Nobody's more familiar with the friend zone than this guy (*points my thumbs toward myself with great, unprovoked enthusiasm*), so trust me when I say I've been there and I know it sucks.
The first (and worst) time I was ever friendzoned was on my 16th birthday. This horrific event came courtesy of a girl I'd had feelings for for almost 10 years. Her name was Nikki, and she was one of my best friends.
While this may sound like the plot to a John Hughes film, the outcome was far from the typical fare expected of a rom-com.
Probably because the alcohol afforded me the liquid confidence combined with the magic of my birthday, I felt that after 10 years, on my sweet 16th birthday, I would finally tell Nikki how I felt about her.
After a few too many shots, I gathered up whatever courage I possibly could and spilled my heart out to her in what felt like a very passionate monologue.
It went terribly.
As soon as my words were issued, I knew Nikki didn't feel the same way; she looked absolutely crushed.
So instead of having the romantic interaction I'd dreamed of for almost a decade, emotions got the best of us and we shared some strong words, tears and left the discussion clueless as to what our friendship ever meant to each other.
After a long time, our relationship went back to as normal as it could've been, but our friendship was never the same.
It wasn't until I wrote about the event for Elle magazine some odd years ago that we spoke of the situation again. Keen to get her side of things for perspective (but also because my editor had asked me to, if I'm being completely honest), I took Nikki out to coffee to ask some questions.
And sure enough, after speaking with her for just an hour, I was told — quite graphically — how she felt.
“You definitely weren't the only one to leave the party with a broken heart that night,” she told me. “I burst into tears the second I got home. I was beyond confused. I went from feeling so bad for hurting you to guilty for not feeling the same and then angry at you for putting me in that situation.”
I felt like the BIGGEST asshole.
Something I fiercely resent about typical discussions surrounding the friend zone is that it's spoken of so lightly, often issued in a judgmental tone reserved for betas.
Being in the friend zone and being accused of friendzoning is gut-wrenchingly terrible. My own situation almost ruined a 10-year friendship. And in a way, it did.
To ensure this same outcome doesn't befall you, I spoke to Deanna Cobden, dating and relationship coach, on how women should approach this tedious discussion.
To start, Cobden says as soon as you get the vibe a friend of yours has become attracted to you, start dissuading this idea by being subtle:
Talk about who you're dating, do group activities rather than one-on-one, don't get touchy-feely or flirtatious over social media or texts and definitely don't let him do tons of favors for you, helping out with work.
That's step one.
But if this whole thing has gotten to the point where he isn't catching your subtlety, and you just know he wants more, “you have to be open, honest and let him know how you're feeling without assuming how he's feeling,” she says.
Say something like: “I've been thinking about our friendship and I would just like to find out if we're on the same page. Is this a good time to talk?”
If he agrees, tear off the Band-Aid and get right into it.
Say something like: “First off, I want to say I value your friendship and I hope it will continue. I really enjoy spending time together, but I don't see this as a romantic relationship. I think you've been good to me and I thought you deserved to know how I feel because I don't want to hurt you. I just want to make sure we both understand each other. Does that make sense?”
The key in the discussion is to be as compassionate and understanding as possible. Then it's your turn to listen and address his concerns.
The truth is sometimes these relationships are able to move forward. But the chances are, if he has a serious crush, these relationships can expire and friendship might not be possible. Or, it might only be possible after a break and then reconnecting again at some point in the future.
It's going to be a tough discussion neither of you will want to have, but it's the best and only way to address the topic and clear things up.
Men often think they're the only person hurt when the friend zone rears its nasty head, but that's just a guy's way of being selfish because he's hurt/embarrassed/angry this person doesn't feel the same way.
What I took from my own run-in with the friend zone is knowing she isn't vindictively leading the man on. That's never been her intent. She sees the dude as a friend, a friend who just so happens to be male.
If one person catches feelings and the other doesn't, there's a good chance after everything's been addressed, the friendship will be over or never be the same. Unfortunate as it is, it comes with the territory.
The friend zone is no joke, and it's nothing to poke fun at men or women about.
People's feelings on both sides get hurt, and friendships can be destroyed because of it. Make sure when you do finally address it, you do it right.