Rockin the friend zone

There has been a lot of discussion lately about pick-up artists (PUA), men’s rights activists (MRA), so-called “nice guys” and the infamous “friend zone”. I keep seeing posts tagged with #notallmen and #yesallwomen. While I love lively open discussions, and I think these are very important subjects, most of the rhetoric disturbs me at the very core of my being. It’s like there is a war going on and it’s a war that can’t possible have a constructive outcome. It makes me wonder how men and women ever get together. It makes me wonder how our species has managed to reproduce. The fact that it has and continues to happen is equally disturbing because it suggests that we have a system based on power, control, manipulation and inequality… which is exactly what we have. Fighting only reinforces this kind of system and tends to benefit the dominant class. Healthy male-female relationships cannot be achieved through fighting. It seems to me that this should be obvious. This is one situation where there should be no doubt that we are in it together. We all want the same thing. I probably shouldn’t speak for everyone but I believe most people want connection, companionship, love and sex. These are things which we CANNOT get on our own. In the case of heterosexual relationship, these things require men and women working together; so why all the fighting? I’m starting to think that you are all just fucked in the head.

So I’m going to try and be a voice of reason. I’m going to try and interject some compassion and understanding into the conversation. Granted, the only perspective I feel comfortable presenting is my own but hopefully the fact that I have dated both men and women will lend some credibility to what I’m saying. Still, it is the perspective of someone who has experienced this culture as a male. My hope is that women and people who have traversed gender identity will feel comfortable adding their perspective to the conversation in the space below.

First off I want to say that I don’t know very much about pick-up artists or men’s rights activism. My take on the pick-up artist stuff is that it exists because it works. It just seems so gamey and contrived that I can’t see anything real or sustainable coming out of it. I have no interest in that. The men’s rights movement seems to have been born out of a sense of loss but I believe that it is the loss of something that was neither real nor sustainable in the first place so why should I care? I realize that is probably not the most compassionate response, and the truth is I do care, just not as much as I care about other things.

What I do know something about is the “nice guy” archetype and the “friend zone”. One could say that the friend zone has been the story of my life. It’s a pretty common story. It is the story of two people who like each other but one wants something more and the other doesn’t. It happens more often than not. I’ve been on both sides of this equation; or should I say inequality. My guess is that two people feeling the same way and wanting the same thing is so rare that we might not even recognize it when it happens. There are countless books and movies, songs and poems, of unrequited love. I’ve written at least half a dozen songs on the subject myself. In fact the first song with lyrics I ever wrote, probably thirty years ago, long before the term “friend zone” made it into mainstream consciousness, began with the line:

There goes another sunny day
Can’t believe it’s raining again
Just when I thought things were going my way
You said you’d rather just remain friends

It was a painful time in my life  but what’s sad is that the words ring just as true to me today. I continue to fall for my friends who want to be “just friends”. I know that you are not suppose to fall in love with your friends but I honestly can’t imagine falling for anyone else. How could I fall for someone that I wouldn’t want to be friends with? I don’t date in the traditional sense because I find it awkward and artificial. Perhaps one day dating will merely be considered a remnant of a patriarchal society. Also, I don’t find dating necessary to meet people. I meet people all the time and I can pretty much tell who I’m attracted to within a few minutes. I could just jump into bed with them right away, which in the past that has been my modus operandi, but I’ve learned that if I want something real and sustainable I need to get to know them, find out if I actually like them, you know… as a friend.

It’s this approach which makes the friend zone possible. It means I place a higher priority on friendship than sex and this does places me squarely in “nice guy” territory. Frankly, that pisses me off. Not that there is anything wrong with being a nice guy but it’s a stereotype and it diminishes my humanity.  It’s like dismissing the talents of a star football player because he’s a “jock”. It still takes a lot of hard work to become good at a sport even if you have an aptitude for athletics. The truth is that I can be as big of an asshole as the next guy, something anyone who has really gotten to know me and spent enough time with me will attest. My aptitude for kindness is not innate. I was not born with it. It has been forged through my experiences. It’s because I have witnessed and experienced the damage caused by power and control that I reject these things. It is only through suffering that I have come to put my faith in kindness.

