February 14, 2018

The Friend Zone

Defining the So-Called "Friend Zone" and Explaining How You Got There

To a guy, this is worse than a no parking zone, and way less fun than the auto zone. The friend zone is that terrible place a guy finds himself in when he has a thing for a girl who, by some magic, voodoo, or permanent panky blindness can only see him as a friend. Whether or not she'll outright admit it, there is always a reason that you're in the friend zone, and rarely ever is it because you're just too good a friend to risk it.

It is worth noting - and we'll get into it in a little bit - that the entire concept of a "friend zone" is an entitled idea, and both men and women are guilty of subscribing to it. Often the person who feels they have been friend zoned has never engaged in any sort of romantic activity with the person they fancy, and has never been given even the briefest flashing of green lights of interest from that person. Basically, the person in question never gave any impression of romantic interest, and yet the "friend zoned" person feels deprived of a romantic relationship with them as though it were a foregone conclusion from the start.

Nine times out of ten...it was not.

But just in case you believe you are that exceptional one time...

Here are the top five reasons why you're stuck in the friend zone

5. You Moved Too Slow 

Back in the day, dating was clear cut and practically came with an instruction manual. Nowadays the lines are blurred. But if there's one thing that most women still agree upon, it's that when you're special to a guy he lets you know. He goes out of his way to make the moves necessary to get you on the phone, on that date, in that relationship, etc.

Because of the seemingly ambiguous state of dating, a lot of men don't realize that women still have expectations. They'll take you out on a nice date, not call for a week and a half, text you: hey, what are you up to? at 9:30 PM on a Saturday and genuinely think they're still in the game.

Here's the thing: While down the line it definitely does take two, women still want to be courted in the preliminary stages of dating, and that courtship is your [read: the man's] responsibility.

Now before you start trying to take my feminist card - True, women's lib happened. But so did He's Just Not That Into You. So did countless blogs advising women to stay away from men who seem wishy washy in their interests. If you Google "hot and cold" right now you'll see Katy Perry lyrics and lots of self help articles warning women that they're not that special that they're provoking this crazy behavior. That their situation isn't unique, that he's not too busy, he's not too hurt from his ex, and he's not afraid of moving too fast. Basically, that if he isn't acting like he's crazy about you it's because he's not, and they should move on.

So we do!

You may think that you're just "getting to know each other as friends first" or "playing it cool", but if you fail to make it clear that you're after something more she'll assume you're not, and nobody likes to be the last minute Saturday night date that's just cool enough to pass time with.

So yeah, if you move too slowly or fail to make your intentions clear, she'll likely be onto the next. Especially if the next guy she meets knows how to use his thumbs and plan that second date while you're too busy playing it cool.

4. You Told Her You Weren't Looking For A Relationship

To your credit, maybe you knew you weren't looking for a relationship "right now," so when you met her you didn't ask her out on date as it would have been a waste of her time. ::cheers:: Good for you! You flirted with her anyway though, to let her know that you liked her, and were pleasantly surprised when she flirted back. 

Maybe she asked you about it too, just to make sure she didn't have the wrong impression. And to your credit, you didn't lead her on. You told her that you weren't looking for a relationship right now, but that you found her attractive. After hanging out a few times you thought you guys might enter into that kind of hot Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake thing. Except...it quickly became apparent that you guys only hangout. Even if you flirt. Even if she reciprocates. The light never turns green.

Yeah, about that...

Not everyone wants to hookup. That just isn't everyone's style. It doesn't matter how cute you are, or how funny you are. Some people have a clear idea of what they want for their lives, or in a less broad sense, a clear idea of they kind of physical intimacy they want to experience, and they aren't going to settle for less.

Also, it's worth noting that the term "casual" means different things to different people. In a healthy friends with benefits situation, both parties are clear about the terms, if you will, and neither party wants or expects more than that. Keeping things in a casual place with someone who does want more is not healthy. It's not even really casual. It's more like one person allowing the other to string them along, and most self respecting women would rather file you away in the friend drawer than allow themselves to be treated that way.

Which brings me to number three...

3. You Tried To Bait and Switch 

Like the Friends with Benefits guy, you, you sly fox you, did know that you weren't looking for a relationship. But you asked this girl out anyway. You wined her. You dined her. Went on multiple dates, and you probably alluded to the future with a bunch of ifs and maybes. You said things like, "if we ever end up in a relationship," or the even more devious, "my mom would love you, maybe you'll meet her someday." Unlike the person who tries to establish casual territory upfront, you had no qualms about leading this woman on.

