Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Friend Zone: A Survivors Guide

Enter at your own peril.

Unless you are an incredibly attractive and lucky person, or a complete shut-in, you've probably dealt with the dreaded Friend Zone at some time or another. In our attempts to couple up with someone that we desire, they place us in a different category and we enter into a world of pain. It's a treacherous place full of feelings and more bullshit than a political caucus, yet nobody ever treats it as the serious problem that it really is, until now. You're welcome.

The four people reading this that understand me know that I fall in love every week. It's a curse of my artistic temperament, some psychological crap, and a combination of curiosity and near desperation. I have always been like this. As a child I once accidentally saw another seven year old flash me her naked chest and I spent every day after that doing my best to be next to her during snacks or during nap time. I still remember my first crush's name, Sara, and her early 80's haircut sitting in front of me in elementary school. I spent more time fantasizing about the softness of her neck than listening to the teacher, and I am completely positive that she never once knew my name. When I got to the age where the boys and girls chase each other, literally, around the school playgrounds, one of them let me catch her, most likely out of curiosity, and I spent an awkward four minutes desperately trying to find something to say that would convince her to let me catch her again (I have never been fast). She never did. And neither did anybody else until I was nineteen years old.

For some reason, women don't find whining about it attractive however.

Fast forward to now. I'm 36, twice divorced, openly bisexual, and almost all of my non-comedian friends are women. Most of my relationships are short, sexual based affairs, casual to keep my mind and heart intact, broken up only by intense, whirlwind relationships that carry me two to three years into the future, always depositing me in the same Elephant's graveyard where familiar pieces of myself are still strewn about. But on the way to and fro through this pattern, I am still frequently struck with the occasional passion for a dark haired muse with a bold profile or a fresh faced, talented personality with more charm than sense. I am easily distracted from the ennui that constantly burrows into me, and beauty or the promise of attention are my two favorite aphrodisiacs. And since my parents let 80's culture and the Bible form most of my opinions about relationships, everything I was working with was based on He-man cartoons, virgin births, and Pete Cetera lyrics.


No seriously, I used to sing that song out loud while I cried myself to sleep at nights. And now it's stuck in your head forever as well. Suckers.

Now that I'm an adult, sort of, things are more complex and a LOT more comfortable. Most of my female friends are married, many of them with kids, and I have evolved into the supportive, almost-gay friend who actually enjoys listening to their problems and experiencing their company for the benefits that it provides without wanting anything in return. But it was a journey to mature to this point and I did it without a map, something even Bilbo took with him, and he forgot his pipe.

First off, let's be completely clear: I hate the term 'Friend Zone'. I find it to be a gross over-simplification of all the nuances that go into interpersonal relationships. I've always hated it. Labels irritate me in general, but this one more than most. Also, if you aren't trying to be some one's friend as well as their partner, get out of the gene pool right now, because everybody deserves a partner who is doing their damnedest to be the best friend to that person that they can be. Life is brutal for almost all of us, and you are going to need some one's heart and brain to be on your team more than their junk. When times get tough, and they will, it's friendship more than anything that can carry you through to the other side.

Secondly, most of what people call the friend-zone is just them not understanding the language that the other person is using to communicate while simultaneously being too selfish or ignorant to understand that other people are mostly obsessed with their own concerns and desires in which they don't have to take a priority.

Hey look, you aren't the center of their universe and you don't have to be!

I know that's hard to swallow, but it's the same for everyone and none of us are special. Even the person you want has been there, might still be there. And do you really want them to settle for you when you deserve so much more? Good relationships can be a lot of work, but they are much easier when both of you secretly thinks that they won by finding that other person. So the first thing you need to do is get a good understanding what's actually happening on the ground instead of in your head. Also, miscommunication will happen, and doors open and close all the time. Life isn't even remotely fair and it doesn't always have to make sense. And sometimes getting what you want doesn't always work out. I once dated my best friend and I got there by being a nice guy...

It only happened to me once that way guys, but it can happen.
True story: I met a girl back when I was promoting myself on Myspace. I was sending out hundreds of cold friend requests in an attempt to be the first comic in Idaho to get to 1000 friends for the bragging rights. I know, my life is that exciting. Also, nobody else knew we were competing, so I won easily. She sent me back an email asking me what my deal was, I was honest with her, and it lead to a conversation. Now, I wasn't trying to get laid or meet people, I was playing a game with myself, so I was very casual and friendly. Turns out she had just moved here to Boise and needed friends, so we started hanging out. We ended up having some chemistry (I'll get back to this part later), which led to us almost kissing in the park one day. The next day she told me that she was still involved with a guy out of state and she wasn't ready to move on yet, so I did the right thing and respected her opinion. It didn't remove my attraction to her and it didn't stop me from wanting to be with her, but I chose to look at it from the perspective that I was lucky just to be her friend, and I had long since gotten used to the pain of being unwanted, so I let things live there for a while.

Now I want to stop the story right here to point something out. By the definition of the term, I was friend-zoned pretty hard right there. But I always take the responsibility for my own decisions, and since it was my decision to continue the friendship, any pain I felt after that conversation was my own fault and not hers, which is the biggest difference between approaching this like an adult and acting like a selfish child. You can end friendships whenever you want to. If somebody wants something different from you than you want to give them, be it friendship or a relationship, or whatever, and you decide to continue onward as things are, you have to learn that it's your own decision making that's keeping you there. Life is too short to torture ourselves.

