Something had been boiling inside me the entire night. This was it. I was going to tell this girl, my best friend, the truth. That I loved her.
I wish. I wish I hadn’t. But I’m glad I did.
Time stood still. I pulled her close and kissed her hard. No words were exchanged. Just my clammy palm on her face as we raced in a train car heading towards New York City.
She kissed me back. It felt good.
A light November rain hit the window of our cabin. We separated mortified. Did that just happen?
“I’ve wanted to do that for so long,” I confessed.
She smiled faintly.
Her stoic demeanor was shaken. She didn’t know what to say. I liked the feeling of my hand against her cold, pale cheek. So I went in for another kiss.
It was even better the second time.
Sarah and I had been friends for years. It started off exactly like that, as friends. However, as we got closer it developed into something more for me. I just didn’t have the balls to tell her. It’s hard to describe the feelings of being inside what is infamously dubbed “the friend zone.”
You doubt yourself all the time. You aren’t sure if she knows. You aren’t happy.
And you can’t shake this sensation: Is expressing your feelings worth losing a friendship over?
The friend zone is a lie. It’s one that both actors are privy to but won’t acknowledge. The longer it sits the more the lie erodes. You feel yourself disintegrating.
There’s a reason you’re not supposed to lie. And it isn’t just because your momma told you not to.
Wegot up from our seats and moved to the frigid metal exterior of the connecting train car. You could see the rails through the gaps of the floor. I looked her in the eyes.
“Do I have to say it? Are you really going to make me say it?”
She didn’t respond. She stood in amazement.
“I love you.”
Her face lit up like a Christmas tree. I didn’t realize the power of those three words. I still don’t think I do.
The train had come to a complete stop. It’s never an easy one in Penn Station. She hadn’t said much besides a few ineffectual confirmations of my feelings. I felt like I was on LSD. Everything was so clear to me now. And a huge burden had been lifted from my heart.
Maybe it wasn’t fair to her. But it was fair to me.
We headed off to Central Park making small talk along the way. Her jet black hair fought against the wind. I could tell she was off. She didn’t want to be here anymore. She had too much on her mind and didn’t know what to say.
We avoided talking about it.
By night’s end, I tried one more kiss and she denied me. I felt embarrassed but hopeful that I had made the right decisions.
“She had to have known how I felt,” I kept repeating in my head. “There were signs — so many subtle signs that this is how I felt!”
This is what everyone in the friend zone tells themself. Usually, there are signs, but they aren’t as clear as we think they are. They’re abstract confessions that add more strain to a friendship if anything.
Be clear and concise with your friends. Especially when it’s something important.
The next day I got a text message: “Hey, I know what happened yesterday, but I don’t feel the same way. I had a few drinks beforehand and that’s the only reason why I reciprocated anything at all. I don’t like you like that.”
At least she was clear and concise. I felt blind and a little nauseous. What the hell did I do?
I blocked her number. I didn’t want to see her again. That decision tortured me for months.
I waited one year.
One year before the idea of ever seeing her again entered my mind’s eye. Once it appeared, like a parasite it wasn’t going away easily.
I got in my crappy Toyota Corolla and drove towards her house. It was the next town over from mine. I walked around the block a few times to really think about what I was doing.
I looked up at the grey sky. This was dumb. What was she going to say to me after a year? But I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a coward. Male bravado is both over and underrated. So I stomped off towards her house and told myself I wasn’t going to stop. I walked up the cobblestone steps. The door was open. It felt like a vortex swallowing me whole. I could hear someone laughing inside. It was her.
I was about to knock.
And at the last second —
I decided against it. I turned around and that was the end of it.
Idon’t know what it was about her. But I knew there was something she never told me. Some deep truth never revealed. Or, maybe she told me everything there is to know. I just had that feeling there was more to the story. And there was.
Some years later I got a message. It was from her. A new number. She thanked me for cleaning snow off her car freshman year. “Don’t ever change that about yourself :)”
Why did she send this? Why did she reopen old wounds? Knowing myself, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop. I had to find out. What an idiot.
We started texting. Reminiscing about the good old days. She asked if I wanted to get together after all this time. I agreed and headed over that very night.
That same clamminess showed up again on my palms. I wasn’t seeing anyone romantically, but my feelings for her just weren’t the same. There was nothing to confess this time around. I just wanted to know the truth. And I guess there was a part of my heart that was a bit optimistic. I’m an idiot after all. I sometimes want that happy ending underneath a rainbow. Doesn’t everyone?
Moreover, I wanted to know this: Was our relationship ever any deeper than a friendship? And why now?
I got my answer that night.
Things were strange before I even opened her door. She lived in a tight Upper Manhattan apartment. But that wasn’t the issue. It was that her two roommates were there. They were blasting music and having a fun time. Granted I didn’t want to walk into a funeral. But I didn’t want this either.
After 30 minutes of catching up, I asked her straight up: “Why am I here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why did you reach out to me. Why any of this?”
She didn’t give any straight answers. She still wanted to play games. After all this time she wanted to play games. I can’t believe she wanted to play games.
“What do you mean why are you here,” she quipped. “It’s to catch up.”
I asked her again: “Tell me why I’m here.”
Her roommates cut off the music and were clearly eavesdropping at this point. It was a small apartment.
I felt uncomfortable. She took the hint and invited me into her room.
She locked the door and told me to sit on her bed. She sat right next to me. Not too close but not too far either. She scanned me up and down. Her deep blue eyes were still beautiful after all these years.
And then, time stood still.
“You already know how I feel,” she said rife with emotion. “I just like being friends with you. I like you just because you’re funny.”
This hurt more than she’ll ever know. Just because I’m funny? That’s what our entire friendship meant to her. Or maybe there was more to say. I’ll never know. I looked her dead in the eyes. Being someone who hasn’t cried since middle school, I found myself fighting back tears as I said this —
“There’s no going back from what I told you all those years ago. I don’t know how you didn’t figure that out. And I guess, there’s nothing more to say than that.”
I grabbed my coat, jetted through the hall, fumbled with the locks, she ended up helping me out, and then I left.
She said ‘get home safe.’
I felt like there was more weighing on her heart that night; maybe it wasn’t to reciprocate feelings from years ago, but there was something deeper she wanted to tell me. Or maybe there wasn’t. But that was my gut feeling.
I’ve been rejected, dumped, and hurt badly, but this felt different. It was like being on LSD again. But this was a bad trip. I laughed out loud because I didn’t know I was capable of feeling this pain.
“What the hell is happening?”
Instead of taking the subway all the way back I got off in Times Square and went for a run through midtown Manhattan. I was listening to Elliot Smith in my headphones.
I didn’t get much sleep that night.
The next day I decided to go for a 12-mile run. I ended up going in her direction over the George Washington Bridge and ended with me jogging past her apartment. She was on my mind for a large part of that run. Her and other friends I had lost due to a falling out.
All those lost relationships had one thing in commons: someone didn’t tell the truth. Or, if they did, it was too little too late. The friend zone is hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. The more the lie is built up the more someone feels trapped by it.
Tell the truth. Even when it’s painful.
I took one last good look at her apartment. I remembered how devastated I felt just the night before. And then I walked right by.