The femme friend zone

Many years ago a woman came to work in my office. She was divorced, a couple of years younger than I, petite and vivacious, a bit of an airhead but very likable. I guess you could say she exemplified cultural hybrid vigor, as her dad was a Kentucky hillbilly and her mother was from France.

Then as now, I neither solicited nor expected positive female attention, but I got it from her. I didn’t think about it at the time, but obviously her biological clock was winding down and I was eligible.

As things developed, we socialized at work and away from work, but it was strictly platonic. I had the feeling that ratcheting things up to a more serious status was an option, but something told me to hold back. From previous workplaces I had learned the potential pitfalls of dating co-workers. So I put this co-worker in the friend zone – though I didn’t know that term at the time – and kept her there.

She had her good and bad points. One good point was she took good care of her father in his declining years. Her bad point was her continuous, mindless chitchat, a common enough female fault I characterize as blather-rinse-repeat syndrome.

The soft spot she had in her heart for abandoned animals was a mixed bag, as her compassion had reached a point where the animals were running her life. There was something of a consensus among our mutual acquaintances that she should have gotten married young and had a passel of children to keep her busy.

She revealed to me that she had once had an abortion and that it had haunted her (she was raised Catholic) ever since. She even had a name for the child and celebrated what she estimated would have been his birthday.

Eventually she changed jobs but we still got together occasionally. The co-worker dating taboo no longer applied, but I kept it platonic nonetheless. It just seemed right to me.

One day she told me she was getting married. I didn’t know the prospective groom but I knew his mother, who had also worked at our office. The mother had always impressed me as a tramp, so I wondered how her son had turned out. After meeting him a few times, I had him pegged as something of a ne’er-do-well, a semi-employed, divorced man with two kids. My friend had likely given up on the idea of having her own children, so I think she liked the idea of having an instant family.

On a subsequent visit to her house, I noticed that her husband was absent. Seems they had split up. There’d been a domestic violence incident in which she was the aggressor. End of second marriage. Curiously, she remained friendly with his first wife, who had the custody of the children, to whom she was now a quasi-aunt.

But there was another suitor out there: the bus driver who picked her up every day for her morning commute. One thing led to another and the two of them got married. My guess is that she looked at him as her last chance for a husband and he looked at her as someone to take care of him in his declining years, as he had health problems.

My visits to their house were infrequent. For one thing, I wasn’t crazy about dogs and cats jumping on me in tandem. For another, my friend and her hsuband were becoming a bit too religious for my taste.

I don’t mind when people wish me “a blessed day” or say grace before dinner. And when people say they will pray for me, I say thank you. But it got so bad at my friend’s house, I found myself checking my wristwatch to see if it was possible for five minutes to elapse without Jesus being introduced into the conversation. When it got to the point that the standard after-dinner entertainment consisted of DVDs of evangelists, I would feign a few yawns and take my leave.

Despite all the above, I liked my friend’s husband. Physically, he was a rather sluggish individual thanks to being overweight and diabetic, but he was pretty well versed on the issues of the day so he could hold a conversation of some substance. So I still made occasional visits, but I found myself spending more time talking to him rather than her.

One visit to their house stands out above all others. I was having a conversation with the husband when she asked him to do something. I didn’t hear what she said, as the remark was not addressed to me, and I was paying attention to what her husband was saying. We continued our conversation and she piped up again – something trivial pertaining to the curtains in the living room. But we continued our conversation until…

She suddenly lost it!

Shrieking at the top of her voice, she hurled every curse word in the book at her husband – and it basically boiled down to you’re not paying attention to me! Didn’t you hear what I said?

I can’t find words sufficient to describe how profusely abusive she was. Let’s just say there was a good reason they used women’s names exclusively to identify hurricanes until the late 1970’s. I’d seen my mother, my grandmother, and a cousin cut loose on occasion, but I’d never seen anything so extreme over anything so petty.

Ever the good Christian gentleman, her husband just sat there and took it, even though he must have been terribly embarrassed to be reduced to an invective receptacle in my presence. Apparently, he was turning the other cheek, though I wouldn’t have blamed him if he made her turn the other cheek. At least, he should have told her to shut her yap.

It’s always unsettling to witness these domestic spats when one is not part of the household. It’s difficult to get back to being pleasant and sociable afterwards, sort of like going back to business as usual the day after the firebombing of Dresden.

Well, I’ve been to their home a few times since then, but I have never forgotten that outburst. I had seen her get emotional before but none of the previous readings on the Richter Scale was close to this episode. Naturally, I could imagine myself being in her husband’s position. How would I have reacted? I don’t know, but I gave myself a pat on the back for putting her in the friend zone years before. I can’t always explain my decisions but I trust my judgment.

One day recently I got a voice mail from her. I called her up and found out her husband had passed away. He had worked three years beyond normal retirement age to provide more income for them and had enjoyed but one year of retirement.

Well, I haven’t talked to her since the funeral. I’m sure I will see her again. She’s not a bad cook, so I wouldn’t mind going over for a meal now and then. And I wouldn’t mind reciprocating in some way by taking her to a restaurant or a movie or whatever. But that’s as far as it will go. In a sense, we’re back where we started after three decades. I’m still eligible and she is still in my friend zone.

You can choose your friends but you can’t control their behavior. That goes for males and females. My male friends also have their faults. I accept them as they are, so I can do no less towards females. Until they come up with lifelike robots that can be programmed to be ideal companions, that’s just the way things are.

I’m not entirely sure what my friend’s financial status is, but she may be in the market for resources. The death of her husband eliminates his monthly Social Security check. I have no idea if he left anything in the way of an estate, but he has kids from a previous marriage, so I suspect they are remembered in his will.

She knows my house is paid for, she knows I have no debts, and she knows I’ve been putting money away for 35 years, so I have resources. She may be on the lookout for a fourth husband. If so, she’ll have to look elsewhere. I’ve seen her at her worst, so no matter her marital status or mine, I will keep her caged in my friend zone forever.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

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