Monday, January 7, 2013

A Primer on the "Friend Zone"

How is it remotely possible I haven't blogged about the friend zone before? I talk about it all the time. I call it out all the time. And yet, I've never given it its due time over here. Wellllll let me correct that immediately.

As I've mentioned about a billionty times, I work at a feminist organization. There, we do really fun things like have all staff meetings where we think about how our mission to empower girls is still relevant. In one such recent discussion, I brought up the fact that the friend zone exists, as a concept, is one reason why our work is important. I could tell that about half of the staff (typically the younger/more wired individuals) knew exactly what I was talking about, while everyone else was a bit confused. I was more than happy to break down the friend zone for everyone and tear it to shreds...so bear with me while I do the same here, and in much more excruciating detail.

What is the friend zone?

If one is to Google the term and arrive at the Wikipedia page, you'll find this definition:
In popular culture, the "friend zone" refers to a platonic relationship where one person wishes to enter into a romantic relationship, while the other does not. It is generally considered to be an undesirable situation by the lovelorn person.
But I think that this definition has been sterilized and ignores the largely misogynistic way that this term is applied. It almost always posits that some poor chap has been "friend zoned" by a girl he likes, and DAMN doesn't that suck for him! It's a favorite go-to of "nice guys" who just can't understand why in the world they can't score with a chick they know.

To that end, I at least appreciate that the Urban Dictionary definition is more honest about the term's application:
A state of being where a male inadvertently becomes a 'platonic friend' of an attractive female who he was trying to intitate a romantic relationship. Females have been rumored to arrive in the Friend Zone, but reports are unsubstanciated.
But I prefer, by far, the definition offered by Cat (Tumblr user angels-and-angles):
“Slut” is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say “yes”. “Friendzone” is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say “no.”
While the term apparently has roots in an episode of Friends, its widespread use and popularity is much more recent and has spawned numerous jokes and memes, like Friend Zone Fiona:

[Friend Zone Fiona meme with the caption: "Thinks you're the perfect guy for anyone else." How dare that bitch not be into you, amirite?]

Why does it suck?

I feel like this should be self-evident, but since this is a primer, I'll be specific.

1) It ignores the actual wishes of the woman: As Shattersnipe said, "The Friend Zone is a fundamentally sexist construction based solely on the idea that women should be penalised for putting their own romantic happiness above that of an interested man." In other words, ladies, if a dude wants to be with you, you had better not have your own opinion about it. Alisse Desrosiers expands on this idea:
They ["nice guys"] use it as an excuse to ignore the fact that there are Actual Reasons behind [a woman's] decision to not pursue a relationship or have sex with this guy. You know, like not being physically attracted to them. Or not being able to connect with them. 
So true. The whole "friend zone" meme is blind to fact that the guy in question might be extremely undesirable to the woman, for any number of reasons. It's like he shows up and likes her and that should be good enough. Women should just be thankful for male attention, dammit!

2) It displays an entitled attitude to a woman's body: Boy, men sure get mad when we don't do what they want with our bodies, don't they? The entire concept of friend zoning has arisen because these so called nice guys can't score with a lady who has no interest in them. Like Agusta Christensen wrote, "The insidious problem with these 'nice guys' is that as much as they think they like or love the objects of their affection, they certainly don’t respect these women. Instead, they stew bitterly in a sense of their own entitlement, waiting indignantly for something that was never promised to them."

3) It posits that the worst thing ever is to be "just" friends with a woman: Like, honestly. Think about it...there was a whole term created for how shitty it supposedly is when a woman wants to "just" be your friend. The big message here is that a relationship with a woman is only worthwhile if there is at least the possibility of sex on the horizon--and it's somehow like the guy is "shortchanged" or something if he has a platonic friendship with her and doesn't eventually get laid. Yet again, women are reduced to their sexual desirability and function.