I don’t recall exactly how long it took me to come up with the next line for my song but I suspect it took some soul searching. I had a lot of pain and insecurity to work through before I could come up with a compassionate, loving response.

That’s fine, just as long as we’re together
Sometimes that’s the way it should be
Lovers come, then they go and are gone forever
I can see it’s a friend that you need

In the song it appears like this response is immediate but in reality these situations tend to go more like this…

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

I snagged this comic from imgur.com where it has recieved over a million views. I think it’s brilliant! It perfectly captures a clearly painful subject in a comical and artistic manner. It was created by a young woman who goes by the name mamamantis on tumblr. She seems pretty cool, that is to say I think we have a lot of common interests. We even have the same incense burner. We could probably be great friends so I hope she doesn’t mind that I use her comic as a jumping off point to discuss my views on the friend zone / nice guy phenomenon.

I know a number of women who have posted this comic and identify with it’s righteous indignation. I can relate to the anger being felt. That feeling that you owe somebody something simply for them being nice to you. I mean, that you owe them anything beyond being nice to them. That’s totally unfair and fucked up. I’ve experienced this from the other end. I’ve had people expect something more from me simply for having sex with me. All you get for having sex with me is that you get to have sex with me. I know that might make me an asshole in some people’s eyes. I realize that sex is not just sex to some people but that’s a subject for another post. This post is about how sometimes friendship is more than just friendship.

Let’s face it, the whole construct of the “friend-zone” is a male invention. It was introduced into the lexicon by men and has been used by men to hurt and subjugate women.  Women have every reason to be pissed off about it. Still, the situation which has produced the idea of the friend-zone is the result of progress made by women. It wasn’t that long ago where the idea of unmarried men and women being “just friends” was unthinkable.  Unless we want to go back to those days we’re going to have to learn now to deal with this new situation. The culture has changed but that doesn’t mean that the people involved have. Men and women behave differently in this situation for what I believe are cultural differences but the emotions behind that behaviour are purely human.

What I see in the comic above is two people who are experiencing hurt, fear and anger. To overcome this it’s not enough to change the culture, we need to evolve as human beings. We need to open our hearts and our minds to the idea that we are all just people. We all want and need the same basic things and none of us can do it alone. We need each other. There is no one else out there to save us so we need to work together. I believe that we can heal the world, one healthy relationship at a time.

So it pains me when I see friendships devolve into hatred over hurt feelings. It pains me when I see the prospect for romance dashed by fear. I don’t know how the story between our two super heroes turned out but I would like to think that they both went home, did some soul searching and personal healing, and came to the conclusion that they really do like each other. I would hope that they would realize that their friendship is strong enough to handle a little sexual tension. I would hope that the guy would realize that friendship is not a consolation prize but is actually pretty damn awesome in it’s own right. OR maybe the woman realizes that it took a lot of guts to ask her out. She could have been more sympathetic and understanding when turning him down. Maybe he wasn’t trying to make her feel guilty but was simply feeling hurt and acted like a dumbass. It might even be possible she comes to the conclusion that this guy really does like her for who she is and isn’t just after her for her body and that is really what she wants in a romantic partner. I know that last scenario is pretty unlikely and may only happens in the movies but all of these outcomes have to be better than what usually happens.

What probably happened was the guy went back to his buddies and in a typical male showing of support they said, “Fuck that bitch! She wouldn’t know a good guy if one bit her on the ass. Now let’s get drunk!” And the woman went back to her friends who said, “Men are pigs! All they think about is sex and they will do anything to get it. Who needs ’em, let’s have a drink!” This might do wonders for the alcohol industry but it doesn’t do a damn thing for improving relationships between men and women.

