In my twenties, I learned that friends who fall in love with you will ultimately fall in hate with you. Resentment and irrational hope will do that. By the time they learned that “no” didn’t mean “not yet”, I was emotionally invested in the friendship and often tangled up in a life I now had to unknot. Nobody ever died from losing a friend, of course, but the “I-love-you-I-hate-you-how-dare-you-fuck-you” rollercoaster wasn’t my idea of fun. I preferred a teacup ride: Zen-calm and straightforward.
In my thirties, I decided I could overcome this problem. I tried being direct: “We will never fuck. And by “never” I mean “never.” If you’re unsure about how “never” is defined, please use the dictionary placed conveniently in that bookshelf right there.”
It never worked. And by “never” I mean “never.” I got so used to crawling around these friend-crushes that my automatic response to a new relationship was guilt. Romance was the only way to demonstrate that yes, I really did mean “never.” Dejection always followed, and anger was never far behind. These men refused to respect my boundaries, but they usually respected those of another man. Go figure.
Then they’d disappear from my life entirely, and while I empathised, I also missed them. For a while, I simply dropped friendships the minute they became one-sided, but I’d always wonder if I was making a grave mistake. People are treasures, and I didn’t want to lose anyone unnecessarily.
I’m now in my forties, and I have two male friends who’d happily drag me off to their man cave. One has been my friend for 10 years, the other, six. Funny, that. There is no drama in these relationships. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why this is, and all I can point to is my unwillingness to entertain their romantic feelings. Once I’ve expressed disinterest, the subject becomes too irrelevant to even discuss. This makes my word seem unequivocal, which is just as well because it is. My boundaries are made of carbon steel, and every time you try to scale them, I will defend my territory.
I no longer have nice guys in my friendship circle either. I’m better at spotting these kinds of men now, so entitled assholes rarely sneak into my life these days. Age has its perks. This is certainly one of them. If you feel entitled to my body, I have no interest in knowing you.
Men and women can be friends. I’ve learned this from experience, but I’ve also learned that my behaviour in my twenties was confusing. In trying to protect men’s feelings, I expressed my disinterest too ambiguously. I used to smooth down my supposedly unequivocal “nevers” with enough niceties to baffle them. Honesty can fix a thousand problems, and unrequited love is not the least of them.
It’s also kinder. Indirectness causes more hurt feelings than honestly ever will.