How do I get out of the friend zone, but, like, in the opposite direction that most people are interested in? How do I stop having a crush without going nuclear (especially in a situation where “going nuclear” would seem to imply finding a different job or asking to be scheduled every shift my crush does not have, which seems fairly extreme)?
Okay, so, I work with a girl and am recovering from a serious case of Oneitis regarding her: Great person. Good friend. Positively loves hanging out with me outside of work. Most of the time, I love hanging out with her too. However, no matter how much I tell myself we aren’t going to work as a couple, I’m apparently not quite prepared to see her with anyone else. She brought a date to our coworkers’ wedding recently, and seemed to be way closer than anticipated with her childhood friend who was allegedly her date mainly to keep her ex from creeping on her. I mean, there were kisses on the lips and hands on the butt between these two, which, in a perfect world, I would accept have nothing to do with me, but which were very painful to watch in the moment.
I mean, barring something drastic like finding a new job, I still have to work with this person, and I do honestly want to be her friend, not one of the many guys out there who “accepts” a woman’s offer of friendship while still pretending there’s a chance they’ll bone if they just solve a certain riddle correctly or whatever, but I don’t quite know how to do that, other than the supremely unpleasant experience of giving it time and hanging out with my crush as she dates people other than me until that pain eventually dies down. Is there a less painful way to go about this, in your experience?
So, what’s the least bad approach to trying to find an honest-to-God friendship where a self destructive crush used to live?
The Friend Zone is Never as Bad as When You Actually Want to be Friends
It’s good that you want to genuinely be friends, TFZNB, but I’m not gonna lie: you’re basically going to have to either find some separation or deal with the issue of seeing her with someone else.
The key to getting over a crush – or handling any inconvenient emotions, for that matter – is that the last thing you want to do is try to force yourself to not feel something. Trying to force an emotion like limerence into a teeny little box and pretend it doesn’t exist doesn’t work. All you’ve done is shoved everything into a can marked “contents under pressure” and poked a teeny hole in it. At some point those feelings are going to make themselves known, messily and all over the place.
At the same time, you don’t want to try to, say, force yourself to notice her flaws or convince yourself that she ain’t shit. Not only does that not work unless you already hold her in contempt, but the opposite of a crush isn’t disgust, it’s indifference. All trying to convince yourself that she’s not worth it does is make you angry and upset. So forget that angle too.
Part of the way you handle it without pretending it doesn’t exist or without drowning yourself in the pathos of “WHHHYYYYY WON’T SHE LOVE MEEEEEEEE” is to just… accept it. When you feel those feels come bubbling up, note them, name them and then let them be. Just tell yourself something along the lines of “Welp, there’s my annoying crush on ol Wotzsername (Of the Connecticut Wotzernames)” and then go about your business. “Yup, guess I’m still feeling a bit jealous. Oh well.”
Don’t try to distract yourself, don’t try to pretend it’s not there. Just note it, name it and move on. You’d be amazed at how quickly this can dispel the all-attention-demanding power of a crush… or the pain that comes with unrequited love.
But the other thing you’re going to need is a little distance, for your own emotional self-protection. It’s good that you legitimately want to be friends with her and wish her all the best, but that doesn’t also mean that you need to have “the best” all up in your eyeballs every day. Watching her make out with her new beau – or anyone, really – in the name of “well I have to get over her” is just emotional self-flagellation for no good reason. Now unless she’s bringing her date to work with her, you should be OK. But it may well be worth your time to mute her on social media for a while if she’s in the “schmoopy” stage while you take the time to get over her. You don’t have to completely unfriend her, but making sure that you aren’t having pictures of her sucking face with someone being streamed into your timeline is a good thing. And if circumstances arise that you do have to spend time with her and her squeeze? It’s ok to find reasons to be looking elsewhere (or be elsewhere) if they happen to get affectionate. Hey, look the game’s on that TV on the other side of the room. Hey, what’s going on on Twitter why look #submarining1 is trending I wonder what that’s about.
But whether it’s just your feels in general or being around her in particular… don’t make a production about it. Note it, name it, and just carry on as normal.
And one more thing to keep in mind: date. Seriously. I know there’s a lot of “get over someone by getting under someone else” out there and there is some value to that… but it has far more to do with realizing that there are other women out there who are just as amazing than just “well, I’m going to plow my feelings into plowing someone else.” The more you can get into the abundance mindset, the easier it is to take the sting out of knowing that your crush – your fleeting, ephemeral crush – isn’t returned.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I have a question about approach anxiety. I have read most of what you write about it but it hasn’t really sunk in I guess. You normally talk about people’s major fear being publicly rejected or having people laugh at them but that doesn’t really apply to me. I have had both of those happen and moved past being afraid of those really since like you said it’s really rare that people are out to humiliate you. I recently though have found that people (not just women) I talk to are finding me extremely forgettable. In a lot of situations when I meet someone and talk to them for a while, by later that day or the next day they won’t even remember ever talking or ever seeing me before.