When it comes to human relationships we need to think beyond the cultural narrative. Every real relationship is unique. It is a magical combination of the two people involved and only the two people involved. It stands outside of time and space. We all come to a new relationship a product of our past experiences. We all have baggage. We all have hurt. But we can’t expect the new relationship to be better if we can’t let go of the past. The goal of each relationship should be to make it the best it can be. We can only do this if we are free to be the best that we can be. We can’t do it if we are playing a role. We can do it if we are expecting the other person to fit into some preconceived mold. We can’t do it if we think of relationships as something to be boxed up and labeled.

That said, I’m going to continue to use labels and common vernacular in my writing because I’m trying to communicate an idea and people have a hard enough time understanding what the hell I’m talking about.

So guys: You need to realize that there are countless reasons why a woman might not want to date you besides being a bitch and hating nice guys. I have heard them all and even if they don’t make sense, they are valid. There is no point in arguing. There is no appropriate line of persuasion. Dating is an art of attraction, not conversion. Rejection hurts but it’s her right to reject your offer if it’s not what she wants FOR ANY REASON. You need to be prepared for this because it can go one of three ways; she can accept and you take the relationship to the next level, she declines and you remain just friends, OR one or both of you go to your dark place, act out in anger and everything goes to shit. That last one is a very real possibility and you are the only one who gets to prepare for it. Don’t be the one to fuck it up. She might react with anger. Even if it seems like all the signs are there, you are springing something on her that she might not want to hear. She’s being forced to see you in a different light and it might make her uncomfortable. She may feel lied to because in a sense you have been lying to her. If you have developed feeling for her, you have to tell her, but you don’t get to control the way she reacts. If you are prepared, you can react with the best part of your personality. If you continue to be the decent guy that she apparently thinks that you are, the relationship, whatever it may be, can continue to flourish and grow.

To the gals: If you are going to have a mature healthy relationship it is going to be with someone you consider a friend. It’s going to be with a nice guy, who just might act like an asshole sometimes. The idea that sex and friendship are mutually exclusive is bullshit. The best sex in the world is between people who love and trust each other; even if it takes a while to transfer that love and trust to the bedroom. It can be scary. There is a risk involved. The friendship will never be the same and the romance might not work out. That’s still not the end of the world. People can still be friends after having sex with each other. Sometimes clearing the sexual tension is what it takes to get to a purely platonic state. Of course if you have absolutely no romantic or sexual interest in the guy by all means, DO NOT DATE HIM. You always have the right to say no and no one can make you feel guilty about it. Now if you react like a fiery banshee and kick him in the balls, you might have something to feel guilty about. If you are a nice, attractive and friendly person it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that your guy friend might be into you. Even if you have done everything possible not to lead him on. Even if you’ve totally just been yourself and treated him like a normal human being he still might fall for you… in fact that’s kind of exactly what nice guys find really hot. I know it sucks. You just can’t win. I wish that there was a pill you could take to make you unattractive to men but so far none has been developed.

We all need to do better. It’s way too simplistic to say that all men are assholes or all women are bitches. In fact it’s pretty inappropriate to call anyone and asshole or a bitch. We are all complex individuals with many facets to our personality. Some are really amazing and some… not so much. We all fuck up. The people who try the hardest probably fuck up the most.

We need to realize that we are at a point in time where the old rules don’t apply and the new rules… well, the new rules are still being figured out. None of us really knows what’s going on and that’s a pretty unsettling feeling. The upside to all this is when we realize that we are all in it together. Having a problem where the solution is to come together rather than fight is a pretty good problem to have in my book.

That’s why I found it so disturbing when I saw this meme on my daughter’s facebook page:

There is no friend zone

I feel like it needs a response and I’m not quite sure how to do that. It’s that frustration which has led me to write this post. Perhaps my daughter just posted it because it sounds good and has a cute dog on it but I ‘m still concerned that she is identifying with what I see as a pretty destructive message. It’s not the denial of the “friend-zone” which I find harmful although I do think that the friend zone is real. People do compartmentalize their relationships in their brain and for whatever reason, some people get designated “just friends”. I do it myself all the time even although I really try to keep an open mind. What troubles me is the suggestion that kindness is not real. It troubles me that kindness is being seen as a tactic to get sex. Kindness is pretty much the opposite of manipulation. This meme looks to me like propaganda from the power and control camp as a way to discredit kindness but I actually doubt that is where it came from. It think it comes from the aforementioned confusion and a general lack of understanding about how kindness works. In a way, I find this meme encouraging because it suggests that men are practising kindness in their pursuit of sexual relationships. I think that is a good thing. The problem is not with kindness. The problem is with our expectations.

