Ross Geller and Rachel Green. Severus Snape and Lily Evans. Ted Mosby and Robin Scherbatsky.
What do the characters from Friends, Harry Potter and How I Met Your Mother have in common?
They’re all classic cases of a man in the friend zone.
The friend zone is the mythical place a woman puts a man she isn’t romantically interested in. The man wants a relationship, while the woman wants a friend. If dating were a sport, the friend zone is the bench. Your role is to watch and cheer while the other person scores (ooh-er). If you are a man who likes a woman who only wants friendship from you, then you have been friend-zoned.
Phew. Still with me?
Ross and Rachel were the ones who started the whole phenomenon. Way back in 1994, when Friends was in its first season, Ross was in love with Rachel. Rachel, of course, had no idea. In a rare moment of insight, Joey explained to Ross why he was never, ever going to get with Rachel.
Joey: It’s never going to happen.
Joey: You and Rachel.
Ross: [flusters around in typical Ross-fashion] …. Why not?
Joey: Because you waited too long to make your move, and now you’re in ‘The Friend Zone’.
Ross: No no no, I’m not in the zone.
Joey: Ross, you’re mayor of the zone.
The fashions of the mid nineties may not have stuck around (thank god. Have you seen Ross’s turtlenecks?) but the concept of the friend zone has. It’s been making brief appearances in pop culture, but really kicked up a notch in the last two years. In typical internet fashion, it went viral – and stayed around in our collective consciousness. Today not a reference goes by to a man and a woman being friends without the accompanying caption, “stuck in the friend zone.”
And you know what? I’m sick of it.
The idea of the friend zone is laced with bitterness. It basically implies three things:
- That men and women cannot be friends, as the man is always trying to get into her lady pants.
- Men deserve sex simply for being nice to a woman.
- Women are bitches who heartlessly keep men around to exploit their feelings, turning them into a useful male friend who will come round to fix things and deal with spiders.
It’s crap. The friendzone is complete crap. And we need to stop using it, like, yesterday. Let’s look at what it’s implying a little more closely.
1. Men and women cannot be friends, as the man is always trying to get into her lady pants.
You know what this means, right? Every single friendship you’ve ever had with a person of the opposite gender has been a lie. Yes, even the man you were able to fart in front of and ask why your date never called you back.
Lies, all lies!
It hasn’t been about your winning personality, or the fact that you can properly challenge them in Mario Kart, or that you once helped them move on a Saturday morning. It’s always been about them trying to trick you into bed with friendship.
Whoops. I should probably write a letter to every male friend I’ve ever had, apologise profusely for my behaviour, and then explain that as I don’t fancy them we should never see each other ever again.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I ask you this: who is deceiving who?
Is the lady deceiving the gentleman with false promises of romance… or is the gentleman deceiving the lady with false promises of friendship?
Trust me boys, if a girl is into you, you will know about it. We’re a lot less subtle than we like to think. If you don’t suspect we’re into you, then there’s a decent chance we only think of you as a friend. But really, who is the bad guy here? Are you only pretending to be our friend until such a time as we decide to bone you? I think that makes you the liar.
The solution of course is to only be friends with women, and keep men reserved for sexual things, but that would be eliminating 50 per cent of the population in what otherwise could have been a beautiful friendship.
2. Men deserve sex simply for being nice to a woman.
We’ve seen this over and over again since childhood. Hero saves the world, then gets the girl. Think every Disney movie ever made (except Brave. You go Brave.) Think every action movie, every coming of age tale, every television show with the ‘will they, won’t they’ plotline. The male lead is good, attractive, brave, intelligent, and kind… but more importantly, he is nice. He’s not the jerk the girl originally goes for. He’s the nice guy she ends up with, once she’s realised that the jerk guy is a jerk and she should have been with the nice guy all along.
What does this say to boys? It says that if they are nice enough, they will get the girl. There’s nothing to prepare them for what happens if they’re as nice as they think they are, but the girl decides she wants to date someone else. Or not date anyone. Or just thinks he’s an awesome guy that she would like to spend time with, but doesn’t want to sleep with, thank you very much.
We all know how the couples I mentioned at the beginning of this article end up. (Several years old SPOILERS ALERT!) Ross and Rachel start dating, break up, argue about whether they were on a break, get married in Vegas, get divorced, and finally, after ten seasons, get it together. Ted only takes a year to convince Robin that he’s the one, and she only takes a year to realise that he isn’t. Snape and Lily never got together, but that could be a little more to do with the powers of evil and her falling for the good guy, rather than any effort on his part.
The friend zone is a hard place to leave, but pop culture teaches us that with time and persistance (and a lack of Dark Lords), it can be done. And everybody cheers when it happens.
Well, screw that. This theory basically implies that men are owed sex for being a decent human being. John Mix Meyer, a gaming writer, said it best when he tweeted: “Girls are not machines you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.”
Well said, John. Whatever happened to being a decent human being because, you know, it’s the right thing to do? Besides, if you’re only being nice to a girl in order to get her to sleep with you, you might want to reevaluate how ‘nice’ you think you are.
3. Women are bitches who heartlessly keep men around to exploit their feelings, turning them into a useful male friend who will come round to fix things and deal with spiders.
There’s a phrase that does the internet rounds from time to time that explains this statement perfectly:
“Slut” is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say “yes.”
“Friend zone” is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say “no.”
We really can’t win. Either we’re a slut for sleeping with the multiple men we call friends, or we’re a bitch who friend zones every man we meet. There’s not a lot of wiggle room here. The only solutions are to stay away from the male population altogether, or get married quick smart and flash your wedding ring every chance you get.
In an ideal world, there would be no hurt feelings, no broken hearts, and no lost socks in the washing machine (sorry. That one just gets to me.) But this isn’t an ideal world – for starters, it’s populated with people. And people are, in general, nice. We want to hang out with other nice people and we definitely do not want to hurt someone’s feelings.
Telling someone, point blank, that you have no interest in them whatsoever? That’s cruel. That’s the stuff nightmares are made of. That’s the story we’ll tell our therapists in ten years time when we still haven’t gotten over it.
So we drop hints. We pull away when you pull in. We express interest in another guy, or hell – we might even be dating another guy. Gentleman, here you have two options: accept that you are always going to be ‘just friends’ and actually be a friend, or pull away. We’re not deceiving you into false friendship, and you shouldn’t be either.
And yes, if we’re friends and I’m home alone with a giant spider, I’ll probably call you while locked in my bathroom fearing for my life. But afterwards I’ll say thank you, and we’ll have a beer together – because we’re friends.