Emily V. Gordon
May 19, 2014 9:24 am

Have you ever had one of those guy friends that you nurse a long, simmering, blinding crush on for months at a time? A guy friend you exchange long meaningful glances with, after you both reach for the exact same flavor of froyo? A guy you tell all your secrets to, and laugh and cry with? A guy whose dates you hate on principle?

Welcome to the next level of the hated “friendzone” — the RomComZone.

The RomComZone happens when you get stuck in an eternal “will they or won’t they?” situation with a guy in your life. On TV shows or in movies, these friendships are adorable and fraught with sexy tension and hilarious misunderstandings, only to explode in a passionate embrace at the end of the movie. And happily ever after and so on. In real life, secretly pining for a friend is like being in a constant fight or flight mode with your heart, only to end in possibly losing your friend AND a potential romantic partner.

So why do we do it? Why do we fall in love with friends and constantly avoid opportunities to tell them how we feel? Why are we so comfortable in that nether region of flirtation and platonic friendship? As a girl who’s been in the RomComZone more times than I like to count, only to watch the guy I love ride off into the sunset with some random girl he met at work, feeling like every Taylor Swift song, I can think of a few reasons why I continually put myself in the RomComZone. (Note: these realizations were not easy to come by for me, and often didn’t even change my behavior.)

Blame Movies, TV, Music

It sounds silly, but romantic comedies are, for a lot of us, a blueprint to how relationships are supposed to work. That’s why we’re all so well-informed about the courting part of relationships, but not so much about how to actually exist in a long term relationship day after day after day. A movie about that would be fairly boring. In romcoms, any guy you are annoyed by is somehow also supposed to be the guy you fall in love with. In sitcoms, the height of romance is Ross and Rachel on Friends, constantly getting jealous of each other’s dates and not admitting how they feel. I grew up believing that real love was supposed to involve two breakups over weird misunderstandings and at least one instance of running to the airport, flowers in hand. It affected what I sought after in relationships.

Blame our Love of Drama

Here’s a thing we don’t like to admit to ourselves: most of us need a healthy dose of drama in our lives. I don’t mean the kind that lands you on daytime court shows, but I mean that little bit of excitement from novel social interactions that keeps us on our toes, and makes us feel important. It colors our daily interactions with a swath of mystery. The everyday ins and outs of romantic relationships, once you settle into them, are lovely and fulfilling, but they are missing the charge of early courtship, where everything feels limitless and sexy. Being in the RomComZone keeps that feeling going for a long time. Perhaps too long.

Blame a Fear of Rejection

This is a pretty obvious one. Nothing risked, nothing gained. If you don’t tell a guy you’re crushing on that you’re crushing on him, then you get to live forever in an odd sort of twilight, constantly wondering if he’s into you, and how your eventual love story will play out. The relationship is always a potential relationship, which can sometimes be better than an actual disappointing relationship, or rejection from a relationship.

Blame the Other Person

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: a guy friend will flirt with you when he’s single and lonely, but once you’re around other girls, he acts like he barely knows you. Yup, it’s happened to me too. Why do we put up with these guys? Are we hoping that someday they’ll realize the one they love is RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM? (See all movies, TV and music.) Sometimes guys want to keep us in the RomComZone as their emergency girl, and it’s up to us to recognize it and always react to their advances knowing that we are not the romantic priority in their lives.

Blame The Fantasy 

This is the deep dark answer that I kept denying in myself, as I fell in love with friend after friend — so close, and yet, so far. While I was holding a torch for my pal, I was also getting to ignore all the actually available guys at my work, in my classes, and in the world in general. In some ways, pining relationships are easier than actual relationships, because you only deal with the fantasy of “We’d be so great together!” rather than the reality of “Oh, so his feet stink and he shuts down when we disagree”. Being in a relationship means loving the person, warts and all, and often when I put myself in the RomComZone, it kept me from having to experience the ups and downs of real intimacy. I was more in love with potential than with the guy. It was sustainable.

If you’re currently embroiled in a friendship like this, it’s time to stop fantasizing and start acting. It’s not that the sweet mysterious “will we or won’t we?” feeling is a no-no, far from it! It’s just when the state of heightened tension stretches on for long periods of time, it can start to blind us to what’s actually happening in reality, and keep us from meaningful relationships. The RomComZone should last for two weeks, tops, and then it’s time to have a conversation about the sexual tension between the two of you. If he silences your words with amazingly sloppy hot kisses, I’ll high five you for days! If he says he doesn’t notice it or reiterates that you’re just friends, then you’ve got your answer. His actions may be flirtatious, but if he’s not willing to put his money where his mouth is, he’s not worth your love and affection, and you’re too good to be his practice dummy. At that point, you will have to decide if you can be just friends with him, and if not, you’ll have to remove yourself so that you don’t continue to needlessly pine for him.

You may be “ruining the game” by calling out the flirtation between you two, but any guy who pulls away from you because of a frank, sexy conversation isn’t going to be your boyfriend anyway. You can’t spend your life waiting around for a guy you have some chemistry with to realize that you’re worth more than chemistry. By asking where you stand with a flirtatious friend, you aren’t ruining anything, you’re clarifying boundaries and reasserting yourself as captain of your own ship. It may not make the best romantic comedy ending, but this movie is about you — not just your relationships.