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Soapbox Therapy: The Friend Zone

There is a dimension which is known all to well by men. A dimension as quietly emotional as it is painful. In the middle ground between the love of your life and the realities of your relationship with them lies the pit of all man’s fear. An area all men know as…The Friend Zone. (Cue the theme song.)

 

Dear Brooke,

I have seen the great advice you offer here and believe it is time for me to get some of my own. Basically I have liked a close friend of mine for around three years now. In fact, I think I could be in love with her. I know, based on our conversations together, that our friendship will never progress into an actual relationship together; as such, I have not told her about my feelings for her.

I have had girlfriends during the past three years, but they have never worked out. I did like these girls but stopped after a few weeks of going out with them. My guess is because I knew deep inside that I have a lot stronger feelings for my friend then any other girl.

As long as I like my friend, I may never like another girl enough to have a relationship lasting more then a few weeks. I don’t know if I can distance myself from my friend, we often have dinner together several times a fortnight and she really is one of the best friends someone could ask for.

So now I’m not sure what I should do. I could simply move state completely (can do this with work) in an attempt to cut ties with her and eventually lose these feelings, I could stick around and potentially never find another girl that I like more than my friend, I could tell her and potentially wreck a great friendship, or I could stick around and simply hope that one day these feelings will simply disappear. But I don’t see how they can if I do stay friends with her.

I was hoping you could suggest another option, or advise me on what steps you think I should take.

Thanks in advance,

Jake from Australia


Dear Jake,

You’re seriously pulling at my heart strings Mr. Aussie. You deserve the best, so let’s clear a few things up and get you on your way.

You seem to be caught in the space between settling and hoping—a totally uncomfortable place to be. You don’t want to be with someone you’re not really into and settle for less than what you know you want and deserve, but you also know that having a romantic relationship with your friend isn’t exactly realistic right now. Rock and a hard place no doubt. But there is something kind of enormous that you’re missing about settling…

According to most people, settling is saved to describe dating someone or committing to someone in a romantic capacity, though you’re just not that into them. Yes? Ok, well, I have a surprise for you. Settling is not unique to romance, it also applies to friendship. And you, sweet Aussie you, are settling. Big time.

Often how the story goes with romantic settling is as follows:

You meet someone and start dating only to find out that they’re just not your person. You feel bad breaking up with them because you don’t want to lose them as a friend, so you stay with them a little longer to see if you can make yourself love them like that. And you can’t. So you either stay with them while knowing deep down inside that you’re not in love and you’re sure this isn’t how things are supposed to be (these people often end up angry, cheaters, or depressed because they’re not being authentic with their feelings) or you make the difficult decision of breaking up, while asking to maintain a friendship. The friendship is fake and awkward in the beginning and either fizzles away while you realize that it was meant to happen that way, or the friendship works in the long run and it’s kinda’ nice.

Friendship settling is the same thing…

You meet someone you really like and want to be with romantically. It becomes clear that the feelings aren’t mutual, but you feel uncomfortable telling them because you don’t want to lose them as a friend, so you either settle for a friendship while knowing deep down inside that you’re in love and you’re sure this isn’t how things are supposed to be (and end up angry or depressed because you’re not being authentic with your feelings), or you make the difficult decision of coming clean while asking to maintain a friendship.

If the feelings aren’t mutual, the friendship is fake and awkward in the beginning and either fizzles away while you realize that it was meant to happen that way, or the friendship works in the long run and it’s kinda’ nice.

You dear are settling for a person without even realizing it. You’re telling yourself that you’re OK being friends with her, but that’s just a cover up. You don’t want her to be your friend, but you’re settling. And you don’t want to be that guy. So my suggestion? Step away…just for now.

It’s not as black and white as you think. No moving away in attempts to escape from your feelings, no wrecking friendships and waiting for your heart to break. None of that.

This is about taking a step back and giving both your brain and your heart a minute to breathe, because right now you’re so in it, that you can’t even see straight. I think a quote from the profound and entertaining 1995 film Clueless, sums it up perfectly.

Tai: Do you think she’s pretty?

Cher: No, she’s a full-on Monet.

Tai: What’s a monet?

Cher: It’s like a painting, see? From far away, it’s OK, but up close, it’s a big old mess. Let’s ask a guy. Christian, what do you think of Amber?

Christian: Hagsville.

