The Magical Mythical Friend Zone

Friendship is a gift and we have the option to accept or reject. However, we shouldn’t lament the offer of such a gift if we desired more from the person making the offer. We’ve all heard that desire is suffering. My take on that statement is because we tend to desire that which we can’t control (e.g. other people), then we tend to suffer. We have no control over the desires of other people. Only in the flicks do we see examples of someone being a good person and then getting the reward of the romantic love interest. That’s a flick, not real life. I’m sure it happens in real life. We shouldn’t assume that such occurrences are the norm.

You’ve certainly heard the term friend zone. For those who haven’t, here’s what Wikipedia has to say. “In popular culture, the friend zone is a situation in which one member of a friendship wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship, while the other does not. It is generally considered to be an undesirable situation for the rejected person.”

I’m of the opinion that the friend zone is a myth. Perhaps you’ve heard your friends talk about it or maybe you’ve been there yourself! It’s such a magical place because it only exists in the minds of boys. Now, before you get butt hurt and try to close this browser window, stay with me for a while and hear me out. Have you or one of your friends ever lamented being placed in the mythical friend zone? Maybe you should keep reading. The entire concept of a friend zone wreaks of male entitlement and the fallacy that we (cis/het men) are owed something by women just because we’ve expressed an interest or executed some kind gesture (helped her move, provided emotional support, etc.). When I listen to the reactions that men shout after women ignore their cat calls, they often have an undertone of consternation. “Someone’s acknowledging you!”, this one dude yelled as a woman ignored his elevator eyes and “how you doooin” with the intonation of dick-in-hand readiness. Really? Well, she should drop to her knees and thank you profusely for acknowledging her existence, right? No. She owes you nothing.

According to an Urban Dictionary user from 2003: Friendzone – What you attain after you fail to impress a woman you’re attracted to. Usually initiated by the woman saying, “You’re such a good friend”. Usually associated with long days of suffering and watching your love interest hop from one bad relationship to another. Verb tense is “Friend-ed”. “I spent all that money on a date, just to find out she put me in the Friendzone (said with eerie echo).” “You know that hot girl I’ve been talking to? She just Friend-ed me.”

Here are some of the cringeworthy bits from that definition. Fail to impress implies that there’s an ulterior motive to what should have been a genuine act of kindness. I’ll never forget a night that I was slightly drunk and a woman friend was drunker than myself. She wanted some company just because she wanted someone to talk to and she didn’t want to be alone that night. When I suggested that we go to her place and make sweet love (suggestions are safer than assumptions) she put me in check by saying, “I need you to be a friend right now, not a guy.” I found her phrasing to be quite sobering. That happened a decade ago and I still hear that phrase in my head when I’m thinking with my dick and my brain is reminding me not to be a dick.

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Another cringeworthy bit was, long days of suffering. Because, you know, that’s the only woman in the world for you and you must become a martyr as she unwittingly breaks your heart. Give me a fucking break! Just bounce. Explain to her in clear terms that you can’t be her friend because you like/love/lust her so much that it hurts your throbbing lonely boner and then bounce! [To explain in clear terms means that you must speak actual words to her ears, not a goddamned text message. Express your feelings with full use of vocal tone, body language, sock puppets, and an interpretive dance if necessary. But, for fuck’s sake, don’t send anyone a text message to tell them how you feel about them.]

I spent all that money on a date, just to find out… that you’re a dumbass and expected her to repay you in emotional currency? She owes you nothing. No one owes anyone anything. Establish a baseline of what your bond is with someone before asking them out. Is your adventure going to be a date or a hang out? Will sweet love be made afterwards? Get an understanding for these things before the adventure begins. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you just ask her, “Hey! Are we boning later on?” But, you can have a mature conversation about how you’re attracted to her and suggest going Dutch. (Many women, who are not from the Netherlands, insist on going Dutch because they don’t want to feel as if there’s an expectation to end the night. She knows that she owes you nothing. She wants to make sure that you know this as well.)

Why is the friend zone a myth? Because being accepted as a friend should be a mutually beneficial relationship wherein the only reward you seek is the pleasure of the other person’s company. (Having a good time with your clothes on is a real thing.) We should be grateful for the friendship of a good human the same way we should be grateful when someone trusts us with a valued possession. The first time my mom gave me the keys to her precious Lincoln Town Car, I was honored because I knew how much it meant to her. I didn’t like the thing and it drove like a boat. But, I still honored her gift by taking care of it and filling its enormous gas tank before returning it to her. Assuming that everyone that offers up their friendship values that relationship as much as my mom loved her Town Car, all friendships should be honored (or dismissed). Accept friendship with gratitude or reject it with grace. Say it with me gentlemen, “Oh, I’d like to be more than just your friend. *cue Prince* I wanna be your… Lover!” *dance moves for emphasis* At that point, the two of you can have a grown up conversation about what each of you wants from a friendship or a romantic relationship. That conversation could be the start of something beautiful or the end of something frustrating before it gets that far. The friend zone only exists in the mind of those who choose not to communicate their feelings. Once again for the people in the back. The friend zone only exists in the mind of those who choose not to communicate their feelings.

