I Always Friendzone Myself; Always.
No one likes to be friend zoned, especially by someone we harbor deep-ass feelings for; it sucks. When you thought you were developing some type of intimacy with that special someone and they drop the line of social attraction death: “Aww, you’re like a sister/brother/cousin/incest-like” label to you. While you’re at it, might as well push me in the middle of a frozen lake in the dead of winter.
Landing your ass in the friend zone is a God-awful thing to happen to you and I have a laundry list of friends who have ended up doggy-piled in the friend zone. All I can offer them is a shot of top-shelf tequila and a Chipotle burrito to keep their spirits afloat. And I’m really praying the tequila works because I really have nothing else to offer them except a box of half-empty tissues and a pint of grocery store gelato.
But what do you do with yourself, if you friendzone yourself like I always do?
I’ve struggled with my weight since I was a kid. My immigrant parents had no idea what childhood obesity meant until it was too late. I lived most of my young adult and current life being overweight and was always the heaviest girl in my grade. Even though I’ve learned to focus on body positivity and loving my body, it’s still a touchy topic for me to discuss openly. And when it comes to dating, or talking to someone I’m really digging, I can’t fucking stand an ounce of rejection because of my size. I abhor the sentence “Oh if Olyvia was a little thinner she would look cute.” People are goddamn blind and can’t see I’m already cute as fuck! At least I try be. But I’m too prideful when it comes to romantic rejection because I believe that I am an intelligent, successful, hard-working individual who deserves the best and worthy of love as well. So for the sake of my own selfish pride, I cockblock myself. I make the excuse and selfishly claim that I would rather “bro-it-out” with a guy I’m crushing on than to make any romantic advances. But the utter, raw truth is: it’s a defense mechanism.
The moment I find myself attracted to someone, I diverge and send the feelings of excitement or attraction back to the neuroreceptor it fired from. It’s like a form of self-control so arduous to endure but bulletproof. I sometimes refer to myself as a child of Buddha and I must remain pure and wholesome, but, in fact, Buddha doesn’t really care: as long as I don’t harm myself or others, I’m golden. This sounds dramatic, but when you’re trying to make irrational thoughts and processes to form a complex, well, that’s your logic to swear by.
I’ve tried to let my guard down and just go along for the ride and the thrill of attraction. But ultimately, I end up downplaying myself and dashing to the friend zone. Like the time two years ago, at age 24, I harbored some feelings for a friend and decided to confess before he moved back east. For the sake of anonymity, we will call him East Coast Boy. I scripted my confession to be about him and how he was moving away and us being in a long distance relationship would be difficult. Yet as stubborn as I may be, my heart was wavering between committing to my plan of friend zoning myself or going with my gut and making my feelings known. And cowardly so, I stuck to the safest plan I already drafted and didn’t tell East Coast Boy about my true feelings. I didn’t even give myself the platform to voice my wants or needs from the relationship. I didn’t even give myself the small percent chance to know that he could possibly reciprocate my feelings.
I recall the night of the confession, the spring air was dry with a chilly breeze in a-town-in-the- middle-of-nowhere Oregon. My conclusion of that entire experience was me being selflessly selfish; I resisted in revealing my true feelings only for personal gain to further fuel my defense mechanism. It’s horrible, I cheated myself of opportunity. I cheated myself to make it easier to save face. I’ll never know how East Coast Boy truly felt, but he chose to go along with the escape route I neatly laid out for him. He said that starting his career was his primary goal and moving back East would make it hard not only for us, but hinder us from working towards our personal and professional goals. I had beaten him to the friend zone first. I saved myself before my spirit got crushed. During the drive home, I cried like a newborn baby; I weeped harder for being so stupid to dispose of my emotions like trash.