Cher: See?

No, I’m not saying your friend is Hagsville. I’m saying that you are way too close to the situation to see what’s really going on, and what you really want. An impressionist painting up-close looks like a blob of hard to distinguish colors. But if you step away just enough, you can see what it’s all about and you can decide if you want to be a part of it, bring it into your home, etc.

If you step away from the friendship for a bit to take some time for you, that doesn’t mean the friendship is over. It just means you’re respecting yourself more than you have in a while. It also means you’re taking a break from listening to her dating stories over dinner. Cause that’s what friends do, right?

So, my advice: Realize that you’re settling for something you don’t want. You’re allowing yourself to feel pain in a friendship, which doesn’t sound like such a great friendship to me. No one likes to be on either side of a settle, so take a step back, spend a little less time with her, gain some perspective, see things more clearly. Give yourself an opportunity to understand what you really want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to settle for…or not.

OH, and PS: After you take a step back and gain some perspective, if you still feel the same way you do now and you’re all in a tizzy, I say, shit or get off the pot. Letting your feelings fester will turn a perfectly fake friendship into moldy food. No good. You won’t want to be around her anymore, for all the wrong reasons.

Thanks for you,

B

About

Born in Detroit and raised in Chicago, Brooke Miller, MA is now a San Francisco based advice columnist and relationship expert. Her column, Soapbox Therapy, has been called “ Raw, honest, thought-provoking, and wisely witty” by readers and critics and can be read in several publications including The SF Chronicle’ s affiliate, TheIsCollection, and Cheeky Chicago. Brooke supports clients all over the country via Skype and phone coaching sessions. She can be contacted at brooke(a)primermagazine.com.

 
  • Kevin

    The friendzone on that picture is not nearly large enough (though, i know you probably didn’t creat it, Brooke). Seeing as how my friends zone has roughly a population equal to Alabama and a GDP just under Sweden’s. I think the zone needs to be atleast… 3 times the size of what it is now.

  • growapair

    I would suggest Jake to grow a pair of testacles.

    This guys says “we often have dinner together several times a fortnight ” … wow I think some people don’t even go out for dinner that often with someone that they’re dating! I sure hope that you are not paying for those dinners.

    Don’t confess your love to her. That is a sure fire way to get rejected. Seduce her. If you want to get out of the friends zone, man up. Since you seem to go out with her on “friend” dates anyway, you should have plenty of chances. If she really is your “best friend”, you’ll remain friends with her even if you don’t succeed.

  • Ya

    I’m with Growapair.

    No offense, Brooke, but I glazed over through your entire armchair psychology ramble. Nothing you said was particularly useful or insightful — just more of the same passive-aggressive, unassertive emo bullcrap that’s got our man Jake so confused. It’s really pretty simple: Jake just needs to man up.

    Take her out. Make her laugh. Have some drinks. Push your comfort zones until you’re treading into some new territory. TOUCH her, for God’s sake.

    His story is like the national anthem of the (very) typical beta male.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

    Growapair and Ya,

    I can appreciate the advice of manning up, and to some extent I think that’s what Brooke is suggesting. I think the idea that if this gentleman were just to try harder and be more outgoing he’d have this girl falling all over him isn’t the case.

    As a survivor of the friend zone I can promise you when you’re in a situation where you like a woman as more than friends but she doesn’t, there’s nothing that can be done. No amount of wining and dining and out-of-the-comfort-zone touching are going to change that.

    Brooke’s point IS to man up. Realize that he doesn’t want to just be friends with this girl and stop settling. Go out, put the energy that you’re both suggesting into finding a woman who actually wants to be with this guy.

  • http://www.womenfromukraine.org Oksana

    If Jake isn’t honest with her about how he feels, then he’s not really her friend, because he wants something from her. I agree with the others. Quoting Zombieland, “nut up or shut up.”

  • Collin

    The best way to get out of the friend zone is to not get into it in the first place. If you like a girl, don’t just hang out with her, make it clear that you are taking her on a date. Once you are there, it is too late. At that point, I agree with Brooke. Shit or get off the pot.

  • http://www.femaleloophole.org Zar

    I would suggest that looking for signs that she is also attracted to you. I agree with Growapair and Ya, I think there is no harm in trying. You just to let it all out, I assure you the regret you felt being turned down is much lesser than not being able to try.

