Thought Catalog

The Friend Zone

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On understanding a ponderous situation.

The Friend Zone is both stigmatized and empathized as a type of relationship experienced between a usually attractive female (known herein as Subject?) and her futile courter, an earnest male (herein Partner?) who desires a romantic relationship with her, specifically to engage in acts by which such status is defined, but “settles” for a platonic[1] friendship, which shall be referred to herein as the Emotional-Union??. While the Friend Zone is not gender specific, i.e. subjects and partners can be male and female, respectively, the one under examination is far more common and perilous. We may attribute the Friend Zone to one of the following reasons:

  1. Partner? hopes that somehow his grim loyalty to the non-physically rewarding friendship will convey his good character, that he will “break down” or readjust Subject?’s sensibilities and transcend the conventional constraints of “shallow” physical attractiveness that Subject? doesn’t feel towards him; that it is simply time until she comes to recognize the deeper and profound aspects of their actual “love,” which finally having been excised, will culminate in copulation.
  2. Partner? actually has resigned to a platonic friendship, somewhat “well-adjustedly,” in the sense that he is able to view the platonic relationship as merely an unfortunate logistical disparity, that he is happy and grateful for what actually is indeed a good friendship, seeing the greater macro-emotional and ultimately more redeeming “level” they are on; though, of course, by definition of the Friend Zone, his motives are not completely platonic, otherwise the word “zone,” like a fence, would not need to be employed.
  3. Subject?, often an emotionally confused young female with maybe some masochistic or self-hating tendencies, doesn’t feel like she deserves or even wants to be treated well; or rather, she wants these things, but not in collusion with sexual intimacy, for the existential implications or liabilities of her unhappiness (we assume she is still unhappy, and forever will be) if acquired would be too ponderous to bear. The Friend Zone, in its concession to a demoted form of love, however cynical, is “romantic” in a tragic sense.

It is overall an unpleasant feeling; in fact, a horribly emasculating feeling, often exacerbated by the relationship status of Subject? with her boyfriend[2] (herein, Object?), which can range from a committed long-term relationship, to simply a one-night stand, or pedestrian “f-ck buddy,” or any of the various kinds of physical encounters any of the many men in this world may have with our Subject?. These timeless acts, to no fault of their conspirators, will be referred to as the Carnal-Union??. Ideally, as women are led to believe by popular film, music lyrics, novels, etc., the Emotional-Union?? and Carnal-Union?? are embodied in one suitor, hence, happily ever after. After experiencing grave dissonance between these two paradigms during, usually, late high school or the onset of college, Subject? will resign to (put prosaically) getting f-cked by one guy and listened to by the other. She pastiches the two men into one, which only sounds postmodern, but precedes that ethos timelessly.

Often, painfully, Friend Zones take place among a network of mutual friends, such that Partner? is friends — or, essentially, needs to maintain diplomacy — with Object?, a bro enterprise which may be successful (Amicable??) or unsuccessful (Non-amicable??). Subject? will also have a group of female friends (Council?) with whom she heralds them the details of Partner?’s futile efforts to court her during a bi-weekly Girl-night?? whose gender exclusivity and time frame is evident in its name. Council? will simultaneously think Partner? is “sooo” [non-sic on emphatic repetition of ‘o’] sweet and such a nice guy, while feeling pity and mild derision for him. Contradictorily, many members of Council? will call upon Partner? when they too need to talk on the phone, or have someone to have coffee or drinks with, without the “threat” of being seduced or expected to sexually perform in some manner; as such, Partner? is further reduced to being the universal friend, negotiating various Friend Zones at once. As a general rule, the heaviest member of Council?[3], who emotionally needs Partner? the most, who perhaps masturbates to Object?, whose veiled hatred of Subject? manifests in an inward self-hatred, is too broken to call upon the former two parties for their respective capacities.

Friend Zone behavior resembles “normal” behaviors exchanged among friends. The differentiating factor(s) are the mutually complicit, however dissonant, motives of Partner? and Object?; specifically, getting support and getting a chance. In ways, it is a sad union. Here are some examples of key Friend Zone dynamics:

  1. Partner? consoles Subject? during a +40 minute phone conversation (offering 8-9% of the dialogue) regarding Object?‘s failure to attend, however late he was expected to be, an important “thing” which Subject? had, like, srsly said, like was totally important, followed by a “follow up” conversation the next day in which Partner?, disappointingly, is to learn that everything is like totally okay now and stuff, as Object? finally came home last night to portray his virile love to her, by way of her mouth, he being a non-verbal type.
  2. Partner? eventually conveys his frustration about the Friend Zone, sincerely asking Subject? why, since they get along so well and everything, why she isn’t physically attracted to him, to which she replies that it’s not him but her, that (as alluded above), she’s just not used to, or even likes to be treated nicely. While somewhat true, this is ultimately a placation.
  3. Difficulty in defining if a dinner is a “date,” i.e. if he (with post-feminist awareness, obviously) should pay for the dinner under the auspices of a “date,” or not, a vagueness further made problematic if there’s a socioeconomic disparity between Subject? and Partner?; meaning, she’s either of commensurate age but broke, or younger and simply without as much money. In a twist of irony, and perhaps in observance of the imbalanced dynamics, Partner? often pays for this non-date anyways.
  4. Semi-affectionate hugs displayed towards each other at the end of these faux-dates, whose awkwardness is in direct correlation with the cognizance of the ongoing strain of Friend Zone, by which Partner? is becoming increasingly hurt; the couple must reciprocate each other’s warmth without her breasts squishing into his chest (they can touch). Partner? may supplement the sensation of her breasts though layers of clothing with a visual imagining of what they might look like.
  5. In an act of entitlement, Subject? gets unfairly jealous when Partner? receives romantic interest or attention from another woman who she considers, oddly, a competitor; it is not sex she is concerned with, but having attention diverted from her. Here Subject? will criticize the female competitor, making assertions about not only the prosaic matters of intelligence and looks, but moralistically, saying she doesn’t think the female competitor is a nice person, which ironically, because our desperate Partner? has difficulty with discretion, she is often not.

