In the zone

Ever had the feeling that the bus you were hoping to catch just drove by without even stopping and opening its doors? I mean in a metaphorical sense, not when the damn bus is too full for any more passengers (which used to be a regular Saturday night occurrence many moons ago).

I first heard the phrase ‘friend zone’ in an early episode of ‘Friends’ when Ross just fancied Rachel, before they got together. It popped up again in the Ryan Reynolds film ‘Just Friends’ about a former overweight nerd who returns to his home town, now slim and hot, to try and woo the girl he had a crush on at high school. But this girl only sees him as a friend.

The concept is that you can have a fantastic platonic friendship with someone of the opposite sex, but if you secretly wish to cross the line into ‘more than friends’ you face possible rejection, deep anxiety of how to broach the subject, risk of your signals being misread/not even noticed or a good chance that (relationship or no relationship) your friendship could be lost forever. In short, if it doesn’t go your way, it could end very, very badly. But, your motivation for acting on your feelings is that you do not, no way, want to be stuck in the ‘friend zone’.

I think I have just been at the ‘overweight nerd’ end of this with Mr Eight or Nine, who I neglected to mention in earlier posts bore a passing resemblance to Johnny Depp. So, yes, why would he waste his time with a flabby, saggy middle-aged single mum? Well, somehow, he managed to waste two visits to a nearby city which we could both get to easily by train. When I am sure he had better ways to while away a Saturday afternoon and evening. I suppose in my head I had him down as someone very intelligent who could look beyond superficial appearances.

We had a couple of great get-togethers, chatting, giggling and there were smiles and eye contact. He didn’t shuffle his chair as far away as possible, but nor was there any physical contact. By date two we were chatting a lot, but his eyes kept wandering around the room. And by this point one would expect a little flirtation, a brush of the hand, a playful nudge or even an arm around the waist, if nothing else. When it ended with a cold ‘I’ll text you’, without even a handshake, I knew I was on a hiding to nothing. Well and truly in the friend zone with no way out, the dull, middle-aged mum to his handsome, intellectual, PhD, late 30s man, unburdened by life’s mill stones.

Aah well, more time to clean the kitchen, hem curtains and scrub skid marks out of pants.

But this episode was nowhere near as perplexing as one from over 20 years ago. I am even hesitant to give him a false name as I still wish for an answer to the question. But I will call him Sean, to save him from embarrassment of being linked to me.

Sean was in the year below me at school, but only three months younger. He was good-looking, popular, sporty, academic, but while many like him would be arrogant and downright annoying, he was kind, caring and never took himself too seriously. We got chatting when his year were allowed to join some of our A-level art classes, if they wished to do a bit of extra work.

I have to add here that at 17, I was an oddball – dressed a bit like a hippy-goth, floaty skirts, Doc Martin boots, but I never quite got it right and was always messing up in some way or other – tripping over in front of large audiences, misunderstanding questions I was asked, and in social situations, nervous, shy and awkward. So, I was worlds away from Sean in the school ‘street cred’ hierarchy.

Sean started by teasing me, but not in a cutting or hurtful way, more in a gentle, cheeky fashion. We then chatted a little in class until the teacher told us to shut up. He happened to live near me so we began sitting together on the bus home. I imagine now that this friendship attracted a degree of ribbing from his mates, but at the time, I just enjoyed chatting to someone who seemed so genuine, fun and exciting, compared to the usual misfits I hung out with.

The friendship continued after we left school. When I was home from uni in the holidays he’d ring and say “let’s go out for a drink” and within ten minutes, infuriatingly leaving me very little time to get ready, he’d have pulled up outside my house in his silver car. It was usually just the two of us, but sometimes one of his friends would come along.

I have lost count of the number of times I snuck lingering glances, when he wasn’t looking, of his slim athletic frame, his curly brown hair, green-blue eyes and perfect white teeth. He never tried to hold my hand or kiss me. There were a few playful nudges when we were having a laugh.

The most that happened – and it has lingered in my mind for over 20 years – was a night when we trudged back to his house in the snow one Christmas, with one of his friends. It was freezing cold but I had no gloves. He noticed me shivering and rubbing my hands together. “Here, put your hand in my pocket to warm it up.” I slipped my hand into his jacket and his hand went in too, next to mine, but we didn’t even hold hands, just had our hands sitting there in this inadequate space, awkwardly next to each other. I still don’t know whether I should have held his hand or not. I was too scared to make any move that would destroy our friendship and result in not seeing him at all, but he never suggested anything else happened, either. It was the great unspoken moment in our non-relationship.

As the years passed, boyfriends came and went, and I’m sure he had girlfriends but he never mentioned them to me, and I never told him about the men in my life. I moved into a flat, he got a house and the last time we had a proper conversation was when he came to see me just after I moved in – I didn’t even have a phone number for him; he had tried to contact me via my parents’ number.

For some reason there was a little awkwardness between us and we were both less relaxed than before. The conversation was stilted. I somehow felt a little embarrassed. We went out for a drink, which was also more tense than usual, then went our separate ways, not arranging to meet again. With hindsight, this was probably the moment when the drapes were fully drawn on any way out of the ‘friendship zone’. We were utterly stuck in our little ruts with no way up the slippery walls.