I remember turning the ripe age of 7 — the childhood chunkiness set in. That summer I was going to start 3rd grade and my mom took my sister and I school clothes shopping. My Tiger mom dragged us to Walmart, the mecca for Asian moms to save money on clothes (and every other possible household item), she made me try on the same pair of pants in three different colors and sizes. She then started to notice after that summer that I grew exponentially. By the time I had reached the 5th grade, my elementary school graduation was filled with chubby cheeks and stretchy waisted jeans that my grandma had added extra elastic scraps to. My grandma was the most supportive in my transition into childhood obesity; she thought it was something I would grow out of, sort of like baby fat. She would bust out her old seamstress skills every summer and re-hem the waistbands of my pants so they would be looser and didn’t feel like they were encasing my waist like smoked sausage. She never called me fat but just a little chunky and then served me extra helpings of “thịt kho” or braised pork with eggs, her signature Vietnamese comfort food. But all my classmates, even teachers, knew I was the fat kid who couldn’t keep up with the running group in P.E. class but could slam down a McDonald’s happy meal like no one’s business. They already labeled me the fat Asian girl.
The night before my first day of middle school, I tossed and turned in my shared bed, trying to fall asleep; my head was throbbing from adrenaline and sweat-induced anxiety. I was terrified of starting middle school as a fat kid and the one who would be the brunt of all the bullies’ jokes. I had binge-watched one too many episodes of the popular Canadian show, “Degrassi”, to be fully prepared to enter middle school.
A former coworker once told me that kids are little asshole spawns. He wasn’t wrong; kids are assholes and the bullies that tormented me in middle school were indeed asshole spawns. They were cruel but also crafty little bastards when it came to making my life miserable. There were the classic spit wads that got tangled in my jet black hair which I scrambled to pick out before my grandma would find them when I came home from school. One of the bullies thought it would be funny to launch twinkies and ding-dongs at the back of my head on the way back from lunch to 5th period. The only thing bullies did that tested my patience was stealing my school supplies my mom had bought for me and they would snap and break my pencils in half, the ones with Disney princesses or popular cartoons. My mom worked overtime every summer before school started to afford them.
Even though their antics should have crushed my spirit after the 4th twinkle launch, I still had the resiliency to withstand the torture from 6th to 8th grade. Sometimes I was tempted to skip class and walk to the public library to read books but I thought how sad my grandma would have been to know that I was so defeated from bullying that I wasn’t putting education first. I never did skip a single class but I wasn’t the best student my parents raised me to be, my tenacity to invest in my studies was ruined by the consistent bullying. Yet, I think the best part of middle school was knowing that after 8th grade, half of those fuckers were getting separated and that I was going to take revenge on them by excelling in my high school career and then attend university. That’s when the real fear began to brew and the friend zone complex began to form.
A tiny metaphorical wall began to lay it first foundations of my defense mechanism.
High school was a silent battle I had to win on my own. I knew teenage angst in combination with superficial relationships were going to be the bane of my success/existence and I had to use that to my advantage to achieve victory. I remember the popular girls talking behind my back. High school girls could possess the tongues of wisdom and charisma but they chose to use it for their petty gossip. I should have made it easier on their mouths if I just went by “Fat Amy”. At least their skinny asses wouldn’t have anything to say behind my back. As if being a hormonal teenager wasn’t detrimental enough in forming positive body image and self-esteem, this type of environment fostered a toxic playground. I was told I was too fat for boys to date me and that I would never really make it life; cliche and so feeble of the naive high school mentality. But despite the bullshit served to me daily, I stayed above it. Indeed this was a dark time in my life, yet I didn’t perceive it as a dark place but of warning me how harsh the world was going to be for someone like me. It was just a taste of the bigger world of hate that exists. I survived high school, but not for a second did I think I was worth less than what I deserved. It was the resiliency I built that propelled me to carry my damaged teenage soul through the bitter end of the finish line.
Another metaphorical wall layer thickened my defense mechanism. Each layer was a representation of my trauma being laid to rest and my resiliency growing stronger to withstand the pain.
I thought I escaped the consuming thoughts of self-consciousness and self worthiness through investing in my studies and prepping for my future in high school. I thought I had clung onto my sanity though persevering because my family and filial piety kept me grounded, kept me motivated to dissociate from the social dysfunction of my high school life. Yet, when you’re exposed to certain trauma or negative effects from a series of dark events, it kind of fucks you up a bit inside. Even if you try to completely erase that trauma, some pieces of the shitty experiences follows you, plague your mind throughout life, sometimes recycling the memories, reopening the original trauma. The only agreeable and healthy way I dealt with the trauma was to acknowledge it and cope through building my self-esteem, confidence, and repairing my spirit.
I built such a grand wall to block out invading emotions and further strengthen my defense mechanism. As the builder, why can’t I tear down my own creation?