4) It's a go to complaint of guys who are actually deeply misogynistic: That's really the key issue with anyone who would even think about using the term friend zone to describe their relationship with a woman--they're not "nice." Take this common sentiment:

[Male Facebook status: "I will never understand women's logic, they friendzone and throw out the guys that care and never hurt them. But they keep the guys that hurt them and couldn't give two shit (sic) about there (sic) feelings aka the assholes. I am starting to question whether or not I should stop caring and become an asshole just so I can happily be with someone for once."]
You see, this guy is wrong because he claims to care about the girl's feelings, but yet he doesn't respect that she wants a platonic friendship with him. And the big misconception these self declared "nice guys" have is that the men who the women DO date are somehow all unfeeling, uncaring douchebags. Truth is, the outside observing "nice guy" has no idea what went on in that relationship! Perhaps the "asshole" man was actually someone who respected her and they broke up simply because it didn't work out. (I'm not saying that it's always this case--I'm just saying the "nice guy" doesn't know.) But no, some how the fact that the woman dates other men gets turned into a lesson that he should "stop caring" and "become an asshole."

Newsflash: You're already an asshole. How's what working out?

I mean honestly--When you belly ache about the friend zone and talk shit about women who only want a platonic relationship with you, what message are you putting out there in the world to every other woman? (HINT: You are putting out a big red flag and then also the messages listed in 1-4.) So just to make this abundantly clear...to all the "nice guys" out there, it's not them: it's you!

So what can we do?

Pretty much what we can do for all the sexist BS we encounter on a daily basis: call it out! Talk about it. Don't let the friend zone be something that we laugh off and pretend isn't really disturbing. Trust me, no person who would use this term in completely seriousness is someone you would want to associate with.

Further than that, ask people to think critically about this stuff and if they don't get it, spell it out for them when you can. The friend zone might look like "not a big deal" on its surface, but when you dig down further, the full story is revealed. I mean, being pissy that you can't have a sexual relationship with a girl certainly isn't the worst thing men do, but it is all a part of a misogynistic culture which devalues female autonomy and positions women's bodies as public domain for any man who wants to claim them.

And that's bull.

27 comments:

  1. I may bookmark this for reference purposes, next time I encounter someone complaining of the dreaded 'friendzone'. Excellent.

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  2. I somewhat agree and maybe guys who use that specific language are more likely to be misogynistic but I have talked to men who have been unlucky in love. First of all, when they are disappointed someone wants to be friends and not more with them, it's not just about sex. Yeah, they think sex would be nice but they are also or even primarily looking for love and closeness. Yes, friends are great. Close friends can make people desire a relationship less because you can confide in them and see them often and feel understood. However, often when a woman ends up being "just a friend" it means she'll be closer to an acquaintance than a close friend.
    So I can see that there are men that exhibit asshole behaviour when faced with this situation. There are others who don't but it doesn't mean they aren't a bit disappointed when this happens. Surely women have some experience of a man they liked being uninterested and then feeling disappointed?

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    1. Here's the thing. I'm describing a sociological trend I see. I don't mean that EVERY guy who has pined for someone or wanted a relationship w/ a woman who doesn't is like this. I am describing a specific situation for people who use the term "FRIEND ZONE" like this. I'm talking about Nice Guys TM.

      Yes, women experience the same all the time, I'm sure. But this isn't about that happening in general, it's about men who feel entitled to women and cry "friend zone!"

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    2. Your account is somewhat over-simplistic. Smart feminism calls out social practices that are discriminatory and ignorant, to be sure, but mere outrage ignores the root of the problem.

      If the problem is a patriarchal social structure, then are men less likely to be trapped by it than women? Men often feel an obligation to earn the approval of women by demonstrating their quality. It is only natural that a man who feels he has done this would feel slighted by his rejection. Whether the practice is right or wrong, it is foolish to simply label these people as misogynists.

      Is there something other than social structure at play here?

      Men and women have different sex drives. This is a chemical difference well accounted for by the medical literature. Even if you feel that the medical literature is misleading or wrong about this fact, it remains an empirical question. Your opinion, nor mine, will not influence the truth. If the male sex drive is as it has been described by medicine-- more powerful, more linear, and peaking earlier in life, then the prevalence of this behavior in men is not a result of mere sexism.