Put cynically, the Friend Zone is the result of lack of resolve on both parties, where (1) Subject? consciously communicates vaguely regarding the emotional boundaries of the friendship, at times manipulatively alluding to either the possibility of “more,” or there actually being “more,” knowing how lonely and emotionally compulsive Partner? is, as either some sick “power trip,” or to secure his blind yet not completely innocent loyalty; or (2) Partner? endures Friend Zone out of Darwinian weakness (i.e. sans libido) and ultimate laziness, unwilling or unable to find and secure sexually/ emotionally available mates[4] the proper fashion, and so, in a way, is using Subject? also, for the kind of “built in” incidental vicinity to a warm female body that the friendship offers. Put short, Friend Zone participants are incomplete beings without engaging in said pathologies.

Friend Zones sometimes last for years, decades even, though usually its fate is precluded within 2.0-2.5 years by one of the following: (1) Partner? simply “gives up” and the friendship slowly dissolves, his failure and resentment implicit in his cordial reticence, (2) Partner? finally “makes a move,” which is not met favorably, and the friendship quickly dissolves, in most part due to the anger and humiliation felt by the former; or (3) the Friend Zone is successfully elevated into a romantic relationship after a final courtship displayed by Partner?, but this is extremely rare and destined to fail within a few months, as Subject? irrevocably views Partner? as a subordinate beta-male whose very patience, understanding, acceptance, and nurturing temperament, which she has openly appreciated and employed for so long, is ironically that which precludes the actualization of complete spiritual-and-sexual love (i.e. the Emotional-Union?? and Carnal-Union??) as these supposedly good/ rare attributes are perceived as, and punished for, being too effeminate, and of all the things she isn’t really looking for. TC mark

image – Martin Beek

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    • Some Guy

      This is incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything more hilariously accurate

    • anonymous

      I would like to add that there are times where two people are friends and would like it to be more than that but circumstances don’t allow it or the timing isn’t right. That situation is the hardest on the friendship especially when the feelings between both people are mutual.

      • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

        the situation you describe lacks the power imbalance of friend zone; you are talking more about that movie where ryan gosling kisses rachel mc adams in the rain, where her blue dress conveniently matches the dark colbalt  tint of dusked rain from which her tears cannot be distinguished, a scene evocative of the former’s abs, however unseen

    • Sahil

      love it!

    • Zack

      As an academic dork and huge DFW fan – as well as someone who just got friend zoned – I absolutely love this. 

      • Kath

        DFW is spinning in his grave about this, I’m sure.

        • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

          i love DFW, but i was not trying mimic him here; his ‘style,’ to me, seem(s)(ed) to reappropriate or at least embrace many different anti-lyrical forms of ‘dry’ language (e.g. corporate, legalese, academic) in an erratic ADHD post-television manic way, in juxtaposition with the more ebullient literary ways borrowed from joyce or nabokov, all the while remaining obedient to street vernacular, casual and glib, so his style is indiscriminate yet swollen. It is language inside a blender. To say something is DFW is to accuse a lawyer of being in an elevator, or a hotdog man trying to sell some dogs

    • http://twitter.com/aluminiyum Soraya

      Jimmy, you craft masterpiece after masterpiece with words.
      I never realized that men can feel women’s breasts pressed against their chests when we hug. (obviously i am a woman)

    • Such a Pretty Fat

      I really enjoyed this piece, except for the bullshit about the fat friend. Having a BMI above 24 doesn’t preclude anyone from dating. Maybe try removing your head from your sphincter in that regard and you’ll be less friend-zoned.

      • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

        srry abt that, it was a ‘cheap shot’ i admit; i was also thinking about jamie foxx’s portrayal of ‘wanda’ in ‘in living color’ during footnote [3]

    • F_calvi

      Ok so (a backlash-inspiring confession ahead!)  i am one of those evil friend-zoners. Why? Because I’m lonely right now and need some social life. Selfish I know. I did tell (well text) ‘the friend zonee’ at the beginning saying “Just in case you’re interested, I only want friendship” and i was fooling myself it made it ok for a while. But now a few weeks later i’m noticing he may be hoping for something (or am i paranoid?) Do i have to end it or can I still salvage some of “the friendship” by being super honest? (See loneliness above). The thing is I could really do with someone to hang out with. Is the When Harry met Sally argument really always true? Do men only befriend women if they want to sleep with them?  