  • http://www.howtokissagirls.com Rod Rodriguez

    Superb advice, Brooke. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Always take a step back and look at the big picture. ‘The Friend Zone’ is exactly the reason why I don’t have women friends. I have several female associates and co-workers, but none I consider as a close friend. I find it pointless to hang-out with a woman who I’m not courting or isn’t my girlfriend. Honestly, the reason why we hang out with our friends is because we have a lot in common with them. A guy can’t really talk much about sports, video games, beer and girls with a woman friend. Plus, there is the risk of her liking you which can get really annoying, unless you find her attractive. If you do find her attractive, then she’s not really just a ‘friend’, is she? Most men I know who maintain close friendships with women are either gay, eccentric or have an interior motive. My advice to Jake, watch the classic ’80′s flick “When Harry Met Sally”.

  • http://www.howtoimpressagirls.com Roro

    This is one the most difficult situations a guy can ever get himself in, Brooke. I think the most important aspect of getting to know a girl is to immediately give her a sign of your true intention. If it’s pure friendship, then it means neither of you are attracted to one another. If you do sense that there is a huge possibility that you might fall for her, then don’t allow her to be too comfortable with you. Maintain friendship, but not close friendship. Women begin to lose interest in a guy once he becomes an open book, so makes sure to keep things about yourself in the dark to keep her guessing. Try to heed Zar’s advice and look for signs if she’s interested in you.

  • http://www.howtogirlblog.com Thomas

    It depends. There are instances in where the guy is in love with the girl but the girl only sees him as friend. And there are girls who are just waiting for the guy to make a move and take their friendship to the next level. So I agree with Zar, it is better that you try to know for sure. Feelings like love shouldn’t be kept inside, it will drive you crazy.

  • http://www.howtoimpressagirls.com Roro

    Nobody wants to be in the “Friend Zone” with an attractive woman. It’s basically her shutting the door on you and saying: “You are like a brother to me”. Ouch. I have never faced this problem because I know for a fact that I cannot have a platonic relationship with a woman. When I like a girl, it’s all or nothing. The “Friend Zone” is like a gray area, so it’s difficult to determine where you stand with her. Jake is probably just too nice, and nice guys really finish last. I’m not suggesting playing games with the opposite sex, but maintaining distance and being mysterious to a woman works better than being her harmless ‘guy friend’.

  • http://www.jamtank.com Mickey

    It’s a difficult spot, but one you can’t stay in. Either let her go and always wonder what could have happened, or go for it and tell her how you feel. Too many people settle and it never seems to turn out well.

  • http://www.jamtank.com Mickey

    BTW @Roro: Friend Zone is definitely NOT a gray area… it’s either you’re in it, or you’re not! Some dating guru’s say that women decide whether to want to sleep with you in the first minute, so go figure. :)

  • Reality

    start treated her like shit, ignore her, make fun of her, dont talk to her for a while, fuck her friend if you can, then after a month or so invite her over and go in for the smash. I promise this will work

  • Been there

    I have been the woman in this story, and I thought some of you guys may want my hindsight perspective after his confession of romantic love.

    After 3 years of dinners, parties, and many mutual friends, my friend (who I then considered my single best friend and main confidant) confessed to feeling almost identically like the person who wrote you.

    At the time, I was single and I had often thought that someone like my friend would be a better person to have at my side than most of the guys I’d called boyfriend. The problem is of course that the friend zone is missing the “lover” quotient.

    After his admission, I responded honestly (“I love you but not that way”) We even had an awkward kiss that for me confirmed romantic love between us could not be. He wrote me an email a few days later saying he needed to get away from “us” to know what to do next, and I respected that.

    It was not fun for either of us, and we both lost a great close friend in the aftermath. It wasn’t messy in a mean way, but it made me very sad and I have yet to replace his spot in my life as a platonic confidant. I don’t know if he still misses me as much as I still miss him.

    Speaking from years later, I see it was the right thing for him to do.
    I realized that keeping our friendship was intoxicating him against what he really wanted: love! And though letting go of our friendship hurt us both like hell, it’s proven to be for the best.

    We still keep in touch occasionally. Dinner 5 times a year or so, lots of facebook sharing.

    Now, he has a girlfriend who moved 3 states over just to be with him. They have much more in common than we did and their friendship includes that all too elusive romantic spark ours never would.

