Leaning on the Friend Zone

It sure has been a long time since I posted anything here. Some important elements of life have intervened, specifically a new baby who decided to arrive quite early. You can read all you want about that at the blog we created for Gabriel John's long hospital stay. Or, if you're feeling more visual, here's a photo montage of the process.

What's inspired me to write today is that I've discovered that the Oxford English Dictionary now has an entry for the term "friend zone." I was in college in 1997-2001, and we did not have the term "friend zone" back then, but I kind of wish we did as it is a delightful term that describes most of my college non-dating career.

Once I was telling my wife, whom I met at 26, about one of these friend-zone girls from college, and I explained to her that there was lots of tension, arguing, some romantic interest, but no actual warmth with this girl. Miri said, "Is this another one of your fake ex-girlfriends?" Apparently I talk too much about all the girls who friend-zoned me because Miri knows the pattern of the story too well.

Why did I end up getting friend-zoned so often? After years of careful study, I have come to the conclusion that the answer is: leaning. You get friend-zoned when you lean too much on someone for companionship. It gets especially bad when the girl you're leaning on figures this out and leans on you for her long-term, nice-guy needs while going out with short-term, high-energy jerks.

Back in the late 90s, the wise advice was to seek out friends first, not seek out people to date. (As an aside, this also means that Facebook and LinkedIn are great at figuring out who my exes are by finding most common connections and they suggest that we connect over and over and over again... ARGH!)

In practice, seeking out friends first what this means is that you collect an awful lot of friends whom you'd like to date but don't. It also means that you're trying to slide in to a relationship from side, that is, becoming friends with girls in the hopes that all this high-quality platonic hanging out is going to make her hear Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet playing in her head when she sees you. And, you hang out a little longer, drop little hints, go to movies together, remember her birthday, and say "Gosh, why are all the good girls taken?"

You could be more direct about your interest, but then you probably wouldn't get to hang out with her any more, which would take you from being just frustrated to being frustrated and sad. So, you keep on leaning on the friendzone, spending time with her like she's your girlfriend even though she's not. I did this with no fewer than eight girls. (I kind of lost track. I'm a real Lothario when it comes to not dating women.)

One of these girls loved to talk with me. She, like I, was getting majors in communications and history back then, and went on department trips to Society of Professional Journalists conventions back then. One day, I found her at the University Center cafeteria, at lunch on a Sunday, and we sat and talked for several hours, until dinner started, and then we didn't have to pay for dinner. (Back then you paid to get in, not for the items you ate.) We talked about the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, and she wondered about the sources of it for a paper she was writing. I said, "Oh, I know an article written by Mark Twain on the topic, called 'Concerning the Jews.'"

She said, "That sounds like just what I'm writing about."

I said, "I bet I've still got a copy of it from when I was using it last year."

That last part was a total and complete lie. At the end of the conversation, I ran to the library, found a copy of a Mark Twain anthology, photocopied the article, stapled it, wrinkled the pages, highlighted a few pages, wrote a few small notes in the margins, put little tears on a few pages, dropped a book on it, and stuffed in a bag and took it out several times to make it look aged. The next day I gave it to her.

"Oh!" she said brightly, "Do you save everything from your old classes?" She was quite happy to have the article, but, alas, I think she only liked me for my conversation ability.

All my memories of this friend-zone girl are happy. A different one learned to lean on me in much the same way I was leaning on her. I wanted to hang out with a pretty girl, and she was an only child with . . . issues. And she liked to talk. A lot. At first I thought she was brilliant, and then it turned out she had a large vocabulary of words that sometimes came out in the right order.

I think she wished she could have had a brother growing up, and decided to lean on me to be the nice guy who respected her. But, she also liked to wear really sexy clothing, flirt with me and accidentally bump her boobs in to me often, which didn't mesh with the brother-you-never-had thing that well. The first year I knew her, I put up with this. The second year I knew her, we argued a lot. The third year I knew her, she considered it an act of treachery that I was getting tired of her. I also starting bicycling with one of her ex-boyfriends, and the fact she knew we were comparing notes drove her up the wall. Then I graduated.

I suppose most girls would say that they'd rather have a boy who respected her space and didn't try to go straight for the kiss (or the bed, depending on the morals of the group they hang out with). If you do take the next step with a friend-zone girl, she's likely to say something like, "I thought I could trust you not to threaten me this way." But, at the same time, it's a very long, very slow, very painful form of rejection.

So, now that this problem of friend-zoning has gotten so out of hand that it has its own entry in the dictionary, what is to be done? I have some suggestions I would like to put in to an ASCII-text e-mail and send back to my 1997 self:

1. The Schedule. There is a great deal of power you have in the schedule. I think one of the reasons I was getting friend-zoned so much was I was leaning too much on girls for time -- hanging out with them too long, talking too much. I should have gone to their dorm rooms to talk, and then left after 20 or 30 minutes. This way, you retain your mystery about yourself, and you don't actually get to the point of needing to be given the "just friends" talk.

2. Less analysis. One of the things college will do to your brain is make it analytical, make you want to talk about all the causes for things that happened in Nazi Germany, and while you're at it, if you have a girl in the room who likes drawing things out of people and getting attention that way, you might as well analyze all your insecurities. No, you shouldn't. This is like expecting to be taken seriously after posing nude.

3. Look out for girls who are leaners. These are attention-hungry girls who don't like you, they just like how they feel when they get attention. They control time, but they don't actually share it even though you're there with them.

That's all I can think of for this blog entry. I kind of wish I had more interesting things to say these days. I also wish the legendary blogger Allie Brosh would come back from depression, but alas, creativity doesn't always happen the way you want it to.