Let’s Talk About FWAs: Friends With Atmosphere

“So what’s going on with you two?”

Deep sigh. Nobody likes to be assaulted with this question, whether it comes form a good friend or a nosy relative, in regards to the status of a relationship in limbo. If it’s truly a friendship, or you’re deeply in the throes of a thriving relationship, these queries are easy to respond to. But if your situation is a little more, undefined, shall we say? We fumble for the words.

Fumble no more. I’ve got it.

IMAGE CREDIT: Cosmic Catacombs

friends with atmosphere (n.)
1. A friendship between two individuals in which one or more parties harbors as-yet-unspoken or unacknowledged romantic inclinations toward the other.

In that palpably cringeworthy quagmire between friendship and love, there is another term that has previously been unnamed in our lexicon. But today I submit to the approval of this audience an “in-between” term: friends with atmosphere. FWA exists in that heinously awkward space between “friends” and the only marginally more satisfying state of “friends with benefits.” Previously, we had to suppress the smile that seems to cross our faces unprovoked when this person comes to mind, playfully giggle, avoid eye contact, and say “I don’t know!” when asked about the status of that friendship that seems just a little closer to romance than either party is ready for. In our minds, we have no idea what it is, only what we’d like it to be.

The friends with atmosphere moniker is fitting between that first moment when you realize you’re waiting a little longer to respond to a text or missed call because you want them to think you’re out doing things, and that moment when someone finally overcomes the sweaty palms and jumpy GI system response to blurt out “So what is this?” It can last as long as either party wants, or (often more appropriately) as long as either party is convinced that addressing the situation has the potential to “ruin the friendship.” It grows ever more harrowing with asynchronous written communication, and seems to feed on shortened text and heightened emoji use. If you’ve ever ended consecutive texts with “lololol” or “;)’…yup, you’re there. Own it, accept it, feel free to use the acronym to describe the situation to the review board of friends that consults on the texts or messages you’re sending to the object of your unannounced affection.

So now that we have a diagnosis, do we have a cure? We do- and depending on who you ask, it’s either a very easy one or the hardest one to swallow: talk about it. Really talk about it, not just text about it or (more common for me, I’ll admit) drunkenly text about it. The spaced-out communication that tends to breed these situations makes them harder to decipher, makes true overtures of interest easy to dismiss; as many of us know, tone of written messages is hard to define and easy to misunderstand. But if the medium is the message, face to face is the way to go in these matters. Confronting the FWA face to face, in real life, echoes the nature of the relationship you’re aspiring to cultivate with this person. Is it easy? Absolutely not. For most of us, the sort of frankness that these situations require doesn’t come naturally. But if fortune truly does favor the bold, you owe it to yourself and your potential partner to harness the boldness and get on in there. Let your palms sweat, let your stomach freak out- this is important, they’re not the boss of you! And with any luck, the atmosphere that results from “the talk” will turn from an awkward and uncomfortable one, to the lovey-dovey one that you’ve been mentally doodling on your notebook about all along.

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