Friendzoning Myths …

So, over at Everyday Feminism, there’s a post about 5 myths about Friendzones, or 5 reasons why we need to ditch the concept entirely, depending on what parts you believe. The problem is that it fundamentally misunderstands both the original concept and how it is used in its more recent and more combative form, and so all of the myths and recommendations are, well, at best wrong and at worst damaging.

Before getting into the purported myths/reasons, let me first talk a little bit about the friendzone concept itself. Originally, this concept was nothing more than describing someone — usually a man, since they have to in general do the approaching to start a relationship — who had wanted to be in a relationship with someone that they knew well and when they finally made that clear received the “Let’s just be friends” line. Thus, while it was always seen as a negative and as a rejection — which it was, at least for a romantic relationship — it wasn’t seen as something bad that women did to men. However, with the rise of MRA attitudes, the usage changed to focus on cases where a woman knew or ought to have known that a man was interested in her and yet “strung him along”, using that attraction to get him to treat her better than he would someone that he was just friends with and had no romantic interest in, while knowing that she was never going to actually date him. This often would have to rely on her just being flirty enough to make him think that he had a chance while never following through on any of it.

Now, the new connotation describes the vast minority of friendzone cases, and that this has become a prominent view of friendzoning reflects, I think, two things. The first is an overgeneralization of those cases; they exist, certainly, but most women aren’t really doing anything like that. The second is a bitter and angry reaction to what is perceived, in general, as women using sexual attraction to get things that they don’t really deserve, often by — it is claimed — misrepresenting themselves and the situations. This also applies to “Fake Geek Girls” — women who are not really interested in geeks or geek hobbies but who can get a lot of attention being an even moderately attractive woman in those areas — and “White Knights”. Now, in all of these cases there are indeed examples where that happens, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent as the new concepts make it appear.

Thus, friendzoning as a concept ought to be considered in its original form: someone who wants a relationship with someone beyond friendship who is told that friendship is as far as the relationship will go.

I want to start with her fourth point here, to highlight why the concept is still valid and something that we need to address with more than platitudes:

When say people are ‘friendzoned’ it communicates the idea that they can’t escape being seen in a certain light. In other words, it implies that relationships don’t change – that once you are viewed as a platonic friend, you can’t be viewed as a potential partner.

But friendship doesn’t inherently prevent different relationships from developing further along the line. In fact, I’d argue that friendship is the best basis for romantic and sexual relationships.

This advice is precisely the reason why the friendzone exists and can be so devastating for both sides. The common relationship advice — generally from women — is that if you want to get into a relationship in general and into a relationship with someone in particular, the best way is to become “Friends first”, and then transition that into a romantic relationship. This is precisely the sort of behaviour that many women then call out as indicating that the man wasn’t actually interested in friendship, but was only interested in having sex with them, and so that makes him bad, somehow. Somehow, doing the commonly given advice for getting into a relationship makes them a bad person if it doesn’t succeed.

And the fact is that unless the person you have become friends with was either attracted to you originally and so was playing the “Friends to relationship” game, too, converting a friendship to a romantic relationship isn’t actually all that easy to do. Yes, it happens. Yes, sometimes people will be friends with someone and suddenly realize that they find them attractive or that they would make a good relationship partner. But in general if you start a friendship with someone that you aren’t interested in a relationship with you are far more likely to simply settle into that sort of relationship, and so if they ever make it clear that they are interested in you for more than that your initial reaction is going to be that, well, you aren’t interested in them that way. Because you, in fact, actually aren’t.

And here is where the PUA mindset actually works better. What they insist on is that you don’t do the “Friends first” approach, but that if you want a sexual relationship you start from the idea that that’s what you want. And this works out so much better because from the start he’s making his desires clear — so there’s no feeling that he was hiding that under just wanting to be friends — and she can make it clear from the start whether or not she thinks it possible. Now, since people are people nothing is set in stone and things can change — either way — but starting from what is desired makes everything a lot better. In fact, I propose that what we should be starting from is essentially “I find you attractive enough to actually date, so let’s start with casual dating to see if that still holds and if the personalities match”. And if that’s the attitude we have, then if it doesn’t work out the implication between two nice and reasonable people is “It didn’t work out because our personalities don’t align enough for a relationship”. And then that can move to friendship if that works out.

But pushing the “The best way to get a relationship is to start as friends!” line only fosters all of the things that made people bitter and angry over the friendzone in the first place. And this leads me to the second point I want to address, which is her fifth one:

Myth #5: If You’re In Love with Someone Who Doesn’t Return Your Affections, You Will Be Unhappy

Which also dovetails with her third point:

The idea of the friendzone implies that being friends with someone is inferior to dating or sleeping with someone. It implies that friendship is punishment, or at least, that it’s not as desirable as a romantic and/or sexual relationship.

The thing is, if you want to be in a romantic relationship with someone and they only want to be friends, that’s hard. First, it is a rejection. Second, one of the examples that is constantly given of how this is hard is the woman who complains that she can’t find any decent men to date … to the guy she friendzoned in order to date all of those men who are not “decent”. How should that guy feel there? While this also applies to women, too, at least in general she could console herself with the societal impression that most men are shallow and that it’s just that she isn’t attractive enough — which is cold comfort, I know, but at least she can blame him for that — while for a man in this situation since women traditionally aren’t supposed to be that shallow it has to be a judgement of him as a person. And we see this with the comments that someone who actually tries the “Friends first” approach isn’t really a “Nice Guy”, and so her dating jerks is really her dating the better people … which then would lead to the question of why she ever wanted to be friends with him in the first place.