There you were, playing the dating game. You were all heavy pursuit and then you hit your date limit. It varies, some people have a three date limit, for others it's a three month limit, but all short term people - by this I just mean people who know they aren't looking for relationship longevity - have a limit. That moment where they realize that if they don't retreat now, they'll find themselves in a relationship that they aren't ready for.

So okay, you hit your limit, you retreated, and the pursuit ended. Maybe you did it gradually by scheduling dates in a less formal way, asking if she just wanted to "hang out" aiming to tone down the romance. Or maybe you did it abruptly, going from dinner invites two to three times a week to one Netflix and chill a week...maybe...if work isn't too crazy. Then maybe you said something to plant that seed of non-commitment in her mind, like making a remark about a dating site you're still on, or asking her what her ideal partner would be like to imply that you're both still on the market and actively shopping.

You may have thought that you had such a great time during the so-called courtship that she'd want to keep seeing you in a casual way, only to find that she isn't returning your calls, takes forever to answer a text just to say lol, and that she's never available anymore. And then boom - she tells you - she's seeing someone else, and honey, it's getting serious.

And can you blame her? You tried to pull a fast one. If you were after casual, you should have said so. True, if you had you may have never gotten past the first date and gotten friend zoned anyway. And let's be honest, if she feels like she's been manipulated, you're probably lucky to be in the friend zone rather than straight up deleted from her contacts.

2. You're Not Boyfriend Material 

It's a little hard to hear, but sometimes you end up in the friend zone because you just aren't relationship material. This means different things to different people. For some it means that you still live with your parents. Others don't respond so favorably to the term "fun-employed." The specifics vary.

I met several guys when I was single who, despite my hopes, I immediately realized I could never get serious with. There was nothing wrong with any of them. We're talking super smart guys who made me laugh, who made me feel a little fuzzy when they laughed because they had amazing smiles and then ooh, I realized, broad shoulders and a body to match. Good jobs. Stable living situations. No kids (sorry guys, I'm entitled to my criteria).

But then maybe they liked to plan dates at the last minute and it gave me anxiety, or they were so busy with work that we only went out once a week and barely spoke in between, or they chatted me up just fine but it turned out they weren't interested in anything that I actually had to say. Maybe I noticed that they always wanted to meet in their hangout spots but never came to mine, or cancelled too many times at the last minute, or kept me waiting too long, too often. Maybe they casually told me that they put God first in their life, and the only place I've ever put God is in a philosophy paper arguing against the existence of one. I'm not claiming to spill the tea when it comes to what amounts to relationship material. My point is that the criteria is different for every person, and for her you just didn't meet it.

Women have standards. Sometimes falling short of boyfriend material can mean that you become the friend with benefits. The why not, this is fun...for now. Sometimes. But other times the woman you're interested in ends up dating someone else who does meet all of her criteria. Landing you irrevocably in the friend zone.

1. She's Just Not Attracted To You 

This one sucks, I get it, but women know what they like and what they don't like. Just like men do. If we're into you we can usually tell within the first three minutes. And if we're not...well...same.

A lot of men have the idea that every woman is an option for every man, and all he has to do is say the right things, push the right buttons, take her to the right restaurant and poof he'll end up with this woman. This is a highly reductive mindset that fails to see women as the individuals that they are, and take things into account like attraction, chemistry, synergy, like mindedness, shared values, etc. I mean, I really did enjoy the movie Hitch but it hurts me to see men take the Hitch approach and then get burned. They'll fixate on a woman who is giving off no signals of interest, devise the perfect plan, usually complete with an expensive date, a small gift, and maybe even a mix CD (or Spotify playlist? Showing my age...), they'll execute that plan, and then be crushed when this obviously disinterested woman doesn't fall under a magical spell and melt into his arms. And not just crushed sometimes. Angry. Resentful. And so on...

