Why We Need to Stop Calling It The Friend Zone

A girl and guy who are friends hugging.

I once had a close male friend who tried to woo me. Though I didn’t feel the same way, I did like and appreciate him as a person and as a friend, and I expressed this to him.

“So, you’re permanently putting me in the friend zone?” he asked, shuddering. (As if friend zone actually meant Twilight Zone.)

Instead of valuing the extension of friendship, he took it as a form of penalization because his feelings weren’t reciprocated, and after a few more awkward encounters, I didn’t hear from him again.

The definition of ‘friend zone’ refers to a platonic relationship where one party has unrequited romantic feelings for the other, and is essentially banished to a life of “look, but don’t touch.”

Prevalent in pop culture (it’s been thought that it was coined on a 1994 episode of, ironically, “Friends” and has even generated into an eponymous MTV dating show), it has been quickly labeled as something negative akin to a consolation prize rather than an opportunity for a different kind of connection.

The problem with perpetuating the friend zone is that it further complicates relationships, and it needs to be eradicated. Here’s why.

1. It’s sexist.
Although the term is gender-neutral, it’s mostly used to describe a situation between a heterosexual man and woman, where the man has been friendzoned by the woman. It’s not that women are not friendzoned, but mostly when men complain about it, they are shaming the woman for rejecting them. They are shaming a woman for exercising her right to say, “No” because of the “work” and time they’ve “invested” into a friendship. Nope.

2. It infers that relationships are transactional.
Someone who’s interested in you might buy you dinner, offer to help move you out of your apartment, or create a mixed CD. Because they did these nice things for you and they believe they have the very best of intentions, there is an expectation that you must reciprocate their feelings. Double NOPE. Generosity and favors do not entitle anyone to a relationship, nor do they entitle sex. Human beings are not play things, and no one “owes” anyone anything, especially intimacy. The truth is all relationships require some kind of time and work. That’s what being a true friend means. A true friend willingly puts effort into a friendship and never expects anything in return.

3. It gives someone a way out of taking responsibility.
When a man talks about the “friend zone”, he generally says that a woman “put” him there in this vague, mysterious Bermuda-like triangle way, as if he doesn’t have any way of escaping. Because he was conveniently placed there, he’s able to shrug off any responsibility for his actions that might have “put” him there in the first place. He doesn’t have to take ownership for staying in a situation that might make him feel bad.

But here’s the thing: people in the friend zone are responsible for themselves and their choices. If they don’t like the relationship they’ve been offered, they don’t need to take it. And it is more than likely that their behavior is the reason why they were initially so-called banished there. Instead of blaming someone for your circumstances, it would be smart to take this as an opportunity to examine yourself and your attitude towards relationships and create what you want, otherwise you’re in for a slew of future disappointments.

4. It implies men and women can’t be friends.
Harry and Sally have been debating this for 30 years. Maybe sex gets in the way for some people, but not all. However, by perpetuating that men and women can’t be friends because, ultimately, sexual complications are bound to ensue, which might lead to hurt feelings and rejection, it stops people from pursuing authentic friendships with members of the opposite sex. Which is a shame because finding a good friend, especially as an adult, is hard to find.

The reality is, relationships are hella complicated, but unrequited love is nothing new (Shakespeare wrote about it constantly). Being rejected is hard, but if you have shared your feelings from an open and honest place, there is nothing truly lost there. There are far worst things to being “just friends”, but if that’s hard for you, then gracefully bow out. And consider this—if you were being friends and doing nice things for someone to ultimately get sex or something more from them they never promised you, then you might want to also consider how that other person feels. Because feeling like a friend was only ever using you is a way worse place to be than the ‘friend zone.’

Brianne Hogan

Freelance Writer

Brianne is a Canadian freelance writer who’s been writing about dating and relationships longer than any of her relationships. She applies a “do what I say, not do what I do” approach to her articles, and believes you can find Your Person mostly when you aren’t looking. So enjoy your life, and eat lots of cheese (at least that’s her motto). Her byline’s been featured on Thrillist, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Elle Canada, Flare, Awesomeness TV, among others.

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