Dating-Sex

Being in the Friend Zone Shouldn’t Be Cause for Panic

Everything You Need to Know About the Friend Zone

Is there a feeling more disappointing than realizing what you thought was a burgeoning romance was, in fact, not?

Watching the pure exhilaration of attraction fade into the painful reality of “I don’t see you that way” or “Let’s just be friends” is something many people are intimately familiar with.

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It’s such a potent emotional blow that it’s led to creation and popularization of the term “friend zone” — a dreaded place where only those with no sex appeal whatsoever are doomed to end up, a sort of prison for hapless dweebs, nice guys, and those who just haven’t yet hit their stride yet when it comes to attractiveness.

But considering the popularity of the term, along with its overwhelming association with sexually frustrated young men being pushed aside by their female crushes, it’s worth investigating a little further. To find out whether the friend zone is a real thing, how it works, why it’s problematic, and some of its secret benefits, AskMen spoke to four dating experts. Here’s what they had to say:

What Is the Friend Zone?

In case you didn’t know, the friend zone isn’t actually a physical location. It’s actually a metaphor, describing the state of affairs between you and someone you have romantic or sexual feelings for.

“The friend zone is when the person you are crushing on perceives you as a platonic friend instead of a potential romantic interest,” says sex educator Kenneth Play.

Typically, it describes something that happens relatively early on in a period of closeness between two people — one where one person sees that closeness as sexually or romantically tinged, while the other does not. Usually this happens before or without any physical interactions like kissing, making out or having sex, but “sometimes it shows up when someone new you’re dating decides they want to stop the romantic or sexual pursuit and move into friendship,” says Kerri Middleton, sex and relationship expert for Bathmate.

Why Is the Concept of the Friend Zone Problematic?

Though it’s been around for decades, the concept of the friend zone has increasingly come under fire in recent years as people’s understandings of and feelings toward dating have shifted.

For one, the baseline assumption is that being friends with someone is a mark of disrespect, and that platonic friendship is a lesser, almost worthless form of human interaction.

“The friend zone is actually a great place to be — think about the friends in your life who love and support you unconditionally,” says Middleton. “Chances are, you feel the same way about them, too. The concept only becomes problematic in the way that we, as a society, use it — as if a friendship is inferior to a romantic relationship, or any other.”

Further, the friend zone concept is typically used in a negative way, suggesting it’s something imposed on a guy by someone else against his will.

“The concept of the friend zone is an unfair way to place blame on the other person,” says sexologist Dr. Jess O’Reilly, host of Drive Her Wild With Pleasure course. “If they’re not interested in more, they haven’t done anything wrong. They’ve simply stated their intentions, so work on how you manage your feelings of rejection rather than blaming them for rejecting you.”

She adds that while rejection doesn’t feel good, “if you see being ‘friend zoned’ as slight or unfair harm directed at you, you obviously don’t respect the wishes and boundaries of your friend.”

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One aspect of the friend zone that’s worth taking issue with is the idea that men stay there, not because they’re embracing the idea of the friendship, but because they’re biding their time and scheming on eventually turning the relationship into something else.

“Pretending to be friends with someone in order to get them to have sex with you is manipulative,” says O’Reilly. “This isn’t to say that you can’t develop feelings for a friend or experience sexual attraction to a friend. Relationships can evolve over time. Some people do move from friends to lovers. But when we talk about being friend zoned, we’re often talking about folks who become friends with the intention of using that friendship to get to sex. This is untoward and exploitative.”

How to Recognize You’re in the Friend Zone

How does one tell if they’re actually in the friend zone? Of course, the simplest way to find out is to make your romantic and/or sexual intentions known to the person and see how they react.

But most of the time, if you’re curious about how to tell, it’s because you haven’t yet worked up the nerve to do so, and you’re trying to gauge how they’ll react in advance. That said, there are signs to pay attention to that’ll tell you whether you’re likely to get an excited “Yes, of course” or a “I just don’t think that’d be a good idea”?

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“Like with any romantic relationship, there are a few telltale signs that they’re really just not that into you,” says Middleton. She cites things like talking to you about other people they do have romantic or sexual feelings for, turning down or cancelling plans, and otherwise being very relaxed around you in terms of how they dress and their body language, since crushes often entail some degree of nervousness.

Play, meanwhile, notes that “if you have been expressly told they don’t want to date, hook up, or be romantic with you but they continue to initiate friendly interaction, that individual likely sees you as a friend,” as well as if they ever confide in you that they trust you because you’re ‘not like other guys’ and aren’t just trying to turn things sexual.

