In Defense Of The Friend Zone

Photo by Wettly via Flickr

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re at a party and find yourself talking to a friend’s friend. He seems really cool and makes you laugh, but honestly, you don’t find him all that attractive. Later, he asks if you want to hang out sometime. You agree… hesitantly. Then you make an excuse to leave before he can ask for your number.

Been there, done that? Then, like me, you’ve suffered from a type of romantic tunnel vision, where you lose all interest in hanging out with someone you don’t immediately see as romantic potential.

The problem with this behavior is that we need friends of the opposite sex. They help us see life from another perspective. That guy asking to hang out may be looking for something more, but he could just as well end up becoming a friend.

I go to my guy friends for their unbiased (or sometimes totally biased) opinions on everything from dating to whether I’m too fat to wear a bikini. Unlike the girls who will undoubtedly answer, “no you look great, really,” the guys will give me their honest opinions and often offer a fresh point of view.

It’s hard to explain the differences between relationships with your girl friends and relationships with your guy friends without getting into stereotypes. But it is a unique relationship I’ve learned to value as I’ve gotten older.

The most obvious example? When I need to know all the stats on the new Padres’ pitcher or an update of the Charger’s season, I get my guy friends to give me the Cliff notes version.

But more than just for sports, guy friends can be like cultural translators. Thanks to my brother’s friends for example, I can totally speak “geek.” I’ve never owned a comic book in my life, but thanks to the guys, I can compare Stan Lee characters, critique a Kevin Smith movie, recognize Vulcan references, and make quips about World of Warcraft. Don’t even get me started on Star Wars! This comes in fantastically handy, not just working in a preschool, but carrying on conversations with men of all ages.

If I want to enjoy a nice, quiet evening, sipping wine while chatting on a pristine white sofa, I can hang out with my girls. But it’s my guy friends who organize beer pong and flip cup games, where it’s perfectly acceptable to belch as loud as I can. Plus, with all the tall, muscular or beer-guzzling guys around, I can get away with being completely unfeminine and still feel cute and girly.

Also, for whatever reason, there’s a difference between your guy friend telling you how cute you are and one of your girls saying the same thing. There’s also a difference between hearing it from a boyfriend and hearing it from a platonic guy friend. Platonic love lets us know we are loved for who we are, completely separate from any sexual or romantic motivations. There’s just something more sincere about the compliment when it comes from a platonic guy friend.

Especially when you are dating and the romantic relationships in your life come and go, relationships with the opposite sex are comforting. It’s placating to know that I can still get my testosterone fix even without the boyfriend. I enjoy having someone who will “drag” me to UFC, so I can have an excuse to watch it and, admittedly, check out the other guys at the sports bar.

Guy friends can be your designated date when the occasion calls for it, preventing all those happy couples from patronizing you. Best of all, guys have other guy friends. Sometimes cute guy friends… the kind you just might want to date.

So try this: Before you blow another guy off at a party or a bar, let him know you’re not really looking to date him, but he’s really fun and interesting to talk to, and you’d love if he came to hang out with you and your friends sometime. Or just friend him on Facebook—whatever approach works for you.

You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have when you switch out of dating-and-mating mode and enjoy the friend zone.

But do the guy a favor and make sure he’s clear that he’s in the friend zone… especially if his eyes seem to linger a bit too long when he tells you how cute you are.

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  • I’m curious to hear from the guys side on this. I enjoy male pals, but I avoid singles (possibly unfairly) because I’m hitched and don’t want to give the wrong impression. I think this sucks on some levels, because I do get on well with men. But how do you “tell him you’re not really looking to date him, but he’s really fun and interesting to talk to” without 1.) assuming he’s all into you when he might not be (by “you” I mean me, not you, Meg); and 2.) Making him feel like a jerk (cause that doesn’t help the friends part of things).

    I find it monumentally easier when a guy is dating someone or married to be friends with him. But my defenses go up if he’s single and I tend to get out of there. I think my radar went dodgy after I got married.

  • I have lots of female friends and, I admit, have had crushes on them in the past.

    It’s not the most fun experience.

    This is stereotyping a bit, but I think girls tend to be better at drawing the line between “friend” and “dating/relationship” material. At the same time, I have friends who are unbelievable flirts, and there have been female friends (whom I was interested in) who were never interested in me, but would get drunk and make out with me. That’s not exactly drawing good boundaries.

    Point being, as long as you’re crystal clear about where the guy is, I think you should be okay. You don’t necessarily have to jump the gun, either, and tell him he’s just a friend if he hasn’t done anything to suggest that *he* hopes otherwise. I’d say, just treat him as a friend until/unless he crosses that line.

    I’d think that, as a married woman, you should have an easier time with this, actually. I mean, what douchebag guy is going to be hanging out with you and building a friendship with you, all for the goal of trying to get you to cheat? And if he is, do you really want him as a friend, anyway?

    • I agree with Dennis completely. I was actually just in a situation where she had no interest but would still make out with me, and it wasn’t even remotely fun. It was hard, but I finally had to be the one to draw the line and tell her to figure out her feelings towards me or back away.

