In Defense of the "Friend Zone" (Kind Of)

I understand how people might get sort of weirdly hopeful about slow-dancing with their BFFs to Billie Holiday 10 years down the line.
Publish date:
March 4, 2013
romantic comedies, tropes, friend zone, internet memes, nice guys

So I have a bit of a confession: I really do love the friend zone.

Don't worry. I have not been murdered and replaced by an overly masochistic Nice Guy of OK Cupid (for one thing, if I had, I definitely would have used the phrase "Get off my dick" or "Calm your tits" already).

Rest assured, I am still the same angry feminist who growls at the implication that anyone has an obligation to smile at, hold hands with, or engage in possibly ill-advised cunnilingus with anyone else, whether they be bro, stranger or mortal enemy.

But in honor of the "friend zone" being officially minted into the Oxford Dictionary by whatever Reddit-happy linguists are in charge of that decision, I feel like I should just come clean with it: I think the whole concept gets kind of a bad rap.

For those of you who have been lucky enough to never hear your annoying brocquaintances grump about being "friend-zoned" while they sadly lick week-old Caesar dressing out of their bachelor beards, I'll give a quick primer.

Supposedly, the "friend zone" is the treacherous sand pit that lurks on the path between two strangers bonding over their shared love of Ke$ha and romantic boning. People (mostly dudes) usually use it to justify why their acquaintances must have turned them down for handholding and mutual orgasms -- "I waited too long, man, and now she thinks of me like her brother! Friend zoned again!"

I know it's a term laden with misogynistic implications and that, at this point, it's awfully hard to divorce the phrase from all the whining and gross behavior that's made it the calling card of Nice Guys everywhere.

And there are certainly plenty of straight guys who are perfectly capable of being friends with women -- or even asking them out and getting turned down -- without turning into giant whiny diaper babies.

The thing is, though, in the tiny corner of my Grumpy Cat soul that cries into her hands at Parks and Rec and makes 50-song playlists devoted to fictional romantic relationships, I totally buy into the whole "friends who fall in love" shtick.

My first-ever fan fiction, for example, was a 20,000 word epic about two Tamora Pierce characters who are never anything more than bros in the books, and I will still occasionally get irrationally defensive about the merits of Harry and Hermione as a couple.

For me, falling in love is a slow, dumb burn. I have been known to call my friends, freaked out and shivering, because I've suddenly realized I have deep emotional feelings for people. The conversation usually goes like this:

KC, hiding under bed: "Please send help I think I like Leslie. You know. Like-like her."

Tolerant Friend: "Well…yeah. Haven't you guys been dating for like a year?"

KC, scratching at own face: "IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE CASUAL."

I get being burningly attracted to people you've just met, but the idea of falling head over heels for someone you've only known in a dating context is strange and foreign to me. Don't you need to have spent like six months listening to them talk about their boyfriends before you start lying on the ground in despair and wondering when you got so gooey?

So I understand how people might get sort of weirdly hopeful about slow-dancing with their BFFs to Billie Holiday 10 years down the line. There are always those goopy engagement announcements about "Marrying my best friend" and all that, so it's not completely a product of my twisted imagination, either.

For me, the "friend zone" isn't exactly a desert of hopelessness where romantic relationships go to die. Sometimes, it's just a pit stop on the way to intense codependent eroticism.

All that being said, I think this makes me even less sympathetic to the aforementioned passive-aggressive reciprocal-expectation bullshit that people sometimes spout when they do find themselves falling for a friend who doesn't quite return their feelings.

Because I myself have devoted many a pine-hour to fictional and non-fictional friend-romances, I am hypersensitive to breaches of platonic etiquette. I almost never actually tell people when I'm romantically interested in them, because I have the emotional intelligence of a Roomba. But I think it's perfectly acceptable in theory to give your bro one heads-up that you kind of want to stick your hands in their pants. If they return your affections, great! Mazel tov to you both.

If they don't, that is it. No cajoling, no whining, no dramatic skywriting. No "hilarious" jokes about how "We're so close, we're practically married!" or subtle cockblocking whenever you go out on the town. If you must publicly mope, for god's sake do it in a medium that your bro in question does not frequent.

I, for example, have about 15 locked Livejournals from circa 2006, each of them precisely filtered so that my friends and I could trade Goo Goo Dolls lyrics about our crushes without actually being visible to said people.

These days, you could always make a secret Twitter account full of photos of sad ponies to represent your heartache. Do what you gotta do, so long as the likelihood of your "FOREVERALONE" acrostic poem showing up on your friend's newsfeed is slim to nil. Eventually, you'll either get over it or have to bow out.

I am not saying that feelings of sadness or even a little anger at being rejected aren't relevant and valid. But using those feelings to impose pressure on your pal to make you feel better is not the behavior of a true friend. It's the behavior of a whiny, immature baby, and it's the number-one reason why the use of the term "friend zone" is so often associated with creepers.

No one likes to feel like they're being bullied into a relationship, whether it's sexual, emotional, or otherwise. And I will always defend the right to temporarily or permanently opt out of any of those coercive situations.

I don't care how long you've known someone or how many times you've held back their hair when they barf into the ocean on spring break. If you are intentionally making them feel guilty for not loving you, however subtle you think you're being, they have the prerogative to dump your ass. Period.

Since "friend zone" is apparently in the public lexicon to stay, the least we can do is start behaving like rational adults while we're in there, right? Otherwise, eventually no one will ever dare to have friendships with potential partners again, and I will have nothing to make Spotify playlists about. Perish the thought.

Kate is friend-zoning all of you on Twitter: @katchatters