Finding the line between friends and something-more can be tough, especially for Zainab. Photo: Rame Abdulkader.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Men, sigh! They act like they don’t play the same mind games women do, when in fact they 100 per cent participate in them.

It seems like, just when I think I’m getting a bit closer to deconstructing the ambiguity that comes with having a male friend, it all comes crumbling down, and it feels like the puzzle pieces never end.

To understand my point of view you must first understand that my perspective is that of a Muslim hijabi who grew up with the influence of the Arab culture while being immersed in a Western society—all the while trying to find a balance between the two in order to stay true to my values. Dating is not a thing we are encouraged to do but getting married is expected—let’s just say it’s complicated.

On top of that, a big portion of my life was spent in an all-girl school. So, for me, understanding the male mind and communicating with men has been an experience like that of an infant learning how to walk—I take two steps forward, but still I keep landing on my ass.

The one time I had a male friend who really liked me, I thought nothing of it until he came out and said it (I have serious tunnel vision), so I did what any logical person would do: called my girlfriend freaked out, ghosted, blocked, and deleted his number.

Nonetheless, if I have feelings for the other person, I only ask for one thing: clarity. I’m back in the same cycle now, where I want to be friends with a guy but it’s difficult because I’m too busy trying to solve the conundrum—are we friends or is this moving in another direction?  

When our conversations  shift from flirtatious banter to him randomly inserting that he has feelings for his co-worker, it only complicates things.

Homie needs to make up his mind. We can be the type of friends that tell each other about our dating lives, but we can’t do that and still flirt—Honey, no.

To add onto it, the tricky part is that everyone I’ve talked to has different assumptions about what is socially defined as being “friends” and when it has moved to something more. Keep in mind that whatever it turns into, it will be restricted by the boundaries of “halal” interactions.

Halal – as defined by Zainab


Verb, Noun, Adjective

A halal interaction between a male and female means no hand touching, no physical closeness, and a restriction on acting upon emotions of like-ness. And, no—in this context it’s not in reference to the way we consume our meat or chicken.

When other people tell you “he’s only telling you he’s dating to test the waters,” my response is, “what waters is he swimming in?” and “why would that remotely make sense when trying to gauge if I’m interested in him?”

Just tell me you dig me (even though that goes against the halal rule), and that you think I’m awesome—because yes, some validation would be nice. I’m a self-assured woman that knows her worth, but if a man wants to compliment me, I invite him to be honest. Fuck off, society.

In the end it comes down to questions about who do I listen to, and what do I trust? Trying to figure all this out is like trying to put together  an Ikea bookshelf without a manual. I might as well just admit defeat.

So, you may be thinking, “why doesn’t she just ask the lad?” In truth I can’t because it might bring up conversations I’m not ready to have. I’m naïve, I’m not an idiot.

Sure, the not knowing is giving me an aneurism, but facing the music means I have to be honest and frankly, don’t know what I want from this bookshelf … do I want it to be functional? Or, do I want it to just be loose pieces of wood I slowly figure out along the way?

To top it off, this situation makes me question if I’m just projecting social norms of what a male and a female should be to one another. With all the cultural deterrents, it’s difficult for me to also be honest with myself and with the guy in question.

Now that you’re privy to the inner thoughts of a confused overthinking 20 something female with zero understanding of acceptable cultural and social norms, help a girl out.

Take my quiz to see the madness I’m dealing with, because I want to know: are we just friends?

Photo: Zainab Al-Mehdar.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper