Thursday, June 19, 2014

Friend-zoning and Entitlement

A few weeks ago, Anna and I were discussing a friend of mine's romantic entanglements. I jokingly stated that he had been "friend-zoned", and Anna paused. Then she said something extremely insightful about the whole idea of "friend-zoning", and I am now going to share it with you.

First, a brief definition of "Friend-zoning". Let's say that Person A has a romantic interest in Person B. Person A pursues a relationship with Person B. Person B, however, is not interested in Person A "that way" and wishes to remain "just friends." In this situation, Person A has been "friend-zoned" by Person B: That is, A has been relegated against his will to the zone of friends.

And Anna's objection was very simple: That the whole concept of "friend-zoning" is soaked through with entitlement. And after hearing her reasoning, I had no choice but to agree completely. Here it goes:

When you say that someone has been "friend-zoned", you imply (however subtly) that a wrong has been done to him. It implies that he has been denied something that is rightfully his; Moreover, you imply that the "friend-zoner" is, in some subtle but real way, committing a wrong. They're "not giving him a fair shot", or "not giving them a chance."

Which is pretty horrifying, actually.

See, to get to that point, you have to follow a really weird chain of logic.

1: I have a romantic interest in this person.

2: I desire to begin a romantic relationship with this person.

3: I am acting super nicely towards this person, and not like a douchebag at all.

4 (and here's where it gets odd): Because of 1, 2, and 3, I am entitled to a romantic relationship with this person.

And finally, the horrifying conclusion of 5: In denying me this romantic relationship, this person is committing a wrong against me and relegating me unjustly to the zone of friends.

Now, you might say that numbers 4 and 5 aren't necessarily part of the whole phenomenon. That you can have "friend-zoning" as a concept without all the entitlement. And while that may be true in a vacuum, I don't think it can be true here and now. And if you want proof, just think of the last TV show or movie you saw where someone got "friend-zoned." Heck, Anna and I just saw it while re-watching Scrubs for the umpteenth time. Was it portrayed as just something that happened, a morally neutral occurrence? Or was it treated as an unjust act, either to be rectified or merely recovered from?

No. The whole complaint of "friend-zoning," the entire idea, is built on a sense of commiseration and sympathy for the friend-zone-ee, and a sense of (at best) good-natured hostility/condescension towards the friend-zone-er ("She'll come around, you just need to keep at her"). And the fact that such an attitude is unconscious in most cases makes it more problematic, not less, because it is merely one more instance of the sense of entitlement: Indeed, it is not much of a stretch at all to say that it is nothing more nor less than an extension of Rape Culture that thrives through its subtlety.

It's this idea that all a guy must do in order to be rightfully owed a relationship (and possibly sex as well), is to merely not be a douchebag. And the danger of such an idea was illustrated in vivid color when an entitled man-child got fed up with not receiving what he was owed and murdered six people.

Addendum: My good friend Kellen pointed out a similar (but ultimately distinct) situation that needs teasing out: That of the hopeful suitor (Person A) who is actively being kept on the line by the suit-ee (Person B). This bears certain similarities to "friend-zoning", but is made different by the fact that in this case, Person B is actively encouraging Person A in his efforts, and is using Person A to reap some of the benefits of a true relationship, with no intention of returning those benefits. Therefore, while Person A may still bear some responsibility through entitlement, Person B shares in it as well, by actively encouraging and taking advantage of it.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Prayer in Uncertainty

Every day, at 1:00 pm, my phone goes off, with the word "Prayer" emblazoned across the screen. It's a remnant from my church's "Reach One" challenge: Every day, you were supposed to pray for one minute for one person who you wanted to reach, and the set time was meant to make it easier.

The challenge only lasted one month, but it never occurred to me to turn it off. So every day, at 1:00, I'm reminded to pray for my friend, and (almost) every day I pray for that one person. And I pray largely the same prayer. The periphery varies, but the core is consistent:

I pray that God will work the circumstances of  my friend for His glory, and for my friend's salvation. And I pray that if I have a role in that, that I will play it well.  

I've written a lot about free will, and Providence, and the possible relationship between the two. Entire theologies and denominations have centered on this relationship, this paradox. And I don't know how it all works out (although i do have some thoughts).

But here's the important bit: When I'm praying, I'm not thinking about all that. It's not super helpful at that moment. Because for the purposes of this prayer, it really doesn't matter. What matters is that we're told to pray, and we're told that prayer matters, and we know that prayer can even change the future... and that's good enough for me. I think there is a time for hypotheticals, for abstract reasoning and theoretical models of cause and effect, but that time is not during the act of praying.

I do not need to know how God will work my friend's situation for His glory and my friend's salvation. I do not need to know how God can providentially call my friend to Him, without violating my friend's free will. I only know that God can do that, and that is enough.