In popular culture, friend zone refers to a platonic relationship wherein one person, most commonly a man, wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship, while the other does not. It is generally considered to be an undesirable or dreaded situation by the lovelorn person. The concept has been criticized as misogynistic.
According to psychologists, the man in a cross-gender friendship is more likely to be attracted to his woman friend than she is to him, and he is more likely to overestimate her sexual interest in a romantic relationship.
There are differing explanations about what causes a person to be placed in the friend zone by another. It might result from misinterpreted signals or from a fear that a deeper relationship might jeopardize the friendship. A Chicago Tribune writer suggested there were several cases in which someone might become relegated to the friend zone: (1) person A is not sufficiently attracted to person B, (2) person A misinterprets nonverbal cues from person B signaling their interest in deepening the relationship, (3) there is sexual repulsion (but not enough to block a friendship). In a friendship between the two people, being relegated to the friend zone can happen to either person. In another instance, a woman described her male friend, someone she was comfortable with as if he was one of her girlfriends, but their relationship became problematic when he wanted their relationship to develop romantically but she did not. One man compared the friend zone to being a "third wheel" and having only a platonic relationship with a woman.
Marshall Fine of The Huffington Post suggested that the friend zone is "like the penalty box of dating, when your only crime is not being buff and unobtainable." Dating adviser Ali Binazir described the friend zone as Justfriendistan, and wrote that it's a "territory only to be rivaled in inhospitability by the western Sahara, the Atacama, and Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell." Mastin Kipp of the Huffington Post described himself as always having girlfriends who were "girls" but were only his "friends", meaning there was no sex between them.
Opposition to the term
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Feminist bloggers such as Rivu Dasgupta and Amanda Marcotte have argued that the friend zone concept is misogynistic. They say the friend zone concept implies that if a woman and a man have a platonic friendship and the man becomes romantically attracted to the woman, then the woman has a duty to return his affection. A woman who does not return her "nice guy" male friend's affection is viewed negatively or seen to be at fault.
Blogger Matt Eastwood prefers the term "unrequited love" instead; while the term "friend zone" implies that the person who does not return the affection, usually the woman, is at fault, the term "unrequited love" assigns the source of the conflict with the person who is unable to accept only friendship.
A 2013 article by writer Ally Fogg in theguardian.com's "Comment is free" site argued that men who use the term are not necessarily misogynistic. Fogg argued that the friend zone does not exist in a literal sense, since numerous male-female friendships spark into romance, but that the friend zone does reflect a genuine emotional experience for straight men with low self-esteem and self-confidence. When such men form friendships with women, become attracted, and then experience rejection, they sometimes use the term "friend zone" to describe their experience. According to Fogg, "men, like women, are victims of our tediously stubborn gender roles" in which men are expected to "make the first move", and "most men who feel themselves to be in the friend zone are just a bit rubbish at dating, flirting and what my granny would have called wooing."
The term was popularized by a 1994 episode of the American sitcom Friends entitled "The One with the Blackout", where the character Ross Geller, who was lovesick for Rachel Green, was described by character Joey Tribbiani as being the "mayor of the friend zone". The question of whether a man can ever "escape the friend zone and begin dating one of his female friends" helped make the "geek dream couple" of Ross and Rachel storyline dramatically compelling, according to viewers.
Since then, the friend zone concept has often been a plot element in television shows and films. The 2005 film Just Friends main character, played by Ryan Reynolds, reunited after ten years with his friend played by Amy Smart, who informs him that she loves him "like a brother", essentially dashing any hopes of him having her as a girlfriend. In May 2011, MTV had a show entitled FriendZone. In an interview with a national publication, a producer said:
The idea for the show came out of my own experience. Unfortunately, I know the pain of telling the girl of your dreams you love them and want to take the relationship to the next level only to be told they don't feel the same. I figured if it happened to me, it might be something others could relate to as well. If it works, you have the beginnings of a great love story. If it doesn't, well, pain and humiliation make great TV, too."—an MTV producer
- Emily Yahr (July 25, 2010). "The CW's 'Plain Jane,' a not-so-extreme makeover show". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-02-24. "she harbors a hard-core crush on her buddy Ty, who has categorized her in "the friend zone" since college."
- Oxford Dictionary, friend zone, Accessed Jan. 22, 2014, "...a situation in which a friendship exists between two people, one of whom has an unrequited romantic or sexual interest in the other..."
- Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2011, 'The Bachelor' recap: Girls get wild in Anguilla, "...the dreaded friend zone..."
- Ali Binazir M.D. M.Phil. (February 2011). "How to stay out of the Friend Zone". taoofdating.com. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- Marcotte, Amanda (May 27, 2014). "The dangerous discourse of “the friend zone”".
- Ally Fogg, 8 January 2013, The Guardian, Not all men in the 'friend zone' are bad guys: Using the phrase 'friend zone' doesn't make you a misogynist, but the 'Nice Guys' of OK Cupid often stray into that territory, Retrieved Sept. 29, 2014.
- April Bleske-Rechek, Erin Somers, Cierra Micke, Leah Erickson, Lindsay Matteson, Corey Stocco, Brittany Schumacher, Laura Ritchie, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 2012, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Benefit or burden?: Attraction in cross-sex friendship, Retrieved Sept. 29, 2014, pages 569-596
- GINA B. (January 12, 2007). "What's so bad about the friend zone?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- November 21, 2005, Susan King, Los Angeles Times, Following his life into the 'love zone', Accessed Jan. 22, 2014, "... I was the third wheel who would listen to all of her problems, and we would have platonic sleepovers like in the movie..."
- Marshall Fine (May 10, 2010). "HuffPost Review: Just Wright". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- Mastin Kipp (June 3, 2010). "Choosing a Better Kind of Love". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- Dr. Alex Benzer (April 2, 2009). "How Rich Guys Screw Up Their Chances with Women". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- Los Angeles Times, The Art of Getting By' review: As it turns out, some teenagers are awkward and shy, Accessed Jan. 22, 2014, "...about escaping teenage gloom or the friend zone..."
- "Rape Culture Is Everywhere Our Children Can See — Watch Your Favorite Movies Prove It".
- "“Friendzoned”? Perhaps your Actual Problem is This.". Archived from the original on 2013-12-26.
- "Friends: The One With the Blackout Recap". TV.com. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
- "IGN's Top 10 Favorite TV Couples". IGN. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
- "FriendZone Casting Site"