The Friend Zone
It’s one of those seasonal romances, the kind in which you’ve totally forgotten that your partner is there, waiting for you, and then you realize all the time you’ve wasted. You rededicate yourself, knowing that if you’d been more attentive all along, the effort now would be less strenuous, and you resolve to never let it happen again. It’s spring, and suddenly you see the optimism of possibility. You spend late hours together, over lunches and dinners, tea, coffee, or sometimes a glass of red wine or a shot glass full of Bailey’s as you drift past midnight and worry that your brain is buzzing too much with stimuli to sleep. Occasionally glancing at the window, you know it’s late enough at night that some people consider it early morning, and you might just see day beginning to break over the trees in the yard.
Sadly, the situation above is not one of romance, but one of tax frustration. The long hours come before and after a long day at one or more jobs, and the exhaustion level is considerable. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my receipts, categorizing and adding them together, trying to figure out how they all fit into the financial picture that is my state and Federal income taxes. This year, I’m consulting an accountant, and hope this will make the process easier at some point – if not during the birth pangs of this startup reorganization of my finances, then hopefully by next spring.
And it occurred to me that perhaps there is a lesson here for some of us, especially those who tend to read into things a lot.
There are things we do because we want to do them so much that they become a life requirement; these things are intrinsic to our self-identity – if we ceased to do them, we would cease to be the selves we have constructed ourselves to be. Other things we do because we have to do them, but if someone – a parent, the government, society – was not forcing us to do so, under penalty of fees, imprisonment or being grounded – we would not do them. The looming threat of jail or going to bed without supper or being shunned by society is what motivates us to do these things. This is why we do an annual tax review or pay our bills even if we think the cable bill or the rent is too damn high.
But then there’s everything in the middle. We might enjoy doing some of those things, but we don’t make them a priority. If we happen upon them – if we see someone post a funny video on Facebook, or if we note that someone is on GChat and has changed his or her message, we might check it out, but if we didn’t, we wouldn’t feel a void because we wouldn’t know what we were missing. If we really see something in that middle zone that catches our attention, we might change its status – realizing it was something important, either because of obligation to a person or relationship, or because it was something that we realized we wanted to do a lot more of.
During the busy day-to-day of any given year, we can forget about the things that we have to do, and only see what we want to see, and do what we want to do. Around tax time, it becomes all about the obligation – to count the literal level of our own worth and submit a report to our supervisors so we can make sure we are pulling our own weight in this crazy world. But there’s a middle ground full of possibilities, some of which can move and inspire us in the months ahead to achieve a more steady, committed pace – we can send some of those minor attachments up to the majors, making them priorities instead of past-times, and maybe break it to some of the devoted, but limited, pursuits that they’re better suited to minor league play.
Perhaps a bit of attention to the middle, on a more consistent level year round, can help strip the literal or figurative Tax Days of their power to terrify; without a threat looming and forcing us into drastic action, we can identify the ideas and pursuits with staying power and invest our energies and resources accordingly, and hope that our investments enrich our lifestyle in inspiring and energizing ways.
My friend J is funny, smart and sassy, and gets a lot of attention from men. During a recent conversation, I was relating the latest in a string of men whose interest (with a small i) I had mistaken for Interest (the capitalized “Interest” to indicate not just liking someone, but like-liking someone – this is part of the complex language of dating). Then she reminded me of her foolproof way to know if a guy likes her “as more than a friend.”
“You know how to know if a guy likes you? He asks you out.”
This is very simple advice, perhaps brilliantly simple. But I’m not convinced it’s always true. Just like women can be shy around guys they like, couldn’t the same be true for guys? Aren’t there men who need the encouragement in advance, to bolster their confidence that, if they ask, they’re assured a ‘yes’? Or should we assume – a la “He’s Just Not That Into You” – that if he hasn’t asked you out by now, he’s not going to?
I turn this question over to you, the JDA audience, for discussion. Remember: be respectful in the discussion, and generally excellent to one another. Thank you…
My friends and I often find ourselves talking about “the age thing” – this can include men’s propensity to seek out younger women (often excluding women in their own age group), how older women dating younger men are generally frowned on and assigned an animal nickname (welcome to “Cougartown”), how an age difference can either matter or not matter in choosing someone to date, and the degree to which online dating – filtering primarily by age – creates unnecessary and unimportant hurdles in front of someone who could be great.
For instance, this “Vows” couple who almost didn’t make it, because of her list, and because of “the age thing.” They went out twice, had two great dates, and then she called it off – not because she didn’t like him or have fun with him, but because he was nine years older. True, part of that was because she was feeling her youth and her newness in a big city with lots of (perceived potential) – at that point, to her, 26/35 was a huge difference.