We continued to grow closer as friends. We had similar interests and I started dragging her to all the open mics where she made friends with most of the comics in the group and started hanging out with the lot of us. Then something happened. My gallbladder started producing copious amounts of bile whenever I ate something and I started going to the emergency room once a week to get my body pumped full of morphine. The first time I drug myself to the ER alone, because I am a stupid, typical man, and when I told my friend about this, she yelled at me. She was right, it was silly of me to endanger myself when a good friend lived so close to me, so I let her take me every time thereafter. This brought made us even closer friends. As I was laying there squirming in pain while nurses tried to hold me down long enough to check my vitals, hers was the only face looking on me with genuine care. Later, after my surgery, I wasn't allowed to work at the prison for a few months so I started to fall behind in my bills. Her mother moved out of state, leaving her needing a roommate, and me needing a roommate, so we became roomies.

This is where I hit friend-zone level 99. We both loved to talk, all day, erryday. We would hang out together all day, then literally chat in bed together until we passed out. I started sleeping in her room. Now, I knew the score, and was content with the way things were. I hadn't stopped noticing other people, but most of my time was consumed by being with my best friend, and we were having a blast. I had some pretty strong feelings for her, but they were firmly rooted in the reality that she was still in love with a man that she couldn't have and so everybody was in the same boat. Life is fun like that.

Then, one day, we came home drunk together after a great night at the comedy club. I helped carry her up the stairs to our apartment where she demanded that I give her a bath. Now, despite our close living arrangements, I had always been very respectful of her privacy and had never seen her naked, even accidentally, but she stubbornly refused to come to bed until I did her bidding, so I embraced my masochism and got to work. Now, if you've never tried to bathe a drunk adult, I highly recommend that you never do it, because it is horrible. It wasn't sexual at all. I immediately got irritated with her and eventually got frustrated with her attempts at trying to drown herself. She wouldn't even let me dress her, demanding to be left in the tub all night. The best I could do for her was to drain out all the water that she'd let me (almost all of it), and I eventually passed out watching over her like a drunk guardian angel.

Three hours later she woke up and decided to have sex with me.

Yes, we were both still a little drunk, but the amount of investment and honest friendship we had poured into our time together took us to a level of intimacy that I have still never found with anyone else. The tension that had become background noise for me, like living next to an airport does to the sound, had been working out while I wasn't paying enough attention and I was not prepared for how powerful it had become.

After we were done she felt guilty and left me there to go into the living room to call her boyfriend. Eventually we started dating, later we cheated on each other, and now, an eternity later, I see pictures of her and her lovely family. Sometimes getting what you want is a curse because why you don't have it in the first place exists for good reasons. Her and I are still friends, although we are both too busy to talk much, and seeing her smiling face run through my timeline on social media only ever brings me happiness and good memories, but that's not why we're here. See, it turns out she was right in the very beginning. Her instincts to end our burgeoning relationship were spot on and, while that isn't always the case, if I had known that I was going to break up with her a half-dozen times in the space of less than two years, I probably would have skipped it myself.

Sometimes it even happens to aliens.

So now, when I meet someone and I am attracted to them, I do things to communicate that interest while simultaneously doing my best to listen to what they are trying to tell me. I embrace the power of solitude, I spend a good amount of time focusing on myself, and I fill up my time with hobbies and interests, some of which make me a more complex and interesting person as a side effect. I exercise, I try to become a better person, I find my limitations and try to move the line. Occasionally, I find someone in my life compelling enough to lift me outside of my comfort zone, but like most people with a tendency towards cynicism, I take my sweet ass time about it. At times people are interested in me, it's happening right now, and I do my best to communicate where I'm at to them, because I've been them before and we're all only human. I do my best to try and understand that it's not all about me, and I have discovered the fact that life is far more rewarding when you treat your relationships with other people in the least selfish way possible. I do my best to be a good friend and a nice guy, because while a lot of dudes out there will tell you to pretend to be an asshole to trick a girl into liking you, they have exactly zero chance of building a healthy and adult relationship with someone that is going to have any longevity by following that strategy.

So here I am, currently listening to opera, having spent all day in the Halloween pajamas that I have been wearing all Summer, slowly sipping on vodka and juice, about to wrap up another blog post before I spend another two hours playing Lord of the Rings Online, and I am being completely open and honest about all of that because, while who I am is not for everybody, for the right person, I am becoming exactly who I need to be. And that's how you survive the Friend-Zone. You outgrow it.

Silly Elf, if I were as pretty as you, I wouldn't listen very well either*.
So if your long term struggle is that nobody wants you, make yourself a better person. Not for them, but for you. Enjoy yourself, find things, friends, and passions that set you on fire and knock down the walls of your perceptions and limitations. Eventually a side effect of this life long journey will be that somebody else heading the same way will find themselves desiring your companionship and you guys can go slay some metaphorical Balrogs together.

Man, I really need to stop playing so many video games. Just kidding, GAMER FOR LIFE, YO!

On a final note, an intelligent woman on my friends list posted this while I was writing this blog post and, since it's relevant, I'd thought I share it with you...

Deal with it.

*- Alternate caption: How can he be deaf with ears like that?