Hey guys! I’m still alive, though my reading has dramatically slowed with the beginning of the school year (as it always does). Don’t fret; I’ll be reviewing books again…eventually! But until then, I thought I would talk about a topic that truly bothers me. And since we’re just getting back into school (for many of you, high school and college), I thought this topic would be appropriate.
I’m an English teacher, so let’s start with a definition, shall we? Oxford Dictionary defines the “friend zone” as “a situation in which a friendship exists between two people, one of whom has an unreciprocated romantic or sexual interest in the other.” (It also gives the helpful example sentence of “I always wind up in the friend zone, watching them pursue other guys.” We’ll come back to this.)
Some backstory. Growing up, I was always friends with guys far more than I was girls. I couldn’t relate to girls as easily as I could boys, so my best friends most of the time happened to be guys. Usually nerdy and awkward guys because that was the group I fit into. I even had one teacher who gave me the nickname “the flirt” because she only ever saw me with boys.
Now, from time to time, this did lead to instances of either me or one of those friends having feelings for each other. Especially in high school. And look, that happens. Sometimes sparks just fly. And the more you get to know a person, the more you start to think…maybe…something could happen between you two. Totally normal.
What’s not normal is the sexism that ends up in the mix. I’ll give you two scenarios to prove my point.
Scenario 1: Sophomore/Junior year of high school, I developed a massive crush on a guy in show choir with me (let’s call him Trevor). Trevor and I had a lot in common, we had fun together, and he even took me to prom (as friends). His parents were pushing for us to be a couple, and so was I. He was one of the first boys I was actually attracted to and seemed to be attracted back. But I waited. And waited. And waited. I hung the moon on Trevor for 2 years. I poured my heart out once to him, finally asking why we weren’t a couple. He replied that he “wasn’t in the right mindset” at the moment for a relationship, but he thought he would be soon. So I hung on. Right up to his graduation at the end of my junior year, when I realized nothing was going to happen.
Scenario 2: Senior year of high school. In my calculus class, there was a boy (we’ll call him Richie) who had been a friend of mine early in high school but who I hadn’t really seen since freshman year. I looked forward to Richie coming into class every day because he always asked me about what I was reading that day. (It changed every other day.) Come prom season, I told him about my dress and that I was excited to go; I love formal dances. He told me he had to work that night, so he wasn’t sure if he could make it. I told him he really should come because it was a lot of fun. He ended up showing up by the end of the night and we danced the final slow dance together…which is also when he kissed me. I was absolutely, completely, horrifically blindsided. Never had it crossed my mind that he liked me. I tried to distance myself from him at school the following week.
Guess which of these two scenarios got labeled as the “friend zone”?
You guessed it, scenario 2.
Why, you may ask? Because in scenario 2, a female (me) was denying a male (in this case, Richie) a relationship. It didn’t matter that I was completely uncomfortable with the situation. It didn’t matter that I had been kissed against my wishes. It didn’t matter I wasn’t attracted to him in the same way. What mattered was that I had rejected him, a guy who had given me special attention.
And look, let’s be honest, I was not high enough on the social ladder for rumors to really circulate about me. And I was happy with that. There was talk, but not nearly what it was when one of the popular boys was caught dirty dancing with a girl who wasn’t his girlfriend at the same prom. It also helped that I never took that talk too seriously. I knew who I was and was comfortable in my own skin. I knew I didn’t want to be in a relationship with Richie and I let him know that.
But even now, I can’t describe to you how afraid I was after prom, when we ended up at his place for a “party”. (It ended up only being us and one of my friends with her date. No one else showed. We watched She’s Out of My League, which was 100% true and prophetic in this guy’s case. More on that later.) I was alone with him for a long time before my friend showed up. (Not totally alone. His mom was upstairs, but you get my point.) When he sat on the couch next to me, I tucked my feet up between us to keep some distance. I think he even tried to give me a foot rub at one point and that definitely freaked me out. I didn’t even want him to walk me to my car later that night. And I definitely didn’t want to see him in calculus the next school day.