      If a sexist social structure is an important factor, why did such a structure develop?

      For most of human history women have been profoundly and biologically controlled by the burden of pregnancy and childbirth. This burden has been recently relaxed by modern advances in birth control, which incidentally corresponds with a huge surge in feminism. Should I dismiss feminism as a mere biological consequence? Surely not, but to ignore the underlying reasons for social structures is to lose all legitimacy.

      If you want to stop the prevalence of the "friend-zone" and similar practices then take all sides into account, look at the underlying reasons, and make reasonable suggestions for new behaviors and practices.

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    3. "Men and women have different sex drives." I well and truly HATE this argument.

      It's almost as though by saying "but men NEED sex more" you can justify the male entitlement for sex.

      Guess what? Women want sex too, and as sexual beings we get to decide who we have it with, regarldess of the difference between men and women's "sex drives." If there is truly a difference at all.

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  3. So you you normally not approve any comments you don't agree with? I wasn't offensive or derogatory to feminism in any way. If you don't want to have a real debate with two sides, get out of activism. You are destroying the reputation of the movement you claim to represent by attempting to secure a one-sided debate.

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    1. You're right, I don't agree with you at all but that's not why your rubbish comments weren't published, Mr. Impatient. It's because, as you would know if you took half the time you did rambling to look at my FAQs, that I'm one person with strict moderation because of the harassment I take for being a feminist. And I moderate from my phone mostly, so excuse me if I was enjoying my Friday night instead of waiting around for people to mansplain me and give them a forum in MY space. Please rest assured that if you only posted that first comment I would had given it actual thought and replied reasonably but you had to come in with that bullshitty "PUBLISH ME OR YOU'RE NOT A REAL ACTIVIST" nonsense. In short, go away.

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  4. So sorry for my impatience. I'm somewhat embarrassed. I won't delete the second comment to save face. I stand by both sentiments, though I admit I was wrong to accuse you recklessly.

    Thanks for what courtesy was extended, and again I'm sorry for my unfounded challenge. This issue is important to me as well and I let my emotions get the best of me.

    The original criticism still stands.

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  5. my problem with the friend zone is this. when a man goes after a woman in a romantic way, he isnt trying to become her friend. when she says you are soooo sweet/cute/nice. but i think we should start off as friends, at least in my experience the male feels like if he goes along with it and waits long enough that friendship will turn into what he originally wanted. After a while, he may start to feel cheated because he clearly has romantic feelings for the woman, but she doesnt have the same feelings. she also doesnt give him the cold shoulder, so he is "stuck". the reason i feel alot of males use the term friend "zone" is because they dont want to lose the woman, but they cant become more than friends.

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  6. This same problem has existed for at least 15 years! I remember the whole 'friendzone' bs from when I was 18. I'm now 40 and it hasn't changed one tiny bit. The premise is that if a guy behaves as though he is nice he deserves and is owed the reward of sex. If he doesn't recieve said reward then its time for name-calling. Even if he does recieve said reward then she's too lowly to keep as a girlfriend and only worth using as a stepping stone to hotter prey. This is COVERT misogyny. When the covert migoynyst decides to be an a@#hole what he's really doing is changing tactics from covert to OVERT mysogyny. He was never a 'nice guy'.

    Nice guys have friendships. Some friends are male. Some friends are female. They get interested in a girl as often as other guys. Sometimes that interest isn't mutual. They feel disappointed and may even withdraw from the friendship for a little while. Then, once they have moved past it they resume that friendship. They realise this same thing happens to nice girls too.

    22 years of trying to get this message out and still no progress. I honestly believe its time for new tactics. Maybe, we need to be focusing more on teaching people how to deal with disappointment and rejection and how to gently let someone down.

