Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Revisiting the "Friend Zone"

About a year ago I wrote "A Primer on the Friend Zone." My basic premise is that this phenomena is sexist and should die a quick death. Mostly, I hate it because it:

1) It ignores the actual wishes of the woman
2) It displays an entitled attitude to a woman's body
3) It posits that the worst thing ever is to be "just" friends with a woman
4) It's a go to complaint of guys who are actually deeply misogynistic

Since publishing that piece, it's been linked in a few different places and has received more attention and comments than my average post. Some of the comments shared a view I've heard frequently...that the real reason men complain about the friend zone is because they've been the victims of manipulation by women. Let's take a closer look at this idea for a moment.

Tomcat wrote:
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.
I'm going to set aside for a minute that this suggestion feels sexist to me on its face...because are we really going to suggest that women are more manipulative and conniving than men by merely entering these friendships? I mean, the dude entered with his own ulterior motives (sex) in this case too, right? But yes, that aside, I don't think that the fact that some women manipulate men is justification for guys classifying every female friend who won't date/sleep with them as heartless bitches who friend zone them.

Let's suppose that for a moment that a woman is intentionally using a man's attraction to her to manipulate him and repeatedly get things from him. The problem here is simple: this theoretical woman is not being a good person and the clear solution is to stop putting energy into someone so toxic. Just move on. It has nothing to do with "a thing that women do to 'nice guys' in general."

None of this justifies a gendered term used to disparage all male-female relationships that don't contain sexual activity.

Toxic friendships are not gender specific. I mean, I've had both male and female friends who have used me in various ways and that is something I had to come to understand and accept and choose to not be friends with those people anymore. I didn't need to create a blanket term that I then applied to whole other groups of people. I just don't see the point in defending a term that has such loaded/offensive connotations (a fact which has been widely stated by women like myself.)

If this is just speaking out about the problem of people manipulating others for their own gain, then let's advocate for open, communicative, healthy, mutually-beneficial relationships of all types. But I don't think it's really about that...I think that the widespread use of the term "friend zone" is actually about those 4 premises I shared above. Dudes (who aren't actually nice guys at all) want sex from women who only want to be friends with said dudes, and then those dudes cry about the friend zone.

And come on...while kyriarchy might not "point in one direction" I won't, for one moment, entertain the idea that women manipulating men is an actual axis of oppression. Nope. No. Not at all.

Please see the commenting policy before replying to this post.


  1. IMO the reality of it is that it's just a complete unfortunate situation.

    I can understand, how it feels unfair to a woman that a man feels that there should be a natural phenomenon of emotions and attraction occurring just because he was nice and friendly and gave "so much" to her. At the same time, I can understand the man's side of the coin as well though. I've been in the situation myself and feel bad for both myself, and the woman. Please understand that I truly never meant harm and I am sure that many of the other males in the situation that I was in, didn't mean any either. We've been raised to believe, that all the support that we have given, is what a woman truly desires in a romantic partner. It came naturally to me to act that way towards the woman, and well, being attracted to her was partially the cause of it. It is in no shape or form her fault. But I do acknowledge that she fell victim to it.

    Now here's my personal point of view after this is, and this is where my whole comment may not even make it into the blog.

    Does it make me want to be her friend though? Do I feel obligated to be her friend now? No, to be honest, I feel more comfortable with saying, I have no interest in being your friend at all. I don't really care if you call me an asshole because of it. This is my raw honesty, and I'm not going to let guilt weigh me into a relationship (as platonic as it may be) that makes me feel like it drains me. I am sorry that I treated you as I would treat my wife-to-be (if I ever get one who knows). It was subconscious and although harmful, again - unintentional. I am an introvert by nature and I don't actively seek friends. I personally am repulsed by outgoing people. I don't feel I can trust them. I acknowledge this is not your fault. At the same time, I am pretty socially outcast by my own nature, and do not yearn to make it worse by being a blatant asshole to you. I hope you get my queues when you approach me as friendly as you may be. That I do not wish to be friends. Also, as a warning, and may come as harsh and rude to some but, I hope that you do not feel entitled to a friendship, or niceness just because you were nice, and friendly to me. Kind of goes back to that thing were us males feel subconsciously entitled to X because we were nice. I understand, that you, very much like us, did not mean to. It is what you were raised to believe, that by being friendly you would get friends and that people are bound to feel friendly and affectionate towards you because you were friendly.

    As I said, I think overall the reality of it is that it is an unfortunate nature.

    I don't agree with the sexist twist that society has given to it. I don't believe there is a true "good" or "bad" guy/gal in any of the two genders. I believe that people should be just taught what the reality is. To me, is what I posted above.

    1. I would 100% prefer guys just be honest about their intentions and motives than to try to push someone's boundaries or to be nice just to get something in return. A friendship should be freely chosen by both parties, like any relationship.

