Is there really such a thing as ‘The Friend Zone’, or do we all just find it hard to accept when things don’t go the way we want them to? Speaking as someone who almost willfully put herself in the position of being Friend Zoned on a number of occasions, I will happily speak up for the slightly painful comfort that it brings. But does it really exist? I’m starting to think maybe not.
I think I must have been 6 or 7 years old when I discovered that being a good friend was one of my best qualities. I could be attentive and considered with friends, show I cared and give sound advice (“I think you should buy the sherbet. I mean, you only live once right?”). In return they showered me with more friendship. I’m not sure I’m as good a friend now as I was back then though as I no longer get to see my friends every day at school. I’m more like Chandler from Friends when he’s trying to describe what kind of person he is so that Phoebe will name one of the triplets after him – “Chandler will be there for you too. He might be a little late, but he’ll be there.” That’s me, I’m usually late.
But as a 7 year old I was always on time and reliable. I was just a good friend. It was only when I got into my teens and boys started confiding in me that I thought it was my best way into also getting some kind of romantic life started. I didn’t even know what the Friend Zone was at that point, but if you’d asked me back then, I would have said that I wanted to be in it.
In my mind, I was not good at flirting or subtly letting a boy know I liked him. And even when he did know via some random outburst I might have had, he still wasn’t 100% sure. I remember when I was about 15 I had my first real boyfriend and I had liked him for ages. But I was so incredibly nervous and terrified around him that once we actually started going out, it increased tenfold. After a lunch break of sitting in the canteen in stony silence holding sweaty hands, we made our way to the corridor to go to our separate classes. He looked at me like it was ‘kiss goodbye time’ (which would have been my first real kiss in the hallway filled with my peers), so I laughed, shook his hand firmly and ran up the stairs. I’m cool like that.
We became friends after that (rather than boyfriend and girlfriend) and it was awkward for a very long time between us. Still, the reason I always went in with a friendship vibe with boys rather than a “you definitely want to date me” vibe, was because I really didn’t think much of myself in comparison to the girls around me who I thought were skinnier, more feminine and much more desirable to the opposite sex. I was the squinting one in the corner who had a kind word for you but really didn’t like to be touched. Yet I had a good vocabulary and always looked like I cared when I asked how you were. I did care by the way, but it also gave me a great excuse to deflect from answering any questions about myself and how I was feeling. Repressed is the word you’re thinking of.
Boys liked me, but only as a friend. They saw me as one of the guys, even though I wasn’t super tomboyish or into football or games or basically any of the things they were into. However, I seemed to really care about what they were into and they didn’t find me attractive, so I had to be one of the boys. In hindsight, I might call that being Friend Zoned, and no matter how much I wanted to be seen as desirable, like my other female friends were to teenage boys, I didn’t know how to be anything else but my awkward self. Perhaps I had watched too many romantic comedies or teen dramas where the love of the main guy’s life turns out to be the best friend all along. In fact I’m sure that’s it. Time and again I saw that example in Friends, Dawson’s Creek, My Imagination etc.
I know I can’t blame television for all my problems, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try. Still, there isn’t really anything too terrible about being in the Friend Zone, because if you do it right then you get a great friend. If you do it wrong you might feel scorned and like you should have gotten something that was never actually yours in the first place, but some things are just not meant to be. Every new ‘friend’ I’ve acquired in the dating game may not have remained a friend, but I rarely find myself wishing that we had been anything more. Especially once you get to know someone as a friend, because that can be an eye opener and a look into the person that you wouldn’t have seen in the first three months of a romantic relationship with them.
Nowadays though, it seems that the dread of the Friend Zone has been eradicated, because you can’t be suddenly placed in it if you don’t accept anything as a label. The dating generation of this here twenty first century rarely believes in labels. We just date and if it doesn’t work out, we become friends or nothing. There’s nothing as serious as the Friend Zone to be implemented, because it implies that one or both of you have been making a conscious effort to get into the others romantic graces, when in reality you’re both assessing each other for flaws and quips in those first few dates, and more often than not (in my experience anyway) the decision not to continue dating is just not a big deal. You just keep swiping left until you find another person worth swiping right for. They might become a really good friend, who knows.
Some things just aren’t meant to be though.
Image credit: friends by Lluisa Iborra from the Noun Project