Don’t cry for him, though – he became a “serial dater” in the ultimate serial dater city, and along the way, stayed in touch with the lady in question, meeting for drinks and listening to her kvetch about other guys. Eventually, the stars aligned, something shifted, the bride-to-be got older and wiser, and the couple dated, got engaged and got married.
The bride said she could not believe she wasted more than 10 years without him. “I look at him now and he’s the hottest guy on the planet,” she said.
What lesson should we learn from this couple?
That the right guy at the wrong time is the wrong guy?
That attraction sometimes takes 10 years to develop? (For women – if he hadn’t been attracted from the beginning, I don’t think we’d be reading this story…)
That we shouldn’t cling so tightly to our “lists”?
That age ain’t nothin’ but a number? Or that age unfairly assigns a set of stereotypes to a person who may not remotely fit them?
If it’s New Year’s week, and you’re a single woman, and you have a TV, you’re probably watching “When Harry Met Sally” right now. From “BabyFishMouth” to “tell me I’ll never have to be out there again,” you’re equal parts loving and hating yourself as you watch for the 20th time. The film itself has some of the most perfect comedic timing ever seen in movies over the past 20 years, and, since we’ve all grown up on this film and experienced it deeply personally, we can’t help but feel that since Harry and Sally got their perfect wedding to their perfect soulmate, so should we. In short, it built romantic expectations for a generation.
But then we run into the central premise, and debate it ad nauseam with our male and female friends. Can men and women be friends? And is that really what the movie is about? Let’s hear from co-author Nora Ephron. (I read this in the book edition of the screenplay and copied it out to share with you.)
…What “When Harry Met Sally” is really about – not, as i said, whether men and women can be friends, but about how different men and women are. The truth is that men don’t want to be friends with women. Men know they don’t understand women, and they don’t much care. They want women as lovers, as wives, as mothers, but they’re not really interested in them as friends. They have friends. Men are their friends. and they talk to their male friends about sports, and I have no idea what else.
Women, on the other hand, are dying to be friends with men. Women know they don’t understand men, and it bothers them. They think that if only they could be friends with them, they would understand them and, what’s more (and this is their gravest mistake), it would help. Women think if they could just understand men, they could do something.
I’ve been thinking about these words, and Nora Ephron’s wisdom about this topic. What we’re really trying to achieve is not friendship, it’s understanding why they do what they do (presumably to us). It’s only fitting, since I’ve spent decades thinking about whether men and women can be friends, that I try to give this some serious thought. I have some men friends, but the level of friendship isn’t even close – the trust, the reliability, the sympatico…it’s just a miss. And when they’re in relationships, they’re just gone. If the relationships don’t work out, they’re back. And then, when they vanish again, I know there’s someone else.
It’s fine. I mean, I get why it happens. But the fact that I get it doesn’t mean that I think that’s optimal behavior for friends. But of course now, we have a new definition for friends. And so I declare, “we have reached a new era, an era when men and women can be friends. On Facebook.”
If you have thoughts on this issue, please, share with the group.
And whatever you do this New Year’s Eve, keep your expectations reasonable, and find a designated driver. Wishing you all a safe and happy new year.
Everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions. But there’s no reason you can’t come to a realization, say, in the middle of the fifth month of a given year, and a month in advance of your next birthday, and decide, “You know what? I’m tired of doing this. Enough already.”
This is not an announcement of blog retirement. It’s hope that writing this resolution down–even in the abstract rendering below–and swearing it before you all will keep me honest and true to the spirit behind the conviction.
I’m lucky to have wonderful people in my life–my born family and what I like to refer to as my “acquired family.” (If you’re reading this, you might even count yourselves among the members of that group.) I’ve got a lot going on in my life, and a lot of it is pretty damn great by anyone’s standards. That I’m missing a companion is unfortunate, both for me and for him, whoever he is, because I’ve always tried to be that person who goes out of her way for someone, especially if she sees something special in them. In the past, it hasn’t mattered whether that something’s nature is clearly platonic, mildly murky, or holds some sort of perceived potential. Perhaps my kindness has been calculating and manipulative–my version of “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” or something like that–and that’s why it’s never been rewarded.
But here’s where it stops. I’m tired of exerting myself for people, especially men, who don’t appreciate the effort. I’m going to stop. I’m going to stop reading into what isn’t there, and stop trying to create a deeper connection through excessive kindness. Because if there isn’t even a thank you? I’m just engaging in self-delusion, which is a form of unkindness to the one person I’m really destined to spend the rest of my life with–myself.
So that’s it. Maybe less earth-shaking or life-altering to you than it is to me. But it’s an attitude shift that’s been a long time coming. So there it is.