We had fleeting contact a few years ago via a social media site – but it was mostly a ‘hi, how are you and congratulations for being married and having kids’ conversation, which went nowhere and he clearly had no intention of taking it further. I wanted to scream: “WELL, ACTUALLY, MY MARRIAGE IS PRETTY MUCH FINISHED, SO ARE YOU SINGLE AND DID YOU EVER FANCY ME? DID I MISS THE VITAL SIGNS AND IF SO, LET’S START SOMETHING NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”

Probably best I didn’t – the pain of rejection after all these years of an unanswered question would be like an extremely hard kick in the stomach with steel toe-capped boots. And why would I be so arrogant as to assume that the popular, funny, good-looking guy from school wouldn’t have settled down with a stunning, intelligent, faultless superwoman?

Maybe the ‘zone’ is the safest place to be.


Can you get a bird in the hand if you are too far in the bush?

A male acquaintance recently joked that the current fashion for an enormous foliage of facial hair is rendering beards the status of appliances, as opposed to light chin coverage.

Ever other guy over 18 seems to be trying out a facial garden. And we aren’t talking a neatly trimmed lawn or ‘goatee’ here, but a shaggy ‘shipwrecked for a month’ look. A cross between this and a Victorian gentleman akin to Charles Dickens or Bram Stoker, if it wasn’t for the obligatory tattoo sleeve, sockless footwear and earlobe-disfiguring jewellery/bath plugs.

Now, I am all for people expressing their individuality/creativity through their appearance (says the woman who once teamed a long orange cardigan with pink tutu-style skirt in a fit of youthful madness). But this isn’t it, seeing as this style choice is afflicting around 25 per cent of the western male population.

I have yet to meet a woman who is in a relationship with such a species (probably due to the fact that most of my female friends are over 35). If I did I would be tempted to ask some intimate questions, e.g.:

  • How is the kissing process?
  • Does his beard get tangled up with your downstairs beard?
  • Do you spend long evenings picking out from his beard bits of spaghetti/steak/rice/biscuit crumbs?

The second of these questions reminds me of an ex’s comment on a couple on our course at uni. She had auburn hair, his was brown, then he decided to try growing a beard. The beard came out ginger. My then beau whispered in my ear: “You do realise that his beard was brown before they got together…?”

The other downside to this over-cultivation of facial follicles is that it ages a man by ten or 20 years – someone who shaves a beard off often looks baby-fresh, years younger. I suspect the younger chaps often adopt a beard to assume a more mature façade.

And let’s remember that there are some men who look better with a carpeted chin – take Russell Crowe, for example. In my view there are ‘either/or’ people too, such as the genetically-blessed Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp – I would share a tub of posh ice cream with either of them, bearded or nude-faced (them, not me).

Now, don’t get me wrong, readers, I am not against beards per se. A manicured bit of bristle is fine – and I don’t mean ‘designer stubble’ (too George Michael circa 1986) or ‘soul patches’ or the pencil-thin facial hair stripes favoured by some Mediterranean men.

Light, neatly trimmed beards are even quite sexy on the right man; take my 8 or 9 out of ten who featured in last week’s post. It was in no way an untamed bush (behave!) but a perfect frame for his beautiful features – highlighting his lovely mouth and sparkling eyes. The difference in such coverage is that its owners take time to nurture, trim and maintain, in a similar way to some of us care for our ‘downstairs beards’. Although I do hear on the grapevine that, in this bodily region, the bush is back!

Out of my league

I wanted to kiss you there and then. To gently press my lips on yours, just for a few seconds, just to taste you.

But would it have been right? After all, we only met two hours ago, drank coffee and talked for an hour and forty minutes. An hour and forty minutes to try to gain some intimacy, an hour and forty minutes to discreetly look you up and down; to assess you perfectly shaped rear; to imagine the rest of you under your shirt; to admire your handsome face, your white teeth and pretty brown eyes, long blond hair tamed in a ponytail and neat beard. No, you are not my usual type, but you are a stunning vista, a foreign landscape, like looking over Venice rather than my usual East coast seaside town.

Yes, I wanted to kiss you, to transport myself to this other world. But I am still not sure you are ready to take me. There was a brief hesitation, a flicker in your eyes as we parted at the station, but you are playing your cards close to your chest.

Maybe I am not enough for your land, not the willowy, long-limbed beauty who would match you, too much bulk to sit well in your gondola. Maybe it would tip a little more at my side – not quite a perfect symmetry.

As I teetered back to our table with more coffee, I sensed you watching me, scanning my top to toe as I looked down to try not to spill hot liquids.

Were you disappointed? Was I a five out of ten? For you are surely an eight or nine.

But still, I wanted to kiss you, to taste the sweet nectar of an eight or nine, to entwine myself around your perfect frame, maybe even glide a hand down to your textbook –perfect rear, to feel you against me. A brief few seconds to drink you in would at least give me a glimpse, a peek through a crack into this unreachable world.