This is the first part in a series.
We are, culturally, well acquainted with the friend zone (or friendzone, a term reaching back at least as far as 1994). The concept is rather simple: to be put in the friend zone is to be removed from the possibility of a romantic relationship. It is, fundamentally, a term with negative connotations.
It is this last bit that I find most interesting. The exclusivity of romantic relationships (whether the narrow exclusivity of marriage or the wide exclusivity of attraction) means that a majority of people will be, in some way, relegated to the friend zone. For most pairings the friend zone is mutual and unmentioned; neither party is romantically attracted to the other and so no one feels the friend zone is an uncomfortable place (it is, at that point, hardly even a zone). For another chunk of possible pairings there is mutual attraction and interest and the friend zone is left uninhabited.
The third group interests us today: those pairings wherein one member is attracted and interested in the other, who in turn is either not attracted or not interested — or both. These relationships exist for a variety of reasons; one party may already be in a relationship, or have a vocation to something other than marriage; someone may be unready or unable to enter into a serious relationship; there may be a flat out lack of attraction. And thus, the friend zone.
“Let’s (just) be friends.” This statement is, understandably, upsetting, but also tends to be considered a bad thing. (Let us presume that it is not used simply as a brush off, rejecting the person entirely.) If it is honest, this statement is asking the other person to enter into one of the most powerful relationships possible to man, a relationship open to all people no matter their vocation or state in life. I placed the ‘just’ in parenthesis not simply because it is not in every formulation, but because it’s presence is the most negative thing we have done to friendship in a long time. ‘Just’ friends? Ask Aelred of Rievaulx about being ‘just’ friends.
Friendship has been suffering in our culture for some time, but most clearly of late. We have 500 friends but no one to talk to. The moment we talk one on one with someone, it has romantic overtones (whether farcical or not); we want to marry our best friends and thus preclude the possibility of a best friend who is not a lover. We’ve decided a true friend is not the person who helps us be who we really are but the one who makes sure our self-destruction is as fun as possible.
I intend to look at these three errors of friendship (and maybe more) over a few more posts. Friendship is wounded and we are too interested in chasing romance, hiding, or imploding to sense it. Let us be attentive, and maybe we can have real friends, no ‘just’ about it.
“Faithful friends are beyond price,
no amount can balance their worth.”