“Come on, Jet! She knows how I feel about her it’s so obvious.” Look, I’ll be the first to call bullshit when a woman claims that she had no idea that someone was interested in her. It’s hard for me to believe that as emotionally intelligent as many women are, that they’re constantly oblivious to someone’s attraction to them. But, whether they’re aware of your feelings or not, it’s not a woman’s responsibility to know how you feel. It’s your job to express it clearly. Don’t express it with chores. Don’t be her handyman in hopes that someday she’ll slip and fall on your dick (and thusly fall in love with you because sex means love, right?). That only happens in porn and it’s laughable then. Express your feelings with your words *gasp*. Be vulnerable for a few seconds and be brave enough to know that your love/like/lust may be unrequited. She owes you nothing.

It’s worth mentioning… I’ve always had more women friends than men. I fucking live in the friend zone and I love it! Here are three reasons why.

1.) I know my friends better than I’ve known many of my lovers and many of my lovers have become my best friends. I once read some dumbass internet meme or e-card that read “If two past lovers can remain friends, either they never were in love or they still are.” WTF!? I disagree with that statement, 100% and I’m willing to bet that it was written by a butt-hurt bitter bear. Here’s a better angle on post relationship friendships, IMO.

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2.) Friendships tend to last longer than relationships and no one judges you for being polyplatonic* like they do when you tell them that you’re polyamorous. *Polyplatonic is a word that I’m intending to mean one who sustains multiple friendships. You’ll find different interpretations of this made-up word on the webs. Every non-asshole sustains multiple friendships. A mother of a 10 year-old told a group of us how she explained polyamory to her daughter. She explained, “the same way that you have friends you take to the movies and different friends that you play with outside, I have different friends that I do different things with.” She left out the details of her grown-up play dates. Nevertheless, the kid understood the gist of it. We are all polyplatonic (with the exception of assholes). Many of us can boast several decade-long friendships. How many of us can boast several decade-long romantic relationships? While we may have high expectations for our friendships, those expectations aren’t anywhere near as high as what we expect from a romantic partner.

3.) The platonic friendships that I have with women help me to communicate better in my romantic relationships. Men, how many times have you had a communication breakdown with a woman and chose to seek counsel from another man on how to communicate with that woman? It should be obvious why that’s problematic. I’m not suggesting that all women know how to communicate with all other women. I’m just saying that men should seek the counsel of someone that thinks differently (not just one of their bros) when faced with a communication breakdown. It’s the same logic as to why you shouldn’t represent yourself in a court of law. Please know that women in our lives shouldn’t be required to give free emotional labor for the sake of our evolution. Seek consent first, then seek counsel from the sage women in your life.

It’s worth mentioning… Women experience unrequited love and lust. Through an entire conversation with a friend on the matter she never lamented being placed in the magical mythical friend zone. She actually said, “Women “friend zoning” men is a totally absurd and sexist concept… that being said, I have had sex with quite a few of my friends and I don’t see why good friendship and occasional fun sex can’t peacefully coexist.” Here’s one of her stories (in her own words-pasted here with her consent):

“There was a guy with whom I briefly hooked up in [city name] and he contacted me because he saw I moved to [new city name] and he lives there too. I presumed it was for sex, and I was totally fine with that, invited him over to “hang”. About twenty minutes and a few beers in I start making a move on him and he protested “Wait, was this a booty call? Aw, man! I thought you wanted to be friends!” I apologized, and then somehow we still had sex (despite the booty call being framed as some kind of insult) and the next day I apologized again in a text. It felt like I talked him into something and I felt bad about it. Then he completely just disappeared, never responded to my texts, never heard from him again. I guess what I’m saying here is that some people cannot disconnect sex from monogamous love and can’t connect friendship with intimate sexual contact.”

I’ve never heard any woman complain of being put in the friend zone. I think that’s because women haven’t been conditioned to believe they’re owed something by the object of their affection. “I came over to his house, helped him study for that big test, and I didn’t even get so much as a reach around! He must have put me in the friend zone, m’eh!” I’m willing to bet that sentence has never been uttered by a woman, ever.

