Part 8: Getting out of the friend-zone


Quick vocab lesson if you didn’t read the first post about nice guys:

“Safe” – Predictable, caring, very nice guys who you know will drop everything to be with you, eager to please, very sweet. The type of guy you’d want to have a family with – good father, dependable, doesn’t cheat, etc. The type of guy who often ends up in the friend zone.

“Unsafe” – It’s about being your own person. Not being needy, being independent, being self-assured, making your own decisions, and not caring so much about what other people think about you. Someone who doesn’t need a lot of validation from others and has an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude.

Also, for reference: The safe/unsafe chart.


Part A: Nice and safe.

Ah, the dreaded friend-zone. The nice guy’s greatest adversary. But, do not fret. Today’s thoughts are about how you can get out of the friend-zone. It happens, all the time. How do I know this? Because some of the guys I’ve dated/had relations with started out as friends. I’ve also heard quite a few “how we met” stories where the woman “changed her mind” about a guy she originally friend-zoned.

I’ll start with a story: the story of how I met my current partner, a person who is very much a ‘nice guy’. I mentioned in a previous post, “I met the person I’m currently dating in our college dorm. He was a grad student, I was an undergrad, and we were across-the-hall neighbors. This wasn’t your typical college dorm. There was a good mix of upper-division undergrads, grads, and post-docs, and about half the residents were international students.” So let’s carry on from there.

The fall semester was beginning, and I had already lived in this dorm for two months while I was taking a class over the summer. The summer students moved out, the full-time semester students moved in, and I changed rooms but stayed on the same floor. I was feeling good about the semester. I had a lot of fun over the summer meeting new people, making friends, and getting settled into a new city. Things got even better when I met my roommate Lucy, a half-Taiwanese, half-French girl who was at Berkeley for a year as an exchange student. She was kind, laid-back, and interesting. I liked her immediately. Lucy and I lived down the corridor from Raj, a Canadian math PhD student who I had become good friends with over the summer and who was also staying for the full semester. The three of us had already settled in, with our shit unpacked, when Tim moved in across the hall.

The first time I spoke to Tim was later that day. Lucy and I were walking around the floor, saying hi to our new neighbors, and his door was open. First impressions? Tallish, lanky. Cute, but kind of dorky. We all did the “where are you from, what’s your major?” exchange and learned that Tim was from another state and starting his PhD in engineering. He seemed nice, but didn’t pique my curiosity any more than the other neighbors we were meeting. He was very normal.

As the semester rolled in, a group of us started hanging out together. There was me, Lucy, Raj, and Tim, who were all on the same floor, plus a Greek girl studying law and an American guy in math. Sometimes we hung out all together, sometimes we split off (Lucy and me, Tim and me, Raj and Lucy, etc). We ate in the dining hall, chilled in the lounge areas, listened to music in each other’s rooms. You know, as college students do. This happened for about a month or two, and before long, I could tell Tim liked me as More Than A Friend.

Thinking back, I’m not sure what he did exactly to make it so clear. I just knew. Our friends knew. Everyone on the floor knew, without him directly saying anything. He was a really nice guy, not just to me, but to everyone. I liked that about him, and I liked that he was intelligent and made me laugh, but I was not interested. He was too safe and predictable, and I wasn’t feeling it. That whole “I don’t give a fuck”/nonchalant/unsafe thing? Not Tim. There was no mystery or challenge. I knew I could have him if I wanted him, which made me not want him. Sounds irrational, but attraction is oftentimes not rational. I kept hoping we could remain platonic friends, that he would never actually say anything to me about it, and that we could avoid that awkward conversation. Did that happen? Well..

It was Halloween night. We’d all just gotten back from a party, and it was like 3am, but I wasn’t sleepy at all. Everyone else went to bed, and it was just Tim and me left standing in the hall. He wasn’t tired either, so I asked if he wanted to help me put together a shelf I’d bought earlier that day. He said sure. We went to his room because Lucy was sleeping. I could tell something was up when he closed the door all the way (we usually left our doors open).

We start building the shelf. I work on the opposite side to put some space between us, but at some point in the process, we end up next to each other. “Anna.” He’s very close to me now. I reluctantly look up. He lightly touches my face, sweeping some of my hair back. I know what’s coming. I turn my head and say, “can you pass me the screwdriver?” He passes it to me. I move further away from him and randomly tighten a screw. We build quietly for another 5 minutes or so. Crisis adverted? Okay, that wasn’t so bad.

Nope. He puts down a tool and looks at me. “Anna, I need to tell you something.” I stop building and face him. Fuck. He says, “I like you.” I don’t say anything. I look down. “It’s not a good idea to like me. Can we just keep being friends?” He looks disappointed, but says, “okay.” I think he knew what I was going to say, but he really needed to get it out and just tell me at that point. By now, the darn shelf is pretty much done. We leave it in his room, I thank him for his help, we awkwardly say good night, then I go to my room and sleep.