So imagine my already confused state getting even more confused when people at school seemed to be blaming me for not liking him. Because that’s essentially what “friend zoning” someone is–blaming you for not returning the same feelings.
And that’s where I have a problem with the term “friend zone”. It’s even present in that example sentence from Oxford Dictionary where it says, “I always wind up in the friend zone, watching them pursue other guys.” Granted, this is 2017 and gender is fluid, but be honest and tell me you didn’t immediately read that sentence and picture a man talking about a woman.
Not once, ever, while I pined over a guy for two years did someone accuse him of friend zoning me. I rarely ever saw anyone give him grief about leading me on for that long. (Honestly, I only remember his mother doing that…) If anything, I felt the blame. Like I couldn’t hold his attention long enough. Or I wasn’t exactly who he wanted me to be and I needed to change. Or even that I was being clingy for wanting a relationship.
I can tell you, wholeheartedly, that this is not true. And if you ever feel like you’re being blamed for not feeling returning someone’s interest, don’t. You deserve better than someone trying to guilt you into a relationship with them.
The whole connotation of the term “friend zone” is that someone (typically male) is showing someone else (typically female) affection and they are being denied/rejected, thus making that affectionate person a victim and the denier the villain. This is absolutely not true. If you don’t feel it, then you don’t feel it. There is nothing wrong with that. I cannot stress that enough. You shouldn’t be forced into a relationship you don’t want to be in because someone is upset you aren’t returning their feelings. And if they truly loved you, they’d understand. Life is about timing and sometimes timing sucks. You just have to put on your grown-up pants and deal with it. No one is entitled to a relationship with you.
With distance comes wisdom, and I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot in these past few years about perspective. And I’ll share with you the aftermath of both of these stories:
Aftermath of Scenario 1: After Trevor graduated, I never saw him again. Seriously. It’s been a little over 8 years and even in my small town, I’ve never run into him once. I’m not even Facebook friends with him because it hurt too much in the beginning. After that, I didn’t care as much. But his life went in a very different direction than mine, including a DUI charge when he was 20. So…frankly, I’m glad I got out of that before things got out of control. He thrived on drama, and I like peace. Eventually, if we’d gone out, we would have broken up anyway, I’m sure.
Aftermath of Scenario 2: I felt terrible about the way I treated Richie. (This goes back to blame game…I’m speaking from experience.) We stayed in contact for a couple of years sporadically on Facebook, finally dating our sophomore year of college. We went to different colleges, but we tried to make it work. It was awkward; too much time had passed since we were truly friends. And eventually he broke up with me because I was, and I quote, “too smart”. The guy who said I friend zoned him in high school–and who was studying to be a doctor of all things–dumped me because he was intimidated by my brain. Let’s just say that the feelings I harbor toward Richie can be contained in one finger. Maybe two. It was with a certain amount of glee that I swiped left on his picture when I saw it on Tinder about a year ago.
And to be honest, this whole “friend zone” thing didn’t stop after I graduated high school. At least one other guy accused me of doing the same thing in college. Girls, it will happen. You’ll meet a boy who wants to be you friend (whether that’s his only initial goal or not) and will get mad when you don’t want more. It’s ok to say no. You have that right, and no one can take that away from you. And if you get into a situation where he doesn’t want to take no for an answer, seek help. From teachers, friends, adults, councilors, police, complete strangers, anyone. You are a human being with hopes, dreams, values, and an identity all your own. They are not entitled to you. They don’t get a say in what you do with your life. It’s your life. Be who you want to be and make the hard decisions. Because if you aren’t doing what’s right for you, you’ll eventually regret compromising yourself for someone who doesn’t actually care about you. Been there, done that.
If you’ve taken anything away from this, I hope it’s that you know that you’re worth it. Wait for the right person to come along. Because when he/she does, you’ll easily see how those other guys weren’t treating you right at all.