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Just...Friends?


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A car whooshes past the sidewalk of the small café, sending a warm gust of gasoline-scented air over the diners and momentarily drowning out a few words of their sentences. The sun shines brightly through the green-leafed trees, sending dappled patterns over the patio umbrellas and the wire-worked tables.

My friend Marcia, who attends a different school than I do, surveys me over her cup of orange juice with her bright green eyes. “So, give me the 4-1-1. Who are the candidates in the Bachelorette version of your life?”

“Well.” I sit back and push my plate of pancakes away; the sugary smell of the syrup is giving me a headache. “There’s Liam, the boy from my psychology class, but when I asked him out, he said he wanted to be just friends. And, um, there’s Caleb who I met at a friend’s party, but don’t worry – we’re just friends. And let’s see, who else? Oh yeah, there’s Elliot. Now he’s a catch! Sadly, we’re just friends.”

Marcia laughs. “Sounds like your friendships are all in order then, aren’t they? Time to move on, eh?”

I laugh with her and watch a cyclist in a bright yellow speed suit rocket past. As she moves to eat more breakfast, I dwell on what I had just said. My relationships with Liam, Caleb, and Elliot are completely different, but I had used the same words to describe each of them – just friends. The term suddenly has three distinct meanings to me: Being friends with Liam, where I want to be something more but he doesn’t; being friends with Caleb, where neither of us want something more; and being friends with Elliot, where I want something more but he won’t ever even consider the two of us being together.

I start with Liam, the boy who I had asked out this past month in my fifth hour psychology class. We had been friends for a while, and I thought that I had detected that flirtatious edge that comes right before a relationship blossoms from the garden of single adolescents. However, when I popped the question over chapter four notes five minutes before the bell rang, he had told me that he wanted to be just friends. Translation: I want to be something more than friends but he does not, but he’s way too nice to hurt my feelings by saying so to my face. The use of “just friends” in this instance is merely a buffer, as if being “just friends” is equally comparable to being in a relationship. It’s sort of like a parent who has to break disappointing news to a child, but then tries to inflate the splendor of a lesser alternative that is not nearly as comparable. ‘Sorry, we’re not going to Disney Land,’ they would say, ‘buuuuuutttt, we are going to the county zoo! We’ll spend all day there instead; how does that sound!?’ The second option is clearly not as desirable as the first, but it is introduced with the overdone cheer of one who is too nice to say the first bluntly and outright. There is an element of awkwardness between the two of us because there always seems to be a secret network of signs that expands between us like the spidery, number-filled innards of a computer system. He loaned me his book, does he like me? He just laughed at the joke I told, has he changed his mind? Being just friends with Liam means that we would still talk to one another, but I would have to watch everything I said and did around him, lest he think that I wanted to be more than just friends.

Now Caleb, he is an altogether different matter. We were watching a movie at a friend’s party and offering snide remarks on the side about the directing, acting, and overall script. One thing led to another and before either of us knew it, we were exchanging recommendations for movies and books and talking about favorite stories we had either seen or read. In this situation, “just friends” means that we would have the same sort of relationship that I have with either Marcia or my brother – we are comfortable enough to talk without wondering if we were projecting any pheromones of sultry desire, and we would never have the physical connection that is associated with the majority of relationships. It’s like being friends with a faithful, married man; you never have to worry about it evolving into something more because the two of you truly are just friends. Being just friends with Caleb means that the awkward does-he-want-me/does-she-want-me element is removed entirely from the relationship, and I can eat a whole plate of lasagna at dinner if I want to, and not worry about whether or not he doesn’t want to be with a woman who eats more than he does.

However much I enjoy my relationships with both Liam and Caleb, neither of them can even come close in comparison to Elliot. Elliot is a true fox; the kind of guy you see walking down the street and crane your neck, saying, ‘Whoa, now. I wonder if he has a girlfriend.’ With his athletic body that has been sculpted by year round physical training and his dark, thick shock of inky black hair, Elliot has the power to make a girl melt simply by leaning against a doorframe and saying with an accompanying nod of the head, ‘Hey, how’s it goin’?’. Being just friends with Elliot is completely different from being just friends with Liam and Caleb. When “just friends” is used to talk about Elliot, it is said with a wistful tone because every time I see him, my mind launches into a highly realistic daydream involving any number of storybook adventures, from waltzing in the grand ballroom of Buckingham Palace, to zip lining through the jungle canopies in Honduras. In Elliot’s case, the “just” is a limiting factor on the word “friends” because I know that that is all Elliot and I shall ever be. Being just friends with Elliot means that he may or may not consider me anything more than “just a friend”, but I view him like the sun-kissed Romeo to my Juliette, the bad boy Tony to my Maria, and the always romantic Leonardo DiCaprio to my Kate Winslet.
Elliot differs from Liam and Caleb in another way: He is totally unapproachable. Think of Caleb as the little boy you have grown up with since the second grade and think of Liam as the most attractive boy in your school. Now, Elliot is like the most smokin’ hot celebrity you know. That is why being just friends with Elliot and being just friends with Liam are completely different; I can send an email to Liam with just a how’s-it-hanging or a maybe-we-can-grab-a-warm-beverage-after-sledding type message, but to send that same message to Elliot? C’mon. We’re just friends.



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