A friend on Facebook recently asked about whether or not I think “The Friend Zone” exists. I gave a short (for me) response, but I wanted to flesh out where I am in this debate more fully. For some personal history on where I once was on this topic, I encourage you to read my post: I Was a Nice Guy™.
Also, the subject matter of this post requires me to be far more cisnormative and heteronormative than I usually try to be – I hope the reason for this writing choice is clear from the context of the post (but I will gratefully receive any offered criticisms if I overstep that justification).
What is “The Friend Zone”
The highest-rated entry on Urban Dictionary is somewhat revelatory of a central dichotomy within the very concept of the Friend Zone:
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”. Usually associated with long days of suffering and watching your love interest hop from one bad relationship to another. Verb tense is “Friend-ed”.
One should not fail to note, by the way, the gendered language in the definition. We will return to this later in the discussion.
The more generous definition of the Friend Zone describes a situation in which one person (‘the friender’) maintains a non-romantic relationship with a person who would prefer to have a romantic one (‘the friended’). Reasons for this situation vary. In some cases, the friender is simply unaware of the friended’s interest, perhaps wilfully so. In other, more nefarious cases, the friender is aware of the non-reciprocated interest but keeps the friended person around for reasons of psychological self-gratification or because the friended provides some sort of benefit (companionship, emotional support, sometimes even material support). In the latter case, the friender is exploiting the romantic feelings of the friended in order to maintain a relationship that, in the absence of the romantic interest (and tantalizingly possible romantic involvement), would not persist. The key is that the friended does not derive the desired benefit from the relationship, and has either decided to ‘settle’ or is hoping that some day romantic reciprocation will occur.
The least generous definition of the Friend Zone is one in which the friended party is a predator, waiting for a lapse in judgement or self-restraint in order to foist a romantic relationship on the friender. Friended people are misrepresenting themselves as genuine friends as part of a ploy to gain the confidence of the friender. The friender believes that the relationship is organic and free of sexual potential, and that both parties spend time together simply because they enjoy each other’s company – as friends do. Under this definition, it is the friended who is misrepresenting the relationship, and the friender who is the wronged party.
It is my position that, at some point in time, both of these definitions have accurately described a situation between two people. There are a broad variety of possible relationships between human beings, and some of those are not constructive or healthy. There are, almost certainly, people who have exploited someone’s romantic interest for their own selfish purposes. There are, almost certainly, people who have dissembled platonic interest solely as part of a gambit to propagate a sexual encounter. … Continue Reading