      • Anonymous

        fucking end it.  be super honest, but know your friendship will probably fade after he hears the truth… if he is actually getting attached that is

      • LifelongPartner(0)

        As far as I’m concerned, and bad as it may sound, yes. Men only befriend if either a) they want a relationship (possibly more than just sex) or b) they already have a girlfriend they’re happy with. Sad but true, it’s what drives guys. I’ve been Partner(0) so many damnable times it gets hard to remember them all, but I blame myself as I’m always in it for more than just friends anyway. So, yeah, most Partner(0)s aren’t very innocent in their intentions.

      • LifelongPartner(0)

        As far as I’m concerned, and bad as it may sound, yes. Men only befriend if either a) they want a relationship (possibly more than just sex) or b) they already have a girlfriend they’re happy with. Sad but true, it’s what drives guys. I’ve been Partner(0) so many damnable times it gets hard to remember them all, but I blame myself as I’m always in it for more than just friends anyway. So, yeah, most Partner(0)s aren’t very innocent in their intentions.

    • s.

      this is mosly true and could’ve been great if you didn’t sound like a complete asshole during some of it. 

      • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

        i always thought ‘complete asshole’ invoked the full circle of the large intestine, where like an ‘incomplete asshole’ is just the anus; i admire your version/aversion of me

    • conflicted_gentrifier

      I think the most complex and painful place to find oneself is the position of friendzoning certain people while yourself being friendzoned.  It’s something the author touched on that should be explored deeper.  Knowing what it feels like to be a ‘partner’ but inflicting it on someone else as their ‘subject’.  The disdain and embarrassment you feel for your partner.. knowing someone else feels that from you.  

      A strategy that works is to genuinely befriend some attractive women and just fuck all their friends.  That way you have good-looking friends and fb’s. 

    • Anonymous

      “as women are led to believe by popular film, music lyrics, novels, etc., the Emotional-Unionₓₒ and Carnal-Unionₓₐ are embodied in one suitor, hence, happily ever after.”
      Yes. Women DO struggle to think for themselves.

    • spencerlewin

      tbh this is pretty wack, author likes DFW too much

    • http://twitter.com/g_kayy Glenn Kisela

      Jimmy Chen, you are a legend. You don’t sound like an asshole, you’re just telling it like it is. Absolute champ. Deep stuff man.

    • Anonymous

      Haha females aren’t that annoying

    • subJeKt

      I am Subject and this is my life right now.  I don’t even believe this accuracy and it is incredibly well-put.  Also it made me feel terrible.

      • Subject2

        Couldn’t agree more. The 2 years are up, the move by Partner0 has been made, and all is going to Hell…

    • Joseph.

      Story of my life really.

    • joseph.

      Story of my life really.

    • joseph

      Story of my life really.

    • Napoleon

      Good shit Jimmy.

      I want to know you you chose Manet’s Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe as the image for this article. Clearly said artwork does evoke a sense of hypocrisy and debauchery, but the choice seems to bear a deeper, perhaps personal, significance in the context.

      • http://jimmychenchen.com/ Jimmy Chen

        yes, but did you notice i photoshopped out the 2nd woman in the background, as i wanted only the main 3 ppl in the picture; i studied a lot of manet as a former painter, and like his oblique/strained narratives a lot.

    • http://madisonlangston.blogspot.com/ Madison Langston

      damn, nice bmi detail/the council seems intense as fuck

    • LDN

      Haven’t been on TC in such a long time. So glad this was the first article I read, it reminded me of why I love this site!

    • Alice

      I dunno, I’ve friend zoned guys before, and it’s not because I don’t want someone empathetic, sweet, funny, etc. as a mate– I do! But, the guys I friend zone are simply not that attractive, or else have other traits that make them undesirable in the long-term (such as being a Republican or not liking cats). Physical compatibility is an important part of any relationship, and if a girl doesn’t feel the spark, she shouldn’t be vilified for not feeling it. Just think about the fat chicks you mentioned– would you want to go out with them? Probably not, but if she made you laugh, you’d probably still want to be friends. 
      The reality of the situation is that Partnero is never completely innocent, and can be thought of as exactly the type of clingy, whiney, manipulative bastard that no girl would ever want to be with in the first place. This comic sums up my thoughts nicely: http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/friends.png

      • Anonymous

        well the article places equal blame on the Partner for his situation.

    • guest

      This has perfectly described my current situation!! Love the article ! Pure Genius !!! Do you have something for the Best Friend’s Zone ?????

    • ok

      Brilliant.

    • Amy Griffin Browne

      I think a final scenario needs to be contemplated:

      (4) Where Subject finally realises what Partner is worth, and Emotional and Carnal Union are both achieved, do not end within months, and she loves his patience, understanding, acceptance and nurturing temperament. 

      Some women so get their shit together you know

    • grief

      this is so true it angered me to read. but it comes with being stuck in the friend zone.

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