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The Friend Zone is a Myth

This week’s Daily Northwestern column.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us are probably thinking the same thing : Dating is hard.

And it is, especially in college. People who look for serious relationships (as opposed to casual dating or hookups) face plenty of challenges, such as jam-packed schedules, breaks away from campus, study abroad semesters, plenty of temptation, and, of course, the constant specter of graduation.

Some might say that friendship is another one of those challenges. The concept of the “friend zone” isn’t a new one. On UrbanDictionary.com, where it was the “Word of the Day” back in October 2011, “friend zone” is defined as “What you attain after you fail to impress a woman you’re attracted to. Usually initiated by the woman saying, ‘You’re such a good friend.’”

Despite the gendered definition that UD provides, I’ve heard both girls and guys claim that their crush rejected their advances because they were “just such a good friend” or because they “didn’t want to ruin the friendship.”

I think the friend zone concept is mostly bunk. First of all, the fact that many relationships do start off with the couple being good friends shows that friendship itself isn’t exactly a cold shower.

Second, the friend zone seems like a convenient (if well-intended) excuse that people use when a friend whom they see as nothing more expresses romantic interest. After all, it’s never pleasant to have to tell a good friend that, for whatever reason, you just don’t see them as boyfriend/girlfriend material. And often people might not know the reason for that lack of connection: Maybe they just didn’t click with the person, or there wasn’t chemistry, or whatever you want to call it.

In such a situation, it makes sense that someone would say something like, “I just don’t see you as more than a friend.” And it makes sense that the person they’re rejecting would conclude that the friendship is the problem.

But it’s not. The problem is the person just doesn’t like them that way.

Of course, some people do choose not to date a friend they have feelings for because they don’t want to jeopardize the friendship. However, such people are probably simply valuing friendship over romance for the moment, and that’s their choice — it doesn’t mean becoming their friend was a bad idea.

Sometimes the friend zone explanation arises when a person puts a lot of energy into being a good friend to someone they’re interested in and gets frustrated when their emotions aren’t reciprocated. Since humans are wired to find patterns, the natural assumption is that the friendship caused their crush not to like them back.

However, as important as it is, being a good friend doesn’t entitle you to someone’s romantic attention. In fact, nothing entitles you to that.

It makes me sad when I see advice columns in women’s magazines exhorting them not to act like good friends to the men they like for fear of getting “friend zoned.” These columns generally advise women not to do anything overly friendly, such as worrying about a guy’s health or listening to him talk about his problems. Caring actions like these might prompt the dreaded “You’re such a good friend” comment.

However, unless you’re looking for the most casual of flings, friendship first makes a lot of sense — it allows you to get to know the person well before getting too invested, it helps them understand your boundaries, and it allows you to make sure that both of you are looking for the same thing from each other.

Especially at our age, people vary a lot in terms of the sorts of sexual and/or romantic relationships they’re looking for. Some just want to hook up, some want to date several people, some want an exclusive partner until distance forces them to separate, and others are looking for something serious and long-term. Getting to know a potential partner as a friend first is a great way to prevent hurting each other when you discover that your goals diverge.

Besides, if it never develops into anything more, having a new friend never hurts anyone.

This Valentine’s Day, ignore the cliched advice and go with your gut. People are either going to like you, or they’re not. But they’re more likely to like you if you treat them well.

Comments

  1. Max says

    I think that part of what the whole “Friend Zone” thing comes from is when people like me with few friendships, and no opposite sex friends, try and get a romantic partner by reaching out to a single person. Said someone interperets this as an attempt to be friends, and probably doesn’t see this loner-type as a good romantic candidate. Meanwhile, we’re pouring all our efforts into this one person, and when it invariably fails to pan out, we blame the initial friendship for some reason, rather than our own shortcomings.

    That whole situation almost happened to me, except I botched it so bad I didn’t even make it to friendship! I at one point asked her out on a “date”, at which point she asked me if this was as “just friends”. I answered “no” and wiped the sweat off of my brow, thinking “crisiss averted!” It didn’t even occur to me at that point that I had no chance to advance the relationship. The “date” fell through, and I think that was because of how creepy I was being. It took me a whole year before I wizened up and left the poor girl alone.

    I think one of the tricks is to have several romantic leads going at any time, so if one falls through you don’t end up getting a severe case of unrequited love.

    • says

      Wow, that sounds like quite a traumatic story. Glad to hear you made it out of that situation, though. :)

      I think that ultimately, there’s a flaw in the entire notion that there’s something special you have to “do” in order to get someone to see you as a potential partner rather than just a friend. If there’s chemistry there, it’s going to be there. (And, contrary to popular opinion, chemistry can develop between friends over time.)

      Keeping your options open is good as long as you’re honest with the people you’re seeing. While I don’t think it’s at all necessary to, say, go into graphic detail about the other people you’re interested in, I generally like to mention to anyone I’m seeing casually if I have a date with someone else or something like that.

  2. says

    hey man… nice article. I recently got “friendzoned”. My situation is a tad different from the regular friendzone stories though… the girl I asked out was in my social circle.We had hung out together a few times in public and had moments alone — the second or third time we hung out, I asked her out. The thing is, I had given her time to think about it as we live about 1 hour away from eachother and she is very busy with her dance, school and other stuff. We have amazing chemistry and talk and act in similar ways (I’ve never met someone like this). The second time we hung out with some friends (after I asked her out) we were physically very close. I keep touching her hands… and she put her head on my shoulder… and her arms around my waist… at the end of this night we had a breif moment alone in my friends room. I asked her if she had made up her mind yet and she still wasn’t sure.

    Now my hands were on her stomach and my other hand was rubbing her arm gently while her head was on my shoulder. I KNOW I should have started kissing her right then… our mutual friend said that she really did like me. But the girl I like is EXTREMELY forgetful (it’s almost ridiculous). Giving her time to think about these things only ended up in her forgetting the feelings I might have given her in person.

    The week after, she said she thought it would be better if we just stayed friends. I tried to talk her out of making up her mind until the next time we’re together but she said shes sure about it. I said okay we’ll still be friends and left it at that. I knew the harder I pushed (without first seeing her or building a deeper relationship with her) the further she’d distance herself from me.

    My question is this. Do I still have a chance? I will still touch and treat her how I have treated her up until now… being very affectionate and not too nice with my words and treating her like a princess when she isn’t one. Do you think that if we had a moment alone, and she was lying on me, and I was touching her stomach and turning her on physically and I started kissing her, she would change her mind? What would you do?

    • says

      Look, I don’t know you or this girl, but PLEASE don’t start kissing someone who told you they just wanted to be friends. No means no.

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