“Friendzone” is one of those terms that I absolutely cannot stand. While the term’s been around since the 90s (most sources credit the TV show “Friends” with its origin), it has become much more popular in the last couple of years, and now seems to be a fixture in common parlance. The Internet is rife with the rants and whinings of the “friendzoned”. Of course, this whining usually has the opposite effect of what was intended — its only purpose, really, is to let me know that the person using the term is an asshole and not worth being friends with in the first place.
For those unfamiliar with it, Urban Dictionary defines the friendzone as “What you attain after you fail to impress a woman you’re attracted to.” Wikipedia’s definition is a little bit more honest (as well as being gender neutral): “the friend zone refers to a platonic relationship where one person wishes to enter into a romantic relationship, while the other does not.”
Now, I’m not saying that wanting “more” from a friendship with a person who you find attractive is always a bad thing. I actually prefer to date people with whom I’ve already built a friendship, as it’s easier to trust a person who you already know and like. The problem is that “friendzone” is generally presented as a negative thing, as though being friends is some sort of “consolation prize”. It creates the impression that you were only in it for the possibility of sex, and if that possibility is removed, you’re really not interested in continuing the friendship.
I’ve lost my share of friendships this way, and the usual way of things is this: you meet, chat, realize that you have a lot in common. You hang out more often, find shared interests that you can do together. You talk about all sorts of different topics. And at some point, one party falls for the other. The crush is revealed and – oh no – it’s not mutual. Awkward. Everybody feels kind of bad. You say that you won’t let it change anything, and then … they disappear. They’re never available to hang out any more. Calls go unanswered. You’ve lost a friend, because they couldn’t deal with the embarrassment of being sexually rejected.
It’s pretty unpleasant, not to mention rather insulting, to think that a friendship you’ve invested time and energy into was only a plan to get into your pants. And it can be heartbreaking when someone you’ve spent a lot of time with, and built a connection with, decides that they don’t want to be around you any more because you won’t offer them sex.
There can be dozens of different reasons why people who are compatible as friends may not feel a sexual attraction for each other. The simplest explanation is physical attraction (or the lack thereof) — there’s not much that you can do if you just simply aren’t attracted to the person. But there are countless other factors as well. Maybe your wants and needs in a relationship are different (ie, if one person is polyamorous and the other is monogamous, it’s unlikely to work). Maybe your future plans don’t mesh (ie, one person wants kids and the other doesn’t). Maybe there’s already someone else, or you’re not over a recent breakup, or you’re still figuring out your sexuality, or you’re simply happy with being single.
Whatever the reason, deciding that friendship, without sex or other “benefits”, just isn’t quite “good enough” for you? It’s an asshole move. Ditching a friend because you’ve decided it’s not “going anywhere” makes you a total jerkbag asshat. At least the person you’re dumping as a friend is probably better off without you, but that really is a totally shitty consolation prize.
The thing is, if you’re using the term “friendzone” to describe your relationship with a person? You probably aren’t really their friend. Friends care about each other as more than just objects, and want one another to be happy. It’s fair to be disappointed when you fall for a person and they don’t fall for you — it’s a shitty thing to happen. But grow up, be an adult about it, and respect their feelings. You’ll get over it and find somebody else to crush on soon enough. If you’re really their friend, you want them to find somebody great to be in a relationship with (even if that person isn’t you) — and they’ll want the same for you, as well. You might even be able to have some good discussions with them, now, about why they don’t see you as a romantic possibility and about how you can go about improving yourself to become a better “catch” for when the right one comes along. If you’re really lucky, you might even gain a “wingman“, to help you with approaching and attracting the next person you develop a crush on.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking right now, so I’m just going to nip this in the bud — substitute alternative pronouns if necessary. “But I’m really a nice guy! Why can’t she see that I’d be perfect for her?”
To start with? No. No, you’re probably not a nice guy. Because the guys who complain about how “nice guys finish last” and “girls only like to date assholes”? Are usually not particularly nice. They are, instead, what is known as a “Nice Guy” (note the capitalization and quotation marks).
In the world of the “Nice Guy”, people to whom you’re attracted are not seen as individual human beings. They are interchangeable objects, into whom you deposit token gestures of how “Nice” you are. Paying compliments. Giving gifts. Doing favours. You count up all of these gestures like notches on a headboard, and expect that at some point you’ll be “paid back” with sex or a relationship, once the person is sufficiently in your “debt”. Never mind that their feelings might be different from yours — they “owe” you, for all that you’ve “given” them. It’s a shitty way to treat another person. If you were truly their friend, you’d do favours and make such gestures without expecting anything in return, because that’s how friends treat each other. You’d be upset if one of your friends gave you a gift, and then turned around and said “now where’s my present?”, so don’t do that to people you’re attracted to.
In addition to this, even if you are an excellent match? They need to come to that conclusion themselves. It might be a case of “right person, wrong time”, and if you stick around and are a genuine friend (and not a “Nice Guy”) to them, they may eventually reach that conclusion. Don’t sit around waiting for it, of course, and certainly don’t pester them about it — seek other relationships and friendships in the meantime, and leave the ball in their court — but don’t consider the conversation over. People grow, and change, and sometimes an initial rejection will turn into something different over time.
But wait — what’s that, Morpheus?
That’s right — there’s one other category that I haven’t dealt with yet. That’s the people who “friendzone” themselves, because they never even bothered to say anything about their feelings.
This can be one of the most hurtful things to experience. You make friends with a person, spend a bunch of time together … and then out of the blue, they stop calling, stop being available, and the friendship simply ends. No explanation, you didn’t have a fight or a falling out, it’s just over.
And then you hear from a mutual friend: “oh, X had a crush on you, and you didn’t like them back, so they decided to end it”. And you’re floored. You didn’t know they felt that way. Were there signs that you should have seen? Why didn’t they talk to you about it? It hurts to think that a person felt so intimidated by you that they found it easier to cut you off than it was to just talk to you about it.
This is one of the stupidest things that a person can do. In addition to the usual problems associated with “friendzoning” (you’re treating the person as an object rather than a person, you’re more interested in sex and your own desires than you are in the friendship and their wants & needs, etc), there’s the added hurt of being completely left out of the decision-making process. Maybe you hadn’t thought of that person as a possible sexual partner, but knowing that they feel that way about you might have left you feeling open to exploring the possibility. But they chose for you; they decided how you felt (and took away your ownership and agency of your own emotions), acted on it, and you didn’t even get a say.
So to sum up:
- Never use the term “friendzone”. It’s a term only used by assholes.
- If you’re attracted to a friend, and they don’t feel the same way about you, respect them enough to accept their decision and move on.
- Cutting a person out of your life because they won’t have sex with you is shallow and childish, and not the way you’d treat a friend.
- If you’re attracted to a person, say something. Don’t assume that they are psychic, and don’t assume anything about their feelings in return.