The friend zone isn’t real. You can’t jump on the number 18 bus, ride six stops to the friend zone and buy yourself a KFC Zinger meal. The friend zone is a fairytale and KFC has run out of chicken. Welcome to the world, baby. For the benefit of those without Google and my wide-eyed mother, I’ll quickly describe the friend zone.
There are two friends basking in the warm glow of their comfortable friendship. One person develops romantic feelings for the other, but these feelings are not reciprocated. This person now dwells in the “friend zone”. The friend zone becomes a torturous hellscape where they can’t put their genitals near their friend’s mouth. This is considered an unpleasant space to inhabit: one person’s emotional expectations of the relationship have been downwardly revised.
Much has been written about the friend zone and its interplay with gender and sex. Often, it is men complaining about being relegated to the friend zone by a female friend they wanted to bone. Not always and not all men, thank you for shouting from the back. So let’s just sum up those scenarios with a neat tweet and move on:
A truth universally acknowledged: nobody is obligated to have sex with you. Even if you watched a bad Adam Sandler movie with them, listened to them talk about their misplaced crush on Liam Payne or walked their dog while they were in Ibiza. If you don’t know that by now, then please log off the internet-machine forever, take off into the woods and never return.
Let’s leave behind the instances where friend-zoning is related to sex and bruised egos. A truth not universally acknowledged: nobody is obligated to love you. You are a prize princess. You are therefore worthy of love, for now and always. However, you cannot make somebody love you. So what happens when you truly love somebody who doesn’t share your feelings? What do you do when that person is your best friend? What if they’re your boyfriend or girlfriend?
It’s very hard to accept that somebody doesn’t reciprocate your love. It hurts. Oh boy, it really hurts. We can be blinded by our expectations of others and not see the truth right in front of us (see: You’re Lying to Yourself). We will all experience the pain of unreciprocated feelings at some point in our lives.
For too long, I convinced myself that an ex-boyfriend loved me. With the beauty of hindsight, this was absolutely not the case. He told me he loved me, but almost every one of his actions contradicted those words. Every lie, every betrayal, every hurt showed me that this was not love. Not love as I experienced in its true form, where I felt comfortable, valued and respected.
He knew he didn’t love me, but had got in too deep. He was like a double agent in a bad Bond movie and no longer even knew the truth himself. Trying to close the gap in my mind was incredibly painful: the gulf between my love for him and his indifference. But in due course, I’ll tell you how I reconciled that difference and came out smiling. Patience, Monty.
I’ve also told someone I loved them when this wasn’t true. I cared for them deeply, but wasn’t able to love them, no matter how much I wanted to feel those feelings. I said those words because I had utterly convinced myself of their truth, suppressing the quiet internal voice that told me otherwise. Those three words are incredibly powerful and to use them without careful consideration of their consequences is extraordinarily damaging.
I quickly realised my mistake, told them the truth and broke off our dalliance. I reflected on my actions, vowed never to hurt someone in this way again and grew in kindness. We are all capable of wounding and being wounded. It’s human: sometimes you’re holding the knife and sometimes it’s protruding from your back. You can only try to become a kinder, more respectful person and make amends. An apology is incomplete without a change in behaviour. You can’t undo the past, but you can limit the number of times it’s you with the Cluedo weapon in your hand.
[Put the tiny Cluedo dagger down, Cleudo: Waddingtons]
So how do you cope when you’re the one feeling hurt? How to cope when you love someone and they don’t love you back:
- You’re not an idiot, but you will feel like one. You will feel like a fool. You will burn with the hell-fire of shame, humiliation and regret. You will wonder how you could have allowed yourself to fall so hard for somebody who is indifferent to your feelings. Or somebody who shows the same respect towards your feelings as they would towards the last squeeze of toothpaste in the tube.
You will wonder why you didn’t see the signs, why you ignored the truth and how you allowed yourself to end up in this miserable state. Accept these feelings and sit uncomfortably beside them, like being in an enclosed train station waiting-room with another passenger eating a Cornish pasty. It will smell unpleasant, but allow yourself to sniff the remorse, the regret and the anger.
Then, step out of the waiting room and onto the platform where the announcement sign reads: nobody can erase you by not loving you. Your worth has not changed because they don’t love you. Not one bit. If one person couldn’t see the shining light within you, that’s their blindness and they can live the rest of their life with their eyes closed, because it doesn’t affect you. Now get on the train and go to Slough.
- Love is not easily bought. Even if you sacrifice a goat to the gods, it won’t make somebody love you the way you want, need or deserve to be loved. Even if you wear your brightest smile around them and just grit your teeth when they leave the cap off the toothpaste. You cannot control how other people feel, no matter how much you want your best friend to fall in love with you.
You also cannot prevent people from being prize pricks. When I was badly hurt by this fella who treated my feelings with reckless abandon, I used empathy to get myself out of the funk. I imagined being that person. I imagined having to live my life as a prize prick every day, knowing in my quietest moments that’s what I truly was, no matter how hard I tried to convince everyone around me otherwise.
I imagined living with the knowledge I’d deliberately hurt someone who didn’t deserve it. Not only did I then start to forgive, but suddenly I was free. I didn’t have to live as that other person outside of my imagination. With relief, I got to live my life as someone far better, kinder and stronger than that. Me, bitch.
- Protect yourself. If you’re in love with someone who doesn’t share your feelings, you’re going to feel pants about it. Like we just talked about, god, keep up Susan. In a friendship, you need to ask yourself whether you can remain friends with this person. It’s important to remember that they do still love you. They love you as a friend and that isn’t to be dismissed. The value of true friendship is enormous; just because somebody doesn’t want to bear your children, doesn’t mean that they don’t care for you deeply.
However, if you’re feeling sore, then take a break from the friendship for a while. Explain how you feel, why you have to protect yourself and that you’ll be there for them as soon as you are able to manage your feelings. If you’re dating someone who doesn’t reciprocate your feelings, it’s going to take longer for you to acknowledge that fact.
You may be blinded by the positive feedback loop a romantic relationship provides (see: I’m Falling in Love and I’m Scared) or you might be trapped by aggressive behaviour. You need to slowly assess whether they truly love you and if they don’t share your feelings, you need to protect yourself until your heart has healed. Then go to Chicken Cottage until KFC finds more chicken and know that you got this, princess.
Next week will be G4RL’s first collaborative piece! I will be in conversation with a true pal and wonderfully accomplished woman discussing friendship and mental health. As ever, follow G4RL on Twitter (@G4RL_blog or @NikkiS4 and Facebook for all the latest updates and a few wise cracks. See you next Monday!
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