Ask Dr. V, Exiled to the Friend Zone

Venus Nicolino holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships.

Dear Dr V,

I’m a twenty-two-year-old guy in college. I feel like I’m reasonably attractive and intelligent — but I can’t get into a relationship! I continuously find myself falling into the same pattern where I’ll meet some amazing girl, we’ll start hanging out pretty regularly, I feel like I’m getting signs and then … things fizzle. A lot of my friends tell me I just need to “make a move” (which I think means move in for a kiss), but, well to be honest, I’m scared, and I don’t want to seem like some jerk just trying to get with her. As a result I find myself exiled to the friend-zone over and over. I’m almost done with college and feel like I’ve wasted the best years of my life. What can I do?

Tired of Friendship

Dear Tired,

Wow, talk about a loaded question. I’m not saying this to embarrass you, but I think you may have revealed more about yourself in your asking then you perhaps intended.

First of all, I know how frustrating and even agonizing your situation can seem. All around you people seem to be pairing off (and I’m sure you may even be shaking your head at how some of those guys attracted some of those girls or vice versa), and yet here you are, sitting on the bench watching the game. Please know that you are far from alone on that bench, and best of all, the only person you need to get permission from to get up and on the field is yourself.

But as I said, there is actually a lot going on here. First of all, what you said you are specifically looking for is a “relationship.” And a romantic relationship, when it’s functioning as it should, is actually a rather complex organism that takes some time to develop. If you are, even subconsciously, bringing major expectations and pressures to the table when you’re just going out and meeting people, you may be putting undue pressure on both yourself and your potential partner.

Of course, you should be receptive to and aware of any signs or indications not just of mutual attraction, but also compatibility. However, if in the act of trying to “be on the lookout” you are eclipsing any chance you might have of simply enjoying an evening with someone, you are basically setting yourself up to be, as you put it “exiled to the friend-zone.”

Because, if you think about it, if all you’re doing is watching for signs and so on, then you’re not really existing in the moment with whoever you might be with; you’re not really there. I think it reveals much about the depth of your character that your interest is in a relationship and not just some conquest, yet you also might want to consider why it is you want to be in a relationship? Are you expecting it to complete something inside you that feels unfinished? If this is so, I suggest you re-examine your motives, as I believe the feeling of completeness comes from within, and is ultimately what allows us to find and connect with someone who would be good for us, not the other way around.

Also, a word on fear: The fear you are experiencing in these situations is the fear of rejection, which is actually a very ancient fear. Think of it like this: when we were living in caves, rejection meant total rejection — as in you were literally out in the cold, not allowed back into the group. In all likelihood this meant starving, being devoured by prehistoric beasts or a similar unpleasant fate. This is one reason why the fear of rejection has such primal power; in the deepest parts of our psyche, being rejected by someone equals death.

Thankfully being rejected by someone, which can be embarrassing and painful, is not fatal. So part of your job here, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is to screw your courage to the sticking place. You’ll have to learn to trust your judgment of how a situation is progressing more than you trust your fear of what might happen. I think smarter, sensitive guys have it a bit harder in this department because they don’t want to come across as too aggressive, but what often happens is the opposite. They are perceived as too passive or inactive or at worst, uninterested.

There is a point, both in the description and execution of these issues, that words fail, and simple action does work best. So, when you find yourself nearing that point of critical mass where there is that definite, ineffable, wonderful tension between you and whoever it might be … decide what frightens you more: Being possibly rebuffed, or repeating the pattern that’s proved so unsatisfactory for you. You say you don’t want to be perceived as jerk who wants to “get with” the lady in question. Let me ask you this though, you do want to be perceived as someone who wants to be with her, no? What’s the point otherwise?

As I said, your predicament is far from uncommon. It’s relatable enough that we’ve seen it recreated in movies and on TV many times, usually in romantic comedies where the loveable guy who just can’t seem to get the girl keeps winding up in these situations where all signs seem to be pointing towards a kiss … and he decides to show her his stamp collection instead. Though we haven’t met, I feel like I know enough about you from your letter to trust you with this advice, (paraphrasing Shakespeare again): Be bold and resolute, and you’ll not fail.

Good Luck,

Dr. V

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Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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