The Gray Zone Between Good Friends and Lovers

All right, so since I don’t really see this talked about a lot, I figured I’d try writing something about it. I want to talk about this “gray zone” that exists somewhere between friendship and romantic interests. And for the record, I don’t mean a “friends with benefits” kind of relationship. I mean a… hmm. Maybe I don’t exactly know what I mean yet. Know what I mean?

So I watched a lot of TV shows and movies as a kid where dating seemed really obvious. Boyfriends, girlfriends, first dates- they all fell into this category of “romantic interest.” There was usually a lot of pursuit, with the pursuer being nervous or shy, easily embarrassed, in that stage of “puppy love,” where the pursued was absolutely flawless. And these people usually knew when they were on dates. They got dressed up, there was a lot of obvious flirting, and usually ended with a kiss. They knew when they were officially going out. And when they broke up, there was usually a lot of crying, moping around, and then they magically found someone else to replace the previous romantic interest.

And I guess to an extent, that works out for some people. You know, the ones with the perfect smiles, that post pictures of themselves doing everything together on Facebook, the ones that drift in and out of relationships every few months with minor problems. You know, traditional dating. The kind of thing you were expected to be able to do in the real world.

But… I don’t know. Traditional dating still happens, but for a lot of us we end up in these situations where we aren’t really sure what’s going on. And it can be mutual or one-sided.

And really, really confusing.

Let’s say you get to be good friends with someone from school or work. At those kinds of places, you’ll probably end up getting to know a bunch of people, maybe even hang out with some of them from time to time. But maybe this one person is a little extra special. You’ll text or call each other a little more often than other friends. You’ll both have these moments when the two of you just click really well. Like maybe you’ll find out the two of you went through some similar incident that really affected both your lives. Maybe you’ll learn that the two of you struggle with the same areas of life. It’ll probably be something that will make you say “Hey, this person’s pretty important to me.”

And at some point one of you is going to form feelings for the other. And it’s going to suck. Because on the one hand, you’ve met some amazing guy or girl that you really get along with. Someone that really gets you, and you get them, and you both want to spend a lot of time with each other. And if you’re lucky, you probably already have a lot in common, too. But on the other hand, this person’s become a really good friend. A friend you don’t want to lose. And that’s going to make it very difficult to tell them how you feel.

You might just risk it and tell the person outright. You might just want to get it out of the way and start on the road to getting over him or her if they reject you, so you can go back to being awesome friends. If that person feels the same way, then great! But if you’re reading this, then chances are things didn’t go that way. The other person probably told you they didn’t see you that way, or they weren’t looking for someone right now, or something else that crushed your heart. And maybe after that, you two stopped being friends. After all, it can get really awkward for both parties after a confession like that. But if you’re reading this, then chances are you’re still talking or hanging out. And if this person is really as good of a friend as you say they are, then they shouldn’t just drop a friendship like that. You guys should still be friends.

But… things still don’t add up. This person rejected you, but the two of you still go out of your way to talk or see each other more often than your other friends. And I mean, if you’re good friends, I guess that’s to be expected. Maybe the other person just assumed you got over them and there’s nothing weird between the two of you. But you still have these moments with each other that make you feel more connected with him or her than any other person you know. Maybe the two of you still tell each other personal, intimate things that neither of you would normally share with most people. Maybe you guys will playfully flirt with each other, and you’ll wonder why if he or she wasn’t interested in you. It can even be something as simple as letting your shoulders or legs touch when sitting next to each other. People are so quick to apologize and put more physical distance between each other if they accidentally touch, so why would the two of you not only be fine with it, but continue to let it happen?

I guess one of the first things that come to mind may be that one of you is using the other, or leading the other on. That’s always a possibility. Admitting feelings for someone leaves you in a vulnerable position, one that can easily be manipulated. And maybe that’s happening to you. Maybe it’s happening, but the other person doesn’t know that he or she is doing it. That can happen, as well.

But maybe some time has passed since you’ve confessed. Maybe you’ve grown closer, or maybe it seems like the other person may be into you. Maybe you want to revisit the idea again. Except you don’t, because you feel like you already avoided losing an important friend once.

But the thing is… eventually this other person will probably start dating someone. What do you do then?

There’s probably going to be some awkwardness between the two of you. Those intimate moments will probably be toned down. You may not talk or hang out as often. Their new boyfriend or girlfriend probably isn’t going to like you. You’re a threat to the relationship, and you can’t understand why because clearly you weren’t good enough to gain the love of that certain someone but they were. They’re not going to like you hanging out with your special friend. And your friend might be convinced to distance themselves from you altogether.

Either way, there’s probably going to be some distance. You’re going to be frustrated. You’re going to want to be happy for your friend’s new love life, as any good friend would want to be. But you wanted to be that love life, and your feelings matter too. And since we’re talking about romantic feelings here… no matter how much you want to be happy for your friend, your feelings are going to matter more.

And honestly, you might even be mad. After all, a lot of what you two did was a little more than just good friends. Maybe it wasn’t exactly romantic, but… it was a little more than just good friends. And you both knew it.

Or you think you both knew it. But if the other person is acting strange with you after starting to date someone else… then yeah, you probably both knew it.

Or not. I don’t think many people talk about it. They usually just let it go and move on. Or try to move on. And it will still hurt every time you meet someone new because you remember the other times you’ve been in the gray zone. You’ll be thinking about the mistakes you either have made or think you’ve made and how to avoid a similar situation. But people that find themselves in the gray zone tend to find themselves there time and time again. Maybe it’s because these halfway romances form between friends. If you just ask someone out, someone you just met at a party or a blind date or something like that, then you know their role in your life. It’s a date. It’s not a friend. That’s traditional dating. But… sigh. I don’t know. Traditional dating just seems so business-like that way. I mean, how do you know if you really like someone unless you get to know them over a certain length of time?

Problem is… well, you get to be good friends. A good friend that you like. I don’t know. Maybe traditional dating might work out better, but…

Sigh. The gray zone, man. It’s fucking balls.

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