This has hurt my confidence a lot more than being laughed at since these are normally pretty kind people who aren’t doing this in any malice. I can shake off being laughed at as someone being a jerk but this speaks a lot more to me just not being someone worth remembering. I have seen some of the things you wrote about being more interesting but being in grad school I don’t get out as much as I would like. I do have outside hobbies but I struggle just to maintain those. Now, every time I see someone I might want to talk to I immediately think what’s the point if they won’t remember me 30 minutes after I walk away. I guess my question boils to is there a way to be more memorable and get over the fear I’m just going to bore people if I talk to them?
The Man Who Wasn’t There
I suspect that the problem is that you’re a little too agreeable, TMWWT. One side-effect that can come with trying to overcome approach anxiety is that people try to be too nice or pleasant. After all, if you’re worried about rejection, isn’t it better to avoid coming on too strong or being too divisive, lest you tick them off? Other times, they try to be a little too broadly appealing, casting as wide a net as possible by being as agreeable as possible so that they appeal to as many people as possible.
And therein lies the problem: by being a little too deferential or a little too pleasant or too “well I appeal to everyone”, you don’t stand out. You become the conversational equivalent to a lukewarm bath: not hot, not cold, just kind of there but not terribly remarkable.
This happens a lot in online dating and it happens in person as well. And the solution is more or less the same: you have to quit being so very nice and so very pleasant. You don’t want to be everyone’s cup of tea, you want to be someone’s shot of whiskey. That means being willing to stand out, even be a bit polarizing. And that means you have to do the things that make you more memorable and – importantly, more memorably you.
This may mean cultivating your sartorial style so that you stand out from the pack of non-descript dressers. It may mean developing your wit so that you make people laugh with your jokes and your stories. It may mean learning how to convey your enthusiasm for the things you love, or embracing being charmingly awkward, like a newborn giraffe. It may mean being willing to state your opinions more strongly – not so much that you bowl people over or become a complete dick – but enough that you don’t just go along with whatever everyone else is saying.
Or it may be that you’re barely speaking up at all, lingering like a ghost at the edges of somebody else’s conversations… in which case you need to speak the fuck up.
And incidentally: you may need to just be patient with people. Depending on when and how you met them, they may have had other shit going on. That has nothing to do with you as a person and everything to do with them. One of the reasons why women may not respond to a text from a guy they met at the club the night previous for example, is because she may not remember which dude it was. Those people you’re talking to may be distracted, they may be talking to a lot of other people or they may not have talked with you long enough to really get to know you.
(Or they could be the type who’re bad with faces; it’s more common than you’d think.)
Regardless, you may just have to remind them of who you are. Sometimes you’ll just have to reengage them with something along the lines of “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, I’m MWWT, we met the other day, here’s some callback humor to spur your memory.”
But over all: the way to be more memorable is to be more strongly yourself. Be willing to be a bit polarizing, to risk putting off the wrong people. In doing so, you’ll be making yourself more desirable – and more memorable – to the right people.
Hey Dr. Nerdlove,
Longtime reader and huge fan of your work. Thank you for everything.
I am 25 years old, never been in a relationship, living at home, working part time and struggling to stay sane. My younger brother works as an engineer and is doing well and successful with his job. My problem is that he won’t let up criticizing me on everything I do. Not only with my life but also just day to day things. My taste in movies, music, my friends, opinions, how I drive, cleanliness and anything you can imagine. He lives 2 hours away but now comes and stays here every weekend. Its ends up being 3 soul crushing days for me.
The week isn’t much easier. My father lost his job a few years back and verbally takes it out on my mom. He calls her names and blames her for everything. My brother then comes on the weekend and criticizes us on everything. I support her as much I can, but my mom doesn’t deserve this kind of emotional abuse.
I have tried to assert myself calmly but it only ends with him escalating or on very few occasions even turning violent with me to regain control of the situation. I’m starting out as an actor and being around him has started to affect my work with my not being able to practice or land roles. My work to him is a joke and when I told him I wanted to pursue acting, he flat out told me “You’ll never have any success”. My father loves this and sometimes even joins in.
The worst part is I became addicted to porn. It was a crutch and has gotten worse as my life just feels uncontrollable sometimes. Its not my brother or father’s fault, being around them hasn’t made it any easier though.
