Last time we met, I opened up this dialogue about never being in a relationship, how it’s a stigma, and why I am in this particular position. Today, I’d like to discuss a relationship phenomenon that is HUGE in our generation, and the bane of “unicorns” (late teens or twenty-something’s who have never been a relationship) everywhere: the friend zone.
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. And it sucks. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you should check your back for loose wiring, because you might not be human. (But seriously. How do you do it? Are your boobs made of platinum? Have you mastered telekinesis? Please let me know your secret.) In all seriousness, developing feelings for a friend who doesn’t reciprocate can leave you bereft – essentially an emotional carcass. You can’t use the excuse “Whatever. He/she is an asshole anyway.” Because, well, they aren’t. You enjoy their company, and they enjoy yours. You can’t shut them out of your life without sacrificing your own joy. They’re probably nice, attractive, smart, charming, or any combination. Moreover, when you fall for a friend, it’s intrinsically more intimate than falling for a stranger: you already know their personality and trust them. When they don’t feel the same way, it’s embarrassing at best and traumatic at the worst.
At the beginning of my senior year in high school, I found myself stranded in the “friendzonian Jungle.” I developed feelings for a close friend of mine, a wonderful guy who I am still great friends with today. I’ll admit, I got my hopes up a tad, but I wasn’t completely delusional: in my logical mind, I knew he didn’t feel the same way. This inkling was verified when he entered a relationship with another girl, a beautiful young woman who is also one of my closest friends. When I saw the initial news via Facebook, I was heartsick, and it stuck. While it’s true that matters of this kind merit time and reflection, this ordeal dominated my psyche for months. I thought about very little else than how I measured up, and lived largely within the hyperbolic notion that I didn’t deserve to be loved, ever.
That’s when my ‘forever alone’ status hurt the most. I had never dated anyone, and my unreciprocated feelings seemed to magnify this. I felt like “Undateable” was tattooed across my forehead. And I hate tattoos as much as I hate crocs and ignorance. However, I consider this whole experience a tremendous learning experience. I’m going to try and make my experience practical. Here are a few pieces of advice that I believe would be helpful to anyone who has dealt with, or is dealing with, a similar situation. A short “dos” and “don’ts” list for when you’ve landed in the friend zone.
1. Don’t try and turn yourself into a clone of the person your friend is dating:
This is SO POINTLESS. At the beginning, I thought everything would somehow be ok if I looked as much like her as humanly possible. Obstacle: she is a gorgeous Mediterranean girl with olive skin and beautiful doe eyes; a lithe dancer with an incredibly petite frame. I’m not. But, I had come to define beauty in precisely these terms, and despised myself for not matching them. I did everything I could to emulate her appearance: watched endless YouTube tutorials about how to make my eyes appear bigger, wore layered clothing every day to cover up imperfections on my body, stood with one knee bent to make myself appear shorter. Because, obviously, seventeen-year-old straight boys really appreciate the eye-brightening effects of matte shadows. Not to mention, the wearing the J. Crew Jackie cardigan in different colors five days in a row brings ALL the boys to the yard. (The ultimate lesson in all this experience? Boys don’t actually find cardigans sexy. DAMN THOSE INFERIOR, TESTOSTORONE-RIDDEN MARTIANS.)
2. Do realize that there’s nothing wrong with you:
When the situation first presented itself, I became my own chief tormentor: scrutinizing all of my flaws, both external and internal. There had to be something about myself that I could fix. Maybe if I lost ten pounds, or stopped swearing, or maybe stopped talking about Dance Moms so much, I’d be the “girlfriend” type. But that’s not how it works. He wasn’t going to view me in that light because I suddenly changed a bad habit-and I wasn’t going to be making those changes for the right reasons. The bottom line: your relationship with yourself is the most complicated one you will ever be in. If you make it contingent on your relationships with others, especially when you’re young, it can be disastrous.
