Zon­ing out

De­spite its name, the “friend zone” can be a des­o­late place. Here’s some ad­vice on com­ing in from the cold

Destiny Man - - LIFE -

“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.

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