Sometimes I don’t fucking get myself. I really don’t. If you met me in real life and we sat across each other talking, we would probably get along and hitting it off, drinking coffee while connecting. Needless to say, I’m a thriving extrovert, I love people and people love me. I’m sociable and can be an avid public speaker; I can hustle your ass into buying a $6 iced coffee drink and with my influencer personality and people skills. Yet when it comes to someone I’m crushing on, I try to pull myself out by tricking my mind to overhype my person of interest openly to friends and boasting that I have a potential “bae” or love interest. But when the opportunity presents itself, I start sprinting to the friend zone faster than football quarterback, Russell Wilson. Like a good friend of mine always teases, “always Bro-lyvia, never a Bridesmaid”. This self-erected wall was only rising higher.
Like raw honey dripping with unpasteurized goop, the raw truth surfaces with it: the cost at which I let this wall crumble is too expensive and my shame, self-confidence, and sense of resiliency will crumble with the wall, it’s too risky. I wouldn’t allow myself to let my guard down. Just like every cost or risk analyses, I couldn’t justify financially, more so mentally, that the wall wasn’t going collapse. The risk of being hurt and my esteem being attacked was a risk I didn’t want to gamble on it.
It wasn’t until my 4th year of college in 2014 did I experience my first heartbreak and I was such a hot, sloppy oatmeal, of a mess. I reached the ultimate lowest version of Olyvia I could have become and it happened when I let the wall come down for a brief moment.
I was a student leader at my university and had everything good going for me, an amazing student leadership job, the perfect group of supportive friends, an impeccable beer pong winning streak, and I was graduating the following spring with my 5th-year college cohort. I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding undergrad career and the school grind was like a train exceling with aggressive inertia. The train came to an abrupt halt and time stopped when I met Foreign Exchange Boy.
He was a visiting international student and we had become friends our a span of a year. I didn’t really understand what it felt like to have a friend of the opposite sex pay more attention to me beyond what my college “bros” had already done for me. I couldn’t register what it meant when someone was being more affectionate in a friendship. I was a fat girl who got noticed by an oppa for the first time and in my mind, I could only think about how lucky I was to finally be graced with the concept of I thought was “love”. A late bloomer in the game of courtship, my heart was going to be broken in a million pieces and I couldn’t even sense it; this was going to fucking suck.
A cliche Korean Drama, plot and ending, that’s exactly what happened between us and our storyline of events; the dramatics were not an understatement. I had confessed my feeling for Foreign Exchange Boy on a blistering cold, winter night (true story) and he never answered my confession with his honest answer. He thanked me for opening up about my feelings and stated that we remain best friends. So we continued to study every night at the library until our eyes couldn’t open. We overspent and bought each other excessive cups of coffee and we even partied together every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. My feelings were still the same and at that point, like Lara Jean from “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”, it was a crush so intense, I didn’t know what to do. Of course, I didn’t write any letters in place of my confessions but I couldn’t quite keep my shit in line either. Again, this was the first time oppa noticed this fat girl. The ending to this drama was already brewing with a tragic ending.
His study abroad time in the U.S. was over and it was time to say our goodbyes with one of those stereotypical sad airport scenes just like in a Korean Drama. I exaggerate, not. It was so dramatic and filled with snotty noses and salty tears that I was standing behind the TSA line watching him slowly walk through to other terminal with each 10 feet he walked, he turned around to look at me and cry harder each time he turned around. Queuing up more dramatics, I remember my heart sinking so low in my chest, that I stumbled to the nearest metal pill to hold myself up while I cried, grabbing my chest for air just like the female protagonist. I was dripping with Korean drama ending swag and still wonder if the TSA security got a kick out of watching my tragic breakup scene.
The next 9 months after Foreign Exchange Boy left, my heart had a void, like the ray of brightness in my life vanished and my world felt dim. My one-sided love continued and I went through motions of rage, depressive sadness, and recurring facades of happiness for the sake of my friendships and social life. My self-worth and perception of the world around me plummeted. Half the time I was angry at him and half of the time I was angry with myself for letting this happen to me. My friends and social circle were catching onto my defeated soul towards the middle of my healing process. They were the first people to notice that my random and inconsistent cycles of rage, happiness, and depression. They knew that I wasn’t my normal self, the Olyvia who was always in control of herself. Except this time, I couldn’t control how fast the wall was collapsing.