There’s this unspoken mentality associated with dating culture about the order of operations for friendships, loverships, and partnerships. I get the impression that many people are more comfortable going from first date with a stranger and moving towards a romantic connection than they are being friends first and then moving towards a romantic connection. I think this is why so many men dread the mythical friend zone. “If she thinks of me as a friend, we’ll never transcend into a romance! G’ahhh!” While everyone is entitled to their own idea of how to go about dating, that will never make sense to me. Shouldn’t we be friends and get to know each other without the mask of trying to present our best selves? I’d rather get romantic with a friend I know well, over a stranger who just looks/smells good. As an alternative, let’s just be friends and stay friends with no sexpectations! That would be nice.

“Jet! Men and women can never be just friends. One will always want to fuck the other.” I don’t know what world you live in, but we can be and we are friends. There are women in my life with whom I’ve been friends for 20 years. I can’t speak for them, but I have not desired sexual relations with them… and before you assume… yes they’re attractive (to me). On the flipside, I’m able to compartmentalize sexual contact and not turn it into a need for romantic involvement. i.e. I’ve totally had sex with friends who (we’ve agreed) will never be more than friends and no… things never got weird. How is that possible? We spoke to each other. We had deep conversations about our emotional needs/wants and we spoke from a place of compassion and respect. There were no assumptions or entitlement.

Release your entitlement and hold your desires lightly. Remember, don’t nobody owe you shit. If the woman you desire offers her friendship, accept it or reject it with respect and grace. Just because we crush on someone doesn’t mean that she’ll feel the same or reward you with a moral dessert because you were a “nice guy”. People should have agency over their body and their emotional adventures. It may break your heart that she doesn’t like you in return, but that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re in any zone, friend.

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Moral Dessert: Misguided Dating Habits of a Cis/Het Male

I want to take a quick moment to thank you all for continuing to read these posts as I go through this period of self-discovery. This blog has gone through a lot of subject matters over the years. When I began writing it, I had this intention to inspire people. Now, it’s mostly an online journal. I’m not actually telling ALL of my business. I’m just sharing the details of my life when I think my words may resonate with some of my readers. With that being said, thank you again for staying with me on this journey.

The story of my dating life has a few, unshakeable, memories that most certainly shaped my approach to relationships. Two of those memories from childhood, still hold a small plot of emotional real estate.

The first incident happened in 5th (or was it 6th) grade. I wrote the universal grade school crush letter. “I like you. Do you like me? Check Yes __ or No __” For the sake of the story, we’ll call her P. When P received the letter and realized from whence it came, her response was as if someone offered her a skunk meat sandwich on moldy bread. “Ugghhhh, him! Hell no! Nope!” The teacher was out of the room. P stood up, walked to the trash, and stopped at a desk to mark X next to “No” with exaggerated arm movements. She then crumpled the paper, tossed it in the bin, walked back to her desk, stopped half way back, went back to the bin, pulled the note out of the trash and flattened it, and drew another big X mark on it (still muttering “nope” and other “hell naw” variations). After crumpling and tossing it a second time, she finally made it back to her desk and I just sat silently through the whole thing. It’s important to mention that she didn’t owe me a favorable answer just because I liked her, she didn’t have to like me. It’s also worth noting that she didn’t owe me any kindness. I have no idea what she was dealing with in her life at that age. For all I know, I could have looked like someone she didn’t like for different reasons. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ What I learned from that experience was that when asking a question, we must be prepared for any answer and any delivery of that answer. That lesson had greater staying power since it was accompanied by the sting of embarrassment.

The second experience happened in June of 1989 when I went on my first date. We were going on a field trip to a roller skating rink (I miss the 80s) to celebrate our “graduation” from 6th grade. For the sake of the story, we’ll call her W. I called W and asked her “out” (seeking her consent to buy her a slice and a pop during the field trip). She said yes and I was over the moon! I had my mama promptly take me to Kmart so that I could buy the finest Batman t-shirt available for my first date. I had every intention of passing that shirt down to my son for his first date. Yep, at age 11, I thought that I would inevitably be a father and a husband some day. More on that later, back to the story of my first date. W and I held hands, skated a few laps together, and talked over a slice of pepperoni pizza and a Pepsi. When we lined up to leave and get back on the bus, a few 7th graders came in. I recognized them from last year and they had gone on the same field trip. This one Buttface with braces, cozied up next to W and began talking to her in a real familiar way. He then held her hand and walked her over to me. He got in my face, close enough to feel his breath on my lip. With W on his heels, he said, “Stay away from my girl…ALRIGHT!” as aggressively as a 7th grader could. I gave W the, “Really? You good with this?” look without saying a word and she just looked at the ground. I just looked back at Buttface and said, “ok”. They left together and that was the last time I saw either of them.

