Desperately Seeking The Friend Zone
My husband and I have a German friend, Gunther—late 30s, good-looking, smart, funny, and a genuinely nice guy.
Of course, he’s single.
A few weeks ago, we were hanging out together, pondering his romance woes over a few glasses of wine. But it wasn’t the preposterous fact that he was still unattached that lingered in my mind. It was an observation he made based on his visit to San Diego a few years ago.
“I think it must be difficult to make friends with a woman in the United States,” Gunther said.
Immediately, I became skeptical. What exactly did he mean by this?
Gunther explained: “My friends were out of town for a few days, so I went–alone–to a bar for a drink. There, I struck up a conversation with a woman. We talked for a while, and at the end of the night, I walked her home. She wasn’t my type, but I enjoyed her company, so I asked her to meet me the following evening at the bar.”
I thought I saw where this was going. So, I asked, “Did you buy her drinks?”
Gunther couldn’t remember, but admitted that it was a distinct possibility.
He met the girl the next night, walked her home after a few hours, and again asked her to meet for drinks the next day. By the third night of seeing each other, after they got to her house and he started to leave, she became angry.
“What’s wrong with you!” (According to Gunther, this was not a question). She followed up her statement with some colorful language and a few choice accusations. Naturally, Gunther was offended. But that quickly turned to bewilderment.
“What was her problem?” he asked us.
My husband and I shared a look and giggled.
“Third date. Sex,” I explained.
“It wasn’t a date,” Gunther countered. “I just wanted someone to hang out with. Can’t you do that in the US?”
My husband stammered out a partial response. At the same time, I grasped for my own explanation. There was just no easy answer. Yes, men and women can be friends. But, Gunther… really, you thought you were being “friendly?”
Maybe it’s the cultural difference, but the situational cues just seemed painfully obvious that he was seeking more than friendship.
Look, I’ve never been in the bar or dating scene in Germany. I cannot say with certainty that if Gunther had acted this way in Berlin, Munich, or Frankfurt, a woman would not have read romantic intentions into his actions. But, I can see why this jilted San Diego girl wondered what the heck was going on. I might suggest that she have handled the confrontation with a bit more tact, but Gunther’s scenario certainly made me reevaluate the question, “How do men and women become friends?”
Here was a guy just begging for entry into the friend zone. And getting miserably shot down.
I am a huge supporter of the notion that men and women can truly be friends. But Gunther’s “non-dates,” consisting of three evenings of long conversations, drinks, and walks home, screamed romance and not friendship. Really, by the third night, I’m pretty sure this lady was hoping Gunther would take her in his arms and whisper, “Liebling, I’m leaving for Dusseldorf tomorrow, and I’ve taken the liberty of reserving a table for us at my favorite beer garden.” On the movie screen in her mind, he gives her a knowing smile, holds up two airplane tickets, they kiss, and….
Yikes. No wonder she got so mad.
So what could he have done? He was by himself in a strange city and was just looking for someone to chat with. He found a woman interesting enough to have a multi-night conversation, yet not interesting enough to have a casual sexual encounter. How could he have conveyed this to her without hurting her feelings?
If you know, tell me, because I have no idea.
At first, I wondered if maybe he just wasn’t clear enough about his intentions. But given the setting, I’m not sure what he could possibly have said that wouldn’t have elicited a skeptical rolling of the eyes. If you’re a woman, and you get approached by a single man at a bar, bought drinks, chatted up, then walked home, are you really going to believe that he’s just looking for a friend? In this case then, perhaps Gunther could’ve been slightly more cognizant of the not-so-subtle messages that I’m positive were flying around him.
Still, he got off easy. He never had to see this woman again. He had the luxury of returning to his platonic German bar scene (which I am dubious of, by the way). But what if he was the new, single guy in town, and really just wanted a friend? How do you make friends–just friends–with a woman?
Personally, I’m a fan of making friends with your friends’ friends. Get them to take you out, introduce you to people. Because those friends have other friends! And it’s certainly a better option than approaching single women in bars.
So, if he’s still looking for friends–and only friends–next time we’re both in San Diego, I’m going to make sure I introduce Gunther to a bunch of people I know. And refuse to let him go downtown alone to do his own unique brand of prowling.