I actually feel like I’ve made a pretty good life for myself living in the “friend-zone”. I’ve been more or less single for nearly a decade now. My sex life may not be what it was in my late teens and early twenties but it’s still quite active. I also have some of the most amazing friends a guy could ask for. Almost all of my closest friends are people that I once dated or have been with sexually. Most of the people I have sex with today are my friends. I see no reason why sex, romance and friendship can’t go together. All it takes is trust. That comes from honesty and understanding… oh yeah, and kindness.

 

 

 

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Everything works… to a point

It works everytimeI spend my days and nights trying to make sense of things, things that don’t make a lot of sense, things that just seem plain wrong. What I’ve learned isn’t much but I know that just because something seems wrong, doesn’t make it wrong. Just because something seems right, doesn’t make it right. It might make it right for me, but I’m not the only person on this planet. Trying to understand the world through the lens of “what is right?” and “what is wrong?” has not been very helpful, at least not for me. I find more understanding by looking at what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a more scientific approach. Right and wrong are hard enough to define, let alone identify. That’s why we turn to our feelings or to religion or to the law to determine these things. That’s why people who can’t feel these kinds of emotions, sometimes called psychopaths, have a hard time distinguishing right from wrong. Of course not all psychopaths grow up to be serial killers, some grow up to be priests, politicians and corporate CEO’s.

Not being able to feel is not my problem. Sometimes I wish it was. Sometimes I feel way too much. Sometimes my emotions get in the way of me doing what I really want to do. At the same time, I realize that it is only because of my emotions that I am capable of doing any of the things I do. I am an emotionally driven person. This is how I work… and it works… to a point.

This is also how I view the world. As senseless as things seem sometimes I recognize that things are the way that they are because it works. Let’s face it, if it didn’t work, things would be different. The problem is that none of us are on this planet alone. What works for one person may not work for everyone. I realize that I may be oversimplifying things but at the core, this is the problem with everything. The solution is to stop doing things that don’t work for us. We can’t expect the people for whom things are working to change.

This all makes me think about my marriage which ended nine years ago. For six years it worked… well it worked well enough. There did come a point where it stopped working and even though I worked at it with all I had I still could not make it work. Once I stopped doing what I was doing the marriage disappeared and I was a much happier person. Unfortunately the divorce wasn’t quite that simple. The marriage didn’t just disappear; it was destroyed violently just not by me. I took the passive approach and went to work trying to devise the least destructive way to dissolve our marriage. I suppose my mistake was not communicating what I was doing. Perhaps if I had we could have worked together and had a more peaceful dissolution. Perhaps not. In any case it worked.

There is one more thing that I need to include in this post because I missed it in a previous post and I’ve been regretting it ever since. In writing about why we do what we do I completely missed that fact we have a conscience and a belief system. Much of what we do, we do because we believe it to be the right thing to do. Beliefs can be a powerful force. Beliefs can make things work that simply would not work without a shared belief structure. Belief can make things appear to work that really aren’t working at all. As a human, I’m a big fan of belief and consider our complex systems of beliefs to be the primary thing which separates us from the rest of the life forms on this planet. Still, beliefs can be problematic. Our beliefs are not always terribly scientific. Sometimes our beliefs are just plain wrong.

The good news is that beliefs are malleable. Beliefs can be changed. To be honest, I’m pretty stubborn about my beliefs but it’s not a very long list. It includes love, acceptance, forgiveness and honesty which are generally considered to be pretty good things. For the most part, my believes have served me well. They work… to a point. There is bound to be some friction when dealing with people that don’t share my beliefs. At this point I can do one of two things if I want things to work: I can change what I do or I can change what I believe because I don’t believe that I have the right to change another person. Actually, I just don’t believe that works.