    And I have a boyfriend who is my best friend and my lover. He knows about my history with this friend because it was such an event in my life. He feels a twinge of jealousy or something when he knows we’ve been talking, but he knows that our love is not threatened.

    If this happens to you, my best piece of advice it to feel ok letting go. You will meet new friends. You will meet a new love.

    And if this situation marked a big moment for you, DO NOT KEEP IT FROM YOUR NEW PARTNER. Lies are not the base of any good relationship, friend or lover.

  • E

    Thank you ‘Been There’ for sharing!

    I always wanted to hear a women’s point of view on this issue from the other end of the equation.

    Like you said, feel ok letting go even though it does hurt like hell. Letting go allows you to find someone that is right for you who shares your feelings.

    Hanging on is intoxicating!

    Its not healthy to live on hope for 3, 4, 5 or more years in the Friend Zone. I did it for 2 years and I finally stepped back…It was difficult at first to distant myself but i did it gradually.

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  • Wakim

    Don’t read the article here is the truth. Women friendzone men because they don’t see you as a threat. They see you as an emotional safety net. The shoulder to cry on. I live in this zone, mainly because I’m very hurt from a bad relationship and not really ready to move on, but that hasn’t stopped me from banging the shit out of some of my friends when the chance arises.

    Women who friendzone you are bad news for attempting real relationships. You usually get too involved too fast because you like them too much, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings because they are your friend. So what do you do? Be her friend, don’t try too hard. These guys who say “grow a pair” and all that are just telling you to not be yourself. When you see a chance take it. Do not become over involved with the one girl who friendzones you though. I would consider myself the “nice guy” or the “beta” but I have some strong alpha behaviors when need be, and most of female friends who have friendzoned me I have slept with and dated. These lead to emotional roller coasters, but awesome sex.

    The trick is strategy, women who friendzone are not emotionally mature, take advantage of that. I have encountered several types of girls who have friendzoned me.

    1) Emotionally stunted, unable to connect, seeking a big brother/daddy/boss type to help them emotionally with their problems. My roommate is this way, I met her while we were both in horrible relationships, she will only sleep with me when we are both “unavailable” to each other. Or when I pretty much take advantage of her when she is emotionally compromised. She broke down crying over stress once and I held her to calm her down, it ended with me on top of her in her bed. Simple huh?

    2) The Drunken Slut, she can’t connect because she is always getting trashed and sleeping with many many men. She likes you because you don’t push her to have sex. You are her best friend! She goes everywhere with you, she introduces you to her family. Leads you to assume one minute you have a chance at something real, then the next minute “oh we are just friends I thought.”

    3) Confident party girl, this girl treats you good, might even buy her own way. This girl is the one you stay friends with, and maybe even ask out on a real date. She may or may not sleep around, usually her sex life is pretty normal, but who knows? She is upfront about her motivations with you, and even introduces you to friends of hers and you might even date them. Don’t date her friends, they are bad news, that’s why they aren’t your friends.

    4) Smart Career Girl, this girl will try to unfriend you and promote you out of the friendzone, once she breaks up with her boyfriend. Don’t let her. She will cheat. Her sex drive is huge however, don’t miss a chance to get in and get out if she does try to promote you. Potential FWB.

    5) Dumb Redneck girl who just can’t decide, this girl won’t like you because you are too nice. You didn’t hit her, or call her names after all, but because you are nice to her she wants to be friends, and maybe a little more when she is lonely. Dishonesty is strong with this one. Watch out. Don’t even try with this one.

    In short if a woman says “well why don’t we just be friends.” Back off, don’t get crazy about her. She is being dishonest about her intentions more than likely. If you don’t have the assertiveness to move in for the kill then stop talking to her, unless you are ok being her friend. If she fits into some of the categories above she might be a potential FWB if you stay friends. You have to analyze the situation, do I love her, like her, lust after her etc? How long have I known her? Analyze her actions, how many male friends does she have? Does she have a lot, that is huge red flag. If she has a lot, but she is only spending time with you, that is a sign she might want you to make a move but she is being dishonest because she is scared. Don’t act like someone you aren’t, or act like you think she wants you to act, just act like you think you should toward her if you think she wants you to make a move, but if she is just keeping you around for emotional support, stop supporting her. A woman won’t tell you that because they like having guys around for that while they are dating douche bags.

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