I am often guilty of writing singularly from the perspective of why the men I write about aren’t worthy of my consideration as potential candidates for romance. This might lead a reader to believe that I have an over-inflated view of my own desirability.
Not so. I have experienced my fair share of rejection. And I would be remiss not to share a bit about that.
So today I present: The FRIEND ZONE— a space I have spent a great deal of time in, particularly in the not-too-recent past.
Online dating is a bit of a buffet-style approach to making connections with people. It is predominantly superficial, can lead to shallow encounters based on little more than physical attraction (or at least, hoping the other person looks as good in pictures as they do in real life), and seems to be geared toward the culture of drive thru immediacy and microwave convenience.
That said, it sure beats the heck out of ardent friending.
One of the things I appreciate about online dating is the lack of nebulosity of purpose. People generally have a pretty clear goal. They want to get to know a stranger in order to:
A) explore the possibility of a romantic relationship, or
B) hook up
When a guy writes to you, he has already made his mind up about the potential for one of those two scenarios. This does not mean that either of those scenarios will happen. Often, he won’t even get a response, much less a date. And even if a response is issued, a conversation is no guarantee of a meeting, just as a meeting is no guarantee of any further interaction. But there is no mystery as to the general direction sought.
Organically-developed relationships, on the other hand, are prone to much less clarity and a far greater degree of signal mixing. Much of this I blame on people either not knowing WHAT they want OR people knowing what they don’t want but also not wanting to suffer through loneliness and thus settling for filling the gap that exists between what they want and what they have by making the most out of what they have.
One of my friends has a philosophy which I appreciate and agree with (to an extent):
“It doesn’t mean anything unless he SAYS it means something.”
While this is a sanity-saving perspective that holds true in general, there comes a point at which ill-defined friendship becomes a poor substitute for the desire for emotional intimacy coupled with the lack of initiative to pursue an actual relationship.
Do I know for sure where that line exists? No. But I have twice in the past three months found myself on the receiving end of excessively ardent pursuits of the platonic. And I call shenanigans.
In one instance, the gentleman ardently pursuing friendship called 3-4 times a week For about a month. Long conversations ensued- Generally an hour minimum. Philosophy. Business pursuits. Dating profiles. Embarrassing moments. Personal growth– Our conversations were wide and varied; but our most frequent topics of discussion focused on relationships. He contested he was not in a place to pursue romantic connections–not enough time- Not enough stability-Not enough options. I had already told him on several occasions that all he had to do was cut our conversation time in half, and that would give him plenty of time to pursue a romantic relationship; but it was a comment in our final conversation which rumpled my spirit the most. He claimed he suffered from a continued lack of options.
Though I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t they type of girl he would pursue, no girl likes to hear that after a significant investment of time, she still does not even figure as an option. When he made that comment, I pressed the point – because it’s a bit ridiculous for someone to invest that much time developing that much consistent communication with someone they had no intention of pursuing beyond platonic friendship. Perhaps I’m just an odd person, but I don’t even spend four hours a week on the phone with my family or my best friends, much less any significant others–and certainly not people who would qualify neither as my closest friends nor as someone I am interested in pursuing the potential of a relationship with. He was shocked when I turned this back on him. “You’re telling me that we have spent hours and hours in consistent conversation, but you’ve never considered me an option?” (Despite seeking my advice regarding dating and preferences and what we are both seeking etc etc etc? — WHY would MY opinions about so many of these topics even MATTER if pursuing a relationship is not even on your radar?? Which it really honestly wasn’t. He wasn’t trying to save face- it genuinely hadn’t occurred to him. He lives several states away. Long distance made me a safe choice for good buddy without needing to consider the inconveniences of obligation and commitment.)
But apparently the desire for genuine human connection for the sake of simple human connection is easy to misinterpret and misrepresent.
The second scenario involved handwritten letters – the kind I would’ve given anything to receive from my ex-boyfriends or ex fiancé–beautifully penned missives that filled my mailbox regularly for the better part of a year.
Letters hold even greater significance than lengthy phone calls because they represent more than time (which is an investment all its own) –-they represent effort and single-minded focus. They require a purpose and a mindfulness that extends beyond the moments when you are in direct contact with someone. You have to think of someone when you aren’t directly engaging in interaction with them in order to write a letter. That thought must then be accompanied by action.
I have a folder full of these letters–thick creamy pages filled with black script.
