There is a place so dark, so confusing, so treacherous that few people dare venture in. It’s so taboo that even the greatest wordsmiths aren’t brazen enough to pen tales of its mystique. A fool’s mission to trifle with. A real-life bear trap nearly impossible to wriggle free from. A Chinese finger lock of emotion that can turn brains into pretzels and men into boys. I’m talking, of course, about The Friend Zone.
Now I must warn you before we move on that while I am, and have always been, fully aware of how harrowing of a journey this could, and will, be, it’s not for everyone. Weak stomachs, fragile emotional states, pregnant women, and children under the age of seventeen should have a moment of introspection before jumping on board with me. But I’m foolish enough to take on this mission. Won’t you join me?
She has a name. Of course she does, they all do. We’ll call her Mia because this is, in fact, NOT her name. It’s a name. It’s a pretty name. It’s a short name that’s quite easy to type. So she’s Mia. Mia’s beautiful. She’s funny. She has eyes you can lose yourself in. Her smile is radiant and her laugh is infectious. Mia’s thoughtful; she fucking volunteers on some weekends. Volunteers! Like, who does that? Someone better than me. Mia.
I remember exactly where I was the moment we met. It was this past winter, when I went to Israel and I’d just gotten off the plane. I was a disheveled mess lying on the ground of Ben Gurion Airport, resting my head on my LL Bean duffle, waiting for the rest of my travel group to assemble. Two beautiful women – a blonde and a brunette – sat down right next to me and my buddy. They were both gorgeous, but since I have a long track record of dating brunettes, I whispered to my buddy that he needed to befriend the blonde while I made moves on the brunette. Typical wingman assignment. I believe my exact phrasing was “I’m going to try to have sex with this brunette chick so you’re going to need to hang out with the friend for me.” As most often is the case, I did not have sex with the brunette. The brunette is not Mia. Mia is the blonde.
Turns out, these girls lived in NYC, my buddy lived in NYC and I was on the way to moving there, and the four of us became quick friends, galivanting through Israel and bonding over the finer things in life, like brunch and athleisure. I didn’t have feelings for Mia while I was in Israel, but we certainly hit it off, and I was thrilled to have the chance to have a few female friends in New York who could introduce me to their friends. Holy Shirts and Pants. People helping people. Besides, Mia had a boyfriend of eight months, and even though she didn’t talk about him much or seem too excited about him, it’s never my place to pry or try and wedge myself between two people.
One night at the bar, towards the end of our trip, I told Mia that she had the most incredible laugh and I hoped her dude was funny because her laugh is too perfect to be with someone who’s not funny. “He’s not funny,” she told me. Interesting…
On the way back to the US, Mia and I upgraded our tickets on the flight. We sat next to each other, enjoying the extra leg room and amenities that El Al gives you when you pony up an extra hundred bingo dingos to not have to sit in steerage with the chickens and religious wackadoos praying for 13 straight hours while everyone tries to sleep. And that’s when it all started. Somewhere at 35,000 feet, high as a motherfucking kite on a Xandaddy, I started feeling things towards my new friend.
When I got back from Israel I thought about her a lot. I couldn’t tell if it was a harmless crush, a situation where I may have wanted something I knew I couldn’t have, or if I genuinely was falling for Mia. We texted a lot. We joked around. I didn’t know what her relationship status was like with her dude. I barely even knew his name. Whenever we talked about him, which was rare, we’d sarcastically call him “The Comedian.” One day she said “I took your advice and counted how many times The Comedian made me laugh over the last two days. ZERO. I need to break up with him.” Insert Dwayne The Rock Johnson patented eyebrow raise here. Interesting…
When I moved to NYC we’d hang out now and again. Sometimes with people on our trip, sometimes alone. We’d go drinking. Grab lunch. Go shopping at Outdoor Voices to get full kits because #athleisure (now available on Man Outfitters! HUGE news). I liked her. But there were other girls, and a big new city to explore packed to the brim with Jewish babes. Why would I let myself get hung up on one girl who had a boyfriend? I wouldn’t. I didn’t. We hung out, but not too often; we texted intermittently; I didn’t let myself fall too hard.
I was fine just being friends. I genuinely loved hanging out with Mia, but when we weren’t together it wasn’t like she was all I could think about. We’d go swaths of time without talking, and that was fine. BUT, whenever I got a notie on my phone from her – be it a text, a Snap, a like on the IG – my heart would flutter a little. My neurons would light on fire. Whenever we hung out, I couldn’t help but over-analyze signs. “She just touched my shoulder. Why’d she break the touching barrier? Was that a friendly shoulder rub? What the fuckkkk was that?!” But I had to keep repeating to myself “don’t fall for her, don’t fall for her, don’t fall for her.” Not yet, anyway. Not now. Just be friends. Just. Be. Friends.
But I’d joke around with my buddies that I was a sleeper cell, so deep in The Friend Zone that nobody even knew I was there. Like Angelina Jolie in Salt. And when the time was right, (SPOILERS) I’d strike for Mother Russia.
Maybe it was all a pipe dream. Maybe she only ever wanted to be friends, even if she was single. I’m not very good anymore at interpreting how women feel about me. Things seem to just get more complicated the older we get. Five months into our friendship, and I was finally feeling okay about just being friends. I was about to embark on summer in NYC promising to be filled with boozy nights sophomorically chasing tail through the city. Winter doldrums be gone, the boys of summer are out to play. I am friends with Mia. I will not concern myself with what might happen in the future. For now, friends.
BUTTTTTT, here we go, friends. Buckle up. Take a seat if you must. Swallow that coffee before you spit it out. Pay very close attention to what I say. Because from now on, everything is a clue. It’s a sign. It means something. It has to. What exactly I do not know. Da Vinci Code level ciphers. Where’s Robert Langdon when you need him, amirite?
Last Sunday I was back in Boston for business. I had just spent all day Saturday at a barbecue eating meat, drinking beer, laughing with old friends. On Sunday I got up early to play for my dad’s softball team. Your boy hit an absolute mammoth yoker. I was pretty tuckered out so spent the entirety of Sunday afternoon on my parents’ couch, sleeping. I woke up around 4:30 p.m., groggy, wiping the sleep from my eyes. I checked my phone charging on the table in the next room. There was a text from Mia.
Sunday, May 21, 3:08 p.m.: Me and not so funny guy broke up! I’m sad max!!! Tell me someone will love me!!
And here. we. go. .