By Lucy Haas
Unrequited love is a bitch and has been since the dawn of time. From Cervantes to Sarah McLachlan, the sting of one-way desire is a nigh universal experience. Nowadays, it’s commonly referred to as that curious social trope – the Friend Zone, a metaphysical distance at which a hopeful lover is held by the object of their desire. Refused any further advancement, they languish in this dark wasteland, desperately hoping their loved one might have a sudden change of heart and run into their arms.
It’s an incredibly uncomfortable analogy. The passive-aggressive accusation in it is palpable – how dare they keep me here, the Friend Zoned cries, how dare they give me something as paltry as their friendship when I deserve so much more! Friend Zoning is the thwarting of a ‘natural’ journey from acquaintancehood to friendship, and then to romantic and/or sexual entanglement. To the Friend Zoned, friendship is failure. Is that healthy? Is that the attitude you want your friends to have to your companionship, affection and trust?
It gets even uglier, as so many things do, on the Internet. The archetypal Friend Zoned is a man, ‘friend’ to a woman, who doesn’t see him as a romantic prospect. The passive-aggression generally devolves into outright misogyny. Ironically, these men often proclaim themselves “nice guys” – hapless victims of terrible women who exploit them for emotional intimacy and support, then refuse to reimburse them for these services with their bodies.
Because that’s how relationships work for men, right? You trade boring crap like “human interaction” for the commodity that is sex? Relationships are a battle in which the woman fights to keep the sex/intimacy ratio low, and the man fights to keep it high. Friendship is the ultimate defeat – all intimacy, no sex. Remember, men: if you’re friends with a woman, you’re letting those bitches win.
But women can love unrequitedly too. And somehow, the female Friend Zone is not as common a trope in fiction. The cause is hard to nail down. I suspect it has something to do with that underlying patriarchal assumption that for a woman, pure friendship is the ultimate victory and not to be bemoaned at all. The glorious benefits of a relationship (they have to listen to us talk about our feelings! Triumph!), without having to trade any sex for the privilege.
Because as we all know, ladies, the less sex you have, the better. Otherwise, we’d be sluts – and then how will any man ever want us again? (But you’d better have just enough so they don’t call you frigid! What on earth would we do without society to police our sexuality for us, right girls?)
There’s actually a universally simple solution to the ‘Friend Zone’. It’s called ‘human language’, or ‘being a goddamned adult’. And, contrary to what pop culture is apparently willing to admit, your gender doesn’t change a damn thing about what you need to do. You tell your would-be lover exactly how you feel.
Because until you do that, they don’t know – and no, I don’t care how much you’ve batted your eyelashes or flexed your abs or whatever newfangled courtship rituals the kids are into these days. You use your words. You get the message across without ambiguity, and then you find out how they feel.
Congratulations! You’re now out of the Friend Zone. You’re in a much more adult place, having a mature discussion about your feelings with a potential romantic partner. If they like you back, great! If they don’t, now you know. Either way, you now have the power to get on with your life.
Maybe don’t see them for a while so you can recover and refocus your romantic lens to more distant horizons. If for any reason you can’t tell them, then don’t tell them, fine. But own that choice. Do what you have to do to get past them. It sucks, but so does wallowing forever in the mud of self-pity like an angsty hippopotamus.
The ugly secret of the Friend Zone is that nobody but the ‘victim’ has the power to get out. Even God himself can’t make somebody fall for someone they don’t love (as we learned from Jim Carrey’s excellent documentary, Bruce Almighty.) The Friend Zone is your self-imagined, self-inflicted punishment for being a coward about your feelings. Grow a spine and get out of there because once your battered heart has healed, guess what? You’re friends with someone awesome.
P.S. Friendship is not a consolation prize.
Want the other side of the story? Click here to see what a guy’s perspective of the “Friend Zone” is…