However, the single best method is to clearly address the issue so there’s no room for misinterpretation. Here, Play has a technique to cut through potential misunderstandings — dual-choice questions. For instance, if you say something like:

“Do you see me as a friend, or do you see me as potentially something more?”
“I really like you and I don’t want to lose this friendship, but I have feelings for you. Do you want things to stay this way, or do you want to try being a couple?”
“When you think of me, do you think of me as just a friend, or as someone with boyfriend potential?”

you’re clearly asking them to pick one option or the other. While they might not give you a straight answer, or might themselves not be 100% sure how they feel, it can help clarify things for both of you.

Getting Out of the Friend Zone

The eternal question for guys who are in the friend zone, of course, is whether they can get out of it, and if so, how.

The short answer? Yes, you can get out! Being in the friend zone means you’re friends with someone, so if you’re scared of being stuck there forever, you can simply end the friendship and stop speaking to the person.

The long answer — whether it’s possible to convince someone to start seeing you in a romantic or sexual way — is also yes. But the fact that it’s possible doesn’t mean that it’s likely, nor is it a good idea to hinge your interactions with this person on that slim possibility. Just because it’s possible to win the lottery doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to live your life assuming you will (or to spend all your money on tickets).

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Out of the Friend Zone

“To escape the friend zone, you must first realize that all relationships involve negotiation and you are attempting to ‘re-negotiate’ more from the other person,” says Middleton. You might feel like your current set-up is unbalanced — that your feelings are stronger than theirs — “and what you really want is for them to balance the scales,” she adds.

One trick is to pull back from the friendship a little bit and see whether making yourself scarce charges up the other person’s desires for you. However, this might smack a little bit of ‘playing games’ and isn’t likely to completely change the way the other person feels about you. It might help them realize if they do have dormant feelings for you, but if they don’t, it certainly won’t produce them.

The other option? “Just ask them out,” according to Zachary Zane, brand ambassador for Promescent. “But do so in a manner that makes it very easy for them to reject you.”

“I’d say, ‘Hey, maybe I’ve misread this, and if you’re not interested, no worries, but would you like to go on a proper date with me? I could see us potentially being more than friends.’”

What to Do If You Can’t Get Out of the Friend Zone

While it is possible to change how a friend sees you, a more common (and understandable) scenario is that you don’t escape the friend zone. What happens then? Depending on how intense and how long-lasting your feelings for this person were, going back to being friendly and cordial might just be too painful.

RELATED: Can You Date Someone After Being Friends First?

“If you want to be lovers and they want to be friends, you can decide whether or not the friendship is something you want to continue to cultivate,” says O’Reilly. “You might find experiencing unrequited romantic feelings preclude you from maintaining the platonic friendship (at this time) and that’s OK. Just as they have a right to share their desires and boundaries, you can also opt out of the friendship.”

One option would be to let them know that you need some time and space to sort out your feelings and/or get over them, adding that you still value them as a person and you want to continue to have them in your life.

As Middleton notes, “If this person holds a special place in your heart, it would be a shame to throw that away because they don’t reciprocate your feelings. Remember, this is also hard on the person who is doing the ‘friendzoning.’”

This is rare for straight guys, but having someone you considered a platonic friend hinge their future presence in your life on whether you’ll get sexual or romantic with them is an unpleasant and confusing situation.

“Be open and communicative,” advises Middleton. “As they say, honesty is the best policy.” If this is someone you genuinely care about, it’s possible to go through a period of uncertainty, mixed feelings and difficulty and come out on the other side still caring about each other, regardless of what form that takes.

Benefits of Being in the Friend Zone

The friend zone is far from the worst place to be. For starters, if the desire to be friends with you is genuine and not someone just trying to soften the blow of a rejection, it implies you have at least one friend, which is more than some people can say.

“If a friend sets a boundary, you can be thankful that they’ve been clear and straightforward,” says O’Reilly. “Friendships are highly valuable to overall health and life satisfaction.”

She points out that friendship’s benefits include tangible mental health benefits like lower stress, fewer mood swings, happiness and self-esteem boosts, and more.

RELATED: The Secret Benefits of the Friend Zone, Revealed

“Being friendzoned is not all doom and gloom, in fact,” agrees Middleton. “Friendships are lasting, non-exclusive and rarely risk becoming overly intense, yet it’s intimate enough to give you comfort. Not only this, being friends will force you to improve your communication skills and build a relationship based on connection rather than physical desire.”

If you’re bemoaning someone you were attracted to or feeling romantic feelings for not seeing you the same way, taking a break from that relationship in the short term to process the hurt is an understandable gesture. But cutting them out of your life robs you of someone who might help you grow into someone who’s confident, fun and attractive enough to win the heart of the next person you start to fall for.

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