A few years ago, I began a relationship with a girl who seemed interested in dating me, but asked if we could be friends. Initially, I felt devastated, wondering how I could’ve believed that she found me attractive when she only wanted a friendship. Like most guys, my thinking around romance was black and white; she either liked me or didn’t, with no between.
With respect to dating in general, a lot of us make similar mistakes that bar us from deepening our relationships. For me, my mistake comprised a belief that I was either admired or placed in the ‘friend zone’. Therefore, I almost lost my chance to become more than a friend to someone whom I was really attracted to. Some of the male clients I see get stuck in this same thinking pattern, failing to realize that friendship is a necessary intermediate stage between being strangers and lovers.
So, I came to my senses when a friend of mine told me to relax because the aforementioned girl was, simultaneously, attracted to me and wanted to be my friend. In her mind, she wanted to slowly develop our relationship, since she didn’t know me and couldn’t be sure of my intentions. Because most of us are afraid of being ‘friend zoned’, we have a tendency to overreact when we find ourselves in it. This can be traced to Hollywood teaching us that a monogamous friendship, in which a male is interested in pursuing a female, is emasculating. But, without it, what’s left is pathology.
Obsessive relationships are formed when we try to bypass the tier of friendship in order to resolve our own sense of inadequacy, essentially using someone else to buttress our egos. The person struggling with self-worth struggles to accept a friendship because he either believes that it won’t develop into a romance or can’t tolerate its uncertainty. Unfortunately, that makes it easy to push someone away before they can truly know you.
On the opposite end, in regard to women who struggle with self-worth, they shut themselves off from developing friendships because of the emotional pain that ensues from their belief that someone whom they’re attracted to can never reciprocate. Thus, if a good-looking, friendly guy approaches a girl he likes, she may shut down thinking that their encounter could only lead to rejection. Instead of being open to the possibility of making a friend, she leads the man to believe that she’s disinterested in knowing him. So, he moves on.
As always, our toxic beliefs and predictions preclude us from taking important interpersonal risks. And, my question is: What’s wrong with being friends?
For the women who struggle with self-worth: since socialization teaches men that it’s their duty to approach (this is still mostly true), all you really have to do is remain friendly and engaged; you, usually, can’t go wrong with being nice to someone you like. Since it’s on him to initiate and deepen the relationship, all you have to do is just meet him where he is. And, if you already believe that there’s no way he can be interested, then it shouldn’t be difficult to put yourself out there. You’re just making a new friend, and could, in the end, become pleasantly surprised.
Additionally, because many guys are only interested in sex, some women consciously decide to erect barriers as a means of testing one’s interest. The idea is: If he’s interested in me and not just in my body, he’ll try harder. What appears as a solid plan can easily backfire, especially since most men don’t posses the self-esteem needed to tolerate the initial rejection and continue to pursue the person who said no to them. So, the high-level narcissists are the only ones who tend to get in, as their minds can’t accept that someone would be disinterested in dating them. A seemingly well thought out test can easily transform into a nightmare.
For the men who struggle with self-esteem: accept the friend-zone as a natural step in a lengthy process. You also can’t go wrong with being nice to someone whom you’re attracted to. If you’re stuck in the friend-zone, you have the options to continue your friendship or to simply end it. But, you shouldn’t try to bypass it altogether. And, you don’t have to take it personally, at least not in the short-term.
Our characters are who we are, and from the perspective of growth, our focus ought to be directed toward becoming the people we wish to be. They can make our lives meaningful or, conversely, ruin us. And, maturity indicates a tolerance of uncertainty, wherein we can still feel good about ourselves regardless of outcome. That is one of the pillars of a life well-lived, and, sometimes, requires the foundation of therapy. The ancient stoic philosophers noted that one could be content in knowing that they continually tried to be a good person. And, I would argue, one can’t go wrong in simply being nice to others. Whether you’re bitter or kind, sometimes, others just won’t be attracted to you; but, you always have the ability to control who you are, thereby increasing your chances of forming an intimate bond with someone you like. The choice, as always, is yours.