Fear and the Friend Zone: A Tale of Two Blondes

To tell you the truth, this blog entry was going to be something entirely different – it would’ve been about beer – but then I saw something that changed my focus entirely. I saw a video on YouTube that compared people who’ve claimed “Friend Zone” status to proto-rapists. The vid was of a poet (a man) relating his experiences with being sidelined by women he liked. Said vid was forwarded via Facebook by friends of mine (all men). The video…angered me.

I’m well aware that taking offense to anything on the Internet is about as futile as herding cats (who own the Internet). Normally, I’m quite immune to the oft-inflammatory rhetoric that clogs the superhighway “of tubes”. Religious debates, political debates, celebrity gossip, and gaming-related gripes – I’ve avoided all of these with seasoned couch-potatoed aplomb. But this…wow, it ground my teeth.

Instead of countering the post and kicking off an epic flame war, I chose the next-best (and cowardly) approach. I took to this here blog. How better could I textually illustrate my disagreements with this hyperbolic prose than with my own mealy-mouthed musings? This might as well be called: “My Life in the Friend Zone”…but that would span volumes. Instead, I’m going to highlight two shining examples of my Friend Zone familiarity.

My first…and my last.

The “Dawn” of an Era

When I was a ninth grader in junior high (yes, I know I just dated myself there), I joined a boy’s fraternity group. It shall remain nameless due to its wanton need for pseudo-secrecy. There were also sister organizations to this fraternal group – yes, gurrels! And dances were often held. My initiation was supposed to be fairly straightforward – ceremony, banquet and dance to follow. I was among several other barely-pubescent boys in the state who’d all just been initiated.

It was my dumb luck that on the day of this particular dance, a certain girl ended a year-long relationship with the State Junior Councilor of my order. She was a junior in high school – two or three years my senior. She also had the unfortunate condition of being drop dead gorgeous, and extremely well-known to everyone in my organization. You can probably guess her name based upon the title of this sub-section, but for the purposes of this diatribe, she’ll simply be known as Blonde-1.

Over the course of the evening, she’d asked me to dance twice. Being new to the whole “woman” thing, I hadn’t even caught on that this was abnormal. My first thought was that it was a “pity dance” – a charity case made to make a newbie feel welcome. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks (and another dance) later that I found out differently.

A male friend of hers came up to me and said, “You know that girl?”

Ninth grade me said, “No.”

He replied with, “You’ve danced with her twice already.”

“Oh yeah, her,” I beamed slowly. “What about her?”

“She likes you,” he teased.

My worldview – and my balls – dropped. Simultaneously.

We got acquainted over the next few weeks, saw each other at other fraternal events, and talked for hours on end on the phone. Keep in mind, this was all pre-Internet! It might as well have been a long-distance relationship. She lived all the way on the other side of Portland. A whole two hours away by mass-transit.

Not only was it my first (kinda) relationship, but also the first time I ever dedicated a song to a girl. To this day, I can’t listen to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” without thinking of her. This was pre-Napster battle, mind you. Metallica was still cool, then.

A break-up was bound to happen sooner or later. The fact that it happened later is still the cause of some debate. The phone call came as any high school-ish “Dear John” would. Blonde-1 uttered the common cliché, “Let’s just be friends.” And fifteen-year-old me held her to it. All the while hoping that there’d be some rekindled romance.

By “friendship”, I should explain. Usually, when a teenage boy thinks of friendships, he thinks: “Someone to play videogames with”…or…”Someone to talk about movies with.” Or at least, that’s how it was for teen geeks in the 90s. A friendship with Blonde-1 was un-delightfully one-sided. It mainly consisted of me hearing about her latest break-ups and/or flings. Keep in mind, my adolescent brain was still trying to process what a relationship even was.

This continued on for a good two years.

Sisyphus picture from http://ssifo.blogspot.com/

Sisyphus picture from http://ssifo.blogspot.com/

We lost contact for a while. She resurfaced when I was a junior in high school, and I joined her and some friends to a place called Council Crest. I had no idea that it was a popular make-out spot. Nor did I have any clue that she was showing signs of interest…again. In reality, she was on the rebound – just like when I first met her.

Since I failed to make a move, we fell out of communication for another year or so. On one random weekday during my senior year, she gave me a call. That sparked a renewed dialogue, and the hours-long phone conversations resumed. As my senior year drew to a close, I even invited her to be my date to prom.

