By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Welcome back to the space where I tell you what’s what and you disagree with me loudly in the comments section. I love the smell of arguments in the morning.
I’ve been in love with “Karishma” from the time I met her two years ago. Then, she had a boyfriend, but he didn’t treat her well and she kept coming to me and telling me about her problems. I was there for her throughout. She’s finally broken up with him, and I thought this would be a good time for me to make my move. However, she says she sees me as “just a friend.” I can’t help feeling hurt that all those months I was her shoulder to cry on has been a waste, and also a little angry that she led me on. She told me I was her best friend and someone she could always talk to! Why does she keep picking these losers over me? Am I justified in being angry at being friendzoned?
Short answer: no. You don’t have a right to be angry because someone chooses to not reciprocate your romantic feelings.
That being said, sometimes we get angry even though we have no justification for it. Feelings! They can’t be helped! So I’m going to break down for you why the word “friend zone” is problematic and maybe once you listen to the reasoning, you’ll be better able to accept that your love story with Karishma may not be meant to be.
We’ve all been there, I think. You have friends of the opposite sex, you enjoy hanging out with them, you tell them all your secrets. If you’re both heterosexual, sometimes there’s a little frisson of sexual tension which keeps things interesting. Sometimes there isn’t. But there’s a certain joy that comes with having a good friend of a different gender than yours—theirs is an opposing point of view, they’re just different to you, and that makes your friendship with them rich and deep, in a varied way from your friendships with your same gender pals. However sometimes if you’re both single or in an “it’s complicated” sometimes your friend will want to jump over the boundaries of platonic friendship and become something more. If this works out, fantastic. There’s no couple stronger than the couple who were friends first, partners later. But more often than not, you’re in another place and then you’re confronted with all these feelings: guilt, for not being a better friend and like-liking this person who is so important to you; anger, because why are they changing the dynamics of your pre-existing arrangement?; and sorrow, because you know things aren’t going to be the same anymore. I’ve even been the one stammering out my love feelings to a guy friend on more than one occasion, on more than one occasion I’ve been rejected, and a friendship has turned awkward.
But when the guys I knew sometimes declared their feelings for me, I got the sense that they were almost angry with me for… I’m not sure what. Wasting their time? I didn’t see our friendship as an elaborate courting ritual, I thought it was just that: a friendship. But by tossing around words like “friend zone,” they made me think my companionship wasn’t a thing of value here. It had all been leading up to some romantic and/or sexual relationship and if it didn’t, our friendship was totally useless, like a leaky balloon.
Do you see why this hurt my feelings or would hurt the feelings of Karishma? Karishma was confiding to you as her friend about the things that bothered her about her relationship. She probably trusted you a lot in order to tell you those things that many would call disloyal. And in the end, you saw it as worth nothing if it didn’t mean that the two of you would get together. You call it “leading you on” but it was a friendship, not meant to dangle you at the other end. By being angry and resentful about it, you’re thinking that Karishma-the-person, Karishma-the-friend is not as valuable as Karishma-the-girlfriend.
Friend-zoned is not a thing, dear R. You were pals with someone, who you happened to develop romantic feelings for. That’s all on you. Karishma is just sticking with the original wording of your contract. Get over it and move on.
And the next time, value your friendships for what they are, rather than what they could be.