing this to show what an emotional soul I have or to garner points with anyone. I needed to write this to make myself feel better; to try and understand why I could commit to such actions.

Two thousand words later and what have I learned? That I need to smarten up, that I need to be truthful. So maybe this is an apology turned into public self-flagellation. But it comes from realizing a mistake and trying to fix it. I wanted to end this rambling with something poetic or philosophical, even though I don’t have it in me right now. I just want to say this: Make friends for the right reasons, and try to make them happy.

The Addendum

This is the afterward, the part where I look at what I have done and just shake my head like any writer. I have sat on this essay for almost three quarters of a year, mostly out of procrastination, but also out of fear. Fear that I would piss someone off, or incite something that cannot be fixed; topped off by the greater fear of creating my own pity party. Hopefully, this mental ramble doesn’t come off those ways. But, I want to use this coda to fill a hole that came up when proofing this thing.

I mentioned it briefly earlier, but putting a full explanation of the concept knocked the articles already shaky flow into complete chaos. The situation involves a ‘zoned one during their “waiting” period. As stated before, waiting does involve some activity/agency in the process, but a certain thought process can occur during this time that I would constitute as understandable. This person may be waiting to make a move in an attempt to better understand their feelings. Initial attraction can really screw with your perception of another person; taking the time to mentally sort out those sentiments is a valid response. However, once he/she has sufficiently “Katamari-ed” their emotions into something workable, the talk needs to happen. If not, problems of dishonesty start to arise.

There are probably other forms of the friend zone that have some merit, which is why I want to open this up to you fine people. Thanks for reading. I don’t know how this article is going to be taken. Honestly, I don’t even know if it makes sense. But, I want anyone who gets through it to please leave a comment. Do you disagree, do you agree? Or even if you have a question about it, ask away.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Meghan permalink
    September 27, 2012 3:00 pm

    First of all, thanks for posting something interesting to read since I’m having a hard time staying awake at work! :)
    Second, I don’t think all of the blame should be placed solely on the ‘zoned’ person. Both people involved have an obligation to define their feelings about the relationship. Just as the zoned person is wrong for failing to find out whether the other person is romantically interested, the other person should feel obligated to find out whether the zoned person is interested in a friendship. Especially when two people that have the potential to be romantically involved (ex. Straight guy, straight girl) meet each other. Neither person involved wants a one-sided relationship where their feelings aren’t returned regardless of whether they have romantic feelings or friendship feelings. As such, both people are responsible for learning the intentions of the other person. 
    An interesting question that I think relates to this topic is whether guys and girls can ever really be friends? 

    • September 27, 2012 2:00 pm

      Thanks for reading Meghan!
      I think that you have a good point that the ‘zoner has a responsibility to find out whether there is something more than friendship, but I think the person with the more romantic feelings needs to be the “upfront” one. Also, I believe that friendships can grow without that “let’s be friends” discussion, even crossing the gender/romantic gap. Sometimes it falls into place that two people understand their relationship with each other without being blatantly stated. Which ties into your last question.

      I think that people who can be romantically involved can cross past that emotional state into something more akin to a friendship. What I believe it takes is the neutralization of romantic tension. Sometimes that happens through brief dating, a succinct conversation, or just hanging out with each other enough. That is why I added “The Addendum” to the article. The waiting period can be instrumental because you hopefully will get to know this person and what those feelings actually are; friendship or something more?

      Combining those two thoughts, it all really comes down to communication. We all just need to talk more about this stuff :)

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