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    1. I believe the one and only way to combat this problem is to focus on the victims, not the abusers. When I was in college, two guys successfully used the 'nice guy' pity card on me to emotionally blackmail me into dating them. I actually prioritized a social "obligation" over my own wants and desires, until I finally figured out what was going on. I think articles like these informing other girls about these tactics is the way to go in diminishing the 'nice guy' power. Jerks and misogynists will always exist to some extent. The point is to avoid them.

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  7. This is a great article. I just recently started thinking critically about this whole nice guy/friend zone thing. When I was a freshman in college, I actually felt obligated to date interested guys who were nice to me, even if I wasn't that into them. Generally, I don't mind giving guys a chance, but after a while either the spark is there or it isn't. There isn't much you can do about it. The 'nice guy' pity card is widely used to emotionally blackmail girls into dating guys they really aren't into. Even my male friends call BS on this.

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  8. Thank you for writing this! I have long had a problem with the concept of friend zoning but never could have explained this as clearly and logically as you have. I will be sharing your article on FB and with anyone who tries to shame women who do not choose the "nice" guy.

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  9. "Females have been rumored to arrive in the Friend Zone, but reports are unsubstanciated."

    I realize this is a quote from UD, but it is spelled 'unsubstantiated'. Many men have friend-zoned women. This is especially true of successful and attractive men that value the insight of female friends that are simply not romantically compatible for whatever reason. If you think Johnny Depp has not friend-zoned women, you are mistaken.

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    1. Dang, where would I be without you correcting the misspelling from Urban Dictionary!?? You've clearly positioned yourself as the intellectual superior here so I MUST trust your assessment that because some men "friendzone" women, I should entirely ignore the gendered manner in which this phenomena is typically applied/discussed in our society.

      I'm so glad you educated me.

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  10. The complicating factor that gets ignored here is that women often will take advantage of a male's romantic interest. A simple test is to evaluate whether the friendship is in balance the way 2 guys who are friends would balance it. The problem isn't true friend zones. The problem is when the woman uses this interest in what maybe better than "friendzone" could be called "manipulationzone". I know some guys are just searching for a rationale to resent the woman not being romantically reciprocally interested. But others have experienced aspects of the "friendzone" which are not really ethical. Oversimplifying this ignores the realities that axes of the Kyriarchy do not only point in one direction.

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    1. I would tend to agree here. I once knew a girl in college who was crazy for my best friend/roommate at the time, and she definitely "friendzoned" me, as it were. The thing is he had "friendzoned" her, so it was all rather comical in retrospect. What wasn't comical was how, in the words of a female acquaintance of mine, she was using me as an "emotional fuckbuddy." At the time, I was young and inexperienced, where this young woman was not, and she took advantage of my head over heels infatuation for her in order to have on demand male attention to hold her over between men. As it turns out this girl slept around and cheated behind her SO's back on the regular, so in retrospect I'm very lucky I did not get more involved with her.

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  11. I think you got the real point. Friendzone is a term that does not really tells what happens. Most of it is about manipulation. Most of the time, the guy is not self-confident enough to show his feelings about this particular woman and starts to trying pleasing her in anyway she would let him do, but most of the time putting a barrier for most more commited/next contact. It is not uncommon to see these guys putting women on a pedestal. He faces a dilemma on acting in a different way (which for many time he will refuse to do), most of the time influenced by PUA statements (which seems to address his problems although mostly in an unethical way). Many women don't even see what they are doing it as bad, for them it just came naturally acting this way. The lack of awareness of women in these situation is incredible. I am not arguing against a woman's right to say no when she doesn't want. What I am saying is that many of these guys are pushed into a PUA zone, even against their will, because the real life comes one time to say that being a good guy won't lead you anywhere while acting in the reverse way might give you results. This is something that feminism should think about: how things should be so that an ordinary men is not pushed into the heart of anti-feminism ? Otherwise we are doomed to repeat this sex-wars for an everlasting time.

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  12. For me the friend zone is a term that describes it exactly as the opening definition: A situation in which one individual of a pair is romantically rejected by the other, and subsequently placed in the "friend" category. Having been "friend zoned" myself, none of this to me implies a sense of entitlement to that person's body or person by the rejected party. I certainly have never felt that way. Rejection is a part of life, and everyone is entitled to the right of their consent. As a man, I embrace this principle in all my dealings.