I’m disgusted with the former, heartbroken Olyvia but I needed to illustrate that moment of drama for you to understand why I closed the door to the wall after that experience. It was like a natural disaster hit and destroyed the majority of the wall I had built over the years to only be repatched with fresh trauma and reseal the wall.
Most of my episodes of rage was my anger for being so fucking dumb to let another human being make me feel so lowly of myself. I was more hurt because he never told me how he truly felt about me and why he couldn’t return his feelings for me. It wasn’t until I came to make peace with the fact that he constantly nagged me to go to the gym or eat less because it wouldn’t be “healthy for me” and that I would be more pretty if I was more “fit” like the other girls. His hints became more of a demand. It didn’t help my case either that he had been my drinking buddy every other weekend during junior year. It was an assumption I could make peace with as closure yet I wished he would have ruthlessly honest and told me I was too fat to be with him in order for me to taste the bitterness of raw truth sooner; the brutal taste of bitterness was only going to make me grow thicker skin in the long run.
I rebuilt the wall, patching each plank with fresh trauma and laid it to rest; an extra layer of protection was added to strengthen for a potential second blow.
The recovery time it took me to get back on my stubby feet was a long and arduous battle with my self-confidence. Time would pass by and I couldn’t really perceive the world around me and didn’t really know how to connect with people or myself; I was healing in order to regain basics of trust and self-love. I was bitter and I forced myself to turn my attention in the healing about me and only me, I refused to turn part of my healing period as a battle of rage and angry at the person who didn’t respect me in the first place to tell me his true feelings.
I discovered how costly it was to let that wall momentarily be opened. This was my healing and only mine to invest in; Foreign Boy was irrelevant to the process. The result was a threat that took a sharp stab at my self-concept and confidence, it was a threat on my pride. The hardest part was realizing that this turned into a journey of not fulfilling my supposed “love” for him but more so the path of discovering self-love and how that could carry me further in the process of healing instead of fixating on the fact that the wall had collapsed.
The wall cannot be easily broken but can be momentarily abandoned.
A few months prior, I shared a brief excerpt from this story with my life coach. I was overly excited to share a snippet of the story with her because this was one of very few pieces I’ve written that contained vulnerable truths about my experience living as a plus size Vietnamese female. I sent her the first few paragraphs and her response was unexpected but definitely in the realm of life-coach wisdom:
“Can I provide some Chi Hai (sisterly) mind wisdom? I empower you to get out of your own way…So you can be leading to the life that has been waiting for you. That’s your motto for next year . . .”
She wanted me to “get out of my own way”. I was struck with confusion as I reread her message. I guess she was right. No, she was right, I had been standing in my own way without realizing it. I was the only player on the field and I was ultimately the only player preventing myself from scoring a touchdown — I was guarding myself by hiding in on the penalty line and giving myself the penalty card before I could even play in the game. In this case, the game of courtship and romantic relationships.
So I put my life coach’s wisdom into practice and I only did so because I was threatened with extraneous physical activity and hours of unconsented nagging. I didn’t necessarily let the wall down but I momentarily left the wall and also left my football gloves on the turf field.
I recently had a heart-to-heart about old times and about a comical memory from the past with one of my really good friends I had befriended 3 years ago, Charisma Boy. He’s the ideal type — considerate, with a bright and killer smile, optimistic, a consistent troll who teased me often, and of course, someone who would listen to me vent about the daily hustle. We texted everyday and often for many hours just shooting the shoot with how our day went and other random facts about each other.
I felt so comfortable and I was also blessed to have spent time with him in person a few times throughout the years, so he had seen the multiple identities of me: Drunk Olyvia, overly caffeinated Olyvia, Olyvia eating cake, and other things I found self-conscious about myself, he had seen it all and still wanted to be my friend and gave me the attention any good friend should. Let’s just say, I got overly excited that another oppa had noticed me or so I thought noticed me as more than just a friend. It was the first time I feel safe being able to feel the motion of excitement and thrill of a potential romantic relationship.