Why are single stall restrooms designated men and women?

I’ve always thought this was stupid. In Minneapolis there is a building code that requires bars and restaurants to have two separate bathrooms for men and women regardless of their size . There is always talk of changing this to allow for uni-sex single stall bathrooms but so far nothing has been done about it. Apparently people feel pretty strongly about this. I don’t know, it seems silly to me. Then again, I spend a lot of time with trans-people and gendered bathrooms can be a major concern for this community.

I was at a restaurant for dinner last night and I went to use the bathroom. There were three guys waiting to use the men’s room. One of the guys commented about how strange it was for their to be a line for the men’s room. Another mentioned that the women’s was available so the first guy used it. I see this happen all the time and I never have an issue with using the women’s room. We all pee so what’s the big deal?

The only thing I have to say is to the guys. If your going to pee standing up, please lift the lid. And if you miss a litte, clean it up. Then put the seat down. It’s pretty simple. Just leave things the way you found it. Is that so hard?

So not all of my posts will be about the biggest issues of the day but I hope you will still let me know what you think.

Why do liberals think they know what it’s like to be black?

… or what it’s like to be gay, or a woman, or poor, or an immigrant or anything that they are not? Really, why does anyone think that they know what it’s like to be anyone else. I don’t mean to pick on people who consider themselves liberals but that is the culture I grew up in and that’s what I know. I’m routinely amazed at the level of hubris exhibited by white liberals in speaking for members of other cultures. I would never try to speak on behalf of someone else; or so I would like to think. I’ve probably done it myself. We all have blind spots.

I’ve spent the last twenty years or so being pretty active in the gay rights movement. When I first started I took on a position of leadership but I haven’t since. I never felt like I had the right to speak for a whole community. I know what it is like to be me. I know what my experiences with homophobia are, but to be honest, they are pretty limited. I grew up in a liberal city as a musician and a geeky artsy type. I never felt that expectation to “fit in”. I don’t know what it’s like to be the gay quarterback of the state champion high-school football team. I don’t know what it’s like to be the lesbian prom queen from a small town. I don’t even know what it’s like to be a transgender art nerd from Duluth, MN and I play in a band with one. Being part of a community, being part of a movement, being part of a band you hear a lot of stories. You get a sense of what it is like for someone else but you can’t really know what it is like.

In a way I get it. It’s part of the liberal ethos to try and put yourself in another person’s shoes. To see the world from their perspective. We try to immerse ourselves in another culture. It can become all consuming and at a certain point you start to feel like you really understand what it is like to be black, or Hispanic, or deaf or a single-mother on welfare. But can you really? I applaud the attempt. I know that people’s hearts are in the right place but let’s not kid ourselves. We can use this experience to build bridges but we can’t rebuild the building that have crumbled under oppression. We can use what we have learned from these experiences to build better connections, ‘to understand and heal ourselves, but we can’t fix anyone else. I understand the desire to raise our voices to compensate for the those that have been silenced but we need to remember that they are our voices. We can’t speak for anyone else.

And even more than that, we can’t tell someone else what it is like to be them!

The other day I heard a white woman tell a black child that the world was unfair and that he would be judged more harshly because of the color of his skin. This child was in trouble and the woman was worried that if he didn’t change his ways that he would become another black male statistic. The boy is adopted and his white mother was there as well. I could tell that she had the same concern. I’m not saying that the concern isn’t warranted, I’m just saying that this woman had no authority to speak about it. This kid needs to know what it is like to be a black man in America but he needs to hear about it from someone who has been there. Even then, his experience is going to be uniquely his own. Times are changing and so is this child. No one can claim to know what his future will be like.

