The friend zone. We’ve all heard of it by now. It’s used to describe a relationship in which one of two “friends” has romantic and/or sexual feelings for the other person, but knows or suspects that his/her friend does not reciprocate said feelings. Up until recently, I just thought it was a slightly annoying expression used by people who were unhappy with the current state of their relationship(s) and were too needy, whiny and desperate to get out of a friendship that obviously wasn’t satisfying. Annoying, but harmless.
Recently, the friend zone became a feminist issue. I saw several blogs and articles describing it as a sexist term used by men who felt that they were owed sex from their female friends, owed sex for being “nice”, and were bitter because they were realizing that their entitlement was misplaced. I can see how the use of the expression can be interpreted in such way: sometimes when so-called “nice” guys are complaining about how kind, wonderful, and generous they have been to a female friend, it can seem as if the only reason they even approached her was because they were attracted to her, and the only reason they were nice at all was to have a chance to sleep with her. It can seem this way, but I’m not convinced. I think that there genuinely is a “friend zone” and that these guys are not being sexist: they are just being human, and displaying some of the weaknesses that come with it.
First of all, few people try to sneakily become friends with someone with the intention of turning the friendship into a relationship. It’s 2014, and people generally feel free to begin friendships with people of both sexes, with whoever they feel drawn to. Attraction may be an underlying factor, but I think that most of the time, it might be just below the surface of one’s awareness in the beginning. I have been friends with quite a few men who I did not think I was attracted to at all in the beginning. I was drawn to something about them, but I would not have called it a physical attraction. I think that people gradually become attracted or realize they have been attracted all along.
Second, I don’t think that the “friend zone” is so hard to interpret. It’s just a colorful way of saying that the other person only sees you as a friend. I think that all the frustration that people complaining about the friend zone express is not so much the result of feeling “entitled” to sex or a relationship, but the inevitable sense of rejection one feelings when someone we are attracted to doesn’t feel the same. Often, the two friends have a lot in common or share many important values; this is what leads them to have such a great friendship. I know that in male-female friendships, people often talk about dating, relationships, and their ideal partner. I think that frequently, the person who has feelings has observed what they other person says he/she wants and thinks that he/she has many of those qualities. I think it’s difficult to accept that while you may possess many of the qualities the other person desires, you are not physically attractive in his/her eyes.
Even though we all need to learn to deal with not being able to appeal to everyone, and even though becoming frustrated and ranting is a bad reaction, I can understand why these people feel rejected and annoyed. By the way, it’s not just guys who experience the “friend zone”. We have heard a lot about guys in the friend zone, but It also happens to girls, including yours truly. I have been in the friend zone once. It was really frustrating because I got along really well this person, knew we had a lot in common and I had many qualities (intelligence, style, wit) that he said he was looking for in a girlfriend. I also knew that he would never ask me out because I wasn’t his type: his type was gorgeous, skinny model. It was frustrating because this guy would never admit that looks were at the top of the list of things he was looking for and that he wouldn’t consider anyone who didn’t have perfect hair, a slender and tight body, complete with a stunning face. I get it: people are entitled to their preferences. I have my own which are just as superficial. But in the moment, you do feel the sting of rejection. Like I said, it makes it worse when you feel that the person won’t be honest about his/her preferences.
So no, I do not think that the friend zone is a sexist construction of faux-nice-guys’ imaginations that they wield as a weapon to guilt women into sex. I think that it’s a symptom of the frustration that results from imbalanced friendships, in which one person sees it as completely platonic and the other wishes there could be more.