The ‘friendzone’ defies explanation because it doesn’t need any. We’ve all been there at one point, maybe twice, maybe thrice — even me. But it’s a cold, dark place only if you let it be.
I first visited the friendzone when I met June (not her real name). I was thirteen years old and she was the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. It was a Halloween party, and that silky white skin of hers lit up against the glaze of a bonfire in that cool, October night. Her hair, black as black, fell just before her shoulders and those cheeks — God, those cheeks — were lifted up by the perfect arc of her smile. At thirteen I was in love with the girl of my dreams, the one made for me. But only if I could talk to her. Only if I had a smoother way of staring at her during the Christmas eve masses. Were my intentions that obvious when I asked her to prom three years later? And did I miss something when she said ‘No’?
Because despite my weakness — oh, how she made me weak — I got around to calling her friend. We eventually hanged out with other friends, spent nights in each others’ homes. We guys talked about girls, they talked about boys, and we talked about each other, laughing at the funny kid who stared at June from across a bonfire four years ago. But it didn’t last. Our two other friends eventually became a couple, putting June and I in an awkward spot. I felt like I was thirteen again, waiting to see if all it took was time. But time eventually drifted us apart. We all went our separate ways for college and I never saw June again.
I never had her, but I had her friendship once. This is what I reminded myself when I met July (not her real name): that as my first act of wisdom I saw to it that I would never sacrifice a friendship for the sake of romance. So July became one of my best friends. We took judo together. We joined the team. I even took German for my foreign language even if I had the least inclination towards anything European. We would text each other at night, she’d lend an open ear whenever I’d go through personal stuff, and I’d edit her papers the night before her deadline even if it was the same as mine — things that friends do.
I was obviously deeply attracted to her, the most beautiful soul I’ve ever met. Her kindness, empathy, and compassion were all so pure, so unconditional, and lovingly disarming. And whenever I look at her — oh, how she looks — there is no other adjective that comes to mind than angelic. Her long, sun-kissed curls glisten in the campus sun, as she carries herself with a natural grace, that relaxed smile, and those soft, piercing eyes. We were just never available for each other in college. While I was free she had a boyfriend, and when she was free I had a girlfriend. But we kept in touch. Even until after graduation as she moved on to law school and I to teach in high school. She still asked me to edit her papers, we still talked into the night. And when we were finally available for each other, we dated more than once but it never felt real. Like I didn’t want it to be. Until eventually I just disappeared from her life, and the next thing I heard from her is that she’s met this fantastic guy. They marry eventually.
I lost her because I was afraid of losing her. That somehow I held on to this notion that it wasn’t worth losing the friendship for something more. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Or rather, it was foolish that I didn’t even try.
So for a while, I took it wiser not to try. That as the years went on, I committed myself to teaching and nothing more. I grew jaded from romance, not just by the actual relationships I’ve had that failed, but also by those I never had. The friendzone can be a cold, dark place, indeed.
But only if you let it be.
Nervous and cynical of my own track record at relationships, it is no surprise then that I stumbled into the friendzone for the third time in my life. We began excited by the things we held in common but as the months wore on, it became a clash of differences, squabbling over the smallest things. I chide her for the lack of urgency in her texts, and she mocks me for the way I pronounce incredibly difficult words such as inasal (it’s not a soft ‘a’), alaxan (it’s not a long ‘a’), and Moalboal (it’s not like ‘coal’) and how I stubbornly insist on spelling halo-halo as halu-halo. I’d expect more empathy from a linguist, but then again I’m not helping myself whenever I choose to hang out in The Fort instead of BF Homes.
But when the going gets tough, nothing closes our ranks like railing against the freethinkers, Roger Federer, and Filipino politics. We also unite over good movies, great food, and thinking about our dreams. We’ve become safe harbors in each other’s lives, motivating each other to be more ambitious, to face our problems head on, and to dream a little harder. And though we’ll most likely never put our relationship status on Facebook, it need not be asked whether what we have is more than friendship. After all, what can be more than friendship?
Because the friendzone is a place that can only be as wide and deep as your heart allows. You only have to let go of your expectations and your fears to see what you’ve really got while you still have it, and to enjoy what else might be if you simply allow it to be. There is no perfect scene, no perfect time, to appreciate the person standing before you.
Because whenever I see her — oh, how I miss her — I need not put a label to that mischievous smile, those warm, affectionate eyes, the hair that glides through my fingers, and those hands that keep me safe. Whether it’s under the Cebu sunset or the night lights of the Singapore GP, she shines for me, this girl who travels, who takes me to places as if they were mere pit stops, wherever its location, region, or zone.