I had a lot of the problems you write about while growing up such as; social awkwardness, creepy behaviors and trouble landing dates in general. But I work on it relentlessly and have made a ton of progress compared to where I was 4 years ago when I started. I got to counseling and support groups. That too is something my brother can’t stand about me and he constantly takes any opportunity to call me ‘gay’ in a deragatory way for not being sexually aggressive and ogling women at every chance I get. He does this in front of my other family members and they almost believe it from what I see. (Nothing against the LGBT community by the way, everyone deserves to be happy with whoever they love)
I like to think I have something good to give this world. But on Sundays when my brother finally leaves I feel worthless. Like I can’t do anything right and haven’t learned any skills over the years. I feel so alone where I am. I’m saving up to move out but it hasn’t been an easy journey and my addiction has started to drain my savings. I’m not a bad guy, and I want to be happy, where do I go from here?
Trying to Make it
I am so sorry you’re going through this TTMI. Family is supposed to be a refuge against the world, a place of safety and comfort. Unfortunately, all too often, it can be what you need refuge from.
Ultimately, you know what you need to do: you need to get the fuck out of there. Sooner, rather than later, before your brother and your father achieve their ultimate goal of crushing the hope out of you so that you’re as miserable as they are. The fact that your brother has had his achievements doesn’t necessarily mean that he values them – not as anything other than a stick to beat people with. It sounds like they’ve been corroded by bitterness, envy and hate and now you and your mother are the safest targets they can find.
So what you need to do is bend your not-inconsiderable will and inner strength to that goal. Which means that the first thing that needs to happen is that you need to cut out the porn.
Here’s the thing about your porn addiction. The problem ain’t the porn. You’re self-medicating, using what you can to get through the misery of what you’re going through. Porn just happens to be your drug of choice. It could just as easily be booze, weed, sex, shopping or anything else that makes you feel just a smidgen of control, a hint of a time when everything isn’t a giant industrial vat of suck.
I also suspect that there’s an element of self-sabotage in there too; you buy into your brother and father’s “this is why you suck” and don’t believe you deserve happiness or success and so you cut yourself off from your own escape.
But right now you can’t afford the luxury of an addiction, not if you’re going to get the fuck out like you need to. So porn, especially paid porn, has to go. Tell yourself that it’s just for now; as soon as you’re out of there, you can go on a porn binge the likes of which the world has never seen. You will pay all the money to your favorite camgirl or buy the Caligula Would Blush level membership at PornHub… just as soon as you’re in your own place. Remind yourself of how good it’ll feel to jerk it in a place where your brother can’t go.
All the money you’d spend on porn, all the money you’re not spending on immediate needs – has to go to a “get the fuck out” fund. In fact, it’s probably best if your GTFO fund is a savings account, one that you can’t just dip into at will, to help cut down on the “Well just this once,” indulgences that drain your bank account.
Of course, none of this is going to help if you let your self-esteem get ground into dust while you’re making your escape plan. So, like any prisoner about to break out, you need to keep your head down and not make waves. Your brother clearly needs to be in control and wants you to submit. This is part of why he gets violent; he wants you to give in and will try to force you to if he has to. But you can give the appearance of docility while holding onto the core of your ideals. You can roll with the emotional punches and take the sting out of them – “you’re right, I’ll never succeed. I’m probably a faggot, oh well,” in such a way that it takes the satisfaction out of his abuse while still protecting yourself. Call it passive-aggressive resistance. It’s like punching mud; when your blows just… sink in, it absorbs energy but disperses the impact and leaves you exhausted from the effort.
While this is going on, you need to surround yourself with Team You – your friends and family by choice if not by blood. These are the people who have your back, who love you and support you and can help you remember to hope. They’re going to be your lifeline while you finish gathering your resources for your eventual escape. And if some of them can let you couch-surf with them or hook you up with people who you can stay with, so much the better. That’ll get you out of the house that much sooner and you’ll be further on your path to both escape and recovery.
And once you’re out? Stay out. You have the right to set your boundaries wherever you damn well choose and if those boundaries means your asshole brother doesn’t get to be part of your life, then by God so be it. You don’t have to see him ever again if you don’t want. You can set up your own plans to see your mother and the rest of your family can go fuck themselves.
And who knows. Maybe your getting the fuck out will be the sign to your mom that she needs to GTFO too. Because neither of you deserve the abuse that’s being heaped on you.
But like they say on airlines: make sure your own oxygen mask is secure before helping others with theirs. You can’t help her until you’re safe and secure. So trade your porn consumption for the future you need. Find things that will satisfy your soul and give you solace instead while you bend your very being to getting out and making a better life for yourself. Because that life is out there. It’s within reach. You just need to stay strong and hold on to hope. You’ll get there, man. You’re going to be ok.
Be sure to write back, so we know how you’re doing.
All will be well.
- Seriously Fox, stop trying to make fetch happen [↩]