Confessions of a Half-Boyfriend

Love and Sex

Confessions of a Half-Boyfriend

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Acouple of weeks ago, this website carried a harrowing piece about a specific type of man, who tends to care about a woman only until he is rejected by her. The author eloquently wrote about “half-boyfriends”, the “friendzone”, and the tough choice a woman is presented with: Going the whole hog with a male buddy who has just asked her out or losing a friend.

Of course, it is the woman’s right to accept or reject the proposal. But what the author failed to grasp is that choice swings both ways. The man also has a choice to continue the friendship or bounce out. The latter might seem the more selfish route to take, but it is often a mature one. It is kinder to the one who has his heart broken. If you gracefully decide to bow out of a friendship, you’re following the path of minimum damage.

I know this because I have experienced it first-hand.

Before society took digital loving to the next level, I fell in love with a girl, semi-analogue style. We’d met during the chaos of Delhi University admissions, our parents lurking somewhere in the background. We would eventually go to different colleges, but I mustered up every ounce of cojones I had that evening and friended her on Facebook.

I’d like to tell you that this was the start of a great, grand all-consuming romance, but the best-laid schemes of mice and men… It was a full two years before she actually sent me a message and asked for my number.

From texting sometimes to speaking at hours on end, we got closer and closer. I was lonely and she was too, and we quietly indulged our loneliness with bouts of catharsis from sundown to sunrise – back in the day when people still called each other over the phone. She was pragmatic, but had an inkling toward the arts. I was too swamped with the liberal arts and needed a dose of practicality in my life. It was a fit handcrafted by St Valentine himself (or herself).

Eight months in, I realised I wanted to meet more often, talk more often, and just be more with her. It seemed like the logical step forward in a relationship that already appeared quite involved. A month later, I mustered the courage to tell her about my intentions. Her response was: “I don’t feel the same way.”

I don’t mean to say that men who “hit and quit” or those who befriend women for the implicit purpose of sex don’t exist.

This is where my life turns on a dime. What I did next, I am not particularly proud of. But I’ve put it down to the follies of youth.

The day after she and I spoke, I celebrated my 21st birthday by going bald. I had become – as the great Indian philosopher Chetan Bhagat would write – the half-boyfriend before Half-Girlfriend.

It’s only in the last few years that we’ve found the vocabulary to qualify it, but “half-boyfriend” is a condition that has plagued humanity since the era of Dante and Beatrice. Men have been “friend-zoned” ever since we figured out how to talk to the opposite sex.

Before I get lynched, allow me to explain. I don’t mean to say that men who “hit and quit” or those who befriend women for the implicit purpose of sex don’t exist. That shit is real and also, deplorable. For most of us dudes in India, who have no reference point of women being actually nice to them in a platonic way, the niceness becomes a bat-signal for love. Things would be so much better without the elaborate and sneaky dance men and women are forced to perform while forging romantic connections, when a simple statement of your intentions would help things along.

What we have come to term the friend-zone is really just a communication error: On the part of women for not knowing that they ought to draw a line, and on the part of men for not thinking there could be one. I too hadn’t thought there was a line.

We continued to speak: I’d take my gol-gappatasting heart to a MasterChef episode. When I realised that she had begun speaking fondly of another guy, I read the writing on the wall. I knew if something were to happen between the two of them, I might act, ummm, a little unhinged. To preserve my sanity and self-respect in these dire straits, I bid her adieu. I told her I was going to block her from various social media platforms as seeing her always seemed to trigger an indescribable ache just above my stomach.

In 2017, this act of self-preservation and killing all contact, would make me an asshole masquerading as a “nice guy”.

When I said my goodbye, it wasn’t because I was expecting sex in return for my friendship. It was because I’d decided not to unravel and break down in full view of her. “Half-boyfriends” move on not because you took sex off the table but because he’d collapse if he did not. I haven’t seen much of the world, but I’m fairly certain no one wants to pass along condoms to a girl we harbour romantic feelings for, as she moans with some other guy – and two months later, tissues, as she moans about him.

Your average half-boyfriend is just a normal dude swimming in a fish bowl. He’s not a “nice guy” who is nice to you only so he can get into your pants and he’s definitively not how he’s played on screen by Boney ka launda. Romance is a complicated thing and everyone deals with rejection differently. Some knock down doors and some close them shut. But it doesn’t make us assholes.