    So in fairness, can women use the term "I've been friend zoned," too? Absolutely. I have declined relations with women who wanted to be more than friends, while still remaining friends with them. By the same token, I have likewise been declined, with no bitterness or resentment from me.

    I think what I'm getting at here is when you make generalizations, you cut a lot of people out of the discussion. What I'm reading in your article is a misogynist straw man--as if every man who says "I got friend zoned" is an uncouth broheim in dire need of some fem'splaining. But when you generalize any group of people based on their anatomy, isn't that itself a form of genderism?

    On a more personal note, the kind of entitlement you speak about when criticizing the friend zone can happen on both sides of the fence. I was once involved with a person who had serious boundary issues and felt it was not my right to break off the relationship if I wished. If I did not want to engage in a conversation or physical contact, it was also not my right to decide. That was an abusive codependent relationship, where the abuse was driven by the female. More generally, there is a type of objectification I have anecdotally observed through my interactions with the opposite sex: I have seen women quickly size men up and assess whether they are "relationship material." Having this done to you makes you feel devalued and objectified.

    The ultimate take away here is men aren't angels, but neither are women. We spend a lot of time judging others for our flaws and failing to see where we fall short.

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    1. I think you're missing that my main complaint is that men often apply the term "friendzone" in a very sexist/entitled manner. If if was actually used in a gender neutral way a vast majority of the time, I wouldn't have written this.

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    2. I'm sorry I just don't understand the entire argument at all.

      1) How is the friend-zone an excuse to ignore that there are actual reasons a woman doesn't want a relationship with a guy? The friend-zone is almost always used in the case of a "nice guy" who the woman doesn't have a romantic interest in. That's not ignoring those reasons, it's emphasizing them: She doesn't want a relationship with you because she doesn't find you physical attractive. To me that isn't making an excuse or ignoring reasons, it's putting them clearly on the table.

      2) I don't see that. I see disappointment because the other person didn't feel the same way

      3) I don't see how it in any way posits that the worst thing ever is to be friends with a women. It does posit that it's more pleasant to have a romantic relationship with someone you have romantic feelings for than it is a platonic one.

      Just because (I think) everyone male or female would prefer to be in a romantic relationship with someone they have romantic feelings for doesn't mean that the friendship isn't valued.

      4) With this point you keep stressing that guys don't respect that the woman wants a platonic relationship. Maybe some guys do not respect this, but it's possible to have total respect for this, and also be disappointed that the person you have feelings for does not return them.

      It's really pretty similar to calling up a friend and wanting to go on an awesome 3 day trip in the mountains only to have your friend tell you that he can't go because he really has to knock out this project and prepare for his giant PChem test. You're obviously going to be disappointed because you hoped he would want to join you on the trip, but if you're any sort of friend you're going to be understanding of the fact that his studies are important to him.


      I suppose bottom line for all of these is that you're reading of the situation seems to be that not only is the guy disappointed, but also that he thinks the girl totally sucks for doing that and "how dare she do such a thing". Certainly in the time I was "friend-zoned" that was not the case for me. I was disappointed that she didn't return the same feelings I had toward her, but I was also had no bitterness or resentment. That's how it goes, she's sure as hell not obligated to have romantic interest, and as soon as that was clear I dropped the issue and we still have an excellent friendship to this day. I call that being friend-zoned, it's an apt term for when one party wants a relationship and the other does not return that interest.

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    1. What makes you think we don't do that? LOTS of women flat out say "no!" to a guy, but they STILL get pissed off and that we have "friendzoned" him.

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    2. What makes me think that women don't do that? Well, because I never once experienced that despite literally hundreds of rejections. Rogue, if you do indeed do that then props to you. But, I can tell you that from puberty up until age 34, I NEVER got a straight up, respectful "no". I always got one of five of the following...

