Hey there, Doc
Recently I turned fifteen, and met this girl four months ago through mutual friends. As I talked to her I realized we shared the same taste in music, films and sense of humor. She was really nice to me and we have talked very often ever since. About two months ago I developed a pretty big crush on her. I’ve never really liked a girl in such a strong way, and I’ve never been much of ladies man either. She tells me everything about her life and I deeply care about her, and even thought I had been enjoying how things were going, I’m afraid I’m starting to get into the “Friend Zone”.
I know that this is a concept invented by guys that are too passive to seem like a potential partner to girls, but that’s my problem. I’m absolutely crazy about this girl and even thought I decided I need to tell her how I feel (it’s been starting to hurt to keep it to myself) I don’t know what to do.
I’m afraid to lose her, to be ridiculed by my friends, to be hurt even more, to find myself even more alone that I already am. I have no clue on what to do and I decided I’m going to tell her in the next month. What should I do?
(Sorry for any spelling. English isn’t my first language)
But You Say He’s Just A Friend
It’s a good thing that you’ve come to me, BYSHJAF; this means I might actually get to you early enough to make a difference in the rest of your life regardless of how things go with your crush.
You’re half-right and half-wrong with your ideas about The Friend Zone. As I’m always saying: The Friend Zone doesn’t actually exist; all The Friend Zone means is that the person you want to date/sleep with/what-have-you isn’t attracted to you. Maybe she only sees you as a platonic friend. Maybe she’s caught up in the gendered socialization that tells women that they have to be deferential to men and avoid hurting their feelings at all costs (even when doing so hurts the women instead) and is giving a soft “no” instead of a firm one. But the cold hard truth of the matter is simple: the people who think of themselves as “stuck” in the Friend Zone are there by choice. They’ve failed to make their move or they’ve gotten their answer and refuse to move on and find someone else.
This is why avoiding the Friend Zone is fairly easy: you act like a potential lover rather than a platonic friend. If that’s not what your (general you, not you, BYSHJAF) crush is into, then you decide whether to be a real friend (as opposed to a Nice GuyTM) or to move on and find someone who does want what you have to offer.
But let’s look at your situation specifically. I want you to pay attention BYSHJAF, because these lessons are going to serve you throughout your life. The first thing you have to do is realize that being interested in someone isn’t something to be ashamed of or something to hide. You’ve got a crush on this girl. Awesome! Why are you torturing yourself over these feelings? She’s awesome, you’ve got lots in common… it’s entirely natural that you’d be interested in her!
Most of the time, when someone feels like they have to hide their feelings from someone they’re interested in, it comes down to one of two reasons: either they feel like the person they like will be repulsed by the knowledge that they’re interested, or because they’re afraid of being rejected. In the former, if your crush acts disgusted that you like them – assuming you’re being polite and respectful with your interest – then all that’s happened is that they’ve done you a favor. They’ve shown you that you weren’t compatible in the first place, that you never would have worked out and, frankly, you’re probably better off not dating them. Why would you want to date someone who treats your interest like you’ve offered them leprosy? In the latter case… well, unfortunately, rejection happens. It’s part of the risk that comes with asking somebody on a date. There’s no getting around that part. It sucks. But as much as it sucks and no matter how bad you think it feels, it won’t destroy you unless you let it. You can take the sting, dust yourself off and move on, stronger and wiser, or you can lay there and bleed. And here’s the part that people tend to not realize: being able to handle rejection with grace and dignity makes you much more attractive as a person in general; it shows people that you have confidence, maturity and inner strength. Those are all very appealing qualities in a potential romantic partner.
Now, you want to know what to do. It’s very simple: you’re going to ask her out on a date. Not to hang out, but an actual date. This is what you want to say:
“Hey, I really love spending time with you and I’m starting to have feelings for you beyond friendship. I hope you might feel the same way too, and I’d like to take you out on a proper date. It’s totally cool if you don’t feel the same way; I like being friends with you and that’s not going to change, no matter what.”
Then give her some space to think. Depending on how she feels, she may need a little time to decide whether to say “yes” or “no” and pressuring her to answer you right then and there will almost certainly give you an automatic, reflexive “no.” Giving her room to breathe (metaphorically speaking) lets her make up her mind without pressure from you and lets her feel much more at ease. It may take her some time to make up her mind, especially if she isn’t 100% sure of how she feels; that’s ok.
I get that you may worry that if you ask her out, you’re going to ruin the friendship. It’s a reasonable fear! But here’s the thing: if you have a solid friendship, it will weather any temporary awkwardness that will arise. If, as I said, you can handle being rejected with grace and say “OK, that’s cool, let’s stay friends” and mean it, your friendship will survive and this will become something that the two of you laugh about later on. In practice, this means that if she turns you down, then don’t mope, whine or complain to her. Don’t make your friendship a constant referendum on “whyyyy won’t you date meeeeee?” – that’s unfair to her and tells her that you’re not really her friend.
What do you do if she does say no? Well… it’s going to suck at first. You’ll feel like it’s a judgement on you as a person. But that’s not true: it’s simply that she’s not attracted to you the way you are to her, no different than the people you aren’t attracted to. That doesn’t make you bad or undesirable, it just means that the two of you won’t work as a couple. You may need to take a little time away from her to feel better; that’s perfectly normal. If you do, then tell her “I’m going to need to take some time to myself to deal with these feelings, but I will be back. This doesn’t mean we’re not friends, it’s just something I have to do so I can be a better friend to you.” But in time, you will feel better.