    • Hey, I’m glad I’m not the only guy who feels this way. A lot of my buddies would be like, “dude, you got some action. Stop whining like a b!tch.”

      But, really, it does kinda suck when you actually like the girl….

  • Dennis – I think it is easier. The only times I ever run into trouble is meeting new people. It’s hard to play the “I’m married” card without sounding like a presumptuous twit. I mean, who wants to be told “Whoa, buddy, I’m married.” It makes me feel simultaneously full of myself and like a jerk, when really I just want to hang out. But I feel like if I don’t come right out and blurt it all the place I feel like I’m keeping it a secret.

    This could just be my sick paranoid mind. I over-think these things.

  • Don’t you wear a ring? Maybe it’s an age thing, but nowadays, when I meet a an attractive woman close to my age, the first thing I always check for is a ring on her finger. But maybe I’m just conscientious like that. 😉

    And no, I don’t think you should ever say, “whoa, buddy, I’m married,” unless he’s CLEARLY coming on to you. Cuz then you just come across as kind of a bitch. :-p

  • I do wear a ring, and if I’m feeling macked on I try to make it obvious. Also, I try to work in topics like, “My husband loved that movie…” or something. But sometimes it doesn’t come up, and I swear some guys are just oblivious. Or just skeezy.

    I was rafting one weekend with a girl friend and some very drunk dudes kept inviting us back to their campsite. Just saying “I’m all set” wasn’t cutting it for them and I finally had to break out with the “dude, I’m married.” To which he replied, “so am I.” Classy, baby. Classy.

  • Dennis, so I was thinking about this “crystal clear” idea. Let me ask you this, if you tell a girl you just want to be friends and then kiss, make out with, etc. her AFTER that, would you still consider that “crystal clear?” I get very confused when a guy tells me one thing and then acts the opposite.

  • No, of course not. That’s being murkily opaque.

  • Meg….I love this!! So true…Often I’d *prefer* to hang with a guy friend than a date for the very reasons you describe! …but I find I’m often inevitably in some kinda “Harry and Sally” thing… Or although you’ve established boundaries, they sometimes think there’s more to it…or worse even, they are hoping there will be…in spite of saying things like, ahhh, this is my bestest buddy, Sam.. or Hey Sam, you and Tiffany would make a TERRIFIC couple!, sometimes just trying to re-affirm the friendship boundaries…
    Then like Dennis mentioned, there’s the drunken “make out”… yeah, I’ve done that when I really wasn’t interested in *that* way. I know it’s inexcusable…and blurs the line. Geesh, sometimes it’s just fun to make out with someone “safe”, but I have to say most every “best guy pal”(truthfully,”ALL” is safe to say here) I’ve ever had has at some point tried to get in my pants. Typically, I’ll laugh this off as a drunken thing but it starts me quietly questioning if the friendship is truly a friendship…or if the guy’s hanging around in the hopes of someday actually making it into my pants…
    Again, it goes back to the Harry and Sally thing…can men and women ever *really* (and truly)be just friends? Do men take the time to cultivate these friendships with women they don’t find at all attractive? (please forgive the sexist-sounding question…just my personal experience talking here)

  • I can really only answer for myself here, so take this with a grain of salt….

    I like to maintain different levels of friendships. I consider myself to have lots of good acquaintances, but I don’t really have too many close friends (i.e., people I hang out with on a regular basis; people I don’t only see at group outings and parties and whatnot,; people I have deep, serious 1-on-1 conversations with).

    As such, I have quite a few good acquaintances of the opposite sex whom I’m not particularly attracted to and whose pants I will likely never try to get into.

    However, the women I get close enough to to call a good friend… yes, I will generally be interested in more than just friendship.

    So, to answer your question then, KP… yes, I would take the time to cultivate a good acquaintance with someone I don’t find attractive. But, I doubt I’d take the time to cultivate a close friendship with someone I don’t find attractive.

  • I for one feel that it’s fine for friends to sleep together and still be friends. I know it’s hard for most women, but it’s completely possible. I love having guy friends to hand out with and not have to worry about acting a certain way but I can still make out with you and only want to be friends after. I agree that the friend zone can be a good thing, I just don’t think it takes sex completely off the table.

  • You have no idea how much it pleases me to hear you say that, Bee. 😉

  • This story caught my attention because it’s an issue I’ve been struggling with recently. The majority of my boyfriend’s friends are female and I sometimes have a hard time dealing with that. I haven’t had many platonic friendships with guys – if I get on well with someone and find them physically attractive, I tend to fall for them.

    I’ve come to accept that my boyfriend gets on well with women, and for the most part I’ve come to terms with these friendships, although they can still make me feel a little uneasy. However, I just can’t get comfortable with him being friends with this one particular girl. He’s known her for years and insists that the relationship is platonic. However, he was sleeping with her while in a serious relationship with a previous girlfriend. They’ve had a very intimate relationship over the years and even without the sex I think I would find that threatening. It got so bad at one point that I contacted her to tell her how I felt. She admitted she had ‘confused feelings’ for him early on in their friendship but that was all in the past. However, shortly after he and I got together (2 years’ ago) she told him she was always uneasy when he fell in love and reminded him of a pact they’d made that she would move in with him if they were both single by the time she was 30. She was single and approaching 30. Does this sound like a cheesy film plot?!

