For a mixture of reasons, including biology and social conditioning, we men are programed to pursue women who we think, or hope, are available. (Sometimes women chase men too, of course—but that’s another story.) If, for whatever reason, the target of our affections is not responsive to us, we can have a problem accepting it even when it’s clearly and unambiguously expressed.
Perhaps it was a conditioned sense of entitlement that made it hard in the past for me to accept that a woman would refuse me. My response was sometimes on a scale from sulking to outrage which lead to a metaphorical (or literal) stomping off like a spoilt five-year old who couldn’t have a sweet or a toy he wants, accompanied by slamming shut the door on the possibility of any future friendship.
I’m embarrassed to remember this.
I knew I wanted to change this behavior and that meant understanding where it came from. With some reflection, I concluded that this totally unhelpful and unjustifiable anger might be partly rooted in the deep memory that all men have of being rejected by our mothers; pushed away from the breast just when we were getting used to the idea that it would always be there for us. I think that at some level many men never recover from the shock and pain of this. As boys we affirm our maleness by distancing ourselves from the feminine, and then as men we crave to remake that connection. Hence, the ambivalence we can feel toward women. We desperately want intimacy with them while at the same time we are afraid of it, or even angry with them for having the capacity to reject and hurt us.
It seems deeply unfair when a woman who I presumably like and respect enough to consider wanting to have a relationship with her doesn’t reciprocate those feelings. My positive regard for her goes out the window or I get angry with her. Not because of anything she’s done, or any intrinsic fault of hers. Only because of her reaction to me, something neither of us have much control over.
It clearly makes much more sense for a relationship to stay in the friend zone if that’s all that seems possible with a woman I like. But wishful thinking is a powerful force, and sometimes I’ve clung on hoping that a woman might change her mind. All this has done is prevent the possibility of any real connection and sharing between us, and that’s a tragic lost opportunity.
When a woman knows herself well enough to recognize she’s not attracted to me, and is confident about her right to express that clearly and hopefully as nicely as possible, I’ve found this lets me off the hook of instinct and conditioning which almost compels me to follow any females I think I might have a chance with. In some ways, it can actually be a relief not to have to do this—without worrying that I’m not behaving like a man “should.”
By appreciating a woman’s friend zone reaction to me for what it is, rather than being disappointed it’s not something else, a door opens to sharing and enjoying some of the best friendships of my life. Friendships that will probably outlast and may well be more personally enriching than the hypothetical romance that, in my mind, might have been a possibility. I’ve learned more about life and about myself from female companions, and I had more fun than I ever could have imagined. I’ve tried with some success to replicate the greater openness that women seem naturally capable of in my connections with men. It’s all been evidence for me that even in the tender world of sex and love, with the right attitude of acceptance, it’s possible to convert any problem into an opportunity!
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