I find the concept of the friend zone utterly baffling and bewildering. I understand the concept of pining for someone, of unrequited feelings and of maybe even having those feelings for someone who you spend a lot of your time with. But this idea that women seem to owe something to people who do enough nice things – and it’s unfair if they don’t – is confusing.

Maybe it’s just me?

“You said you were swamped today so I brought you lunch,” Nathan said, handing over a brown bag containing lunch to Iris, his friend who was swamped. She had not been expecting this and took the bag gratefully, cooing in delight as its contents. Ever-reliable Nathan knew what made a good lunch.

Then she froze, her sunny demeanour dropping from her. Nathan, who had been busy moving off to the side, only noticed when he glanced back on hearing her stand up.

“What’s wrong?” He asked “I get the wrong thing?” He was fairly sure he hadn’t, but it wouldn’t be the first time he got something wrong.

“No. You got it all right. Too right, in fact. Far too right…”

She sighed, pulling a small black book from her pocket* and flipping through it with a look of concentration on her face. Nathan blinked. He’d never seen that book before. Something about it made his skin crawl.

“What’s that?” He asked. She held up a hand for quiet as she counted silently, mouth moving. From the way her face screwed up – and from what she was obviously mouthing – it seemed she was engaged in some tricky mental maths. It seemed clear that the answer she reached was not one that made her especially happy. She sighed again.

“Girl guidebook. It’s a secret thing, keep it to yourself – technically I shouldn’t be doing this in front of you but, you know, we’re friends and all,” she said, flicking back and forth through pages. He couldn’t think of anything to add to this, and it hadn’t looked like she was finished anyway.

“I’m just checking to see if…yeah…yeah. See, now you’ve done it. Why did you have to be so nice to me?” She said, frowning at him. He had a distinct feeling he was missing something.

“What? We’re buddies, I didn’t do anything that special,” he said. To his mind he couldn’t imagine anyone being on as friendly terms as the two of them were and not acting in such a way. He tried, but he just couldn’t do it.

“Normally yes, but since you’re a man and I’m a woman our interactions are tabulated differently. I’ve added up all the pleasant things you’ve done for me recently and – unfortunately – we now have to have sex.”

This created something of a natural pause in the conversation. The clock on the wall nearby chose this moment to tick especially loud. Nathan cleared his throat.

“But…but I don’t want to have sex with you,” he said in a small voice. She shrugged.

“The feeling is mutual, but these are the rules.”

At this point she started taking her clothes off. Being friends, they had often being in varying states of undress around one another, but never had the prospect of nudity seemed so aggressive to Nathan. His eyes widened and he averted them immediately.

“No no I’m alright really, honestly,” he said, backing up, staring at a point somewhere above her head. By this point all of her clothes were off.

“I know, I’m really sorry about this. It’s just the rules, you see? My hands are tied.”

“Couldn’t you, ah, make an exception this once? I’ll be less nice in future, I promise. You tell me what level to go for and I’ll hit just below it, it’ll be fine, really,” Nathan said, his back to the wall. Iris sighed again. She was full of sighs, apparently, and not without good reason.

“I’m afraid not. I’m already in trouble for not sleeping with you after you bought me that drink.”

“But I owed you a drink!” Nathan protested. He had. Apparently Iris buying him drinks triggered nothing. What was more, the card limit at their pub of choice meant that buying a single drink had been impossible anyway, it hardly seemed a benevolent action to him.

“Them’s the breaks. Come on,” she said, embracing him somewhat mechanically. It was Nathan’s turn to sigh.

“This is ridiculous,” he said.

“Very. But what choice do we have? Let’s just get it over with.”

There followed a moment of teeth-gritting, silent agreement as Nathan realised there really was no escape from society’s rules and enforced expectations. He grunted, and began to unbutton his shirt.

“Alright. But after this we can just be friends, right?” He asked, shedding layers. Iris nodded.

“As long as you’re not too nice to me, yes. No more lunches or drinks! Or any errands! Or anything, really. Otherwise you’re owed this,” Iris said. Nathan, now half naked, frowned. Something about this whole setup just didn’t seem quite right to him. He felt the system was stacked unfairly in his favour for reasons he couldn’t understand. He didn’t get it.

“Something about that seems a bit off to me,” he said.

“You need to move with the times, clearly.”

“Clearly…”

Incredibly uncomfortable sex followed, leaving both of them with the distinct impression this whole exercise had been a bit silly.

*You can tell this is a work of fiction as women’s jeans have the kind of pockets you can fit something useful in. Sorry if this broke your suspension of disbelief.

END

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