What those two experiences taught me was to 1.) make sure that the person on whom I crush reciprocates those feelings before I make some grand display of affection. It took many more years to understand the other lesson in that experience. My telling a woman that I’m into her should be more of a conversation than a proclamation. Cis/Het* men are taught to just be all like, “I LIKE YOU! YOU BE MINE RIGHT MEOW, YES!?” We’re taught that conveying that message is enough and that somehow she’ll fall over herself and right into our arms. My takeaway from that experience with W was that 2.) I should work to be a better man. My logic was that if I had more to bring to the table of couple hood then no one I was dating would want to leave with anyone else. Basically, be the best option in the room. Growing up with parents who’d been married for decades, I thought marriage was in the cards for me as well. I began working on myself to be a better man back in the ’90s. I gave myself dating advice which made as much sense as being my own lawyer in court, with no legal training. My alternatives were my older brother or our cousin who was like a big brother to us both. To put things into perspective my cousin once told me, “Hey, man! If you ever want to have sex with a girl, just show her ya dick!” (Before you ask, yes, I did that. Yes, it worked. Nope, not proud of it. I was in high school and doing what seemed like sound advice to my 16 year-old self. I stopped doing that after a few times, you know when I learned to use my words.) I really could have used some advice on dating from someone who was NOT a cis/het male.

This is an example of songs men write when we don’t understand the basic concept of a woman having a choice (and not choosing to be with us), you know even when we “do everything she wants”.

As a cis/het male, society has conditioned us to “go out and get the girl” (GOAGTG) and that’s problematic on many levels. For starters, the concept of “getting” a human being is folly. The way that Buttface used the word my stung me in the heart. He called W, “my girl” as if she was just something he’d picked up at the mall. That experience helped me to avoid such language. I’m still averse to calling someone mine. In any relationship, the woman I’m with is never mine. If she creates space in her life for she and I to deepen a bond, great. If not, so be it. But, no one I date will be mine and I will not be anyone else’s possession either.

Another problem with the GOAGTG societal conditioning of boys/men is that it turns us into opportunists. Have you ever watched a man talk to a woman he (obviously) finds attractive? Aside from the comedic moments when he trips over his own tongue, there are often the cringeworthy moments when that opportunistic switch flips on in his brain, heart, penis, or all of the above. A conversation about libraries gets pushed towards, “You gotta man?” A conversation about politics not-so-subtly segues into, “What’s your phone number?” A conversation with the staffer at Trader Joe’s moves to, “What are you doing later tonight!?” It’s difficult for cis/het men to meet an attractive woman and just be cool. We often have to “get” her somehow. I use italics with the word have because if we don’t, the unwritten law of toxic masculinity dictates that we are less than men. So, there’s peer pressure to, “holla at that” or “hit that” or hunt/conquer women in some way. I want to be clear, this is not an, “Aww, poor men haz it so bad! They’re products of a toxic culture.” sort of post. No. This post isn’t a plea for sympathy. Nevertheless, it is true that any dude you may consider to be trash is a product of a toxic culture. Hunt hunt hunt, get her! It’s what we’re taught and as a society we need to be careful about all of the subtle ways in which we push the GOAGTG agenda. If we ever want rape/harassment culture to end, we need to change the conversations we’re having with young men about their dating conquests. How about you DON’T show her ya dick… unless she explicitly asks to see it. (Fun Fact: I’ve never met a woman who was thrilled to receive an unsolicited dick pic from Rando Dude online. Your own independent research might yield similar findings.) I could write about the GOAGTG mentally for thousands of words. But, if you’ve taken time to people watch at many bars, you’ve seen what I mean even if you didn’t experience it first-hand. I’ve spent years #unlearning the GOAGTG habits and I still work on releasing these practices every day. Well, at least I thought I was releasing these practices.

