I’ve been seeing a number of posts in my news feeds recently – specifically on Facebook – from people waxing didactic about that most controversial of social designations, the friend zone. In particular, a few posts have not only declared the non-existence of the friend zone, but decried anybody who believes in it as misogynistic and emotionally stunted.
I don’t know why this sort of topic is poised to become my online bread and butter, but it seems like a nice enough subject to follow the post about the #YesAllWomen movement, so I guess I’ll set aside my misgivings and just dive right in.
First off, I’d like to immediately address the claim that the friend zone is an inherently misogynistic construct, since I believe this to be the most easily dispelled notion of them all. To say that the concept of the friend zone is misogynistic seems to me to be analogous to saying that the concept of domestic abuse is misogynistic, though the two certainly are not at all equally severe.
Indeed, males are statistically more likely to be the perpetrators of domestic abuse, and males are anecdotally more associated with complaining about being “friendzoned,” but at a conceptual level both terms are entirely gender-neutral. It’s rather difficult, therefore, to argue that the concept of the friend zone is misogynistic.
Where things become much more problematic is when this concept is applied by misogynistic people. A common joke/criticism regarding the friend zone is that men will show basic levels of courtesy to women and then blame the friend zone when said women don’t want a relationship with them. This decidedly idiotic notion is aptly condemned with the statement that “women are not machines that you can put kindness tokens in until sex falls out.”
Let me be clear by saying that I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. When some men feel entitled to sex with a woman simply because they have shown some level of kindness, they are being misogynistic. When they blame their failure on the friend zone, implying that the woman is not sleeping with them simply because they’re friends, they are being misogynistic. Do I think that this makes the term “friend zone” inherently misogynistic? As evidenced, no, I do not.
Why is this? Put simply, I think they’re misapplying the term. What this subgroup of distinctly misogynistic men refer to as the friend zone – and what many decent people are rightfully denouncing and ridiculing – is, in my opinion, unfit to be referred to as such. What they deem to be the “friend zone” really has no friendship element to it at all.
That may sound obvious, but consider a summary of their relationships with these women: they are showing them some amount of common courtesy and then not having sex with them.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but that describes my interactions with dozens of people on a daily basis. For example, I got lunch from Tim Hortons yesterday. When I ordered, I said “please” and “thank you” to the person behind the counter. After I paid and got my food, I just walked away. No sex whatsoever.
I am not friends with the person behind the counter at Tim Hortons. I would never say that I was “friendzoned” by that person, even though I was kind to them and they didn’t have sex with me. And yet, at an admittedly simplified level, that exchange runs in parallel to what some people would deem to be the friend zone.
(Aside: notice how I didn’t specify the gender of the person at Tim Hortons and the example didn’t fall apart? This is also rather simplified, but I’m gonna go ahead and call QED on paragraphs 3 and 4.)
So, my point is that what the aforementioned minority of people (yes, primarily men) deem to be the friend zone does not exist, effectively because they are certainly not friends with anyone who they would treat with this kind of entitled attitude. Instead, I propose we refer to this behaviour as “nonsensical bullshit,” since that seems like a fitting name for feeling like you’re entitled to sex because you’re kind to someone.
And yet, despite this, I still believe that the friend zone exists. Just not in the way that the aforementioned group does.
My idea of the friend zone – a concept that I’ve experienced and seen others experience – is not misogynistic, not entitled, and generally not bullshit, but we won’t go into too much detail on that last point.
My idea of the friend zone is simply this: two people are friends when one of them develops romantic feelings for the other. The other does not reciprocate these specific feelings and wishes to stay friends.
Note that, again, this is entirely gender-neutral. This predicament can occur in any combination across the gender spectrum. It can occur for any reason – perhaps Person B doesn’t share a compatible orientation with Person A, perhaps Person B just isn’t looking for a relationship at the time, whatever. And perhaps most importantly, it does not have any sense of entitlement.
It’s certainly an upsetting situation to be in, yes, but people who aren’t in the aforementioned “nonsensical bullshit” group generally won’t feel like the other person owes them anything. After all, they’re friends and they genuinely care about one another.
It would be incredibly hard to argue that this sort of situation doesn’t happen, particularly when basically anybody with a reasonably active social life could rattle off an anecdote or two about unrequited love among friends. Emotions are very unpredictable by definition, so it’s no surprise that someone could spontaneously develop romantic feelings for someone they never saw in that way before.
This, then, is what I would deem to be the friend zone, and it most certainly exists. The people of the internet – and, more precisely, my Facebook news feed – are right to criticize nonsensical bullshit when they see it (because it certainly exists too), but let’s keep our terminology clear. When we’re trying to decide if something exists, and if those who believe in it are misogynistic and emotionally stunted, it helps if we’re all talking about the same thing.