Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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The Real Marriage Material Is In The Friend Zone




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I was explaining the friend zone to one of my students the other day. Her name was Samantha. She was a junior in the university where I work, short and slender, with dark hair, and striking dimples. Probably 21 or 22-years-old.

I asked her about a guy I’d seen her walking around campus with, and she replied. “Oh… he’s my best friend. Not my boyfriend.”

 She said it like she’d been getting that a lot lately.

She told me that her boyfriend was someone who already graduated from the university. They’d been dating for about a year and a half.  But she only saw him once or twice a week.

“How often do you hang out with this other dude?” I asked. “Because I see you with him all the time.”

She let out an awkward laugh. Then she told me that she hung out with him almost every day. “We’re really just great friends.”

“How does your boyfriend feel about that?”

 “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never asked him.”

“Sounds like you friend zoned this guy,” I said. “I’m just speaking from a guy who got friend zoned a lot, but I was almost never friends with a girl unless I was actually interested in them. But I was always too big of a pansy to ask them out. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this guy you’re hanging out with is interested.”

Samantha drew in her lips, opened her eyes a little bit, and I couldn’t tell if her expression was one of disbelief, or one or frustration because I’d confirmed something she’d thought about.

I commented on how her friendship probably drove her real boyfriend nuts, but he didn’t know how to tell her.

Then I said, “I don’t know if men really have a friend zone. Or at least I never did. It’s something I’ve never understood. And now that I’ve been married for a few years”—I didn’t tell her I’d been married ten years, because to a college student, that’s like saying I came to America on the Mayflower—“I find the friend zone even more confusing.”

I told her about how Mel and I were friends for several months before we started dating. I told her how grateful I was that she didn’t put me in the friend zone.

Then I said, “I mean really think about it, whoever you marry, you are really going to have to enjoy their company because you’re going to get a lot of it. If you’re hanging out with someone a lot, and that person never gets old or irritating, that’s a really good sign. My wife is my best friend. We do everything together. We talk, work on the budget, raise kids, clean, cook… really… everything. If we weren’t best friends, I don’t know if our marriage would work.”

Samantha was a fan of my blog. I knew this because she brings it up regularly. And after I told her about how Mel and I are best friends, she said, “You really do have a charmed life.”

I was kind of taken aback by this comment. If that’s the impression she’s getting from my blog, than perhaps I’m not doing a very good job depicting reality. I mean, I will be honest, I feel like Mel and I have a strong marriage. We love each other, and we have some cute kids. But at the same time, we have our struggles. We fight over this or that. We find it difficult to make ends meet. And I, personally, am haunted by my parents’ divorce and my father’s drug addiction and untimely death. This definitely impacts our marriage. I wanted to tell Samantha this. I wanted to mention to her that my life is not ideal.

But as I went to say it, I noticed her eyes moving side to side, and I realized that maybe it was okay for me to let her think that my life is charmed if it will help me make my point. Marriage is such a fragile thing. I don’t know a whole lot about Samantha’s childhood. Perhaps her parents are divorced. Or maybe they have a bad relationship and can’t talk to each other anymore. Perhaps she doesn’t have a strong marriage to look up to.

At her age, I know I didn’t.

I decided to not contradict her. And after a moment of silence, Samantha said, “Is that what makes your marriage so good? Because you’re such good friends?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think that being good friends is a really big part of what has made my marriage work. I’m not the kind of person to say that friends and lovers should be two different things.”

We had some banter. We talked about a few other things, classes and stuff going on around campus. Then Samantha mentioned that now every time she is with her friend, she is going to think about all this friend zone stuff.

“That might be a good thing,” I said.

“I hope it doesn’t change our friendship,” she said.

“That might be the best thing that happened to you,” I said. 

 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley

1 comments:

Ethan said...

I've always had a problem with the idea that the only reason a single guy would spend significant amounts of time with a girl is if he's interested in dating her. I don't know if that's exactly what you're saying, Clint, but I've heard that idea expressed pretty directly by various people; it seems to be widespread.

Maybe I'm just highly abnormal, but when I've been single I've had close friendships with multiple women, single and... not single... that I've never really had any desire to take any farther. In my experience it comes down to the world you're willing to live in: if you expect to find a world where male-female friendships can only be romantically oriented, that's what you'll find. If you expect a different world, that world will exist.

Of course, any friendship where one or both parties may be interested in the other is going to be more complicated. In my experience the best way to avoid confusion is to communicate as clearly as possible--which, of course, can complicate or change things, as Samantha was starting to discover.

All this is not to say you were wrong about Samantha and her friend, Clint, just that in every situation like this the same thing is not necessarily true. On the other hand, I definitely support the overall point, that the best marriages are made out of close friendship.