The fact is that if you want a romantic relationship with someone, being friends with them is, in fact, an inferior relationship. The inverse is also true, but we don’t talk about that because, outside of arranged marriages and the like it never happens. Thus, a someone relegated to the friendzone might, for various reasons, find the friendship too difficult for them and decide to bow out of the friendship. And that’s perfectly acceptable. And if they do stay, we have to recognize that keeping the friendship up is hard for them, in a way that it isn’t hard for the friendzoner, unless that person keeps thinking of them as someone who is primarily interested in them for a relationship and so isn’t really a friend. Keeping the friendzone concept in its original form allows us to recognize this without insisting that the friendzonee just isn’t, in fact, a true friend merely because they are interested in more.

Which then leads to comments on what nice people should have:

Myth #1: Nice Men Deserve to Be with The Women They Desire

To return to the first point, if a man is nice and is following the accepted social rules, then he should have a better than average chance of getting the relationships he desires, just as a woman who does the same ought to. But the accepted social rule of “Friends first” actually gives him less of a chance at succeeding. Thus, those men who are less “nice” have more success, not because they are better or more deserving, but instead because they start from the context of a relationship and if that isn’t forthcoming move on to the next candidate. On the other hand, the “Nice Guys” who are trying to not come across as being primarily interested in sex and are trying to follow the social rules so that they make her more comfortable and don’t risk offending her spend a lot of time chasing people who aren’t and would never be interested in that sort of relationship with them.

So I want to keep the original friendzone concept to say “If you follow the ‘Friends first’ approach, you are likely to end up in the ‘friendzone’, where they see you only as a friend while you are interested in something more. If you are, in fact, interested in something more it is far better to just approach with that in mind.”

Let me wrap up with how the misunderstanding of the friendzone impacts her most Social Justice point, the second one which is the idea that is is heterosexist. She describes a friendship she has with a male friend of hers:

I have a really close male friend who I love and appreciate dearly. A few years ago, a couple of our friends teased us, saying that we were a textbook example of the ‘friendzone’ in action.

In reality, neither of us wanted a committed romantic relationship with one another. But because of the common idea of the friendzone, people simply assumed that my male friend wanted a sexual and romantic relationship with me.

Something our friends didn’t know at the time was that he’s asexual – he experiences very little, if any, sexual attraction to people. He did not have the capacity to be sexually attracted to me, even though our friends assumed he did.

The thing is … that’s not a case of the friendzone. Not because he’s asexual, but because neither of them are interested in a relationship with the other person. Yes, it’s a problem to simply assume it because one person is a woman and another is a man, but it might not have been an assumption and might have been based on how they acted towards each other. So example, did she act flirty towards him while making it relatively clear that they were just friends? That starts to fall into the deliberate friendzoning thing that I mentioned above which is what she claimed her friends teased her about. Maybe it’s not a heterosexist assumption, but instead an assumption based on how they interact.

Look, we do need to understand that people who might be of the appropriate genders or whatever for a relationship might not want one with each other. I myself have had cases where I got along well with someone, found her attractive, and yet figured that our personalities didn’t work for a relationship. Understanding that this happens is important, but the original concept of friendzone allows for that, as it only applies in the case where one person wants a relationship and the other person doesn’t. Thus if we follow that we can easily deal with these situations by pointing out that neither is interested in anything more, for whatever reason that actually is. Then, any “teasing” is either teasing in recognition that it doesn’t actually apply, or teasing on the basis that one of the parties might not be being honest about that. Which cycles back to “if you’re interested, be direct about that”.

Ultimately, the friendzone concept has to exist because it’s a thing that happens. Even the really negative and exploitative example happens in the real world. We need to avoid overgeneralizing the cases and need to stop assuming that any friendship between people who might be interested in each other is one of these, but it happens and we need to address it, and address the way the social rules actually create these situations. Because no matter what people assert, being in the friendzone is not fun. People might be able to take it, but it’s not going to be what they really want, and it works out badly for friendzoner and friendzonee, and so we need to find ways to minimize the instances and minimize the pain this causes. Abandoning the concept is not going to help with that one bit.

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5 Responses to “Friendzoning Myths …”

  1. theoriginalmrx Says:

    A lot of these anti-friendzone-concept arguments seem (to me, at least) to have an undercurrent of “A woman’s choices must always be unreservedly celebrated, and it’s wrong for a man to ever be unhappy with something a woman chooses, even if he totally supports her right to choose it.”

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I’m not sure about that. I think a lot of them are more underpinned by the fact that women generally don’t approach, and so the idea of “Be friends first” or “Just go out do what you like and things will happen” WORKS for them, and not for men. I’d suspect that a lot of the extra pushback is spawned by the accusations of “using them” that come from some men, with women getting defensive and then insisting that friendship ought to be fine and that the men didn’t really want to be friends with them if they aren’t happy with that. This is one case where I’m more than content to assign the blame to ignorance rather than malice [grin].

  2. theoriginalmrx Says:

    No doubt some of the arguments are rooted in ignorance, but ones such as “The entire concept of friendzones is rooted in male entitlement” seem to imply that men have no right to be upset by a woman’s decision.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I don’t see it that way. Generally, the argument seems to be based on an impression that the men in that case expect that being friends with them or even just being nice to them means that they “deserve” a relationship, when the reality is that the men think that being nice to women and trying to do things the right way ought to give them an advantage over men who DON’T do that, when it doesn’t seem to. So it’s the result of not understanding how things look from the other side.

  3. Nice Guys or Not | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] I’ve talked a bit about Nice Guys before (here, here and here, to use Carrier’s way of linking such things), but the general thrust of that […]

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