Part B: Unsafe, motherfucker.

The next day, I wake up wondering what’s going to happen between us and if “just friends” is still an option after that conversation. We see each other in the hall, and he seems kind of down, but overall, it’s okay. We move the shelf into my room, then he goes downstairs to go eat lunch at the dining hall. I leave the dorm, run some errands in the rain, then return an hour later. I see Tim again outside his room, talking to a friend about a football game. When he sees me, he says, “Hey, Anna. The dining hall had some of these left over from Halloween and you like them, right?” Huh? It’s a candy apple. I like candy apples, and I guess I had mentioned that to some friends a while ago. I’m kind of floored that he would even think to get me a candy apple after last night, where I basically told him I don’t ever want to date him. I take the apple, thank him, then he leaves to go watch the football game in the rain.

I’m moved by the candy apple gesture. It was so.. well, nice. Genuinely thoughtful. And he wasn’t doing it to try to get me to like him. He heard my message loud and clear, and we were cool for the next few days. He respected my decision, didn’t try anything, and really just backed off, but without being awkward or rude. I’ve told guys in the past I wasn’t interested, and some got really shitty and offended and couldn’t handle rejection very well. Those guys were childish, and Tim was not. I was impressed.

His maturity at handling the situation combined with the fact that he wasn’t chasing me any more made me see him in a different light. He was still the same intelligent person who made me laugh, but his energy changed from safe to unsafe because he was no longer trying to pursue me. He was now less needy of my attention, didn’t need my validation, and was secure with himself. I liked it. It was as if my mind switched gears and thought, “Aha, a challenge. Yes!” (Don’t even tell me how stupid this whole thing sounds. I know.) So now I’m intrigued. Tim. Nice Tim who’s liked me for months, who lives across the hall, is looking cuter than he’s ever looked before. Bizarre.

I start noticing other things about him. Every night before going to bed, he reads a few pages of a book. The book is always a mass-produced paperback by a best-selling author, like John Grisham. I think it’s cute, because here we are in Berkeley, surrounded by crazy-smart grad students, post-docs, and visiting scholars who are at the top in their field, and he’s reading.. John Grisham. It’s so god-damn unpretentious, and this makes me like him even more. He enjoys these books and reads them, who gives a fuck what anyone else thinks.

So. I start wanting to hang out with him more. I visit his room, write my papers while listening to music with him. He doesn’t react to my attention by giving me more attention. He’s chill, probably thinking, “she wants to be friends, so we’re being friends.” I ask him to help proof-read my essays, and he does, but after he’s done with his work. He’s still kind and helpful, but doesn’t drop everything for me the instant I ask. This is attractive, guys. He’s independent, confident, but also caring and mature. There’s that winning combo again: good safe + good unsafe. Zing.

All this is happening within days of the shelf-making evening. I’m “feeling it” now, and I up the ante. This is getting fun for me. I go to his room, sit close to him on the bed and show him a short clip of The Joy Luck Club, which I need to watch to write an essay for (college tip: take film studies classes for elective requirements. You can’t go wrong). We watch it together. He doesn’t make a move. The next day, he comes to my room and we have a conversation about something that ends with us talking about spooning. I have no idea how that came up, but we end up spooning a little. He still doesn’t try anything, but he must know by now that I’m giving off “I’m into you” signals.

Two days later, we’re hanging out in his room and his friend Jason comes from another floor to visit him. I was sitting at his desk doing homework, but when Jason comes in, I sit next to Tim on the bed so he can have the chair. It’s kind of cold, so we cover our laps with the blanket. Jason and Tim start talking about football and other shit that is not interesting to me, so I keep writing my paper. Soon, I feel Tim’s hand under the blanket, and he’s running his fingertips lightly on my thigh, absently tracing random shapes. He’s doing this while talking to Jason (who has no idea), and is completely nonchalant about it. I find this incredibly hot. I wish he would trace higher up on my thigh. He does, and I can only pretend to concentrate on my paper now. It’s all still very PG-13, don’t worry. Jason leaves after a while, and I stay. I get fully under the covers. We spoon again. We shift around, then he kisses me. I kiss him back. I tell him that we should sleep together, but I’m not looking for a serious relationship. He’s like, “okay, sure”. (What guy is going to turn down sex, regardless of the conditions?!)

So then we start sleeping together. I sneak in and out of his room because I don’t want people to gossip, but after a while, the game is up. Everyone knows. I unofficially move into his room, and we spend lots of time together. The relationship I was not looking for happens organically, and the rest is history. After a year, Lucy returns to France, and Tim and I move out into an apartment with Raj and two other guys from the dorm. Good times.