  2. What you and others who place the concept of the “friend zone” within rape culture is that in general men are not found equally attractive by all women. Some men, particularly those with athletic builds, so-called “dreamy” eyes or naturally charismatic personalities find that they trigger romantic attraction quite easily and quickly with a lot of women. Women are romantically drawn to them even though they may have flaws, such as selfishness, substance issues, anger issues, controlling tendencies, may hit in their girlfriends’ friends or even outward misogyny.
    Other men who lack the qualities that trigger attraction find that women generally do not react well when asked out on a date within minutes of meeting them, so they attempt to become friends first in hopes that romantic attraction might develop with time. When they do attempt to move a friendly relationship to the next level and are told “let’s just be friends,” and that happens repeatedly, it can certainly feel like being in a “friend zone.”
    Guys in this situation usually know “dreamy” but flawed guys who move from girl to girl leaving a string of broken hearts. So to them it may appear like women “only like jerks.” This is short sighted. Many guys who are popular with women and have relationships are in fact nice, but it is apparent that “niceness” doesn’t trigger romantic feelings in women nearly as much as dreamy eyes do. And if a guy has the right look and charisma to trigger romantic attraction, many women are willing to overlook “jerk” qualities. And who fails to find any woman romantically attracted to him year after year may grow bitter and angry enough to call women names.
    You make the assumption that guys who feel placed in the “friend zone” feel “entitled” to have sex with the women they are attracted to. That may be true in some cases, but it is a logical leap to make it a generalization. Of course they would like to have a romantic/sexual relationship with these women, but that doesn’t mean they feel the women are obligated, or that this in any way justifies rape. I’m sure you’ve interviewed for a job you would have really liked to have but were not offered. That doesn’t mean you felt “entitled” to the job. Nor does seeing an item in a store that costs more than you can afford make you feel entitled to a discount or justify shoplifting.
    Next, I mostly disagree with Tomcat about the “manipulationzone.” Yes there are some women who will lead a guy on to take advantage of him, but I feel they are in the minority and most women do not play these sorts of games. In my experience, it is more common for a women to attempt to be “nice” herself by turning down a date by saying “That sounds like fun, but I’m busy this weekend” when she really has no intention of dating him and hoping he will take the hint. But the guy who wants to believe she is being honest will ask for a date two or three more times until she is forced to be more blunt and he may feel manipulated, although that wasn’t her intention.
    I agree with you that openness and honesty is important, but it must go both ways. And instead of accusing guys of “rape culture” when their main flaw is being in the lower percentile of attractiveness to women, how about advising them on how to make themselves more attractive? So far, the only people doing that are the “pick-up artists,” many of whom do promote misogynist attitudes. But that’s a topic for a different column.

    1. By my observation, many of the guys who are similar to the situation you've described (not conventionally attractive, trying to be friends first) might be getting rejected because they're going after very attractive women and are oblivious to (or outright hostile toward) women who are closer in conventional attractiveness standards to themselves.

      I won't advise men to make themselves more attractive, that's far outside my area of expertise. But I WILL tell the men that DO bemoan the "friend zone" over and over and talk about heartless bitches who only like assholes that perhaps they should examine how their entitled attitude toward women's bodies smacks of rape culture.

      Oh, and that being misogynistic is actually super unattractive.

  3. In my specific case, that's not true. When I was single I generally assumed that very attractive women wouldn't be interested, so most of my attempts at romance were toward women I perceived as average attractiveness. But there is some truth in what you're saying. My observation was that about 60 percent of both men AND women seek partners that are in the top 30 percent of attractiveness. Take the people currently in relationships out of the equation (which would be biased toward both people without the attractiveness bias as well as the very attractive) and it's probably closer to 70 percent. That would explain the "friendzone" right there because even if you like someone of average attractiveness, they may want to hold out for someone more attractive.

    I agree that complaining about the "friendzone" is unattractive, since our culture has a bias than anyone who can't find a partner must be a loser, therefor men who even talk about difficulty finding partners look like less attractive losers.

    So would YOU agree than when women complain that "All the good men are married or gay," that their definition of "good" includes "looks like George Clooney?"

  4. I often have talked to my ex about there being a "not friendzone" in that, after we dated, we aren't friends and that before we dated we were never "friends" because being "friends" was never my intention. That isn't to say that I didn't want to be friends in the way that your partner should be your friend but it is to say that when my honest and upfront ultimate goal was no longer a possibility then what we were left with were two people with different agendas.

    I suppose I am writing this to see if I am correct in assuming that guys who get "Friendzoned" aren't in a friend zone because they were never actually trying to be friends with the girl and also to see if me telling my ex honestly that "we're not friends because I am in love with you and want to be more than friends" makes me an asshole.

    1. I actually think what you've described is preferable (being up front about intentions.) I have had many female friends who have rejected guys as romantic partners and then said to me, "I just want to be his friend." I have told them, very frankly, that not everyone can be friends, and that's ok. If one person is always wanting something more then they SHOULDN'T try to be typically plays out as very unhealthy for everyone involved and can results in some of the friend zone bemoaning. I WISH more guys would just say what you wrote out above instead of thinking they can get something more from a woman or "wear her down" or other such horrific crap.

      Friendship should be a mutually agreed upon and beneficial relationship.


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