Then a jaded part of me woke up.

Why are you taking her? That bitter part of me asked. She strung you along for years .You owe her nothing!

And, you know what? I listened. I dropped her like a bag of dimes, and ended up going to prom with another girl. One that actually was a friend. Well…except for the fact that there was a mutual attraction, and two years later we…uh…that’s another story.

Blonde-1 wouldn’t talk to me after that. And why should she? I had let her down because I was bitter. I didn’t feel good about it, but I felt justified.

One day, while I was in college, she called the old homestead at random. My stepfather joked that she was calling to string me along again. I chuckled at the thought. I grabbed the phone, metaphoric armor donned. And…

She simply called to tell me that she was getting married, and that her first child was due in three months. That and she hoped I was doing well. The phone call was short but pleasant.

We never talked again.

The Scholarly Groupie

In 2006, I – like everyone else – was addicted to myself…and Myspace. And I – like every guy – used it for one tool above all others (and like a tool). To meet girls.

A common, cowardly tactic for getting a girl’s attention was to simply add her as a friend. No message, no “Hi”, no nothin’, just an add. We let our profiles speak for us and hoped for the best. Problem was, I wasn’t a particularly good-looking or dynamic personality. Er…not like am now. So, my luck was…oh…I averaged about a date a month. If that.

One particular girl showed no interest whatsoever, but we developed a dialogue anyway. We met at a concert. One of her friends was a musician. I brought along a couple of mine, and the evening went mostly okay. Later on, I was perusing her friend’s list and came across a rather striking blonde. (We’ll call her…uh…Blonde-2? Yeah.) I did what I always did, I sent a friend request. No response.

Damn, time for another tactic. Now, I actually had to find out what type of person she was. *LE GASP!* One night I overlooked Blonde-2’s profile and noticed she kept a blog. A very surprisingly eloquent blog, at that. I read one of her poems while working a night shift, and left as insightful a comment as I could. At 5AM, a friend request was sent to me.

We finally met in person a few months down the line at yet another concert of the aforementioned band. At this point, I was weary of several bouts with the Friend Zone, so I decided to beat her to the punch. I made myself the friend from the outset. That’s right, I put myself in the Friend Zone, thus avoiding any heartache. And I almost believed that was all I wanted from the interaction.

She’d shown interest in the keyboardist of said band, and – over the course of weeks – I offered what little advice I could on the subject. All the while, continuing my futile search for Myspace love. We both often lamented in paragraph form about our mutual lack of luck in the love department. That’s about when my resolve shattered. I realized, Crap, I do actually like this girl.

In true wuss-like fashion, I told her. In true out-of-my-league fashion, she didn’t return those feelings. In true Friend Zone fashion, we maintained the status-quo. I tried my darnedest to not hold on to false hope. An eventual slip into radio silence was the result.

In March of ’09, I followed everyone else in the Great Exodus from Myspace to Facebook. One of my first self-appointed tasks was re-adding anyone else I knew from the old era. This included Blonde-2. After almost a year of no contact, she seemed genuinely happy to hear from me. My heart melted. (Stupid heart.)

There was an obvious change in our interaction, though. Our missives, even the public ones over each other’s Walls, were noticeably more…flirty. I had no idea how to deal with this. So, I played along. Heck, it was the most interest someone of the opposite gender had shown me since…uh…the beginning of the year? (Hey, I’m not a complete square.)

When the innuendo-enriched dialogue had reached a crescendo, I did what any red-blooded male would do. I confessed that I liked her. Again. She…took it about as well as could be expected, given our history. The flirtation dialed back considerably. Dialogue was sporadic at best.

I saw her on special occasions – birthdays, concerts, friendly gatherings, and the like. It was an acquaintanceship at best. The distance was actually helpful for me, as it made me maintain clarity when in her presence. By Buddha, she was lovely. And smart. Totally not fair.

Not sure how it happened, not sure why I didn’t notice it, but our interaction began to climb back to that faux-flirty status. This time, though, others were taking notice. Someone even remarked, “I dunno what’s going on…but she seems into you.”

So, again, I broached the subject to her. And again she shot me down like a headlight-frozen deer. After that, I was just about done. Another few months went by, and contact was sparse. Until one day, for some evil reason, she started up with the vague, suggestive comments again.