So that, my friends, is how you get the fuck out of the friend-zone. The funny thing about this story and the one about the older guy in Part 7 is that neither of them “have game.” They’re both very straightforward guys who do as they feel. Older guy didn’t know I was into him at first, and wasn’t chasing me (unintentionally unsafe = me attracted). When he figured out I did and we started hanging out more, he started liking me back (became safe = I lost interest). With Tim, it was the complete opposite. He liked me first and showed it in his actions and by wanting my attention and validation (safe = me not attracted). When I told him I just wanted to be friends, he took what I said seriously and backed off (became unintentionally unsafe = I became interested).

None of this makes sense logically, but what can I say? I can’t explain if I’m going to be attracted to someone. I don’t consciously think about it. It just happens, and the best way I can describe it is with this safe/unsafe business. I also know I’m not the only girl to feel this way. Those people I mentioned before where the girl “changed her mind”? Very similar sequence of events: Guy and girl are friends. Guy likes girl, girl just wants to be friends. Guy tells girl his feelings. Girl says no, let’s stay friends. Guy respects her decision, backs off without being pissy about it (becoming unintentionally unsafe!). Girl sees guy in new light. They start dating.

Okay, so here’s the lesson in a nutshell: You can PREVENT being friend-zoned if you start off being unsafe in the first place. Should you fail at this, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over, if you can adjust your behavior to become more unsafe. You shouldn’t expect that she will fall into your arms if you do this, but it could happen. (Remember, there are other variables at play. She could be interested in someone else; she’s not attracted to you physically, etc.) You guys are friends for a reason, so I’m assuming she enjoys your company and you already have things to talk about. I’m also assuming she can smell how much you like her, without you even saying a word about it, and it’s making her not want to date you. Turn on the unsafe. See what happens. And always remember, you should be unsafe for YOU, not just for women. It’s healthy to be independent, confident, and self-assured.

(All names have been changed, and yes, ‘Tim’ has read this and all the other posts.)

9 Responses to “Part 8: Getting out of the friend-zone”

  • V Says:

    I like the way you explained it, really cool. Tim sounds like a cool guy, best of luck to you.

  • Ach Says:

    that’s what I do all day long… not pursuing girls and doing my own thing and not acting like I’m interested…. and guess what… I have not had a date in 8 months!

  • 07SS Says:

    Could you elaborate on unsafe behavior?

  • newaffilateblogger Says:

    My husband and I were friends for four years before we started dating. We worked together and where I worked was a male dominated place. I got hit on and had remarks made to me all the time. It is something you get use to when there are only about 30 women and half of those women swing the other way. My husband was the “SAFE” guy. I could talk to him about anything, get advise on the assholes and stalkers I was dating during those years. Then in 2008 I ended up in the hospital after only half a day at court bc my stomache was killing me. What was it, oh my apendix. I ended up in the hospital for four or five days, I cant really remember because I was do groggy. Anyway, during this time my husband who at the time was still just a friend came to see me in the hospital everyday. He would bring me girly magizines that my work partner was too embarrased to buy (and yes he is married so should not have felt that way). Anyway, while in the hospital my husband told me a few months later that he realized his true feelings for me. I was shocked, I mean never saw it coming. Here was my safe person telling me all this. We talked it over for a while and decided to give it a shot. I figured since he already knew me so well, Bitchy side and all then there would be no surprises. We just had our one year marriage anniversay! I never thought I would go for the safe nice guy either but it was the best thing I could have done.

  • kfizz Says:

    I wish more women were like you, but on the other hand Im more in the middle that playing it super safe.

  • Josh Says:

    This is all very interesting, but I’m not buying the “safe/unsafe” narrative. It sounds like you’re trying to say that the reason you started liking Tim is that he started being “unsafe” (whatever that means), rather than the fact that he was confident in himself and had enough respect for you to acknowledge your boundaries. That’s not unsafe at all. That’s actually a very predictable, conservative thing to do. I would think that most self-respecting women (such as yourself) would gravitate toward men (like Tim) who have their own personality and don’t try to change it, while at the same time respecting yours without trying to change yours. Logically speaking, this means that both partners are giving positive indicators of long-term consistency of character, which is a very safe behavior pattern, and very explainable in terms of biological attraction.

  • Part 10: The importance of sexual tension in “closing” or “sealing the deal” | Says:

    […] example is Tim from Part 8. Recap: After telling him I just want to be friends, he backs the fuck off and doesn’t try […]

  • Comment of the Day: Rejection | Says:

    […] Here’s a great comment from Redditor impotent_rage, who responded to these lines from Part 8: […]

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