In popular culture, the friend zone is a situation in which one member of a friendship 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 rejected person. The rejected person is said to have been put "in" the object of their affection's "friend zone", and this can be verbified, as in the sentence "So, she's friendzoned you."
The concept of the friend zone has been criticized as misogynistic, because of a belief that the concept implies an expectation that women should have sex with men whom they have no interest in, simply because they were nice to them. This is closely associated with so-called "nice guy syndrome".
A Chicago Tribune writer suggested there were a few situations in which someone might become relegated to the friend zone:
- person A is not sufficiently attracted to person B
- person A misinterprets nonverbal cues from person B signaling their interest in deepening the relationship
- person B does something that is a turn-off to person A, such as making offensive statements.
Writer Jeremy Nicholson in Psychology Today suggested that when a romantic pursuer, in order to avoid being rejected up front, uses a ploy of friendly acts as a "back door" way in to a hoped-for relationship, this approach rarely works - and when it doesn't work, the pursuer finds themselves in the friend zone. (However, see "gender differences" section below.)
The term "friend zone" is sometimes used in pick up artist (PUA) literature, where it forms part of PUA theories about female sexual attraction to males; however, PUA theories are controversial and have been criticised by feminists.
Descriptions of the friend zone
One man likened being "in the friend zone" to being a "third wheel" and having only a platonic relationship with a woman. 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.
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.
According to a Chicago Tribune writer, in a friendship between two people, being relegated to the friend zone can happen to either person.
According to some 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 interest in a romantic or sexual relationship.
Criticism of the term
Feminist bloggers such as Rivu Dasgupta and Amanda Marcotte have argued that the friend zone concept is misogynistic. Dasgupta sees the friend zone as being rooted in male narcissism. The nice guy concept has been criticized as a gender trope with an underlying message that kind acts demand a sexual or romantic reward. Dasgupta and Marcotte say that the 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. What feminists object to is that acts of "serial kindness" are not done in a spirit of selfless friendship, but as favors demanding compensation, favors which impose on the woman a reciprocal obligation of sexual reward. Further, some feminists are bothered that the agenda in such relationships is driven by men's needs for sex rather than women's needs for friendship. Ryan Milner of the College of Charleston argued that the friend zone concept is a nuanced and harmful aspect of patriarchal authority and male domination, and wrote how women could be seen negatively as a result:
Women who put ‘nice guys’ in the friend zone were accused of abuse, manipulation, and neglect ... Friend Zone Fiona is premised on this perceived injustice. Fiona ‘loves you ... like a brother’, ‘totally wants you ... to meet the right girl someday’, and ‘invites you over ... to fix her computer’. The image juxtaposes the first clause premise and the second clause punch line to elevate hopes, and then crush them.— Ryan Milner, 2013
The Guardian contributor Ally Fogg argues that while the friend zone does not exist in a literal sense, men who use the term "friend zone" are not necessarily misogynists who feel entitled to sex. He states the term's usage does reflect a genuine emotional experience for straight men with low self-esteem and self-confidence. He speculates these men don't feel entitled to sex, thus accept and even expect the rejection they receive. He places blame on ingrained gender roles that expect men to be the ones to initiate romantic advances and place an undue burden on more shy and reserved men. Fogg says, "it requires a particularly bleak view of human nature to assume that this means the friendship was never genuine, or that he secretly believes the woman should have been obliged to have sex with him," warns that "there is a danger in labeling men like this as misogynists or creeps", and says that the shaming of sexually reserved men is related to shaming of sexually assertive women.
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 features a 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.
MTV aired a reality show entitled FriendZone from 2011 to 2013. Each episode is based around "crushers" who are friends with the "crushees", but want to begin relationships with them. 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.
- Yahr, Emily (25 July 2010). "The CW's 'Plain Jane,' a not-so-extreme makeover show". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
...she harbors a hard-core crush on her buddy Ty, who has categorized her in "the friend zone" since college
- "friend zone", Oxford English Dictionary, retrieved 22 January 2014,
...a situation in which a friendship exists between two people, one of whom has an unrequited romantic or sexual interest in the other...
- Dasgupta, Rivu. "The Friend Zone is Sexist". The Maneater (student publication). University of Missouri. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
- Kaufman, Amy (15 February 2011). "'The Bachelor' recap: Girls get wild in Anguilla". Los Angeles Times.
...the dreaded friend zone...
- Binazir, Ali (February 2011). "How to stay out of the Friend Zone". taoofdating.com. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- Milner, Ryan M. (2013). "Hacking the Social: Internet Memes, Identity Antagonism, and the Logic of Lulz (FCJ-156)". The Fiberculture Journal. Open Humanities Press. 22: 62–92. Pdf.
- Dickson, E.J, (12 October 2013). "6 reasons the "friend zone" needs to die". Salon.com. Salon Media Group Inc. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
- Marcotte, Amanda (27 May 2014). "The dangerous discourse of "the friend zone"". rawstory.com.
- Moore, Tracy (2 November 2014). "Hey Dude, You're Not Stuck in the Friendzone Cuz You Dress Shitty (blog)". Jezebel. Univision Communications. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
- B., Gina (January 12, 2007). "What's so bad about the friend zone?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- Nicholson, Jeremy (1 March 2013). "Avoiding the Friend Zone: Becoming a Boyfriend or a Girlfriend". Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers: 3.
- King, Susan (21 November 2005). "Following his life into the 'love zone'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
...I was the third wheel who would listen to all of her problems, and we would have platonic sleepovers like in the movie...
- Fine, Marshall (May 10, 2010). "HuffPost Review: Just Wright". Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- Kipp, Mastin (June 3, 2010). "Choosing a Better Kind of Love". Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- Fogg, Ally (8 January 2013). "Not all men in the 'friend zone' are bad guys". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
- Bleske-Rechek, April; Somers, Erin; Micke, Cierra; Erickson, Leah; Matteson, Lindsay; Stocco, Corey; Schumacher, Brittany; Ritchie, Laura (August 2012). "Benefit or burden? Attraction in cross-sex friendship". Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Sage. 29 (5): 569–596. doi:10.1177/0265407512443611. Pdf.
- "Friends: The One With the Blackout Recap". TV.com. Retrieved 14 January 2008.
- "IGN's Top 10 Favorite TV Couples". IGN. Retrieved 14 January 2008.
- "FriendZone Casting Site"