After four years of this B.S., it was time for an actual move. Not a confession, not a roundabout admission, no…Actual manning up. I sent a simple message asking her what days she had off, then I told her to pick a day. I ended with, “We’re going to tea, no buts.”

Later that week, we had tea. And it was wonderful. It felt like an actual date. There was even a twirly hug at the end of it. I’d always wanted to do a twirly hug.

While we were out she admitted there was a tea she’d been looking for, but she could only find it online. I made it my mission to find it for her. Lo and behold, I did on a random perusal of a local Asian mart. I sent her a snapshot of said tea, and she replied with glee. (Whee! That rhymed!)

Then…nothing.

She wouldn’t return messages, texts, or nudges. I wondered when I could drop off the gift to her, and she gave me a short, noncommittal answer. Something about “having a crazy busy week.”

What did I think? Something about me must’ve creeped her out. It was my greatest fear, being the one considered a creeper. I’d gone my whole life trying to avoid that stigma. It was enough that I was a male that wore glasses, I didn’t need that greasy moniker applied to me.

At the end of the week, I returned the tea to the store…then deleted her as a friend.

Blonde-2 sent me a friend request the following week with a message attached: “I miss you.”

And I fell for it. Dialogue resumed, things got flirty, rinse-repeat, same ol’ tennis match. I deleted her again.

She replied with a, “It kills me that you keep removing me. I miss you.”

Again I accepted. The interaction was as torturous as ever. This hopscotch friending/defriending lasted for a good half a year. Eventually, I had to outright say, “Look, I can’t have anything to do with you. I think I’m in love with you…and not the good kind of love.”

It didn’t work, if anything, that further renewed her resolve to keep me in her life. There was no other way. I had to be frank. So, I lashed out with a…”Go find another pathetic nerd to play with. We’re through!”

And…she accepted that.

But I weakened my resolve and re-added her sometime in December of ’12. By then, she’d found herself a boyfriend, someone who gave her the attention she craved and deserved. My presence on her page was borderline pathetic…and hilarious. I removed myself again.

This time, she blocked me. Around the same time, Gotye came out with “Somebody I Used to Know”. Fitting.

We haven’t spoken since.

*****

The poem that set me off was done by a talented lad named Dylan Garity. He’s insightful, funny, witty, and thought-provoking. He closed his “Friend Zone” poem off with the following phrase:

Well, Dylan. I’ve seen the beast within…and he’s a baby hedgehog. Weak, scared, overly-defensive, and kinda prickly on the outside. On the inside, soft, doughy and nugetine.

In a common/geeky turn-o’-phrase, “Mostly harmless”.

That’s not to say that there aren’t men who transfer their rejections into acts of violence against women. They are very real, and everyone has a dark side in them. However, making a blanket statement that the Friend Zone is a playground of soon-to-be violators is appalling. I’ve known Friend Zoners, I’ve known those who’ve Friend Zoned. Hell, I’ve done my fair share of Friend Zoning. I’ve also known rape victims and rapists.

There’s a fuzzy line between fear and control. Those of us who’ve known the Friend Zone are well within the realm of “Fear”. We’ve never sought to control the unfortunate focuses of our affection. If anything, we’re too cowardly to even view them in a lustful light. Speaking personally, the idea of sex scares me. Always has.

It’s not their fault for putting us in the Friend Zone; it’s our own. We put ourselves there. In a way, it’s safe, noncommittal, and totally Limbo. Rape is about control. The Friend Zone is about handing off that control to someone else.

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Monday, August 19th, 2013 Musings

3 Comments to Fear and the Friend Zone: A Tale of Two Blondes

  1. Eloquently written! I have had the kind of “relationship” that you had with Blonde-2. I’ve also unwittingly Friend Zoned boys who liked me. (When I was a teenager, I had such low self-esteem that I thought any guy who showed romantic interest in me was setting me up for a cruel practical joke.) I enjoyed reading about your experiences and have to say that your argument is valid.

  2. Elizabeth on August 20th, 2013
  3. Lesson being… don’t fall for blondes, I guess?

  4. Elizabeth Smith on August 21st, 2013
  5. @Elizabeth-1: Thanks for reading. I actually received a reply from the poet conveying what he wanted to get across. And they were quite valid. I never thought the piece was bad, I just took a subjective offense to it. Given personal history.

    @Elizabeth-2: Learned that lesson…er, now.

  6. Geoffrey F. Norman on August 21st, 2013

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