It was the perfect first date. But I waited too long, and then I got…hugged.
This was Noah Ashby’s plight in the Netflix original movie When We First Met. Noah first met Avery at a Halloween party and almost instantly liked her. But he wasn’t in a hurry to express his feelings for her as he was savouring their friendship. While he waited, Avery got engaged to Ethan, and Noah ended up hurt, dejected and lost as he realised he had been ‘friendzoned’. This reel life scene between Noah and Avery is very much what most people go through at least once in their lifetime. These situations have existed for ages, but it is only now in the 21st century when life has become more complex, and relationships more complicated and layered, that we are labelling it as the ‘friendzone’.
Friendzone, according to the Urban Dictionary, is that metaphorical arena people end up in when someone they are interested in only wants to be friends. The complexity of the situation is that it’s difficult being ‘just friends’ with the one who gives you sleepless nights, frequent goosebumps and sets your heart on fire. It leaves you in a dilemma whether to accept the truth and continue as friends or sever all ties and simply move on.
Little wonder then that some call it a ‘dark’ zone. Filled with suffering and anxiety, we become the hamster-running-on-a-wheel that never ceases to stop. Experts often label it a ‘negative space’ that makes relationships extremely difficult. “It all essentially boils down to a situation where two people are not necessarily looking for the same thing. Today, there is more visibility and freedom to choose partners and that has changed the way people date,” says Nisha Menzies Rao, an academic and adolescence counsellor.
Take the case of Priya Saha, a Bangalore-based nurse working in a private hospital who got friendzoned when she was studying medicine. “Unlike other girls, I was bold enough to ask a guy out. He showed all the care and affection but never really considered me his girlfriend. He told me, first let’s become good friends, get to know each other well, and then we can be a couple—but that never happened. He kept me hanging.” Then there was Aditi C, a 16-year-old, who was quite infatuated with a senior from school but never really told him so. They became very good friends after he passed out and they remain so till date.
Sometimes though, accepting the friendzoning can lead to awkward situations, especially when there’s a romantic involvement with a third party. Like in the case of Amit Dixit and Garima Prakash. Amit was deeply in love with Garima, but she made it very clear that she was betrothed to someone else and couldn’t reciprocate the same feelings for Amit. However, she wanted to remain friends with Amit and he obliged, only to be close to Garima. But, she put him in an awkward position every time her fiancé asked her out on a date and she insisted that Amit tag around.
So, what should you do when you find yourself stuck in the so-called friendzone? Should you react like Orlando in the Virginia Woolfe-sque manner and shower insults at womankind: Faithless, mutable, fickle, he called her; devil, adulteress, deceiver? Or as new-age author Belle Aurora says should you just walk away from what you want in order to find what you deserve? “The friendzoned people need to draw boundaries and become more self-aware. They need to be practical and assertive and stop pleasing the other person in the hope of a ‘yes’ one day. Spend some time apart, do things that are just for you, go out with friends, make new friends,” says Nisha. But, the most practical advice perhaps comes from American actress and singer, Emma Roberts. She says: “I think once you’re in the friendzone, I’m not sure how you get out. Well, actually, I do know how you get out. You act like the friend back. That’s how you get out.”
Besides, not all is really ‘negative’ in the friendzone. “It can be a moment of learning and growing,” says a mature Aditi. The experience is necessary to understand how to set boundaries, when to back off and how to move on, she says. No textbook or parental guidance can really prepare you for these life situations, even though Nisha says: “Parents should teach their children about rejections and facing hardships in life.”
Rejection always stings, no matter at what point in life. One can never be prepared enough for it. But, in the case of friendzoning, it is not just the person getting friendzoned that suffers. Often, the individual saying “no” endures the same pain, sometimes more than the one at the receiving end. After all, losing someone who is a good friend could be more difficult than losing the chance of having a relationship. Hence, it requires delicate handling and a lot of patience, understanding, and maturity. Then, it is not impossible between two mature individuals to accept the friendzoning, move on in their respective lives, yet stay connected. Sometimes that connection can be in the form of a physical presence and, at other times, as emotional support.
Friendzone may be one of the most dreaded things in the dating world. To some, it may be the end of the world, while to others, a fresh beginning. All it requires then is a little change in perspective to bring down the walls of this proverbial zone. This shift can transform the discontent into contentment if one can cherish the friend one has found in the process.
*A few names have been changed