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 lovelorn person. If a desired party does not return or respond affirmatively to the advances or affection of the desiring party, but continues to participate in the friendship in a platonic way, it is sometimes described as friend-zoning. In a related sense of the term, friend zone can describe a "commitment mismatch", such as when two people are sexually involved, but in which one person wants a committed relationship such as being a boyfriend or girlfriend, while the other does not. 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. The concept has been criticized by feminists as misogynistic in imposing an obligation on women to offer sex in return for kind actions by men.
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. Writer Jeremy Nicholson in Psychology Today suggested another problem with the friend zone, specifically that a romantic pursuer, instead of being rejected up front, uses the ploy of friendly acts as a "back door" approach into a romantic relationship.
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
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
Theguardian.com 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.
- 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..."
- Dasgupta, Rivu. "The Friend Zone is Sexist". The Maneater. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
- 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.
- Milner, Ryan M. (2013). "FCJ-156 Hacking the Social: Internet Memes, Identity Antagonism, and the Logic of Lulz". The Fiberculture Journal (22, 2013): 16. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
- Nicholson, Jeremy. "Avoiding the Friend Zone: Becoming a Boyfriend or a Girlfriend". Psychology Today. Retrieved 6 November 2014. pg.3
- Ally Fogg, 8 January 2013, theguardian.com, 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
- Dickson, EJ (12 October 2013). "6 reasons the "friend zone" needs to die". Salon. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
- Marcotte, Amanda (May 27, 2014). "The dangerous discourse of "the friend zone"".
- Moore, Tracy (2 November 2014). "Hey Dude, You're Not Stuck in the Friendzone Cuz You Dress Shitty". Jezebel. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
- 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..."
- "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"