I have an ego.
Understand, we all do. If we didn’t, we would be able to handle life’s countless rejections with the aplomb of a Buddhist monk instead of nursing the bruise on our ass after falling from our pedestals.
My pedestal had been set exceptionally high.
All my life, I was adored by my parents, teachers, and authority figures. I was bright and well-behaved. I excelled at everything. Growing up, I nabbed most of the honors at my year-end academic awards ceremonies. Kids in my class used to copy my art projects (“Imitation is a form of flattery,” my mom would told me when I complained about it). In high-school, I graduated at the top of my class and won a full scholarship to college. After four years, I graduated with a perfect 4.0 and was awarded a free graduate assistantship with the English department to work for my Master’s.
If these achievements portended anything about my love life, then I should be a doting housewife with a white, picket fence and apple pie cooling on the windowsill by now.
Quite the opposite, I’m afraid.
I wouldn’t say I’m a tomboy, but I don’t relate to the traditional, cookie-cutter “female” that plasters today’s magazine covers. I work out religiously, capable of out-lifting and out-performing lots of males. I’ve embraced this lifestyle, and it has always been something I could effortlessly bond over with men—who were tickled, I’m sure, that a chick was familiar with the kind of cleaning that doesn’t involve Windex, let alone enjoy it.
I named my car, a silver, four-door sedan that doesn’t even have automatic locks, Optimus Prime. I own more shirts with Marvel characters than I do dresses. I think UGG boots are ugly. My drink of choice is Guinness on tap. The Notebook is a dumb fucking movie.
I should be a boy’s wet dream. But for reasons that escape me, I’m not.
Every man in my life was an almost-lover. Most of them started off as friends, though there always reached a point when the line between friendship and “more” blurred. My almost-lovers, in need of a listening ear, talked to me about their troubles. Round-the-clock texting abounded. Physical intimacy was sometimes involved.
And time after time, I latched on, ready, at the drop of a hat, to become whoever my almost-lover needed me to be—“bro,” friend, lifting partner, lover.
I reveled in the fantasies these experiences caused—fed, of course, by the rom com schema in which two quintessential “friends” (though one or both might not be aware of it) realize they’re in love and wind up obtaining their Hollywood ever after. My unorthodox friendships, which I could never fully make sense of, could suddenly fall into neatly packaged recipes for happiness precisely because they were unorthodox.
It armed me with ridiculous, unchecked hope.
As a result, there always came the inevitable point-of-no-return when I opened my mouth, laid my feelings on the line, and waited, confidently, for the response. How could he not want me? I always though. I’m the best there is.
“I like you, but…”
I like you, fucking but.
After the awful, little conjunction, every goddamn time, came one of many bullshit clauses, intended to bring me down gently, placating my almost-lover’s conscience. I’ve heard them all: “I don’t want to ruin our friendship.” “I’m not in a place to be with anyone right now.” “I value you too much.”
And time after time, “I like you, but” has left me confused, broken.
But the effects were never immediate. The phrase always worked some strange voodoo magic that tricked my mind into accepting its logic. But then, once the situation had passed and I replayed the conversation in my head, the logic began to fade, gradually collapsing into itself, and I struggled to find the answer and the closure it carried.
I wish I could say I’ve learned my lesson, but “I like you, but” has fooled me every time, leaving me to suffer, out of sight, out of my mind. From the boy’s perspective, nothing was wrong; he had let me down easy, ending things before they could formally begin. And I could still be counted on as the friend he needed.
This has become the familiar crossroads: to continue on, resisting the fantasy and ignoring the hurt, or to be selfish, severing the ties of a perfectly good friendship because, well, that just wasn’t fucking good enough for me.
While the “friend zone” is often used to describe all the men who want more from their female friends, I’m not sure much has been said about the countless women who find themselves occupying this soul-sucking, hellish place where egos go to die—all in the quiet of the woman’s mind, as she kicks herself, defeated, because her surety and her bravery amounted to little more than a Hail Mary pass to a ghost.
Whether to move on or continue to occupy this purgatorial place is each woman’s personal choice.
But know that, to linger, means you will question every other woman that your “friend” finds himself fancying, whether to date or to fuck. You’ll wonder why he wants the vanilla cookie-cutter on the magazine. Your ego will cry out again and again that you are, and will be, better than anyone who slinks his way. And you will grin and bear it when he texts you about her for your opinion because, well, that’s what friends are for, right?
When you’re not like every other girl, you don’t get treated like every other girl. And for that reason, you will continue to fall.