Ryan Chartrand

Over the course of our acquaintance, every single one of my close male friends has found themselves at some point or another in a place I shall henceforth deem “the danger zone.”

This has nothing to do with Tom Cruise in aviator sunglasses. In fact, a “Top Gun” runway with a fighter jet hurtling toward you at 180 to 200 mph might even be safer than the zone I refer to.

This danger zone is a hazy gray battleground, filled with mines and traps and, at the same time, plenty of rewards, if you can survive long enough to get past the defenses.

This is the perilous place between friends and more-than-friends.

The line between these two is usually well-camouflaged. Keeping a watch out for it is tricky business; in the midst of combat, you can be so preoccupied with other threats that all of a sudden you may find yourself treacherously close to the front. If you cross this line, you run the risk of being forever captured in friends mode, and you can say goodbye to any romantic potential that once kept you awake at night.

At ease, soldier. Before you go AWOL, let’s strategize.

In all the relationship-oriented conversations I’ve had, the general consensus suggests that everyone wants to be friends first with his or her significant other before things turn romantic.

Intro psychology, the self-help section at Borders, and most likely your mother have all told you time and again that a strong, solid friendship is the best foundation for a relationship. Connections founded on lust don’t have the greatest track record in terms of longevity (except for those rare few that, by luck or by divine intervention, actually endure past the so-called “smoldering embers” into posterity). In the long-term sense, what remains after the passion fizzles out? Conversation, camaraderie, attachment – in short: the elements of friendship.

We all aspire to this ideal. We’re holding onto the hope that it will all play out so predictably: Meet someone. Chit-chat over coffee turns into conversations about life, love and everything in between. A warm, comfortable friendship develops, strengthens, and then, with any luck, blossoms into something more.

But if we’re all so stuck on this paradigm of perfection, why is it that sometimes, when you’ve found yourself at the make-it or break-it point of a potentially romantic situation, the last thing you want to hear is this: “This is so-and-so, my FRIEND.”

Ouch. Your hopes have just crumbled – as in, your ribcage just collapsed in despair.

“FRIEND? I’m just a FRIEND?”

This is exactly the situation in which my guy friends have found themselves (for some of them, more than once). I don’t know where exactly they go awry. But it seems their utmost efforts to be the good guy and the shoulder-to-cry-on are precisely what make them cross the line into friendship-only (and sometimes even sibling-like) territory. The pain of shooting themselves in the foot doesn’t compare to the shell shock of this dreaded phrase ringing in their ears:

“Aww, that’s sweet. but I only see you as a FRIEND.”

Then they sit in puzzlement, trying to reconcile for themselves how they fell prey to that old adage about nice guys always finishing last (they do not!).

The thing about romantic pursuits is just that: it’s supposed to be a PURSUIT, a chase of sorts. Attempting to cultivate romance from friendship involves maintaining a balance of (un)availability, (un)certainty, and (dis)comfort during the friendship phase itself.

The spark of possibility, the “what-if” factor, can’t be entirely relinquished if the hope is to eventually sway things in a romantic direction. The idea must be kept on simmer on the backburner.

What does this look like, in terms of behavior? A reversion back to the tried-and-true methods of grade school; that is, a playful sort of antagonism that’s just enough to keep the other person guessing. A little subtle teasing can be much more charming and effective than blatant, unnerving flirtation.

And “Hitch” (arguably, last year’s best how-to romantic comedy) says hitting is good.

Of course, it’s never impossible for romance to stem from a purely-friendly friendship. When it all comes down to it, anything’s possible with relationships. But generally speaking, interaction void of any chemistry (obvious or obscure) will not conjure up romantic feelings on its own.

I understand that the battlefield is a terrifying place to be, and there’s nothing more harrowing than finding oneself slipping dangerously close to the line.

So, keep an eye out. Whether it’s friendship or romance (or both) that you want, keep your target in your sights, bide your time. and fire when ready.

Sarah Carbonel is an English and psychology junior and Mustang Daily dating columnist.

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