      -I like you as just a friend (topical here)
      -I am not looking for anything right now
      -I am getting back with my ex
      -I am very confused right now
      -................(meaning nothing, just ghosting. Or, as I called it before that term was coined, "going dark" like they call it in the intelligence community).

      By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was dying not for a woman to say yes, but just one to tell me "no" in a straight, honest, respectful way. Something like "I appreciate your interest. However, I just don't think we're compatible. Best of luck in your future" or something to that effect. But, I never got that...not once.

      From speaking with my peers, I can tell you that my situation is far from unique. While I don't doubt that there are women out there who do give straight, respectful "no"s, I never crossed paths with one. I have to believe that they are in the vast minority. If they weren't, then I doubt the term "friendzone" would have ever been coined.

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    3. I inadvertently deleted my initial comment. Here it is again. Sorry for the confusion and the lack of continuity in my part of the response forum that my mistake caused...

      Think of the real friends in your life. The friends that will always be there for you, and you for them. How did these friendships happen? Did you go out seeking a friend? Did you ask this person to be your friend? Or, was your meeting circumstances random chance, and the two of you just gravitated toward each other because you were like-minded with common interests? Trust me: A friendship based on friendzoning is every bit as fake and empty as the woman who put the guy in that friendzone.

      To anyone who may be thinking that friendzoning is shaming her right to say "no"...I am indeed shaming the concept of friendzoning, but I am in no way shaming your right to say "no". I am shaming the dishonesty and the disrespect. If you want to say "no" to a guy, then say "no" to him. Just come at him straight. Don't manipulate a guy by telling him (or leading him to believe) something that isn't true. And don't give me the bullplop about protecting his feelings, either. All you're trying to do is take a longer road to get to the same place that you were going to, anyway. Once he eventually figures out on his own that you're not interested, his feelings are going to be every bit as hurt as they would have been if you just told him the truth directly and respectfully.

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  14. After thinking this through, I thought my previous comment was one-sided. Some people say that Friendzoning isn't a thing. They are incorrect. It is very much a thing...but it shouldn't be.

    My previous post was focused more toward the female side of the problem; women saying "friend" rather than just saying "no" as they should. But, as in most situations in life, it takes two. Friendzoning is no exception.

    Guys, if you don't want to be friendzoned, then just don't be friendzoned. Just as she said she didn't want to date you, you're equally free to say that you don't want to be put in an awkward friendship (which is what it will be from that point on, I assure you). What we allow is what will continue. That really is true. Here, let me put it another way...

    You're looking for a job. You know you're qualified for a management position, and can adequately perform such a position. You apply at a firm, they interview you. After the interview, they say that they're not going to hire you as a manager, but they'll hire you as the night janitor. The right thing to do in this situation is to politely decline the night janitor spot, and continue searching for a job that fits your skills and abilities.

    Staying with the scenario in the previous paragraph...if you did take the night janitor job thinking you can work your way up to management, then you are wasting your time. If the people who ran that firm saw you as management material then they would have acted on that during the interview process. If you take the night janitor job because you have nothing else going, that too is a waste of time. Each shift you're wasting working as the night janitor is time you should be spending pounding the pavement looking for your management job. When you do get someone to take a look at you for a management position, you don't want to have to explain why you're currently working as a night janitor...

    Dating should be looked at exactly the same way. If a woman either can't or won't see you for what you're worth, then don't waste your time with her. Just politely tell her that you're set for friends, and you're looking for something different. Wish her well in her future, and just don't contact her again. Move forward with your life.

    I'm going to quote Rocky Balboa here, because this really does fit when it comes to dating and women who friendzone you...It ain't about how hard you're hit. It is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. If you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth. Until you start believing in yourself, you ain't gonna have a life.

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  15. There is no such thing as a "Friendzone"
    There is only unrequited love on a case by case basis. Anyone using this term male or female needs to examine their own behaviour patterns with the opposite sex. Guys.. when you know you want someone go for it make a move, and Girls when you know you don't want someone express your rejection clearly.

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