Words by: Lara Christensen Art by: Gabrielle Poh
My first heartbreak was with a boy who felt he couldn’t be my friend anymore.
We’d been friends since middle school, often waiting together as we were usually the last ones to be picked up from school. We talked about everything, talked during everything and were childishly proud that our Snapchat streak was so long.
Ultimately, we found ourselves in the cliché but agonising situation of realising that we weren’t on the same page with our feelings. I was accused of friend-zoning him, of being naive and stupid for not realising that there was something more to our relationship. And I felt naive and stupid.
He was left feeling hurt 一 another victim to the archaic tragedy that is unrequited love. Even if I had realised earlier that our intentions were different, would I have had the courage to act differently? I was so desperate to save the friendship that I might have put up with it all, if only so that I could pretend that things were back to how they were.
To be honest, he did (and maybe does — is there a statute of limitations on this?) deserve sympathy. I did friend-zone him and, though unintentionally, I did hurt his feelings. Maybe he thought all along that our situation would change. That all he had to do was play ‘Mr. Nice Guy’, and I would have a change of heart.
That does seem like the message of a lot of romantic comedies out there, and isn’t that what we teach our boys? To play the friend and wait patiently in the wings for any sign of potential opportunity? The ‘Love-Struck Opportunist’ is better than most toxic roles that boys are encouraged to embody, but it does not excuse the problematic nature of maintaining a friendship that he had no intention of keeping.
And he hurt my feelings, too. I was overwhelmed, confused and offended that he considered me as someone who was dateable, but not someone who was worth being friends with. To discover that your value to someone is linked so closely to your aesthetic and sexual appeal is gut-wrenching.
This friend was one of my favourite people. He knew that I liked the flavour of tomato, but not the texture. He knew that as a kid I sat at the front of the class, because I couldn’t see the board but didn’t want to be seen in my glasses. He knew that I hated the term ‘best friend’ because I thought it was gauche. He’d seen me cry, both from sadness and laughter. Yet he left me feeling like a shitty prize, some bizarre object to be won, when I had no idea there was even a competition at play.
Yet I understand that, to him, my lack of feelings seemed personal. That he saw me as careless with my affections. To him, every glance in the direction of another guy was a knock to the chest. Every afternoon spent with other friends was a stab in the heart. Every missed message or late reply was only rubbing more salt into the wound that I had become the perpetrator of. A blatant reminder that I didn’t deem him worthy enough.
But that wasn’t it at all. I wanted nothing more than to return his feelings, because isn’t it the dream to fall in love with your best friend? Yet those emotions can’t be summoned. They either arrive of their own accord or they don’t.
I was angry that he didn’t realise that the status of Friend was far more esteemed than the status of Boyfriend. I wanted him to realise that I was the best friend he had ever had, and he was the best friend I had ever had.
I wanted him to realise that we would lose all of that. If he cared for me as much as he claimed to, why would he choose to rob us of that? Sabotage the girl and the relationship he claimed to adore so much because she couldn’t return his feelings. But I did love this boy, just not the way he wanted. Maybe the element of choice never existed in this scenario? Maybe he had no intention of being my friend, in which case: wasn’t I girlfriend-zoned first?
How the hell could I lose a friend I never had?