All the thoughtful ideas and sweet dinners are really amazing when there's already an attraction there, but if there isn't you can't bribe or essentially buy someone's attraction. It doesn't mean that you're doing anything wrong or that there's anything wrong with you, and similarly it doesn't mean you should necessarily do anything differently going forward save from taking women at face value and trusting that we don't need to be shown how we feel - we know. When a woman says she only sees you as a friend, that's exactly what it means. We can't always help who makes us tingle, and if we truly are good friends, then tingle town is likely the only box you don't tick for us. Still, it's a pretty important box. (No pun intended. Personally that one has always bothered me because boxes are rigid structures with corners that you can put into moving trucks and vaginas are more like expandable cylinders...I digress...)

A lack of attraction can also occur due to circumstance, but often once it's established, it sticks. Say we met you when we were already seriously involved with someone else. Under any other circumstances we might have found you attractive, but since we weren't looking at you that way from the outset, no attraction occurred. Now perhaps we've become available and you were thinking you'd throw your hat in the ring, only to learn that we didn't even realize you wore hats...or...you know what I'm saying...

My point is that while there are certainly things one can say or do to turn woman off, the number one reason you'll end up in the friend zone is that she isn't attracted to you romantically.


Exceptions To The Rules 

Sometimes, and by this I really do mean sometimes...as in most of the time this is not the case at all! But sometimes you can get out of the friend zone. If - and only if! - the woman you're attracted to actually feels the same way about you.

This is a serious rarity. It typically only happens in romantic comedies and...well...in my life, but my life is sometimes like a really messed up romantic comedy that would play on NBC after This Is Us since everyone is already confused about whether to laugh or cry.


Sometimes a woman who does see you as more than a friend will genuinely say nothing for fear of ruining the friendship. This probably isn't the case if you've known each other less than a month. This probably isn't the case if you've known each other for a while but see each other once a fiscal quarter. If on the other hand you are her best friend, or if you are in her close and well established friend group, this might be you.

Some people are extremely emotional, and spontaneous, and find the irrational uncertainty of diving headfirst into the unknown invigorating. I, at times, am one of those people. I am also a person who cannot go into a grocery store without a shopping list that takes longer to compile than time spend inside the actual grocery store. Even given my sometimes spontaneous nature, most of my major life choices are not made lightly. A lot of thought, and logic, and list making goes into them.

That said, often the logic goes a little something like this:

If I take this huge risk, and I say something, and they feel the same way, it could be magical and amazing and we could have everything. That is the best case scenario.

Or...they won't feel the same way. And I will be completely embarrassed for having exposed my feelings. I'll never be able to take it back. They'll never forget that I said it. Things will be awkward. We'll feel weird around one another. We won't hang out anymore, or talk as candidly, and then one day they'll marry someone else and everyone will get invited to the wedding except me because I said that stupid thing. Our friends will probably take their side, so boom, I won't have friends anymore, and everything will be ruined forever.

Or...they will feel the same way. And we'll date. But then we'll break up. And then I'll be heartbroken, or they'll be heartbroken, or we'll have a big blow out breakup and we'll hate each other. And all our friends will have to choose sides, and they'll probably choose their side, so boom, I won't have friends anymore, and everything will be ruined forever, and I'll have to live with knowing that everything would have been fine if I'd just left well enough alone. But it isn't. Because I'm an idiot and everything that goes wrong in the world is all my fault.

Obviously I'm assuming this hypothetical person shares my talent for hyperbole, but you get my point.

This is why if you're trying to figure out whether your "just friends" status is truly reflective of how the other person feels, it's important to weigh the significance of the friendship itself. If all that is at stake is a fun, new friendship that's lasted a few months, most people will take that risk. But when we're talking years, or we're talking about the core social support system of a person's life, not everyone will be brave enough to risk something so integral.

So yes, sometimes you may be stuck in the friend zone, not because the person you desire doesn't return your feelings, but because whatever relationship they already have with you is too important to risk.

More often than not, though, this isn't the case.

Usually the so-called friend zone is nothing more than you projecting your view of a relationship onto a person that has every right to feel differently about it. It isn't fair to be angry with someone, to be resentful, or to feel cheated out of an experience with someone that they themselves do not want.

Saying that you're "stuck" in the friend zone is literally like looking that person in the eye and telling them that they're cheating you out of sex and/or a relationship that you deserve to have with them. It's not so witty and cute when you put it that way. And honestly, if you really cared about that person you'd recognize that they don't amount to a missed opportunity.

They amount to a friend. And that's a pretty silly thing to be upset about.



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