I kept my feelings for him a secret for 9 months in order to push my endurance and self-restraint of bolting to the friend zone and losing out on another opportunity for a possible relationship. The suppression of my feeling though, caused pented up anxiety and combined with the overflowing thrill of giddiness. Again, I couldn’t quite keep my shit together; Charisma Boy struck some of my heartstrings.
So I confessed my feelings and guided with the power of Zeus’ thunder, I resisted reverting back to the friend zone. I abandoned my position and ran 100 yards away from the friend zone; Ballsy Olyvia was coming out to play.
I called him abruptly on a chilly summer night and told him my secret feelings and how my social circle was putting pressure on me to acknowledge my feelings for him. Yeah my friends were assholes, but they were right and I did right by them to confess my true affection towards Charisma Boy. I laid everything on the table and I stressed that I respected him as a person foremost and our friendship. I bit my tongue to stop myself from spewing out a potential exit plan and I let him take the wheel to respond to this loaded emotional bomb I dropped onto his lap.
Ridden with anxiety while I took a micro breath into the silence on the other line. He let out a high pitched “wow”. Filled with more silence his reply couldn’t have been more profound:
“I’m honestly shocked. Here I thought I was in trouble for saying or doing something stupid. Instead, you toughened up and were courageous enough to open up and tell me about your feelings. . .”
A small tear started to pool in my left eye.
“It is flattering to know that someone likes you that way so I appreciate your honesty. The entire time at summer camp, your friends knew about how you felt so they probably teased you a lot and had a few expectations here and there while I roamed through the entire weekend pretty oblivious about your feelings. . .”
My ears were searing hot with disbelief. He continued.
“But prior to this confession, one thing that you told me many times that stuck was that there wasn’t time for dating or that dating isn’t a priority because we both still need to figure out our lives before we tackle on another challenge in life, which is dating. So we saw eye to eye there. . . Our friendship won’t take a hit from you telling me about your feelings. If anything, the guts to confess made me respect you more. . .”
The tear from earlier evaporated; I rolled my eyes so far back in to my brain with continued disbelief.
“I value my friends and you’re one of my closer ones as of late. Someone who pushes me to go out of my comfort zone to grow as a person. Someone that I can relate well with. I’m not the type to give up on my friends that easily. Despite this, we can still be friends, you will get past your feelings for me because I know you’re strong enough to do so. . .”
My jaw dropped from the shock of his reply. Choking on my own my spit to catch my breath, I also answered with a high pitched “wow”. Charisma Boy immediately went into teasing me about the last weekend we had seen each other and told me that he should have been more affectionate to make me blush in front of our friend group. Oxygen was continuing to enter my chest and I was able to breath like normal again. I cracked a follow-up joke about how I fell for his stupid smile and he got fussy with embarrassment. We ended our call after I thanked him for listening and he responded like the good friend he is with “you don’t have to be afraid to be honest with me. I’m here for you, I’ll listen…”
This wall I erected was starting to crumble.
For someone who never wants to wind up in the friend zone, I sure do a good job at placing myself there. I don’t know if I’m a seriously sick-minded person to have built such a horrible defense mechanism but I’m working on allowing myself to lower my guard each day.
Growing up as a fat girl, my experiences informed me that people would see me and my weight negatively. While it’s true that I might have outgrown certain insecurities that formed being fat as a child, I’ve formed new ones as a woman whose learning what love is but more importantly the concept of self-love and how to make it applicable.
My life coach pinpointed the fact that I was leading myself down a tragic and self-inflicted path of pain. I had essentially fucked up my own thought process and the only way to unfuck it was to rip through my defense mechanism. Liberating and terrifying, I doubted myself in ever opening my heart and allowing myself to feel the raw emotions without reactive behavior.
Through my very first real heartbreak in college and realizing it might have been because of my weight was damaging and because of that, I’ve reinforced this wall I’ve built for myself even more. My defense mechanism stems from the assumption that people will not like me or find me attractive because of my weight and can you really blame me for developing such negative colored lenses?
Although the wall is slowly deteriorating with each new vulnerable experience, this chunky girl has a lot of growing to do still. Hopefully soon enough, I’ll meet someone who will help me continue to peel away that defense mechanism, a one-yard line at a time.
P.S. I wore Nike free runs the whole time I was running across the yard line and that shit kept causing me to trip in the friend zone.
**this piece is also published on Project Ava.