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AdviceHey, Bonita!

Breaking Free of the ‘Friend Zone’

Jedi Master,

I was talking with a friend recently about how the majority of people I am interested in getting to know better in terms of romance/intimacy/dating all seemingly see me only as a friend. It’s rare nowadays that I have a deep interest in anyone. I haven’t outright tested the waters with these people in terms of being forward, but in lukewarm waters, the vibe remains very platonic. I have been in the proverbial “friend zone” of crushes since elementary school, and I am more often the one doing the rejecting than being rejected in recent history.

My friend pointed out to me I may be doing some or all of this myself by keeping people at a safe distance. They asked if I considered that, as much as I am an open book and overly caring and attentive, there may be a subconscious part of me that fears getting hurt and has given the impression to these people that I am unavailable. In the two months since this discussion, I can see that this may be the case.

I am always striving towards continuous personal growth. There have been letters and responses in your column recently about dating in Athens that totally resonate with me. But short of outright asking these friends and finding myself in the shoes of 13-year-old me where (sure, I’m rejected, but more importantly) the friendship is strained after I share my feelings, how do I better suss out mutual interest, and how do I stop subconsciously keeping a safe distance? I allow myself to be vulnerable much of the time, as connections usually benefit from such openness and honesty, so this revelation is surprising, but I fear on-point.

Help me, Bonita Kenobi,

The Hologram From the Memory Files

Hey Hologram,

I know that feel. You’re almost describing a version of me in my 20s—surrounded by friends but alone in the grand scheme of things. I admire your self-awareness and happiness to turn an eye onto yourself, because that’s what it took for me to break that habit in myself.

I don’t like to talk about the “friend zone” in ways that give credibility to the idea of it, because it implies that certain actions require a certain response from others. Most often, we talk about friend-zoning in relation to nerdy guys getting overlooked by shallow, selfish, beautiful women, as if a woman owes a man her attention—and, by extension, her body—just because he requests it.

So, yeah, it might help if first you disavow the idea of the “friend zone.” It’s not a real thing, because we don’t owe each other anything in the context of sex and dating. Hopefully, you’ll find this revelation to be a freeing one that makes you less prone to believing that you are “owed” something. You can just see friends as friends, which I think will make it easier for you to spot when a buddy’s interest might be flourishing into more.

Another thing you gotta do is just be brave. It’s hard to put yourself out there if you’re averse to rejection, as am I, but kissing frogs is all part of the game. I recommend asking people out with the full expectation of them saying no—that’s what I do, and I’m never disappointed when I’m turned down. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be enthusiastic about a crush, but always hold respect for your paramour’s individuality and their right to not return your interest.

Also, ask more people out. Dating really boils down to a numbers game, and the more vibes you put out there, the higher likelihood of a return. It might help to stop looking at your close friends as a source for dates, since you’re so concerned about biffing those relationships, and there are way too many warm bodies between here and Atlanta to sit around pining for the same 10 people. Be open to dating a stranger who is a bit different from you but still shares your core values.

You sound kind and well-meaning, and I think you need to broadcast your interest more and be proactive outside of your circle. I think you’ll get results.

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