Guy Talk: What Dudes Need To Know About The “Friendzone”

Let’s talk for a minute about the “friendzone.”

Don’t worry, fellas, this isn’t a lecture. It’s an advice column, because there is something you deserve to know: There is a very simple, nigh-foolproof way to avoid ending up in the situation that that exceptionally loaded word describes.

And I will tell you what it is.

So, the dreaded “friendzone” is a situation in which someone — almost always a dude — finds himself in a non-romantic, non-sexual friendship with someone he has romantic and/or sexual interest in. Wikipedia says that the term comes from an episode of “Friends” from 1994; I first encountered it as part of a Chris Rock bit. In any case, it’s all over the Internet. It’s in Rage Comics, it’s the subject of serious editorials, its use is one of the red-flags used by the curator of the “Nice Guys Of OKCupid” Tumblr. Guys (mostly self-described “nice guys”) are usually really pissed about it. Ladies who talk about it tend to respond with assertions to the effect that if you’re going to resent their friendship, then you’re not really that nice of a guy, which is pretty reasonable. It’s kind of a gross word.

It’s easy to understand why guys are frustrated when they find themselves in the situation that “friendzone” describes, though. Nothing about watching while someone you’d like to be dating goes out with other people is pleasant, and it’s even harder when you share enough emotional intimacy with that person for them to talk about their other relationships with you. Lots of people have been there — I certainly have — and it sucks. It’s really no way to live.

The way you end up in that situation, though, is by building that intimacy under false pretenses, which is where the “nice guys” go wrong. It’s understandable why they do it: From a distance, being direct looks a lot like being rude, and being confident looks a lot like being cocky and self-obsessed. Rudeness and self-involvement are not traits that nice guys (or “nice guys”) want to possess, so maintaining a self-image as a “nice guy” involves being indirect and not displaying confidence outwardly.

That’s how you end up with the self-fulfilling prophecy of women who “only date jerks” – if women mostly date men who are direct and confident enough to ask them out, and being direct and confident enough to ask a woman out makes a man a jerk, then all the “nice guys” are going to be lonely. Those lonely “nice guys” who spend time with women without being direct about their interests or confident that their interest is going to be perceived as a good thing end up behaving the exact same way that a woman’s platonic friends might. Hence, “friendzone.”

It’s an easy thing for a certain kind of guy to fall into, but it’s also an easy thing to avoid. In fact, all it takes is uttering a simple, 10-word invocation when you’ve determined that you’re interested in a woman: “Would you like to go on a date with me?”

That isn’t an easy question to ask, I know. And the reasons why make sense. Men are socialized from a young age to associate vulnerability with weakness. And it puts a guy in an incredibly vulnerable position to open himself up to that sort of rejection. The woman is in in charge of what happens next, and she may well say no.

But if you want to avoid the “friendzone,” it doesn’t really matter what she says. One of the harder lessons to learn as a dude growing up in contemporary American culture is that vulnerability is actually power. After she gives you her answer, you can make your own decisions, and directly pursue what you want. If she says no, you can choose whether or not you want to pursue a friendship on honest terms. No reasonable person would think less of someone who decided they didn’t want to hang out with someone who rejected their interest. If you do decide to stick around and be friends, meanwhile, then you are doing so without the specter of “maybe she’s into me” lingering in the back of your mind. She’s not. Be friends, or don’t.

Or maybe she’ll say yes, in which case the weeks – or months, or years! – that would have been spent building a friendship that you knew was not your eventual goal can instead go toward pursuing the romantic relationship you actually want. There’s still no guarantee that it’ll work out (there never is) but the agonizing feeling of pining for someone who “thinks of you as a brother” or “doesn’t see you that way” isn’t going to be a part of your disappointment.

The truth is that women don’t really put dudes in the “friendzone.” Men put themselves there, by hiding what they really want. So many of the guys who complain about being “friendzoned” say things like, “I guess I should be an asshole” (it’s all over the profiles of the Nice Guys of OKCupid). But the traits that attract women to guys they think are assholes – namely, honesty and confidence – are good things. If being “nice” involves being indirect and timid, then there are better things to be.

Ultimately, being good is more important than being nice. A guy who can’t be honest about what he wants from someone he’s spending time with falls short of both goals.

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