In popular culture, the "friend zone" refers to a platonic relationship wherein one person wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship, while the other does not. It is generally considered to be an undesirable situation by the lovelorn person. Once the friend zone is established, it is said to be difficult to move beyond that point in a 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 a man might become relegated to the friend zone: (1) the woman is not sufficiently attracted to the man, (2) the woman misinterprets nonverbal cues from the man signaling his interest in deepening the relationship, (3) there is sexual repulsion (but not enough to block a friendship). In a friendship between a man and a woman, being relegated to the friend zone can happen to either person. The zone has been described in this way:
When a guy agrees to be friends, he's forced to stifle his attraction while regularly seeing and talking to the woman he's attracted to. She discusses her love life and has the audacity to ask his advice on it. He performs occasional "manly" household and automotive favors for the women. Essentially, he does everything a boyfriend would do – without the benefits.
— Gina B., Chicago Tribune, 2007
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."
One man described himself as always having girlfriends who were "girls" but were only his "friends", meaning there was no sex between them.
There is general agreement that once a man is in the friend zone, it is difficult to get out. However, there was a report in Cosmopolitan magazine that suggested that a friend-only relation could change into a sexual one. It was based in part on a 2001 Match.com survey in which 71% of respondents hoped that they would fall in love with a friend. It has also been suggested that women may also become victims of the "friend zone", in which a man treats them as only a friend, while the woman prefers a more intimate relationship.
Despite the pitfalls of friend zones, there have been views advanced that a friend zone relation can evolve from "the lingering possibility of becoming more than a friend" into something deeper, particularly if the friend-zone friendship leads to a long term feeling of trustworthiness and intimacy.
The term "friend zone" 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 compelling dramatically, according to one view. Comedian Chris Rock talked about men being trapped in the friend zone in his 1996 album Bring the Pain. The television show Scrubs used the term on the episode entitled "My Best Friend's Mistake" in which the character J.D. explained that after an important turning point happens in the relationship between a man and a woman, there are less than 48 hours to do something about it or else the man will be stuck in the woman's friend zone forever. J.D. doesn't get to finish kissing his unrequited love, Elliot Reid, in 48 hours, so he entered into an imaginary "Friend Zone" hospital room filled with other men who had similarly become stuck in Elliot's friend zone.
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. The movie When Harry Met Sally explored the theme of whether men and women could be friends without being lovers.
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
In the 2010 Nickelodeon-sitcom Big Time Rush, the character of James described the friend zone as "a dark place, where you give girls rides to the airport, talk about their ex-boyfriends and help them move in", without ever having a chance to become a couple. The band Your Favorite Martian made a song known as "Friend Zone" in 2012 about a band member's crush with another girl.
- Ali Binazir M.D. M.Phil. (February 2011). "How to stay out of the Friend Zone". taoofdating.com. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- GINA B. (January 12, 2007). "What's so bad about the friend zone?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- 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.
- "When you fall for a guy pal: the "just friends" zone is like relationship quicksand, but you can get out with a few strategic maneuvers.". Cosmopolitan. 2006-06-01. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
- "Just friends - why it happens?", AskMen.com
- 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."
- "5 Reasons Why Being in the Friend Zone is a Good Thing". manhelper.com. Retrieved 2012-06-30.
- "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.
- "Amy Smart on Just Friends", RadioFree.com Interviews (Nov. 5, 2005)
- "FriendZone Casting Site"