Despite its name, the “friend zone” can be a desolate place. Here’s some advice on coming in from the cold
“I never lose. I either win or learn.” – Nelson Mandela, former South African President and visionary
“It felt as if someone had gutted me and left me to bleed on the pavement”
Khomotso* (32), an accountant from Johannesburg, was appalled when he finally worked up the courage to confess his feelings for a close friend – and she responded by spurning his advances.
“We’d been inseparable friends for two years, even though she was in a relationship. I suppose I lost myself, focusing on our friendship and leaving my own life to wither. I knew from the start that I loved her, but when I eventually worked up the courage to tell her so, she rejected me outright. I was firmly in the friend zone,” he explains.
The “friend zone” refers to a platonic relationship where one party has unrequited romantic feelings for the other. Embedded in pop culture, it’s seen as a sort of purgatory, marked by constant temptation without any prospect of consummation. The term is thought to have been coined in a 1994 episode of popular TV romcom Friends and still carries negative connotations almost 25 years later.
The zone can take a number of forms, including one party being willing to have a “friends with benefits” sexual arrangement and the other party wanting that to develop into a serious relationship. Khomotso and many others like him fall into the snare of making themselves available to their special friends around the clock, playing the “nice guy” to a sickly sweet apex and coming off as needy. They neglect to spend time on their own development, including their sex appeal, and end up being continually unhappy and unfulfilled.
Relationship therapist Paula Quinsee says that while the advent of social media and online dating sites has led to people “moving on far more quickly than before and a new generation who are more fluid in their dating and open to adventure”, the value of friendship as a basis for a more intense relationship can’t be discounted.
“Friendship can turn into romance, intimacy and a long-term relationship. However, many marriage counsellors, therapists and coaches would say you need to be best friends – not just occasional buddies. This is because if you have a strong foundation to work on, where you respect, trust and support each other, share similar values and dreams and can talk about everything and anything, then you’re halfway there. When you grow old and grey together, it’s more about being there for each other and companionship that sustains a relationship,” she explains.
Fortunately, a simple – if not exactly easy – solution’s at hand. You can learn to be more attractive, both physically and psychologically. This can entail paying more attention to your grooming
and dress sense, building your confidence when communicating with the opposite sex, creating a bit of competition by engaging with other potential partners or simply jazzing yourself up by dyeing your hair powder blue. (It might not look great, but it will certainly get you noticed!)
Luckily for Khomotso, an overseas holiday inadvertently reconfigured his relationship and, much to his delight, the object of his desire saw him with new eyes. “I visited my sister in the UK and was away from the country for two weeks. When I returned, everything in her manner had changed and we were soon a couple. It’s amazing how easily we take the people we care about for granted.”
He adds that attempting to emerge from the friend zone taught him a lot about himself and helped equip him for relationships that were to follow. “I’m not sure that a friend zone exists in 2018 – relationships and gender roles are more fluid and there are any number of possible permutations of these arrangements. Our love burnt brightly, but didn’t last. It taught me a lot about the nature of love and I believe it made me a more mature, patient partner in the liaisons I had afterwards.” He feels he’s become a better-rounded individual who can take things in his stride and has also learnt to temper passion with restraint.
“Fixations are never healthy, whether in a shortterm relationship or a marriage. The key to getting out of the friend zone – or any box, for that matter – lies in being ‘selfish’: pursue your passions and develop as a person outside the confines of romantic love. Love for your football team, your pets, your career and, above all, for yourself are just as important as the love you feel for your significant other.”
That heinous relationship-ending cliché, “It’s not you – it’s me”, may actually ring true. Rejection can be devastating to our fragile, testosterone-driven machismo, but there could be any number of reasons for it that have nothing to do with your looks, personality or worth as a potential partner.
Few things are more miserable than watching someone we desire blithely loving someone else. It may be hard to resist spending all your time in her company and repressing your own frustration, but it’s the best way off the merry-go-round. Do what you have to do to keep moving forward, whether that means abandoning your pursuit, being more transparent about your feelings, developing an edge to your character or clipping your nose hair.
* Not his real name.
IT MAY BE HARD TO RESIST SPENDING ALL YOUR TIME IN HER COMPANY AND REPRESSING YOUR OWN FRUSTRATION, BUT IT’S THE BEST WAY OFF THE MERRYGO-ROUND.