Elaheh Nozari
November 18, 2015 10:36 am

I’m no stranger to acne. Throughout high school and college, my forehead and chin occasionally broke out into painful red bumps that had lives of their own but weren’t anything that an antibiotic, a lot of water, and a little concealer couldn’t take care of. My acne was cyclical, I knew what triggered it and when to expect it. It didn’t bother me because it usually went away.

A year after college graduation, during that transitional period when you start adjusting to the way life works, I started hanging out with a guy for whom I had unrequitedly crushed on in college. I hate to use the term ‘hanging out’ because it’s vague and millennial, but that’s exactly what we were being: vague and millennial. We were part of a larger group of recent graduate friends living in New York City and though we occasionally saw each other at parties, we had never gone out of our way to see each other one-on-one. After a weekend at one of our friend’s houses upstate, something changed. I don’t know what it was, but when we got back to the city, we began talking more. We went to bars and he bought me drinks, we walked around Manhattan into the late night hours right before the sun rises, we left work to meet each other for lunch during the week.

I wanted to think I wasn’t being delusional, that this thing I’d been waiting to finally transpire wasn’t only happening in my head. We did our hanging out on all the days that my horoscope forecast said were great for true love. I overanalyzed every interaction we had—from text messages and Gchat conversations to eye contact and body language. Whenever I’d begin to think it was too good to be true, he’d do something that I found charming, like ask me out to lunch. Surely no guy who wanted to spend that much time with me didn’t also want to kiss me. I was on the verge of falling into something great.

I’ve always been a self-deprecating and passive participant in matters of the heart. Maybe I was scared of rejection, the unknown, stepping out of my comfort zone. I watched guys chase other girls when I rightfully believed they could’ve had me, if only I had done something. This was the time to do something. I had forged my way to the dividing line between lover and friend with someone on whom I’d spent years thinking about. While inaction would automatically relegate me to the friend zone, any type of action would progress the plot.

We met for dinner one night at a hole-in-the-wall Puerto Rican diner. We had seen each other a few days previously and spent the day Gchatting at work. At dinner, we talked about our day over black beans and rice. He had flan for dessert and gave me a taste. It felt like a relationship, and I wanted in.

As we walked down the street towards the subway, I stopped walking and looked at him. “Can I ask you something?” I said, and didn’t give him time to respond before I continued. “Are we just friends, or is there something more here?” I expected to catch him off guard, for him to hesitate and stumble on his words before he said what I needed to hear.

Instead, he immediately looked at me with a mix of embarrassment and pity. “Just friends,” he said apologetically. He didn’t say anything else, and I felt stupid and humiliated. As we parted ways at the subway, I gave him a hug as if to say, “you just rejected me, but I can still be your friend and not be weird about it.” It was awkward.

When we saw each other the next weekend back with our large group of friends, the spark that I had felt towards him since freshman year was gone. Without my delusional love goggles on, he was an ordinary bore. A week later, he asked me if I wanted to go to the beach. We had ventured out of the city a few times earlier when I thought we were falling in love. I agreed to go this time because as unhealthy as it was, I still liked the idea of him and wanted to spend my weekends hanging out with him.

On earlier beach trips, I pretended to be the cool girl I thought he liked. I jumped in the water despite having just straightened my hair. I ate fried shrimp and grilled cheese at a dive bar like I didn’t care that the combination of fried food and lactose made me feel fat and bloated. I rode the subway home in a wet bathing suit even though I knew it would give me a rash. Now that I had been clearly placed into the friend zone, I felt free to let my high-maintenance personality shine. I didn’t put my straight hair underwater, and the only thing I ordered at the C-rated restaurant was a Diet Coke. I made him wait while I went out of my way to find a clean bathroom. The day was uneventful and fun enough.

When I got home, I was appalled at how burnt my face was. I hadn’t worn sunscreen because I figured the combination of it being a cloudy day and my having olive skin would offer enough UV protection. I remember thinking on my way to meet him that if I wasn’t going to get a kiss at the beach, at least I’d get the perfect amount of sun to burn away the monstrous pimple that had taken up residency on my right cheek.

The sun didn’t wipe away my zit. A few days later, I woke up to one of my usual forehead-chin breakouts. As they do, the pimples gradually went away, but one mark remained. It was the residue of the right cheek pimple. It wasn’t inflamed—it was scarred. Whenever I looked in the mirror, all I saw was that one mark—not the red pimples that were too painful to touch or the purple blemishes clustered between my eyebrows. The mark of the friend zone, the constant reminder that he wasn’t the one that got away—he was the one that opted out.

Romantic comedies, the New York Times Modern Love column, and tales of friends of friends trick us into thinking that there’s only one outcome to confessing your love to the object of your infatuation: that they feel the same way. Nobody mentions the alternative. The feeling of rejection makes you shudder when you think about it, so why would you talk about it to others? It’s mistaken to be a negative reflection of yourself, a moment of weakness because you were overconfident and misread someone’s intentions. However, getting rejected after you put yourself out there is cathartic.

I confessed my love to a guy and all I got was an acne scar. That’s true. But my scar also reminded me that I was no longer a passive participant in getting what I wanted. I did something to effect my own happiness and peace of mind, even if I didn’t get the outcome I had hoped for. I had gone years waiting for my complexion to clear up. I was tired of passively waiting, so I called my dermatologist and went on Accutane. I may not have progressed the plot in regards to that relationship, but I progressed the one with myself.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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