Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Friend Zone, the Appliance Zone, and the Reality of Relationships

Last night I encountered it again.  A bunch of people were going on about the "friend zone."

"The friend zone is just another piece of male bullshit from guys who are nice to girls because they want to have sex, and when they don't get it are disappointed."  This continued on with the quote "A woman is not a machine you can keep putting coins into until sex drops out of it."  Another person said, "The entire concept of the friend zone is about self-centeredness.  The guy is so self-centered he thinks he's owed sex for being courteous."

Well... that's certainly one demented way to look at it, I suppose.

Of course, its also an insulting and painfully sexist way of looking at it.  These women are once again assuming that all men, especially the "nice" ones, are only out to get sex.  That nice men are only "nice" because they want to fuck someone.  That the guys who use the phrase "friend zone" are just disappointed because instead of getting some pussy, they're getting a "consolation prize" in the form of a woman's friendship.

Once again men are reduced to the status of sex-obsessed lackwits whose sole motivation for anything is the uncontrollable urge to have sex with anything possessing a vagina.  If you can't see why this is offensive and sexist, then you're part of the problem.  Just sayin'.

The point of this isn't that this view is sexist.  The point is that this view is just wrong, period.

God forbid a person, whether male or female, occasionally wants something more than friendship.  Friendships are important, but occasionally a person, again whether they be male or female, wants something more than friendship.  Sometimes they want a solid romantic long-term relationship that, I don't know, might lead to marriage, kids, and a lifetime together.  And if the people in question are "disappointed" about anything, its that a person they are interested in has let them know in the worst possible way that such prospects just aren't in the cards.

Consider for a moment the ultimate meaning of "the only reason a man is nice to a woman is that he wants to have sex with her."  I'm fairly nice to my mother.  I take her out to dinner all the time.  Occasionally buy her flowers to brighten up her day.  Take her to the movies because she doesn't get out of the house all that often.  Apparently, its all because I want to have sex with her, right?


I know this is going to come to a great surprise to those women who believe the bullshit I quoted in the first paragraph, but there are a lot of men out there who are truly nice guys.  They're interested more in being in a loving, supportive caring relationship than they are in just getting into a woman's pants.  Oh sure, if sex becomes available as a part of that relationship, that's fine.  But their first motive, the motive that drives them to be supportive, to cherish the woman he is interested in and treat her as if she was a Queen, isn't, never has been, and never will be sex.  Its all about love, folks.

And no, I'm not saying that the women in question owe the men "romance".  Or sex.  Or anything at all, for that matter.  You're all adults, and you can do whatever the heck you want to do, and if that means telling a man who is interested in you that you simply aren't that's your perogative.  You can date whomever you want, or not, as you please.  You can't help who you like, and if you don't like the guy in question you don't like him.  But keep in mind that goes both ways.  He can't help who he likes, and if he likes you, he likes you.  And it doesn't mean he isn't allowed to be disappointed that you told him he has no chance at all.  He's allowed his emotional reactions just like you're allowed yours.  He wanted more, and you rebuffed him, usually by saying something like "You're such a good friend" and "Why can't I ever find anyone who's as wonderful as you are?"  And let me be honest:  you crouching the rejection in such kind terms only twisted the knife you just stabbed him in the heart with all the more.

By the way, the "friend zone" does exist for women.  Its not just a male-only thing.  Its just that when it happens to women they call it "unrequited love."  Unrequited love is the subject of romance novels, and soap operas, and movies, and other forms of popular entertainment.  No one writes articles entitled "Unrequited Love:  A Sign of Misogyny and Rape Culture," as they do about the "friend zone".  Its the same damned thing, but as with so many other things in regard to men and women and how they interact, the double-standard is pretty fucking strong.

And yeah, it happened to me once.  I met Karen in kindergarten, when we were both six or so.  Over the ensuing decade, we were in nearly ever class together in school.  We hung out on the weekends.  We saw movies together and played board games and went swimming and basically became best friends.  I carried her books for her and helped her when she asked me to and I listened to her when she had problems and needed to talk.  By the time we were 16, I was pretty firmly in love with her.

I'm a classic romantic.  If you're in a relationship with me, you can expect flowers and poetry and dinners I cooked just for you and making sure you're happy to the best of my ability.  For me, its not about the sex, and it never has been.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy sex when there is sex to be enjoyed, but I do not and have never really appreciated sex outside of the context of a committed relationship, because its always felt empty and not as emotionally satisfying.  If given the choice between some hot, heavy, intense one-time sex with a stranger tomorrow, and a long-term loving relationship that lasted for years before the subject of sex ever came up, if it ever actually came up at all, I'd choose the relationship.  Every time.

So anyway, Karen.  I was, as I said, firmly in love with her by the time we were both 16.  But she was more interested in the jocks at school.  That I remember, she dated three of them during our junior high and high school years.  Each one of them was a conceited prick, and their relationships with Karen ended the way a relationship with a conceited prick always ends.  And when she'd show up at my door, crying over having her heart broken, again, I'd console her and make her tea and tell her that she was worth more than they were and that she'd recover and life would move on.

I know this will come as a surprise to the women I quoted in paragraph one, but at no time did the thought "I'll be a nice guy to her and then I'll get to fuck her" enter my mind.  What was in my mind was that my friend, the girl I did have feelings for, was hurting, and it was my job as her friend to make her feel better by letting her know that a breakup with a schmuck was not the end of the world.  And it worked.  After a good cry and a long talk, she was feeling better.  Then she'd go out, find the next schmuck jock, and the cycle would begin all over again.

