“You’re the marrying kind,” my guy friend explained. He made it sound like the worst kind of contagion — that if a man got too close, he might catch it and it would fester, grow, and then burst out of his chest.
“I’m not asking anyone to marry me.”
At the time, it was true. At 23, I had been in several long-term relationships. Not once had I proposed marriage or even hinted at my ring size. So how was I oozing commitment?
My pattern was clear: I’d go out on a couple of dates. I’d feel like things were going well. Then, out of the blue I’d get the “I think we are better off being friends” speech. What had happened between the “I love spending time with you,” speech and the “We are better off being friends” speech? I much preferred speech No. 1.
The friend zone sounds friendly enough — as if there are late-night pizza runs and soul-revealing talks while we do our hair and nails. But in reality, it felt more like the rejection zone.
Every time I got the friend-zone speech, I thought I’d never hear from these guys again. And every time, these men kept calling me to hang out. Confused, I tried out these new friendships. Maybe these men were testing the waters to see if I’d be dating material later on. So I hung around. Of course, my life was not a Judd Apatow romantic comedy, and none of my new guy friends ever wanted to date me.
Waiting around in the friend zone became more painful than fun or friendly. I’d listen to them tell me about some girl they’d just gone out with, and I’d pretend that I was fine with it. We were friends, after all. I hadn’t dated these guys long enough to feel justified in getting jealous. We’d only shared a few movies, dinners, maybe a make-out session or two. Still, hanging around made me feel like the backup girl. I felt used.
The next time I heard the classic “I think we should just be friends” speech, I asked a follow-up question: “Why?”
“You’re the kind of girl guys commit to,” he answered. “It wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“But I’m not asking you to commit.”
“I know,” he continued, “It doesn’t matter. That’s just who you are.”
I was frustrated. I began asking other guy friends if this was true. All of them responded with a resounding yes. One even went so far as to tell me that I had an invisible “C” (for commitment) tattooed on my forehead. Where could I get some invisible-tattoo remover?
It made me wonder: What is wrong with these guys? They couldn’t all be right. And that’s when I realized: They were all right.
True, I’d never asked anyone for a commitment. But I did ask for something else: a connection. The guys I’d been choosing weren’t looking for that. After the first couple of dates, I began liking them. I thought that, if they liked me enough, their minds would change about what they wanted. Who doesn’t want to foster a deep connection? I was shocked to find out that some people don’t. These men could sense that I was ready to go deeper, and they weren’t ready to give much more — thus, I was relegated to the friend zone.
It hurt being rejected over and over again, but being in the friend zone wasn’t a bad thing in the end. These men pushed me to look deeper at my feelings at a time when I didn’t understand them.
All these rejections freed up space for me to meet men who did want to connect in the way that I did. Men with whom conversations would deepen quickly and naturally. With these guys, there was a level of caring that my friend-zone men never exhibited. I didn’t have to try so hard with these guys, and I never felt like the backup girl. I felt like me. I was finally dating the right people.
With a true connection, commitment came genuinely, and most times we liked each other enough to give the relationship a go — to follow through on our connection. There was, of course, the one time we decided to follow our connection all the way to the altar. Starting off with a good and honest connection set the foundation for a good and honest commitment.
I’m glad I did my time in the friend zone. It taught me what I truly value in a relationship. True connection doesn’t happen while you’re waiting around in the friend zone. It happens while you’re present in a relationship.