Boy About Town caused a bit of a stir last week. He says he’ll tell a girl if he likes her, and if he doesn’t that’s it. A guy meets a girl. They hit it off. If he wants to take it further he’ll say so, otherwise they can just be friends and that’s all there is. Friendship is defined by the absence of definition. It is not something more unless the guy says it is something more.
I’ve got a few problems with this.
But first, let’s look at the good side. Clarity is important, saying what you think matters. If you like a girl, you should say so… says the guy who very often doesn’t… . Taking the straightforward approach advocated by our good friend BAT communicates interest clearly and establishes the framework for a relationship from the outset. It’s an approach certainly appreciated by another anonymous writer on relationships.
The alternative approach is to allow relationships to organically develop, let friendship flourish into a relationship without the awkward ritual of naming something as a date when in fact you’re just getting to know them. This avoids the imposition of formality onto something that may want for form, it escapes the neat categories that often constrain the complexities of relationships.
I think both approaches risk leading down the garden path to the quicksand of the friend zone. In the latter case, intentions can be good but the switch from friendship to relationship is fraught with hazards. Problem one: do they feel the same? You can be enjoying a friendship and think there’s something more and then you realise they just think of you as a friend. Ouch. Problem two: the transition. You’re happily chatting away, going to the cinema as friends, hanging out, and you want to change the status. It’s not an easy conversation to have and gets harder the closer your friendship grows. And what actually changes except the label and some suitably restrained physical contact?
Because this is why I think BAT’s approach leads to very similar perils. In the clearly defined space of a relationship, love may prosper. But what I’m left wondering is the status of everything else. Close friendships that are defined by not being a relationship. Dates that are not dates simply because they are not called that.
I’m a firm advocate for strong guy-girl friendships, but they are not simple. In a fairly puritanical church culture a close friendship isn’t all that different to a relationship. Guys spill their heart to girls they view as friends. Girls enjoy mate-dates with a guy they just wish would ask them out.
And that’s the crux. Expectations are often not the same, and sometimes even after you’ve DTR’d. Sometimes a guy will spend time with a girl who he knows isn’t romantically inclined towards him because it is better than being on his own. Sometimes that guy is me.
It can be as explicit as that, or it can be far more vague. It can be female friend dependency, where in the absence of a relationship guys get attention from girls, get the affirmation they would like, get enough of what they want that makes switching tack to a relationship not worth the awkwardness for limited gain, and a chance of losing it all. Friendship wins out in a cost-benefit analysis (is it any wonder that I’m single?).
Messiness isn’t a vice, it isn’t something that must be avoided. And clarity can be a chimera, it can promise a smooth path and push complexities under the carpet. I think sometimes we hinder when we think we are helping, when we want everything to be simple we can become simplistic.
There’s one more thing I’d say to Boy About Town. Even if everything is clear, even if a friendship with a girl is just that, even if it resembles something else, the two of you are not the only people involved. There may be girls interested in you who assume you are attached, and guys thinking the same about her.
Embrace the mess and enjoy the dance.