Popular mythology would have you believe that the “Friend Zone” is an inescapable Sarlacc Pit of tantalizing doom. The Friend Zone is scary. A guy can innocently befriend a girl1, could realize after the expiration of the new-acquaintence validation period that he wants to date her, but could then find that, due to his delay, he is locked into a thousand years of being digested by friendship, shopping, and talking about her boyfriend.
This trap used to be particularly easy for me to fall into because I was scared to ask girls out, yet I love being their best friends. I do like talking about emotions, after all. After much trial and error, I figured out how to prevent it, how to identify it, and how to deal with it once it’s taken root. So, as promised, in my attempt to provide something of value to my heterosexual male readers, all six of you, I would like to present my tried-and-true steps for getting out of the Friend Zone.
Important Note: Half of what I’m talking about (like, ever) is based on sitcoms and Jane Austen novels, and the other 45% is from an extremely anecdotal collection of personal experiences. The rest I’m making up. Which, seriously, is pretty much the same source distribution for your average published string theory paper2. Even so, some of this stuff is common sense.
There are three keys to avoiding a Friend Zone outbreak before it starts.
Feel free to come up with your own pneumonic. But, honestly, this is just your standard dating rules of engagement, folks. These are the basics. If you flirt, she responds, and you escalate (pay attention to pacing, though), you won’t have to worry about being in the friend zone for long. Contrariwise, if you’re getting obvious rejection signals during step #2, then you can move on with a friendship or move on with your life.
But, hey, we’re only human. Sometimes you’re too scared for step #1, don’t notice that she’s digging you in step #2, or some sort of boyfriend-type scenario is causing you problems in step #3. Before you know it, months have gone by, and you’re getting together with her to knit and chat about boys she likes that aren’t you.
How do you know you’re in the friend zone? Here are some ways to tell:
- You feel like you can’t be honest about how much you like her because it’ll destroy the friendship. But you will, one of these days.
- When she started dating her boyfriend, you just knew that she’d break up with him someday to be with you. That was six months ago.
- You’ve watched When Harry Met Sally. Multiple times. With her. And you think that’s how it’s going to work out in real life.
- You aren’t interested in dating other girls, because you want to be available when she finally decides to actually date you.
If those symptoms apply to you, you know the situation is serious. Now, for some people this is entirely acceptible. Maybe you’re willing to lavish the girl with attention indefinitely despite little expectation of an actual mutually exclusive two-way-street type relationship with a future. But if you’ve made an affirmative commitment to resolving the situation, here’s what you do.
Tell her how you feel. Part of your problem is established behavioral and thought patterns obstructing your ability to think objectively and critically. This has you mixed up in some kind of crazy cognitive dissonance where you’re constantly modulating the amount of affection to what you think are accceptible levels.
Which, sure, that’s fine and good when it’s your hot coworker and you’re just trying to keep your crush a secret so that things are acceptable for work, but it does not work well for a more intimate and open best friend-type relationship. You need honesty for that.
Keep in mind, too, that there’s never going to be a perfect time for this. You might have to be proactive. Call her up, ask if she wants to take a walk, stop her where the scenery is pretty and tell her how you feel. Or, whatever, write her love poetry and give it to her with some tropical fruit at the end of economics class. I will give you one guess as to which of those ways I have employed in the past. Here’s a hint: try to imagine which one is more awkward.
There are three possible outcomes of this:
- Outright rejection. Good, you can move on with your life.
- Outright acceptance. Maybe she just had no idea and she’s felt the same way about you. Fantastic, all your dreams have come true.
- Something in between. Don’t fool yourself – if you got rejected, own it and deal with it. But if you aren’t sure, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Oh gosh, you’re saying, that’s so awful. You’ve ruined the friendship with your crazy expressions of affection. Maybe so. Personally, I’ve remained good friends with girls I’ve had crushes on, after even the most apocalyptically awful drunken e-mailed declarations of awkward love. Actually, if I can dig that one up, I’ll reprint it and tell the story.
Date Someone Else
I’m going to say this up front: if you sleazily make some girl a pawn in your hare-brained jealousy scheme, I will personally come to your house and make you listen to unbearably awkward stories until you can’t take it anymore and apologize for being an asshole.
That is not what I am suggesting.
What I am saying is this: try moving on. Seriously, try hard. This is for your own good. If you’ve been rejected or semi-rejected after you declared your affection, don’t spend time with her so much any more. Meet lots of other girls. Join a club. Take yoga at the gym. Go to concerts of bands that you like, and talk to the girls there. Whatever you need to do. Just, seriously, be sure to use the prevention steps above. You don’t need to be in the intersecting area of two Friend Zones. That’s like a Venn Diagram of doom.
Or, hey, maybe, I dunno, spend time with friends who are dudes.
My Work Is Done Here
No, seriously. That’s it. There are three ways this can play out:
- You decide that the new girl that you have found is better anyway. This is kind of the optimal scenario, honestly. And since you followed the Tell Her How You Feel advice with the original friend zone girl (you did, right?) and she did not reciprocate, you have nothing to regret. You’re free to enjoy your newfound relationship.
- She realizes that you’re who she really wanted after all, and that she misses having your in her life, so she throws herself at your feet. Why would this happen? Don’t ask me, I’m just lifting this from the plot of the second season of Friends. Anyway, now you have a painful decision to make, which I will leave to you. I will say this: don’t make a list with pros and cons of each girl, and then leave it where they can find it.
- You realize that you can’t handle YOUR new life without her and break up with your own girlfriend, but yet she shows no signs of your lack of attention causing her to want to be in love with you. Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think this means it’s not going to work out between you two. I mean, it’s one thing for a girl to not be interested when you ask her out, but it’s quite another, more serious thing for her to not be interested in you when you are dating another girl.
So there you go. All it takes, really, is knowing your exits, just like a covert superhero operative behind enemy lines who is also on a blind date. If you follow these steps, you will either be dating the girl you want, dating someone else, or miserable and alone, like when you started. But, even if it is the latter, at least you’re out of the Friend Zone!
1: This post is also gender- and preference-specific, because I don’t know for sure if this works for anything other than a guy getting a girl. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in other scenarios, though.
2: Don’t believe e.g. Schewe, Stein, and Castelvecchi or Distler, Grinstein, Porto, and Rothstein. String theory is witchcraft. At least I don’t have to wait for CERN to collide hadrons to test my dating theories.