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

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.