    It would be interesting to hear others’ views on how appropriate they feel it is for him to continue their friendship, or how they dealt with a similar situation.

  • @Em:

    Here’s my two cents, for what it’s worth….

    Given their past history, I think it’s totally understandable that you feel somewhat uncomfortable with your boyfriend’s friendship with this girl. Given what she’s confessed about their pact, your discomfort is even more understandable.

    At the same time, I don’t think you have much of a choice but to take your boyfriend’s word for it that they’re completely platonic at this point. Obviously, I have no idea how serious your relationship is. But regardless, unless he’s done something that would blatantly suggest otherwise this time, you simply have to trust him. Otherwise, your suspicion will probably end up tearing your relationship apart, anyway.

    I know that’s not going to make you feel any less uneasy. But, if you ask me, trust is one of the basic tenets of a successful relationship. So, if you want to have any hope that this will be a successful relationship, I believe that you have to trust him… until/unless proven otherwise.

    For what it’s worth.

  • Sorry, I have a question on this one. Was he in an exclusive relationship with previous girlfriend when he was sleeping with his friend and therefore cheating on that girlfriend? I thought girlfriend meant exclusive. I would not date a guy who had cheated on his girlfriend with a very close friend. He may not be sleeping with her now, but if he would cheat on another girlfriend, why wouldn’t he cheat on you, whether with the close friend or anyone else. Doesn’t seem particularly trustworthy to me. But then, I don’t really know the details. And I am the worst dater ever, so probably not the best to ask.

  • On the other hand if he wasn’t cheating on previous girlfriend, I think it’s natural for all of us friends to have confused feelings sometimes about our guy friends and to be a little jealous of their new girlfriends. But I reread that you’ve been together for 2 years. Clearly there’s a reason you are together and a reason they didn’t stay together. I have slept with my guy friends and I can whole heartedly say, there’s a reason we were just friends in the first place and a reason we went back to being just friends. If they’ve already hooked up in the past, they are most likely not interested in a relationship with one another. I am friends with many people that I’ve previously had relationships with and have absolutely no desire to be in a relationship with any of them.

  • Thanks Meg and Dennis

    To answer your question, Meg, he was in an exclusive relationship when he slept with his friend, and although I find that inexcusable, I genuinely feel he was a different person then. My issue isn’t really a fear that he would cheat again, it’s more a jealousy of a close friendship that has a history of intimacy and sex. However, the cheating does bother me – I guess it gives her the potential to be the other woman, to fulfil some kind of need that I can’t, or his ex couldn’t. And cheating isn’t all about sex – sometimes you can feel betrayed by something much more subtle.

    I’ve had heaps of advice from friends from all different perspectives, but I find that however I try to rationalise it, I just can’t get comfortable with the situation. If I’m totally honest, I suppose I just want someone to say no way is it acceptable for them to be friends, and then I would feel justified in asking him to cut her out. Is that bad of me? Or is it ok to ask someone to stop doing something they feel is fine but hurts you like hell?

    But you’re right Dennis – and I am working on the trust thing. As I said, I trust him not to cheat on me. I’m not sure if ‘trust’ is the right word, but sometimes I feel I can’t rely on him to respond appropriately to certain female approaches. There was another case recently when an ex-girlfriend contacted him to say she wanted to get back together. As far as I can tell he side-stepped the issue and (like the reminder of the ‘pact’ from the friend) didn’t let her know where she stood. I guess I don’t think that’s fair on them or me.

    Meg, you can see things from the friend’s perspective, and it’s reassuring what you say about there being a reason why you go back to being friends with someone. My boyfriend told me there was a time when he and the friend were both single and could have started a relationship, but for whatever reason decided not to. In many ways we have a very strong relationship, and there’s no doubt that we have a great love for each other. We’re both in it for the long term – we’re currently buying a house together – so our choice to commit to each other has to count for a lot. Unfortunately the situation with this friend preys on my insecurities and seeps into any gaps in the relationship.

    Anyway, I could go on, but I don’t want to turn this into an essay! Thanks again for your comments guys 🙂

  • Just remember the movie my best friends wedding. Em, you are cameron diaz and she’s julia roberts. Why don’t you try being her friend as well? I actually really value my exboyfriends as friends because they will be really honest with me and actually help me stay sane in my present relationships believe it or not. who else can you ask really personal questions to about certain aspects of how you are?

  • Awesome to hear the other side of the debate. You provide some great insight. We tend to go the other way on this- curious to know what you think about our blog- as its exclusively dedicated to this question.


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  • So, if you decide to “friend zone” these obviously cool guys, who are obviously looking for more, you should totally try to hook him up with your probably cute friends, considering you are probably his type and thus probably have a friend who is too

  • I have actually done this with a fair amount of success in the past. Unfortunately these days, I don’t have too many single friends and I don’t really think my friends and I are the same type at all.

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