The Friend Zone exists, and it’s not just something women do to men, Neil Sheppard reports. “I know, because I’ve done it.”
It was my last year at school and I was looking forward to being freed from the oppressive regime of classes and homework and pressure to conform. I’d worked hard to stop being the weird fat kid no-one ever saw outside of school and become someone whose name and reputation was known to complete strangers on the local music scene. I’d lost weight through borderline anorexia, started listening to the right bands, dressing all in black with metal chains and poorly applied black nail polish. I’d made friends with musicians who’d opened gigs for bands you might have actually heard of. They asked what I thought of their shows and genuinely considered my thoughts. Still, I spent almost every day with this bubbly, friendly, curvy girl, with blonde ringlets and mainstream dress sense, despite her being nearly two years younger than me.
She wasn’t cool. She wasn’t into music. She didn’t go to gigs. She didn’t obsessively follow local bands around. She loved “Pretty Woman” and didn’t know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. She didn’t dye her hair black or red. She didn’t keep a book of song lyrics or own an SLR camera. She didn’t have a MySpace page. Worst of all, she wasn’t anorexically thin and intent on surviving with cigarettes and coffee as her only source of nutrition.
She’d had three boyfriends in the time I knew her as a friend, while I continued to humiliate myself with women my friends would approve of. She consoled me and listened to all the stories of my latest failed attempt at seduction with patience and sympathy. Each time she would hint that she was an alternative and each time I would play dumb.
I’d fought long and hard to be accepted by the cool kids and she just wasn’t the kind of woman who fit into the facade I was trying to maintain. I’d rather continue to idolise goth girls who looked at me the way they would something they’d stepped in.
I was an idiot.
The chances of ever connecting with another human being and growing that into a meaningful relationship are really quite small. The only reason that anyone ever manages to meet their soul mate is the sheer number of people on the planet. It’s unavoidable that you’re going to develop connections with people who don’t want that intimacy to grow into a relationship for one reason or another.
When confident, social people get stuck in this situation, they cut their losses and move on. When lonely, isolated, awkward people get stuck in the Friend Zone, however, it can hit them hard. TV, movies and culture tell them that every man will end up with a gorgeous model in the end, they just have to get the rich a-holes out of the way first. So they hang on, making every deficient attempt at wooing the Prom Queen or the Super Groupie or the Artistic Loner they can, passing over girls who don’t meet Hollywood standards, but things just don’t turn out the way they do in the movies.
Of course, if this was only a male phenomenon, then you wouldn’t see films like “He’s Just Not That Into You” being made. If you haven’t seen it, the movie is a series of vignettes, all of which have the same message—if a guy isn’t putting the effort into a relationship, it’s because he doesn’t care about it as much as you do.
There was a (rather brilliant, in my opinion) British TV series called “Sugar Rush,” which starred both a young Andrew Garfield from the new Spider-man movie and Lenora Crichlow, who was the ghost in the original version of “Being Human.” It tells the story of teenage girl Kim, who develops an obsessive crush on an out-of-control, homophobic straight girl nicknamed Sugar. The show’s two series chronicle Kim’s progress from straight girl with a single, anomalous crush, to promiscuous lesbian, to lesbian in a committed relationship. Every gay woman I’ve ever met says “Sugar Rush” is the story of their adolescence. So it seems the Friend Zone, quite logically, isn’t even just a specifically heterosexual problem.
There’s been a lot of angry words passed back and forth between men who think the Friend Zone is some sort of female conspiracy and women who think it’s patriarchal propaganda. Personally, I think it has very little to do with the battle of the sexes. It’s just a mistake people make—on one side for being a bad loser in love and, sometimes, on the other for not giving someone who cares about you a chance.
Following one awkward kiss and several weeks of avoiding each other, she and I had resumed our platonic relationship. In the depths of my loneliness, it occurred to me that I really had very few prospects other than this girl, who I trusted completely, found very attractive (though I wouldn’t admit it) and loved spending time with. My conclusion? Text her and ask if she wanted to be fuck buddies on the condition that we kept it a secret.
Reticently, she agreed to meet up and see how things went. So, I jumped on the bus into town and we met at one of our regular hang outs. She had never looked so awe-inspiringly beautiful as she did that day—in fact, I maintain that no woman has ever looked as beautiful. We walked, we talked, we did all the things we normally did… then we kissed… then we kissed some more.
I had something of an epiphany. Here I was, kissing a beautiful girl who I really cared about and had a fantastic time with. Why precisely was I embarrassed for anyone to know? In fact, why did I want to restrict our relationship to just sex?
That was twelve years ago. Last year we were married. This year, she gave birth to my son.
If you’re looking for the love of your life, the person I’d choose is the person who refused to give up on being with you even when you rejected them. I think you’ll often find the right person is the “wrong” person stuck in your Friend Zone.
Image credit: Moyan_Brenn/Flickr