First things first, this is not “the zone” that many creative folks (programmers, even) keep talking about – that near-mythical, yet real stretch of time where you get stuff done that would otherwise take days of toil. This is the often hated and derided “friendzone” that I’m going to talk about today.

In theory, it sounds a reasonable thing to hate on or be scared of, right? Imagine having feelings for someone and only to have them tell you that they want to be “just friends”. You cannot just extinguish your feelings for them in a moment, and are supposed to behave as if what you felt was just an aberration and then move on with life. Wouldn’t that be the perfect recipe for mental agony? A cruel joke played on you by your heart and your luck ganging up on your poor little self? For no fault of yours, you are being stuck in a place where you would never want to be, and are expected to grin and bear it. Well, like many other theories surrounding our emotions, this one too springs from a desire to find an easily digestible solution to a tricky situation. One which requires little or no introspection, and definitely no swallowing of a hard pill.

Most often, the friendzone is portrayed as this dreaded place where you are put (against your wish, of course) by someone who not only does not reciprocate your feelings for them, but also expects you to “take it on the chin” and continue being there for them. That’s exactly where I have a problem with the narrative. Firstly, just as you have the right to have feelings for someone, they too have an equal right to not feel for you in the same way (or in any way, in fact). Your feelings for someone are (sadly) not a prize you bestow on them. They are just what they are – your feelings, for someone. Secondly, no one can or should force you to “stay in the zone”. You have a right to take a step back and step away if it hurts you to listen to the “no”. What you do not have a right to is to make the other person’s life miserable or blame them in any manner for making yours miserable.

Now, I understand that it is quite painful when you want to be with someone and then they say that they don’t feel the same. I have been there a couple of times, and I know it kicks your heart’s ass (if your heart had an ass, that is). However, it’s really about stepping into the other person’s shoes and looking at the situation from there. Would it be fair to them to accept someone’s proposal just because they are a good friend. A friendship (however deep and loyal) doesn’t entitle someone to romance. Romantic love is not an obvious logical progression of every friendship. For some, it might be. For most, it isn’t. Most of the hatred/fear for the friendzone comes from this very entitlement. Though everyone can find themselves in the friendzone, this entitlement (sadly and yet predictably) is more of a male thing. One needs to get this thing clear – Nobody owes anyone love/sex/romance just because you have been a “nice person” to them. Get that thought out of your head (and ass) ASAP.

So what does one do when they are “stuck in the zone”? The first and the most essential thing to do is to accept that this is not the earth-shattering calamity that it feels like. Yes, you are hurting, and yes, you will get over it eventually. Discuss it with them and understand their point of view, too. Stay away from them if you need a break. They might ask you to stay around, but you are not needed to unless you are on solid ground. When you are hurting, it’s better to take time off and sort out your head rather than stay around and get messed up further. Whether it’s love or just a fleeting attraction, you don’t have to be a martyr to it. When you are feeling better, you can always get back and see if you can still have a healthy friendship.

Secondly, take as much time as you need to heal, but don’t expect to heal in a specific time-frame. Go by how you feel, not by how you are supposed to feel. It might take 10 days or 10 weeks, you are the one who sets your timeline. If and when you do get back, don’t try to “steer things” towards how you want them to be. That’s a jackass move, and will not do any good for anyone.

If you noticed the usage of “if and when”, I have got news for you. Yes, it is quite possible that things may never return to what they were, inspite of you trying honestly. And while that’s regrettable, it is what it is. Swallow that pill and step away while you still can. It will do you well down the line.

Ultimately, it boils down to one simple thing – nobody is entitled to anyone’s love, or friendship. Don’t be selfish, and don’t let others be that way with you.

P.S. In case you are wondering if it is ever possible to “break out” of the friendzone, it is indeed possible. I can say that for sure because I have done it once. But I will be the first person to tell you to not hang around in hope – that road leads to nothing but disaster.