I understand the desire of white people to use their “white-privilege” to help those less fortunate but white people are not privileged. White people are not better. Racism and oppression are fucked up. They are corruption. We can’t use corrupt power to fight the power of corruption. All we have is love. All we can do is stand side-by-side in solidarity as one people. I understand the feeling of guilt about the injustices of the world but there is nothing to feel guilty about. There is no way to atone. All we can do is accept that we are who we are and that we are no better (or worse) than anyone else.

Okay people, use your voice. I’m sure I pissed someone off with this post. Don’t hold back, I can handle it.

Why do we have laws?

When I ask people this question I usually get a response along the lines of ,” Without laws we would have anarchy” to which I have to wonder if that would be so bad. It’s not like this highly regulated litigious world in which we live is paradise. Laws have not eradicated all of the problems associated with people living together. Also, law has not been a constant in human history but an invention which probably only dates back five thousand years and has changed dramatically over the course of history. There is no evidence or reason to suspect that the early, mostly egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies had a system of laws and some of these societies have still managed to survived until this day. Granted, they don’t have planes, trains or automobiles but they also don’t have war or crime.

Anyway, I’m not here to argue in favor of anarchy. I think that if we simply turned off the legal system one day that the results would be disastrous.  Laws may not be necessary but they certainly seem necessary in modern societies. I want to ask the question of why laws have become necessary, what that says about modern society and what are the benefits and consequences of having a law based culture.  Certainly this could constitute a person’s life work but it’s not my life work. I just have a few ideas that I want to get off my chest.

The first thing that comes to mind is that we have laws because, as a species, we kind of suck. We say that laws are the foundation of our civilization but the very fact that we need laws just tells me that we are not very civilized. If we accept that we need laws then we also need to swallow the bitter pill of reality and accept that we are not evolved enough to live without them. The fact is that human society has evolved far faster than human biology.

Certainly societal, as well as technological advancements, have been aided by the invention of laws but what if laws have also had the unintended consequence of hindering biological evolution. My limited understanding of evolutionary biology and natural selection tells me that over time desirable traits in a species will get replicated while undesirable traits will become muted. Is it possible that laws have allowed people to reproduce and pass along traites that if it weren’t for these laws would have been eradicated long ago? I know that is a dangerous idea and rings of Social Darwinism, but seriously, if murder was legal I’m pretty sure that the genetic trait causing someone to think killing a member of their own species is a good idea would quickly be removed from the gene pool.

Actually, that is a pretty sensitive subject for me. It’s not really something I can joke about so I will leave that to Louis C. K.

I don’t even think I could write a song about it but thankfully Soul Asylum has done that for me.

I certainly don’t need a law to tell me that murder is wrong. I have evolved past that kind of thinking as I think most people have. These laws really only apply to that class of people who are not as evolved as us. These are the people we call criminals. We need laws so that we can identify who the criminals are. That’s why I don’t understand the gun rights advocates who claim, “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” That seems like a brilliant idea! We could eliminate crime by just rounding up all the gun owners and removing them from society. Problem solved. Of course I don’t believe that criminals are a class of human singled out and removed. Besides, we already have drug laws to do that.

And then there are the laws that have nothing to do with morality, identifying right from wrong and conveying it to the masses too unevolved to figure it out on their own. There are plenty of laws which serve the whole of society and allow us to function in this modern world. Traffic laws, food safety laws, building codes and environmental protections attempt to serve the common good by creating uniformity, predictability and by reducing the potential for harm. Still, in a more perfect world we could probably handle this through education with standards, guidelines and traditions.

The real reason why we need laws is because they are essential to enforce a hierarchical system. In order for the powerful to retain power they need to the rule of law. Historically laws have been written by the rulers to benefit the rulers. Even in our modern liberal democracy laws are written by the powerful and primarily serve to preserve the hierarchy while giving the illusion of equality.

This is not to say that human and equal rights protection laws are a bad thing. I’m just saying that they are only necessary in a hierarchical society. I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, obviously, but you only need to grant freedom of speech to people who are not free.

Ahhh… there is so much more that could be said about all this and I’m sure that I will in the future. For now I am hoping you will help me out by posting your thoughts in the comment section.

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