One of the first times I stumbled across the idea of the friend zone (the situation of one person in a friendship (typically the guy) desiring a romantic relationship while the other person (usually the girl) wanting to keep it platonic), it was portrayed as something only sexist men complain about – presented as Exhibit C in the case stating that men see women as their property, that they’re owed access to her body in exchange for kindness, friendship, or basic decency.
For years, even the utterance of the words “friend zone” has been deemed problematic, evidence that women’s empowerment still has a long way to go. But what if our concept of the friend zone, and the conclusions we’ve come to regarding it, aren’t entirely correct?
The Friend Zone Isn’t Always Problematic
Opponents of the friend zone paint a clear picture detailing how predatory it is: A guy spots a girl he thinks is cute, befriends her with the intention of bedding her, ingratiates himself, finally makes his move, gets rejected, and lands in the friend zone, where he bitterly accuses her of leading him on. In the minds of those who abhor the notion of the friend zone, men who complain about it only befriended a woman as a means to get sex, manipulating her with kindness, and becoming outraged at the thought of her choosing not to sleep with him.
Here’s the thing: there are undoubtedly men out there like this, and that fact is gross and unsettling. At the same time, to assume that all the men who’ve ever felt friend-zoned are this way is illogical, and frankly, denies a guy’s right to feel what he feels.
It’s human for a man who befriends a woman without any specific intentions to catch feelings.
It isn’t bizarre or abnormal that a man who befriends a woman without any specific intentions might find himself catching feelings — it’s human. We’d hardly have to search far and wide to find someone, man or woman, who’s had a crush on their friend. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that a good portion of men who’ve felt friend-zoned aren’t sexist, but instead, typical.
The Mixed Signals We’re Sending
For a culture that’s so obsessed with sex and intimacy, we send incredibly mixed messages about it – on one hand, young women express a deep desire to be valued and respected by men, but on the other hand, we call it empowering to engage in a meaningless hookup with a guy who barely bothered to learn our name.
This is naturally confusing for a guy who’s actually made the effort to know us on a deeper level, who’s demonstrated his respect for us through authentic friendship – especially given that women will often lean on their male friends for emotional intimacy, treating them like an almost boyfriend, without the physical aspect of a romantic relationship.
Women often lean on their male friends for emotional intimacy, treating them like an almost boyfriend.
Of course, a woman is never required to pursue a romantic relationship with a man for any reason. But we're willing to give all our attention to a cute guy who barely has time for us, and then we ignore the guys who took the time to get to know us and now realize they want more.
On the one hand, we want the emotional intimacy of friendship from them that we aren't getting from the bad boys we're spending all our time on. Sure, they're hot, but the relationship always leaving you wanting more (more intimacy, that is.) So we seek out the emotional intimacy we need from our male friends - and then end up confused why they think this means we're interested in them.
Here's Why We're Really Mad
Deep down, we know that a healthy relationship requires physical and emotional chemistry. But with casual flings, hookups, and "what are we?" relationships now the norm, we're probably not getting both things from our main squeeze. Unfortunately, many women have come to subconsciously associate sex and intimacy with a man who withholds intimacy and attention. No wonder so many women feel taken advantage of by men - they're giving away the most intimate part of themselves to a guy who can't be bothered to treat them romantically.
We "trust" our male friendships to be safe from this sort of exploitation - after all, if he wants sex, that's all he must want. The rest of the friendship, the trust, and the laughter was all a lie to get us into bed! Right? Maybe, maybe not.
Wouldn’t We All Want Out?
We’re all more than ready to shame any man who dares speak of the friend zone, dismissing his heartache, embarrassment, and confusion as unwarranted, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, wouldn’t we all want out of the friend zone, given we had deep, unrelenting feelings for someone?
The desire to leave the friend zone isn’t wrong.
Unrequited love is a universal experience. We’ve all had that one crush – whether on a boy in the grade above us, our coworker, or our close friend – who, no matter what, won’t ever look at us with the same fondness we do them, and that’s a feeling that stings. We can choose to be offended that a guy wants out of the friend zone, but that would also be denying the fact that we, too, would want out. The desire to leave the friend zone isn’t wrong.
In a culture that glorifies instant gratification, we tend to be hyper-fixated on what’s appealing, exhilarating, and pleasurable in the moment. We’ve all heard it said that one of the most important components in any romantic relationship is sexual compatibility, hence, the idea of getting intimate quickly in order to test it out.
But the truth is that any lasting romance has to include friendship, and ideally, would be built on that. While physical attraction is a necessary ingredient, we won’t always feel the same rush, butterflies, or thrill in our relationship as in the very beginning. The best chance we have at continuing to find happiness in our relationship, despite the struggles, annoyances, and familiarity, is if we’ve cultivated a meaningful friendship with our significant other.
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