3. Don’t wallow:
Stay away from excessive amounts of chocolate or any novel with two white people embracing on the cover. Those covers are literally the bane of my existence. Like, ew. Get a room, cover models. Also, if you even THINK of playing Bonnie Rait’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (or the equally sappy covers by Adele or Bon Iver), I will come through this computer screen and slap you in the face. Being “Just a friend” felt bad. But the way I drowned in it was much worse. Get out of bed, drink some coffee, and put on some eyeliner. It will make all the difference.
4. (Do) communicate:
This is the step that can really make or break both you AND your friendship. Both of them knew how I felt, and, being the compassionate humans that they are, tried to engage me in discussion and make me feel better. I remember he and I having an incredibly awkward talk soon after it happened, which consisted of him sincerely professing that he never meant to hurt me and me breaking out in invisible hives and spewing “Don’t worry! I’m fine! Everything is gr8. Ha. Ha. HAAAHAHAHAa.” I had forgone makeup and sleep for a week prior, so, I probably looked like a coked-up Smeagol from Lord of the Rings. A while later, at a party, I drunkenly told him that I could be her (his girlfriend), and I would do anything to prove it. (Later that night, I fell into a pool. In November. Tequila+ Sarah=a match orchestrated by Satan.) I spent months around him, smothering my emotions in a pressure cooker of my own creations. We spoke about it again, honestly, months later. I wrote him a long letter, and it was immensely cathartic. If you communicate with your friend right off the bat, you can work together to fix the situation. If you’re hurting because of something they did, a good friend won’t let you fight the battle alone.
5. Don’t tweet your feelings:
Twitter is my catnip. I love it, but it’s dangerous. I’m often uncomfortable expressing my own, organic emotions around other people. However, give me a computer screen and 140 characters and it’s Pandora opening the box. When someone doesn’t reciprocate your feelings, sometimes you might feel angry. However, spilling your sentiments onto social media makes a private matter public, and creates discomfort all around. I’ve certainly made this mistake, and it’s an easy one to avoid.
6. (Do) find an outlet:
Feelings are devious little shits. Your mind is not fort-knox. They’ll find offbeat ways to escape. They’ll make themselves known in the blush on your cheeks, grimaces and quips you can’t control, that weird staring thing that you can’t seem to stop doing. If you channel them into something, you have a direct path for them to escape and settle into a place where they can’t create an awkward situation. I’m a writer and actress, so I applied my situation to what I like to do. I wrote a couple of poems and plays. I found a way to analyze unrequited love through the lens to the plays we studied in Shakespeare class (I had a field day with Helena in Midsummer.) I preformed a few scenes that let me feel these emotions as characters, and thus let them out in a healthy way. These things helped me process my emotions and eventually transcend the situation.
7. The last, and most important: remember that all is not lost.
Just because someone sees you as “only a friend”, doesn’t mean that you’re not incredibly important to them. Ultimately, I was happy that these two people were happy. I love them both unconditionally as friends and people. If being together is what makes them happy, I would never dream of taking that away from them, even if I magically had the power to. I know being in this situation is hard, especially for someone who is insecure in matters of the heart anyway. But stay strong. If you’re only a friend to this guy or girl, be the best fucking friend you can be. Focus your love for that person in that regard- it might even be more rewarding than a romantic relationship. In my case, it is.
Chances are, EVERYONE will find themselves in this situation at least once. If you’re one of those dicks who never will, please at least rent a Katherine Hiegl movie so you can pretend to sympathize. But each experience with a broken heart gives you the resilience to believe that contentment is out there. Keep on trying, unicorns. I promise you, one day you’ll look at your friend and be able to laugh at the time that you envisioned him when “All By Myself” played, and subsequently ate half a box of peppermint bark to quell your heartbreak. I may have done that. But I also would have eaten the peppermint bark regardless.
Next week? The unicorns guide to the fuckery that is college. Open relationships, Casual hookups, and STILL feeling like there is absolutely no one for you in a huge student population. I hope you’ll stay tuned!