Dissecting The Friend Zone
What it really means to be caught in the intricate web of “just friends”…
Friend (noun): a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.
Before I begin, I just want to make clear that although I do tend to veer towards speaking through my own personal experiences, the topics and concepts I write about are absolutely applicable to anyone, irrespective of sexual orientation/gender/preference. Point being: as long as you’re human, you can relate (or not, that’s cool too).
For those unfamiliar with the term, the “friend zone” refers to the nebulous intersection between a platonic friendship and a romantic relationship.
A friend, as mentioned in the definition above, is characterized as someone whom we connect with outside of our family and without the experience of a sexual liaison.
But too often, we find ourselves involved in a circumstance that operates under the guise of friendship, yet looks nothing like actual friends. One (or both) parties want more than just a platonic interaction, although there’s always one who is more reluctant to be involved in a committed relationship with the other.
And so begins our entrance into the murky, confusing and obscure grey area known as the friend zone.
Now there are several reasons we might find ourselves stuck in the friend zone. Irrespective of the intention, most of it boils down to neediness — needing to convince someone of our worth, or needing to feel needed. That said, neediness can shows up in a variety of different avenues.
1. Lack of Self-Esteem
Some of us develop feelings for someone but are far too rife with insecurities to acknowledge that the attraction isn’t mutual. So we become friends in an effort (whether conscious or subconscious) to convince the other person that they should want to be in a relationship with us.
In order to avoid rejection, and in some effort to validate a deep-rooted belief of not being good enough, we spend our time striving for attention and affection from our “friend”. We go out of our way to meet their needs and avail ourselves at their beckon call. And yet our needs aren’t being met, which only breeds more neediness and desperation.
Some of us even believe that this is real love. But since when did love look like being a footnote in someone else’s story? And when did it represent settling for scraps and swallowing our hunger for more?
2. Need for Safety
It’s much safer to claim that we have feelings for someone we can never have than it is to be vulnerable with someone who’s ready and available.
When we’re in the friend zone, we get to live in the illusion that the only reason we’re not actually in a relationship is that it risks ruining the friendship if things progress too quickly.
So we become embedded in a cycle of ceaseless striving for their love, while simultaneously using this progression as an excuse for why we deny others a chance.
Oftentimes, the person who does not want a romantic relationship keeps their friend around for the safety and comfort of their emotional support. They have someone who prioritizes them whenever it’s needed, and yet they have no responsibility to address why that is because they’re “just friends”.
Assuming that a relationship with our “friend” is just outside of our grasp, isn’t it easier to continue trying, than it is to admit that they were never ours to hold in the first place? And isn’t it far too convenient for us to blame them for stealing our heart, instead of admitting they’re just not that into us and moving on to someone else who is?
3. Boundary Issues
Having healthy boundaries implies having a solid sense of self, and being able to communicate to others what is and what is not acceptable for us.
Boundaries aren’t meant to be divisive by nature. They’re not walls we hide behind, but rather fences that ensure our privacy while separating us from our neighbors.
Lacking boundaries happens when we identify as victims and blame others for our feelings, or when we get our fix from being saviors and assuming responsibility for others’ feelings. To put it simply, we don’t know where we end and where others begin. We take on problems that aren’t ours or hand over the ones that are.
And in either case, we don’t deal with our own shit and we surround ourselves with people who do the same. Neither party is being authentic and vulnerable with their wants and needs. And neither side is being honest with themselves.
So blurring the lines of friendship with attraction and limerance is a natural consequence of having boundary issues. Whether we’re the ones who keep our friends wanting more from us, or we develop feelings for our friends while expecting more from them. We must take heed of the fact that neither of these situations represents an authentic friendship.
The good news? We don’t have to stay in the friend zone forever. The bad news? There is a way out, but it starts from within — and it takes a lot of work.
We can’t win the best friend of the year award and then be upset that we’re only seen as a friend. The flip side of this situation is that if our friend would hook up with us given the chance, then perhaps their intentions aren’t platonic.
I’ve been on both sides of the friend zone, as both the person wanting more and the person wanting to be just friends (but with the subtle benefit of knowing they kind of secretly adored me). At the time, of course, I was convinced that all needs on both sides were being met and that everything was fine.
Ironically, all I really needed was to be alone. And in the end, that was entirely the outcome.
So how do we break the cycle?
We re-prioritize friendship, and we get really clear on our intentions. Are we being kind because we truly seek to be friends, or do we want more? (Remember, being friends and being friendly are two very different things.)
We get honest with ourselves and with others. If we want more, we own it. We talk about it. And we recognize that when our needs aren’t being met, we must gracefully bow out and walk away.
And we admit that if someone has unrequited feelings for us, being super friendly with them won’t absolve us of responsibility — this is still a form of leading them on.
It’s about getting clear on our boundaries and realizing an authentic friendship inherently implies that both people are on equal footing.
This article was originally published on Medium.