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File Under: Love, Lust… or Later

File Under: Love, Lust… or Later

Allen P. knew he was in trouble.

Usually, through some kind of weird alchemy, he passed from the getting-to-know-you stage to the dreaded friend zone before he knew what was happening or why.

This time was different. The attraction between him and Reena was immediate. But when, after only one night, she was already dropping the “r” word, he realized she’d categorized him as a long-term prospect. While he, on the other hand, was still looking at her as a bit of fun — at least until he found out whether or not she had a history of madness in the family. Or was an Ayn Rand fan.

As harried, busy humans, we inevitably file people into categories. We meet someone and almost immediately, consciously or subconsciously, we try to figure out how and where he or she might fit into our diabolical machinations… er, dating lives.

Is Miss Hot Date a potential long-term partner? Is Mr. Fantastic good for more than a one-night stand? Do we keep Myron Poindexter on the sidelines while we rock the sheets with Sebastian Leatherpants?

“The thing about putting someone on the back-burner,” says Jessica, a kinesiologist/part-time waitress, “is that sooner or later you’re going to find yourself on the back-burner. It’s the Golden Rule: what goes around comes around.”

Signs you’re the back-burner person are fairly obvious — plans broken at the last minute, the phone not ringing, bed sheets already mussed when you arrive. For some it’s a safe, but not necessarily ideal, position to be in.

“It’s like you go to meet a friend for coffee,” says Jada P., a poet-artist. “You’re there, you’ve brought a book, you’re looking casual, but you’re not engaged in the book. You’re spending the whole time looking for your friend. You’re not really in your life.”

But do the two sexes differ when it comes to categorizing? “Guys are looking for a no-hassle situation,” says Jada. “They ask themselves, ‘Is this going to get complicated?’ Women don’t do that. They’re looking to engage, not escape. So they’ll categorize men accordingly.”

Asked if women have a double standard when it comes to whom they’ll sleep with, Crystal, an aspiring comedian, said yes. “A nice guy, if he’s too nice to the point of disgusting, will get totally put in that slot [of being kept on the line]. Whereas if the guy’s a total jerk, the girl will be like, ‘OK, let’s [have sex] right now.’”

It may be fair to say men, in general, have less of a hierarchical system; they either want to sleep with a woman or they don’t, and they’re not going to delay gratification according to some notion of future happiness. “I’m either interested or I’m not,” says Don S.

Inevitably, exceptions occur. “Right now I’m just categorizing according to people I can go out with and feel good about myself and not get into bed with,” says Eugene O., who is going through a divorce after a 12-year marriage. “I’m trying to avoid that.”

Still, our mental filing cabinet doesn’t always jibe with our emotions. “I spoke to someone last night,” Eugene continues. “I love talking to her, and she’s been great. I’ve been encouraging her to follow up on some guy things, and she did. And then I started feeling jealous that she’s going out on a date. I was going, ‘I don’t want her sexually.’ But then I felt a pang.”

One category that seems more likely to befall those poor hapless males time and again is that of the “friend.” For whatever reason — slowness, shyness, failure to launch — guys sometimes suddenly find themselves in the friend zone when they thought they were still in the new, not-as-yet-defined acquaintance period. Once in, it’s hard if not impossible to get out. Can men jump categories, say, from friendship to love interest? “No,” says Shannon M. “They [men] only go from bad to worse. They never go from bad to good.”

Jada takes a more equitable stance. “Alcohol helps,” she quips.

“I don’t know what that [the friend zone] is,” says Zan Perrion, Vancouver’s own enlightened seducer , a bit disingenuously. Avoiding the friend zone, he says, is as simple as touching her within minutes of meeting to let her know you’re interested in more than friendship. “That way she always knows where she stands with me,” says Perrion, “that I’m interested in more than friendship.”

But the friend zone is open to anyone, women included, says Adaline, a 27-year-old recording artist. “I think with the new generation of men who can’t commit that anyone can find themselves in the friend zone. Everyone wants to be friends — different kinds of friends, like maybe a friend-with-benefits. But no one’s dating.”

Guys, meanwhile, can lay claim to categorizing in a way that seems peculiar to the male of the species. That is, the tendency to place a woman on a pedestal. Supplicating, fawning, and doofus-like behavior is quick to follow.

“He’ll compliment me all the time, and he’ll stare at me — if I’m watching TV he’s staring at the side of my head,” says Karla V., a hair-stylist and makeup artist. Blessed by genetics with the kind of looks that often prompt aforementioned doofus-like behavior in guys, Karla says the attention can be as annoying as it is flattering.

“To me, it’s desperate. When I’m put on a pedestal, it’s usually wishful thinking where they’re like, ‘Oh, maybe she will sleep with me.’ And I end up hurting people, unintentionally.”

Karla isn’t immune to categorizing, either. She pigeon-holed one recent suitor in the “potential long-term” box because she was looking for stability and even got engaged. The arrangement didn’t take, however. “After awhile he repulsed me because he was expecting to have sex. At first I thought, maybe I could just lay there. Then I realized there’s absolutely no way.”

There’s another category, she says. “Never want to see again — weirdo.”

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