"The Friend Zone" Doesn't Exist

Shannon Ashley


Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

The friend zone. That mythical purgatory of persecution where the someone you like doesn’t like you back. It doesn’t matter that you’re clearly perfect for each other — because they heartlessly stuffed you into the dang friend zone long ago and refuse to see you in any other light. Am I right?

Actually, I think the entire idea of the friend zone is silly for several reasons.

Humans (and their relationships) are complicated.

When people complain about being in the friend zone, they’re taking on this deeply polarized view of being either in or out. As if being a friend is out, while being more than friends is in. But the reasons that contribute to how we choose our partners is widely individual and endlessly complex. The choice to pursue — or not pursue — certain relationships hinges upon many factors and feelings that most of us will never entirely understand.

Believers in the friend zone would have you think that women only go for conventionally attractive and rich men. But that simply isn’t true — you only need to look around and see that there are great variations when it comes to romantic attraction.

As a fat woman, it would be easy for me to complain and claim that all men only care about conventional beauty and thinness. But at 36, I’ve discovered that’s theory isn’t true either. Plenty of great guys have surprised me by going for less conventional partners.

Why? Because relationships and attraction are complex — and that’s a beautiful thing.

If you’re mad about being “just friends,” you’re probably a terrible one.

Why would anyone give you the opportunity to be more than friends when you can’t even be a real friend first? Too many people knock the idea of being just friends, but that can often become an even more important and vulnerable role to fill in someone else’s life.

If you earnestly care about this person, then you care about this person. Their whole self. That means you not only want to be friends, but you also want them to make their own choices and think for themselves.

This desire to govern a woman—it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together.... But I do love you surely in a better way than he does." He thought. "Yes—really in a better way. I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms.
E.M. Forster, A Room with a View

Never downplay the value of friendship. We all need friends and lovers. And let’s not ignore the fact that plenty of couples do develop romances after first fostering a genuine friendship. That’s actually a very common romantic fantasy--to find love with your best friend. But to get to that point past friendship, you actually have to be friends first.

You definitely don’t get there by complaining about being just friends for three years. Like it or not, entitlement isn’t sexy and it doesn’t increase your odds of suddenly developing a romance. Because people who complain about being friends aren’t exactly good friends anyway.

Thinking you’ve been "friend zoned" is pretty dang selfish.

Few things irritate me more than a person complaining about being friend zoned. It’s like, tell me more about how you feel entitled to get everything you want.

In other words, it’s all about you. You like them, so they should like you. You don’t like their partner, so how dare they want to just be friends with you!

It’s never actually about them and their needs — it’s about you and your wants.

There’s another word for the friend zone — infatuation.

When you feel entitled to someone else’s affection, that’s not love. You’re just infatuated with them. Infatuation is a powerful and confusing emotion, practically as good as a drug. It’s so strong that it often feels like love even when you lack the foundation and reality for it to be love.

Infatuation also lends itself to jealousy, because once again, it’s nothing but a selfish, “me first” kind of emotion.

Another problem with the friend zone is that it shirks personal responsibility.

If someone takes advantage of your feelings for them and uses you, that’s not the friend zone — that’s manipulation. Likewise, if you befriend someone with the expectation that they fall in love with you, that’s manipulation too.

That said, it’s your job to set your own personal boundaries in every relationship. Healthy boundaries.

All healthy relationships — that means friendships and romances — need boundaries. In fact, I won’t even date men who claim they’ve been shafted by the friend zone because it indicates either an inability to set healthy boundaries, or extreme selfishness.

Love is not a transaction.

Whenever we talk about healthy relationships, we need to remember that love is not a transaction. In healthy connections, friends and lovers are there for each other, but they don’t keep track of the charges. We give to each other out of love.

The people caught up in this idea of a friend zone see love and affection as transaction-based emotions. They might offer to pay for dinner, or give their time and supposed friendship — but all the while they expect to get something in return. Something more than friendship.

That’s not how love works.

People who find themselves repeatedly in what they call the friend zone need to do some self exploration and learn how to love for real. Without expectations.

Let’s be honest. If they find the role of friendship so insulting, they’re not feeling love or respect for the object of their desire.

Meanwhile, the rest of us who don’t buy into the friend zone need to quit feeling guilty about setting boundaries, or disappointing those who insist we’ve “friend zoned” them.

Nobody should feel guilty about whomever they don’t fall for.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN

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