I feel like I already know what you’re going to tell me, but a part of me is hoping I’m wrong.
I’m a 25-year-old female, but I still believe that everybody is a good person underneath it all, so of course it’s been backfiring—with one situation in particular.
I’ve been close friends with a guy (let’s call him Shane) since I was 12 years old. We met in 6th grade and have been friends all through high school and up until after college. Throughout most of this time, I had a boyfriend, and whenever I got out of a relationship, he would tell me he loves me and wants to give us a shot, so I always turned him down. Our relationship was strictly platonic on my end, and I never gave being with him a second thought. I moved out-of-state after college and into an apartment with my current boyfriend, but I always visit home around the holidays and I always make it a point to hang out with Shane. Last year when I was back home, I visited Shane at the bar he works at, and idk why, but there was palpable sexual tension. Palpable. Later that night he came over to my parents house and I made sure a mutual friend Aaron was there because I was sure Shane would make a move on me if we were alone.
Aaron, great friend that he was, ducked out early, leaving me and Shane alone together. We were playing pool, so I made sure to keep the table in between us, but he’d always come up behind me and get a little too close. Knowing I had to get out of the situation, I called it a night. He tried to kiss me when I walked him to the door. A few minutes later I got a text from him saying that we shouldn’t hang out at all for a while and that he always took our “if we’re still single at 30, we’ll get married” promise to heart. He loves me.
About six months ago, I texted him and he didn’t think we could be friends anymore, and my boyfriend agrees. However, I still really think we can be friends. I want to reach out, but I told Shane I’d wait until he was ready to talk again.
Am I being too naive and optimistic? Can we actually be friends? Halp.
The Cockeyed Optimist
Dear Cockeyed Optimist,
I’m afraid you’ve fallen victim to the patriarchy here. Sorry, my friend, but it gets us all. Specifically, we have a “friend zone” believer on our hands.
The “friend zone” is a concept invented by people who think that when you are kind to women, it entitles you to have sex with them. A woman’s friendship is a consolation prize because obviously her body has more value. This attitude is not only toxic, negatively impacting people of every gender, it’s also completely off-base. As you know because you value him as a friend, friendship is one of the most beautiful gifts on this earth. It is life-affirming, grounding, and inspiring. It is not a punishment.
You have told him multiple times that you aren’t romantically interested in him, yet he continues to torture himself by waiting in the wings for you. This is a narrative we are told to find romantic. “Aw, what sweet, unrequited love! Let’s root for this gentle-hearted fellow!” Frankly, I find it immature and unsettling. There is nothing attractive about lurking in the “friend zone” for years, waiting for someone to change their mind about you after they turned you down multiple times. Shoot your shot, and if you miss, the healthy thing is to respect their choice and move on with your life. But no, instead, he waits around and then decides to come onto you despite the fact he knows you are in a serious relationship and have made it clear you do not have feelings for him. Gross. His behavior shows a lack of respect for boundaries that honestly creeps me out. He thinks, “She said ‘no,’ but what she really means is ‘not now.’” No, homie, she said “no.” Anyone who refuses to hear this word is not someone you need in your life. Losing a friend always hurts, but frankly, he has done you a favor by revealing who he really is.
Maybe some space will help him mature and let go of this pointless crush and realize that you owe him nothing for his friendship. Stranger things have happened. But honestly, it doesn’t matter at this point; it is not your problem. Let him go. And if he comes back to you like the proverbial butterfly, you can decide then if he is worth the emotional labor of creating the rigid boundaries you will have to put in place with him. For now, consider yourself lucky to be free of one fewer person with ulterior motives for being your friend.
As far as your optimism goes, I hope you don’t lose it from this experience. Yes, I think not being friends with this guy is for the best, but that doesn’t mean that you have to feel suspect of every guy you befriend. There are plenty of men out there who value friendship and will respect that you don’t see them romantically. But I hope that in the future, you will make note of the people who respect what you have to say, and those who decide to read into your words whatever they choose.