As it turns out, I was fooling myself into believing that I was not implementing GOAGTG tactics. I told myself that I wasn’t looking for her, not trying to “get” or “land” or “close” on her. Because I wasn’t looking, I was all self-righteous and shit. Nose in the air and convincing myself I wasn’t like those other cats. As time went on and relationship disappointments piled up, I changed my tune. I went back to my childhood decision. I wanted to bring to the table (of couple hood) everything I wanted her to have when the mythical “she/her” fell from the sky or told me a secret in her gargoyle form. (See below for the reference, watch both clips and assume all of the trigger warnings.) So, I was no longer looking for her. But, I began to subconsciously expect her. I was preparing myself to be a better man in hopes of being a good partner/husband/father. I wanted to be the best version of myself when she showed up.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there’s been a trend in my dating life. Women I’ve dated tend to reach a point where they decide that they just can’t see themselves partnering with me. When that happened several times, I had to look at the constants in the equation. Obviously, I’m the first constant. When I looked closer at the second constant, the type of women I was dating, I found some new information. Two women, in the course of a week, came to me and mentioned that they stopped spending time with me because they either felt intimidated by me or felt this unspoken pressure to (in their words) “keep up” with me. I had to pay attention to the signpost of two women saying, essentially, the same thing about how they saw me. When they referenced keeping up with me they mentioned their perception that I “had my shit together”. Fun Fact: I don’t. I do NOT have my shit together. Sure, I’m disciplined in some ways. I’m also a complete fuck up in other ways. Nevertheless, I won’t argue with someone’s perception or dispute someone’s feelings. Much of my discipline stems from that decision at age 11 to step up and be better. But, wait a minute! You mean to tell me that my efforts to be a better person have backfired and scared some potential partners away? I felt like a fucknugget for creating and looping my very own catch 22. Wow!

I listened to them both, without retort. However, in my knee-jerk (internal dialogue) defense, I decided that I shouldn’t apologize for trying to be a better person. I’m unlearning toxic (read: shitty) behaviors and I’m making an effort to evolve when my self-awareness Spidey-sense goes off that I’ve caused anyone emotional anxiety. (File this conclusion under self-righteous.) Once I was done with that ego trip, I began to look deeper within myself, my dating origin story, and my motivations. Recently, I’d been thinking a lot about moral philosophy and the concept of moral dessert. I won’t bullshit you, NBC’s The Good Place planted a lot of seeds that helped point me to this latest epiphany. What was my real motivation for trying to be a better person? Sure, I was preparing myself to be a good partner/husband/father. But, with that was the underlying assumption that I would meet an ideal partner/wife/mother-of-imagined-children. I’ve convinced myself for years that I wasn’t searching for her. However, I was expecting her (which is just passively searching). So, that’s when it all came to light. I was trying to be good/better in hopes of a moral reward in the form of a partner showing up in my life. Holy shit! I had a moment when the weight of that really hit me.

I began to think about all of the well-meaning women in my life who tell me that I’d make a great partner or that I deserve romantic partnership-level love. While I’m aware that their words were fueled by kindness, I don’t know if I ever agreed with them. The word deserve/deserving has always been a sticky one for me. We decide that someone else deserves something based on our perception of their actions. If we think someone did something unforgivable (like microwaving fish in the employee break room or clipping their toenails on an airplane) then we decide that they deserve something equally unforgivable be done unto them. If we have low-self-esteem, we tend to believe that we don’t deserve anything beyond the limits of our own imagination. I don’t really think it’s up to us (humans) to determine who is/isn’t deserving of this experience or that moral reward. I don’t think it’s up to any celestial being to determine such verdicts of deserving either. I see people writing about how the “universe” is conspiring to bring the perfect person into your life. I’m sorry, but that’s a load of cat shit. The universe doesn’t care about pairing up humans to live happily ever after, that’s just something we tell ourselves to satiate our longing for companionship. Before anyone misinterprets my words as jaded, please understand that I’m just a pragmatist. I still believe in magic and all that jazz. But, when we spend time spinning mythology that celestial beings are playing matchmaker just for us, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. We then begin to question why we’re still alone if we’re good (read: deserving) people. It was exactly that mentality that I needed to change.

So, what do I do meow? I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with making the effort to unlearn toxic behaviors and evolve. Moving forward, it’s important that I continue to make decisions leading with compassion (which is a daily practice that I don’t always get right). In the process of my evolution, I must rid my spirit of any ulterior motives or expectations. So, if you need me, I’ll be trying to unlearn (or at least adjust) a practice I began almost thirty years ago. I’m not actively dating these days. I like to call it passive dating, where I pretty much only go on a date when asked and even then I’m super clear about the state of my heart and mind. I don’t really do the asking anymore. I’m no longer on a mission to GOAGTG. I’m trying to grow and be a better person. These days, I’m making those efforts just for me, with no expectation of a moral reward in the form of a partner.

*-Cis/Het is an abbreviation for a cisgender heterosexual person. Someone who is cisgender has a gender identity that matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

#dating, #relationships, #love, #lovers, #romance, #universe, #TheGoodPlace, #morals, #MoralPhilosophy, #MoralDessert, #partner, #PersonalGrowth, #unlearning