I’ve had an off-and-on crush on my friend Jay quite possibly since the day we met, which was almost six years ago.
He is uniquely handsome, funny, and smart. All of those things, plus a random spark—like bonding over a bandit mask and Wes Anderson movies—drew me to him. Sometimes, our personalities clashed, though (some of it was my fault), and we would go months, or perhaps even a year without speaking.
During those bouts, I would date other people. But each time we came back together, as friends, we were closer than before. I shared with Jay some secrets only few people know, and he didn’t judge me. Friends like those don’t come ’round enough.
About two years ago, I joined Jay downtown Baton Rouge for a night out with some of his coworkers. It was a birthday bash, there were shots, and he was the only person of the group I knew.
I started to get annoyed when he kept ditching me for a blonde chick, and I was left dancing awkwardly in the corner. So, I did what every class-act does in this situation and stormed out of the bar, stomping down the street, and leaving him in the road covered in my dust.
He had a girlfriend at the time, and I’d just seen him all over the blonde. I felt confused. Who was this guy I thought I knew? I had just gotten out of a relationship where I’d been cheated on for years, so to see someone I trusted fondling someone that was indeed not his girlfriend, I felt betrayed.
We didn’t talk for a year. Even when I saw him in public, I pretended we didn’t know each other. It was probably childish, but this is how I’ve often dealt with people who lose my trust. They get clipped.
In October, Jay broke the ice and reached out to me, saying he thought of me and wanted to know how I was. Soon, we met up to watch an LSU football game (with apple pie moonshine) and caught up—it felt like we were both finally in similar places in our lives.
We had both gotten out of pretty rough relationships, and both of us were trying to make the most of life, and have a good time. He drove me home, and before I got out of his car, he made a bold statement.
“I really want to kiss you,” he said.
I’d been there before. We had kissed years prior, and it was always a kiss I favored. However, the kisses were often followed with me falling for him, only to be hurt when he dated someone else. I wasn’t sure if that was a road I could walk again.
So, I gave him a lecture right there in the car, which was interrupted with a kiss. Well, okay, a makeout session. But, in the weeks following, I made an effort to keep any feelings at bay.
However, our friendship was closer than ever. I laughed so much in his company, and it was refreshing to have something, or someone, bring positive energy to my often negative environment.
We saw movies together, had drinks, celebrated our successes, and often, our nights together ended with a kiss. At one point, Jay told me that he didn’t want to lead me on, and that if one of us started seeing someone, we should tell the other, so no one got hurt.
In December, Jay told me his Reiki (palm healing) conductor said he was likely to meet someone that month. So, I took it upon myself to always ask him if he met The One out. He kept saying no, until one Friday night after he attended a holiday party.
“Well, I did meet someone, but it’s nothing special,” he said. “Not sure where it’s going.”
I didn’t think anything of it, until a few weeks later (after more kisses and perhaps other things happened), I asked him about it again, and he said he had indeed gone on a few dates with this person.
I was crushed.
I wasn’t even sure I was ready to date, or that I wanted to date him. But my option to do so was just eliminated. My distraction disappeared.
“You were supposed to tell me when you met someone,” I texted him, from the comforts of my bathtub.
He continued to tell me yet again, that it was “No one special,” but it wasn’t right. Tears fell from my eyes and I told him I didn’t think we should kiss anymore. To me, more than a few dates means something, and I wanted no part of any games.
“Well, damn,” he replied.
We went to the movies a week later, and when he walked me to my door, I quickly told him goodbye and ran inside, attempting to avoid any awkward non-kissing moments.
“You okay?” he texted me. “You ran inside, that’s not like you.”
I wasn’t sure how this friendship was going to work—I was trying to keep it together, knowing that he was off kissing someone else, but I wasn’t sure if he was exclusive or not. I was starting to feel like I’d been placed in The Friend Zone, or the Friends With Benefits Zone…
They say our tree may never grow back, but one day, something will. Yes, these crackles are made of synthetic goose and these giblets come from artificial squab and even these apples look fake – but at least they’ve got stars on them. I guess my point is, we’ll eat tonight, and we’ll eat together. And even in this not particularly flattering light, you are without a doubt the five and a half most wonderful wild animals I’ve ever met in my life. So let’s raise our boxes – to our survival.
—Mr. Fox, The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Part II will be published Thursday, March 20. In the meantime, check out my poem, “How to Secure Your Spot In The Friend Zone,” and listen to my podcast on The Friend Zone and how it’s like a paleo muffin.