The ones I sent in reply were far less precise–inconsistent in stationery, ink color, and legibility of the words scrawled in uneven lines across whatever page I happened to have handy. Rabbit trails and musings wandering aimlessly in a variety of directions. These exchanges spanned the expanse between two summits and the valleys that accompanied on either side, so he had heard from me in a variety of context. And, after months of these exchanges, I had lost perspective of the objectivity with which I had begun.
He had initially affirmed that there was no pursuit of anything other than friendship happening; but time has a way of causing things unfocused on to become fuzzy. And quite frankly, I had forgotten.
Besides, regardless of any attempts I made to reiterate to myself that it didn’t MEAN anything to receive these letters, it DID mean something to receive a hand-written message in a mailbox that is wont to contain nothing more than bills, advertisements, or Jamberry. Especially when such messages arrived on a regular basis. And no matter how often one explained to her housemates that it meant nothing, the raised eyebrows and skeptical, “suuuuure, you just keep telling yourself that” began to raise questions and inspire hopes –how could they not?
After all, here were these letters, these beautifully scribed, thoughtful missives that spoke directly to the deep loneliness I was experiencing in a way few other things could have–and in my forgetful foolishness, I allowed my heart to hope that perhaps the man who invested the time to write these extraordinary letters did so because he sought to woo a woman who loved words. I have never had ANY friend pursue friendship quite so… ardently. And my entire collection of correspondence from former relationships was easily outstripped within two weeks of emails and two hand-written letters.
But rather than asking if it meant something, I simply allowed it to.
Addressing a misunderstanding brought me back to the jarring reality that nothing beyond friendship had ever been intended. And in the addressment of this truth, he hastened to assure me that he had never desired for my feelings to get involved or be hurt in all of this.
He was sincerely concerned over my feelings of rejection. Having been there, he understood that it was a lousy feeling–one which he did not want for me to be experiencing on his behalf.
“Please don’t feel rejected. It’s not rejection because I never considered you in the first place.”
Yep. That happened.
I used to hear from guys that they were frustrated by girls reading too much into their actions. I understand that frustration — no guy wants a gal planning a wedding after meeting for coffee or exchanging a few phone calls.
However, after these experiences, in addition to sticking with the understanding that nothing means ANYTHING unless a guy SAYS it means something, I would also like to propose that guys should operate from a viewpoint that if the actions aren’t actions they would consistently pursue with a married woman, they probably shouldn’t do it with a single gal whose feelings they don’t desire to engage.
Gentlemen, if you find yourself engaged in behaviors that I have described above, you should probably recognize a few truths:
1. You are lonely and WANT a relationship
2. You do NOT want a relationship with the girl you are “friending”
3. Her feelings are PROBABLY involved
By continuing to ardently pursue friendship, you are wasting valuable time that both of you could be spending in the pursuit of an actual relationship
Ladies, if you find yourself caught in the quandary of wondering whether or not your friendship is developing into more than friendship, you should probably recognize a few truths:
1. If you need to ask the question about his interest, you probably already know the answer.
2. If he ever, in any way, refers to you as his ‘buddy’, he does not consider you a romantic interest.
3. You get to define your boundaries.
It may be that he treats all single women in the way he is treating you. A wise person recently told me, though you can’t control how he treats all women, you CAN control the behavior you are willing to accept. (If you find yourself caught in an unfulfilling cycle of ardent friendship that requires a far greater investment than you give to your other friends but that refuses to solidify into any actual committed relationship, YOU get to determine if you want to remain in that loop. If you are bored and equally lonely and don’t mind investing in a pseudo relationship because you’ve got nothing better in which to invest your time, by all means, carry on.
But if you ARE looking for a meaningful relationship, step back. Define friendship and more-than-friendship. Set your boundaries for friendship. and stick to them. He probably won’t step over them–the knowledge of which is why so many of us fail to put them up in the first place. Often, we would rather accept a poor substitute for emotional intimacy than nothing. Loneliness leads to many a poor decision.
But here’s the thing: Stepping out of the nebulosity, gives you empty space in which to define what you are truly seeking. It also gives you the ability to SEEK it and the ability to be open to those who desire seek it with YOU.
In the time I could have devoted to continued phone calls and replying to letters, I invested that time into meeting strangers and chatting on the interwebs with people who DID consider me an option.
I met a photographer.
But that’s a story for another post.
THIS post is simply to say that some people may not consider you an option. That’s ok. Oh, it sure doesn’t FEEL ok at first, but it will be–especially if you choose to devote some time to seeking out those who WILL consider you an option ^_-