Except that third time, after the good cry and the long talk, Karen looked right at me and smiled.  She put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, "Why can't I ever find anyone who's as wonderful as you, Jack?"

Yeah, that hurt.

It hurt something serious.

I have no doubt she meant that question to be a compliment to me.

But it still hurt.

It hurt so bad that it made me reevaluate my relationship with Karen.  And it changed our 
relationship, too.  We were never as close again as we were before that.  You see, what changed was that I became aware of my purpose in Karen's life.  I wouldn't call it being in "the friend zone", I'd call it being in the "appliance zone."

I'd thought about our relationship and I came to the realization that, for a decade or so, I'd been a pillar of support for Karen.  Every time she was upset, I was there to help her deal.  When she needed something done and couldn't do it, she'd ask me to do it and I'd do it gladly.  I'd buy her snacks without ever asking for her assistance paying.  I'd bring her ice cream when she was sick, and cookies when she was unhappy.  I'd buy her birthday and Christmas presents and occasionally would surprise her with things I knew she'd like just to see her smile.

And she never once reciprocated.  In ten years, she never once showed up at my house when I was sick with an ice cream cone.  She never once helped me deal with an emotional issue I was going through.  She never once consoled me when I broke up with one of the girls I dated during High School.  She never once offered to carry my books or help paint my bedroom or any of the other services I'd given her over the decade.

My relationship with Karen, it turned out, was all take and no give, with Karen in the role of taker and I in the role of giver.  And the realization that I'd been used by this girl I thought was my friend soured me on her.

As I said, I call it the "Appliance Zone."  The "appliance zone" is when when you are used for favors, or as a source of gifts, or emotional support, or unpaid labor by others for years with little to no return on your courtesy.  Now, don't get me wrong, lending an extra set of hands occasionally when someone needs to move a couch is what friends do.  But being asked for, and having it taken for granted that you will supply, an unending series of "favors" by someone who has never had the slightest thought of reciprocating such behavior, should the situation be reversed, is when you are being used (or even abused) as an appliance.

Friendship -- real friendship -- is not a one way street.

And don't think that Karen was the only person to treat me this way.  I can't tell you how many times I've been there for people, both men and women, who will tell me all their problems.  I listen, I offer advice when they need it.  I help out in all kinds of other ways too.  And then when its my turn to need support I can't find any, especially from the people I'd previously helped.

To give you an idea of how bad it can get, I was once asked to help plan and cater a party for a couple of "friends" who, once the planning was done and the food delivered, cheerfully informed me that I wasn't actually invited to the party I just helped put together and spent nearly twelve hours cooking for.  Folks, I'm a professional chef; when people ask me for my services as a caterer, I charge $60 an hour, and I am worth every penny.  If they'd asked me to cut them a break on my prices for catering, I'd have done it because they were friends.  But the way I see it, they stole from me under the guise of me "being a friend and helping out."

It should be assumed that I am no longer friends with that couple.

I want it made clear, though, that I do not pretend that women do this to men more often than the reverse.  I will say, however, that more women have used me like this than men.  Of course, some of my female friends I've talked to (and I should point out that these female friends have never "appliance zoned" me) say that they've been treated that way more often by men.  It might just be that people of the other gender treat us like this more often, regardless to which gender we happen to belong.

I still help people out when I'm asked.  I'll even help strangers, because that's just who I am.  I don't expect anything in return except being treated decently and being treated with respect.  But it can be damned annoying when my helpfulness gets taken for granted and used.  Being taken for granted creates a resentment in you, and the resentment that builds up is utterly reasonable.  That's not being treated decently, and its not being treated with respect.

Its being treated like an appliance.  Like a toaster.

I find it significant that when you are there for other people, and are getting used by these other people, without ever receiving any form of basic courtesy in return, when you suddenly stand up for yourself and object to being treated like an appliance, all of a sudden you are a bitter villain who apparently has been keeping score and are now expecting a reward.

And that, of course, utterly misses the point.  Its not about keeping score.  Its not about receiving a reward.  Its about being treated respectfully.  And if you don't think that I, or any other human being, deserves to be respected, you can go fuck yourself.

When genuinely nice people, be they men or women, get overlooked time and time and time again for people who are less generous, it sends a really strong message that we, the truly nice people, need to either become less generous towards other people, or else need to accept that we're just not going to find anyone who is worth the effort.

I'm not saying that there aren't some true assholes out there who are just trying to get into your pants, and I'm actually sorry that you might have encountered one of these fuckheads.  But the generalizations about men need to stop.  Just because a handful of men are jackholes does not mean we are all jackholes.  A lot of us are actually decent human beings, and we try to do right by other people.  We do not pull the bullshit you are complaining about.

And the zone, whether you call it the friend zone or the appliance zone, exists.  It isn't bullshit.  Its quite real.  And it sucks major ass.  Both men and women suffer through it even though no one uses those terms when the genders are reversed.  It even happens in same-sex relationships.  It is what happens when one person wants something more with someone else, and the other person doesn't feel the same way.  It isn't a consolation prize.  It is a specific relationship state:  Person A wants more.  Person B doesn't, but wants to remain friends with Person A.

No conspiracies involved.  No ulterior motives.  That's all it is.

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