And here’s the secret to avoiding awkwardness: she’ll take her cues from you. If you don’t act like it’s a big deal, she won’t treat it like a big deal.
But that’s all worst-case-scenario stuff. She may very well feel the same way about you and has been the same pressure of “Do I say something? Do I wait for him to say something?”
You won’t know until you ask. Fortune favors the brave, BYSHJAF. Work up your courage, make your move and revel in the fact that you will never be stuck in The Friend Zone.
I love reading your articles, and have a question for you that may be less applicable for your usual audience. But you’ve written before about virginity and toxic gender stereotypes, and I think your advice is always spot on.
Here’s my problem: I’m a nerd who’s never really struggled with dating until now and faith has been formative in my life. I grew up in a very religious home, and through high school and college came into my own more nuanced perspective on faith and doubt and living in the productive tension between the two. And naturally this influenced my perspective on dating and sex.
I’ve been friends with a lovely person for the past year, and we starting dating a few weeks back knowing full well that after graduation (my undergrad, his grad) and our subsequent moves to opposite ends of the country, we’d return to being friends. I thought this would be something easy and fun (and it has been), but then I slept with him. Intellectually I know this was just a new experience, and I haven’t radically changed as a person, but it’s hard to resist falling into the shame and guilt that two decades of church teaching and abstinence sex ed associate with “losing” your virginity.
I don’t think God loves me any less now, or that my value as a human being has decreased, but I’m afraid that now I won’t ever be able to date someone with similar love for God and others. Basically that since this has happened, I’m no longer the good girl and shouldn’t expect to men with upstanding morals and character to have anything to do with me. Do you have any advice for overcoming this feeling of being damaged goods?
Unfortunately, many of the people in my life would think I should feel ashamed and repentant, and so I don’t know who to talk to. Bad enough not waiting till marriage, I didn’t even wait for a long term relationship with someone who says he loves me. I don’t regret it—he’s caring and kind—but I’m worried that one night may have ruined any chance at a happy long-term relationship down the road. How do I get over these irrational but deep-seated fears?
Good Girl Gone
First things first, GGG? You didn’t do anything wrong. You had sex with someone; this has absolutely nothing to do with your goodness or moral character. There’s nothing to feel ashamed of. Hell, all things considered, it sounds like you had a great first time. That, in and of itself, is something to be proud of. You were with a partner of your choosing, at a time of your choosing and on your terms, with someone who cared for you and was gentle with you. That sounds like a giant “win” to me. That’s the sort of triumphant experience that coming-of-age stories are written about
But now your jerk-brain is dripping poison in your ear and telling you that you’re “bad”, that you’re “sullied” and that nobody could possibly want you anymore. And I’m here to tell you: that’s bullshit. Unmitigated, 100% pure bullshit. You’re hearing the echoes of the lies that people have told you in order to control you, sexually and emotionally. It’s their way of trying to usurp your will and bend you to theirs, to tell you that you don’t have the right to make decisions for yourself. You’ve exercised your power and control and they don’t like that. So they tell you that you’re bad and that nobody of value could possibly love you now.
Bull. Fucking. Shit.
Here’s what you need to know: people who judge you and shame you for how you lost your virginity are not people of upstanding moral and character. People who tell you that you should be ashamed and repent have told you everything about themselves while knowing nothing about you. People who shame you, who browbeat you and denigrate you are not good people nor are they righteous or good, no matter what scriptural bullshit they use to back up their slut-shaming ways. Even those who use “love the sinner but hate the sin” are looking for a way to judge people while still being superior. If we’re going to refer to the Bible, then let’s not forget that Jesus befriended, loved and defended the prostitutes, the thieves, the tax collectors, the beggars and the sick – the “sinners” – without shame or judgement. He accepted them as they were.
If someone judges you for having had sex, then they have shown themselves to be someone you don’t want to date. They have done you the favor of self-selecting out of your dating pool and good riddance to them; why would you want to date someone who thinks you’re damaged when you haven’t done anything wrong? Someone who shames you for having had sex can talk all they want about loving God and being a good Christian but their actions are proving otherwise.
(I’m also curious as to just how hard they’re having to lie to themselves about their future brides; less than 4% of adults are virgins on their wedding night, and I’d be very interested to know how many of those took advantage of God’s Little Loophole before the big day)
The only way that you’ve “ruined” any chance at a happy, long-term relationship is if you let these toxic beliefs control you and sabotage your potential happiness. A partner who is right for you is someone who loves you for you, accepts you for you and – critically – doesn’t see you as having done something wrong because you had sex when you chose to do so. Anyone who has a problem with that can fuck right the hell off.
Now I can tell you from experience: your jerk-brain is persuasive. It’s hard to ignore because it’s whispering in your voice and telling you all that all of your worst fears and anxieties are valid. But you can shut it down. Mindfulness meditation is especially good for taking control of your own brain; it teaches you how to control your thoughts and how to silence them when needed. It may also help to talk to somebody; contact The American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists and find a counselor in your area, or find a sex-positive therapist who can talk you through your issues. You may want to find a local church that’s part of a more accepting, sexually-positive denomination as well – the Unitarian-Universalist Church, for example.
But no matter what, I want you to remember: when you hear that toxic little voice telling you that you’re bad, that you’re sinful, remind yourself that it’s your jerk-brain and it’s full of lies. Remember that you’re an awesome person, someone who’s broken away from the toxic bullshit that people have used to try to hold you down because they were afraid of you. You’re stronger than they were. You’re stronger than that voice.
You are powerful. You are good. And you don’t need to be ruled by other people’s poisonous beliefs and judgements.