The more I read about getting "friendzoned," the more I see it portrayed as an essentially straight male experience. Come on now, kids.
The Breakfast Club" or "Pretty In Pink" and universally identify with Molly Ringwald?
Please. I'm a natural redhead and I've still never identified with a Molly Ringwald character, not for a single second.
Okay, maybe I get a little Team Molly when her family ignores her in "Sixteen Candles." But in the company of her peers, Molly's always a pretty girl, and at least a mid-level It Girl, and so I, being Not It, tend to see myself much more in the nerds and weirdos orbiting around her.
And indeed, I have been friendzoned. Many, many times. I've been friendzoned by people I got along great with, who loved hanging out with me, who sought me out, who laughed at my jokes and cried on my shoulder but ultimately went off to seek the affections of a totally different type of girl, one who was thinner and prettier and cooler and quieter than me.
It's such a painful experience, a baffling injustice piled on top of rejection. Never does the world of love seem more undemocratic. Sometimes you don't even get to plead your case. And may god have mercy on your soul if you do.
I'm going to attempt to break down the experience of being friendzoned, and hopefully I'll end with a nice Zen lesson that will make everybody feel greater equanimity and higher self-esteem, and then we'll all send love and smiles and well-wishes to the beautiful flawed souls who've kicked our little hearts around along the way.
Zone A: Fixers of Broken Toys
The person you've fallen for likes you but loves -- loves -- the chronically unstable. Maybe they* follow an erratic addict around like a puppy dog and you get to field the scary calls in the middle of the night when he really goes off the rails. Or maybe they fawn over a gorgeous girl who can't manage to take her meds as prescribed. You see what a beautiful, beautiful heart your beloved has in the care and dedication they have for these human disasters, and you just wish they would let you treat them the way they deserve to be treated.
This is a tough position to be in, but try to realize that your pining and counseling is at least on the same spectrum as the enabling behaviors they're caught up in. You might be stuck in the friendzone, but they're in the much worse Codependency Area, which is more than halfway down the road to Abuse Town. They can't fix their people, but you can't fix their desire to fix people either. You can offer moral support, but let the crush go. Search for a love less addicted to the drama.
Zone B: Achievers
Some people used to be fat and ridiculed for it. Some people grew up gay in a bigoted environment. Some people never got attention from their dads. Some people simply felt like losers. And as a result, those people can wind up suspicious of love that's offered freely. The warm and accepting way that you adore them feels cheap. It's too easy. They believe love is a thing they have to fight for, and so only the reticent are worthy of their affections. These people will ignore you and devote time, energy, money, and all other resources to courting the lukewarm and diffident. They're obsessed with winning someone over, so they tend to find their own objects of affection with hearts like Everest to climb. You alone see how simple it could be if they just stopped fighting so hard and let you love them. But, alas, you can't make them see how inherently worthy they are. They have to figure that one out for themselves.
Zone C: Idealists
This is the classic friendzoning scenario, and it usually overlaps with one or both of the syndromes explained above. The person putting you in the friendzone has a very specific idea of the kind of partner they deserve. They want a catch, a real hottie, the human equivalent of a sports car (or a Prius, depending on their milieu) to reflect their worth and their position in the social hierarchy. When you confess your feelings to the Idealist, they often claim they're just not attracted to you, even after you've shared a series of passionate hook-ups that would seem to indicate otherwise.
Man, this one sucks.
Ultimately, the real loser here is compatibility. Many relationships -- heck, even marriages -- fail because people fixate on the brand of partner or spouse they desire and pay little attention to the actual connection. One of the biggest problems with online dating is that it usually operates under the false assumption that we know what we want, that we can rattle off the characteristics and traits we're looking for in a mate. In real life, introverted bookworms who pine after professor types with expensive eyewear might actually fall for foul-mouthed lawyers who love loud dance clubs. It's a weird world, and you have to get to know people in order to let them surprise you.
So let the Idealist seek their Perfect Object. Perhaps they'll be frustrated, or perhaps they'll find a richer, more beautiful, more socially successful version of you. Fuck 'em anyway. One of the most attractive traits in the whole wide world is the ability to walk away from somebody who is ambivalent about you. Simply stop showing up for those consolation prize make-out sessions, and I promise you'll find yourself holding your head up higher.
Now, it shouldn't be hard to recognize that many of us who complain about getting friendzoned are ourselves often guilty of these same mindsets. If you're a software developer who constantly laments being friendzoned by Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, maybe your Idealist tendencies are holding you back from finding genuine connections with the types who grace the pages of Wired. And partnering "up" is truly just as bad as settling. I can't think of anything worse than finding yourself tied to somebody who seems great on paper but who cannot make you feel seen, who does not know your soul.
If you get friendzoned, lick your wounds and walk away. Ultimately we can't dictate how anyone else feels about us. We can't control it, and they can't control it, and the only way to deal with it is to give yourself and the other person some space.
And don't forget to look around your life from time to time to see if there's a Duckie grinning eagerly in the corner. You might be somebody's Molly Ringwald after all.
* I use the singular "they" instead of s/he and I don't care how you feel about that.