We've all heard the story of the "friend-zone." Boy is in love with his best friend, she dates all the wrong guys and fails to notice how perfect he is, then eventually realizes how wrong she was and they live happily ever after.

I used to think that the friend-zone was a myth that lonely men created to feel better about themselves. But then I got friend-zoned myself.

Yes, it sucked, but the second I realized I had feelings for a friend (that I knew had no such feelings for me), I decided to suppress the feelings. When that wasn't enough, I cut them off for a bit, then, slowly, I felt OK. I could communicate with them without having unwanted romantic feelings pop up. I had escaped the friend-zone.

Having gone through that, I had more sympathy for someone I had to friend-zone a little while later. I had been friends with this guy for a few months. I didn't have many college friends yet and I was really lonely, so having his company really meant a lot at the time.

This caused me to not be able to see what should have been clear: he had a crush on me. When I finally made the realization, I immediately let him know that I didn't feel that way about him. He said it was OK, but I could tell it wasn't.

We didn't talk at all over the summer and when we came back for the fall semester, he would barely look at me. I had started dating his friend, which caused an even bigger rift between us.

Though I understand where he's coming from, I was also really mad at him for a long time.

It was as if he was only nice to me because he wanted romance in return. But people are not vending machines. You can't put in your "nice guy" coins and expect love, sex, or whatever the hell it is you want in return.

It hurt me to know that he only wanted romance and once that was off the table, he no longer wanted anything to do with me.

But then I thought back to the friend that had friend-zoned me. Unrequited affections really suck, especially when they're for someone that you spend a lot of time with. But the key is to work to escape it.

Yes, liking someone you're friends with and them not liking you back is a real thing, but people tend to treat the friend-zone like this mythic hell dimension that can never be escaped. But you can escape. Just maybe not in the way you'd like to.

Now there are three ways you can escape the friend-zone:

The first option is to confess your feelings and try to win them over. Now, this isn't completely unheard of. I've had friends that have dated people who had previously friend-zoned them, but it's extremely rare and risky. You have to risk your entire friendship in order to do this. If it doesn't work out, it could strain the friendship or sometimes break it beyond repair.

You can also do what my ex-friend did and completely cut the person off. If you're being a love-zombie and only doing nice things for the friend because you expect romance in return, leaving the situation might be the most healthy decision for you. I understand now that my friend might have stopped talking to me out of self-preservation. But it still hurts the people involved.

The third and final option is to just get over it. It's harsh, but it's real. Why try something you know is going to fail and cause pain to both sides? Yes, getting over crushes can be really difficult, but getting a normal friendship back rather than being stuck a love-zombie for them is worth the pain.

Whichever one you choose, just remember this: Your friends do not owe you any romantic affection. The work you put into making them happy should just come out of the goodness of your own heart. If you expect romance in return, you're not being a good friend to them. If you really care about them, don't put that kind of pressure on them. They don't want a mindless love-zombie that does their bidding for the hope that they'll get a tiny love kernel out of it. They just want a friend.