Friend zone... This term usually only comes up when the issue of unrequited like or love is being discussed. Although it has a negative connotation, I really do believe that the people in your friend zone should be those who actually want to be there.
From my point of view, a friend zone should serve as a safe space and consist of people that truly care about one another’s well-being with no strings attached: It doesn’t have to be a space that we throw everyone we meet into and it should generally be easy for someone to remove themselves from if they decide that they: no longer want to be in it, never wanted to be added to it, or resent that you are not going to give them what they were hoping they could get without asking directly (i.e. usually something more than friendship). The older I get the more I see the value of knowing who my friends are, especially when it comes to distinguishing friendship from romantic prospects. In the past, I made a habit of adding guys to my friend zone by default if we had positive interactions and they didn’t appear to want anything extra from me. Of course there were a few exceptions. For example, if I knew that I was not interested in friendship (or I wasn’t sure if I wanted friendship and instead wanted something more or less) then I would handle the situation differently since it has always been important for me that friends be friends and other be other (i.e. colleague, acquaintance, romantic interest, etc.) unless there is a mutual desire for categories to merge. I also used to have different expectations of friends and romantic interests, however, over the past 8 or so years I have realized that it is in my best interest (both mentally and emotionally) to have both bars set high.
Although I didn’t know what to call it in the past, I have encountered quite a bit of “friend zone rebellion” that has made it obvious to me that a friend wanted something more, wasn’t sure what he wanted, or was upset that I was not responsive to romantic moves that were being made within the context of the friend zone and disguised as friendship. In these relationships, I usually ended up feeling like my friend was upset with me for no reason or was trying to make me pay for something I had or hadn’t done (the something being a desired response they were hoping to get from me to an uncommunicated request). At other times, I would observe that opportunities I had arranged to hang out, catch up, and etc. as friends would be hijacked in a way that left me with the sense that my friend was trying to date me without dating me. I’m pretty good at not jumping to conclusions in my friendships with guys and would normally just ignore it if something seemed slightly off. But if emotional boundaries were starting to be crossed then I would ask what was going.
In the beginning stages of friend zone rebellion, most people don’t give a straight answer, or try to convince you that nothing is going on and the relationship is still intact. However, if ‘situations’ keep coming up and you are having to routinely ask about what is going on in your relationship since it seems like things are out of sync, then you may end up feeling emotionally drained, unsafe, and… crazy. At times, friend zone rebellion occurred while I was already in a romantic relationship/dating someone or had expressed interest in another individual. Friend zone rebellion is the worst way for a relationship you thought was close (and had no strings attached) to end. On the other hand, the best friend zone experiences I have had were when guy friends disappeared suddenly or stopped all communication with me without trying to distract me or pretend to be my friend. Some guys have also been discerning and knew when to express interest and/or communicate in some way that they were not interested in friendship. A few also made sure to let me know, if they suspected that I may have had a romantic interest in them, that they weren’t who I thought they were and could bring me more harm than good (based on what they knew about me). Most of them were a few years older and I usually looked up to them in some way. Even if I didn’t understand what they were trying to tell me at the time, I took the hint, moved on, and we remained or became great acquaintances (i.e. friendship would not have worked here).
Many adults in their 20s and 30s are convinced that once they or someone else is “added to a friend zone” then this is the end of the world. Others believe that the friend zone is the best way to get that special guy or girl. My advice is to know your audience. If you have spent more than a few years in someone’s friend zone that you have a romantic interest in and are no closer to figuring out whether you have a shot with them then you have wasted time (Disclaimer: This post is geared towards individuals that are single/in a similar stage of life as me and makes the assumption that both parties are single. If you are married and experiencing friend zone rebellion then it may be in your best interest to disengage and/or explicitly dismiss this individual from your friend zone). This is particularly true if you have NO INTEREST in only being their friend. To add to this, if you know that you are absolutely not interested in friendship, then there are mature ways to remove yourself from a friend zone- friend zone rebellion does not have to be what you are remembered for if you don’t want it to be.
Tips for avoiding friend zone rebellion:
Guys, give yourself a time limit to actually express interest in someone you are interested in romantically or, at the minimum, speak with some female friends, sisters, or older women you respect about mature ways to communicate that you are not interested in friendship (i.e. ghosting on someone is a last resort and should really only be done if the desire is to truly cut off all contact and move on). The same applies to women. Even if the majority of women do not make it a point to ask out men, they can and do usually show interest in various ways.
If you suspect after a few interactions that you are not at a place where you can express interest to that special someone, then remove yourself from their radar quietly. If you are ok with being a loose acquaintance then this works as well, but don’t put yourself in their friend zone if you don’t want to be there.
Be strategic with the time that you have in someone’s friend zone. I have had a number guy friends express all the things they don’t like about girls/women, dating, etc. to me, without ever asking me about what I want out of a relationship or my views on dating. As a friend, I can listen to frustrations, etc. but this doesn’t mean that I agree with them. Know your audience because as far as someone like me is concerned, these comments and views don’t warrant my response or a reaction from me (i.e. we’re just friends). However, I may have a huge issue with them if you were a romantic interest. Keep this in mind: Most women, and even men, do not willingly offer up or discuss their specific views on dating (including criteria) to friends of the opposite sex unless explicitly asked, something happens to make the topic come up, or they possibly have a romantic interest in the individual they have chosen to have this conversation with.
Don’t let people act up or act out in your friend zone. If you have to end friendships, stop communication, or avoid someone you thought was a friend because their behavior is too confusing or even harmful, then do it. Protect your mental and emotional well being. You don’t want to be guilted into going out with someone that you have no romantic interest in or be tricked into initiating a relationship with someone that you do have a romantic interest in BUT they are too scared to be upfront with you (especially if this is a pattern). You will need to acknowledge and take responsibility for your role if you are letting someone hide out in your friend zone even though you know they don’t belong there (i.e. you may be part of the issue).
If you suspect that someone in your friend zone is romantically interested in you but find out through other people that they have initiated a relationship with someone else or are asking other people out, then take note of this. Even the shyest men (and women) I have known, have mustered up the courage to express an interest. The person above is obviously capable of being upfront with someone, so preserve your mental and emotional energy.
If you have run out of time because you spent too long in a friend zone you didn’t belong in, then friend zone rebellion may seem like the only option and you may not care about when or how you do it. If you want to rebel then that is up to you, of course, however the best thing you can do is be upfront. The goal of friend zone rebellion is ultimately to be removed from a friend zone. Being upfront will lead to this aim and help you move on (i.e. grieve the loss of whatever you feel was lost) or possibly even start a healthy romantic relationship.
Realize that there may come a time when friendships have to be explicit mutual agreements (i.e. assumptions will not be in your best interest, or the interest of your family if you have one). Also, realize that there is a peace of mind that comes from knowing who your friends are once you come to a certain stage in your life. Friend zone rebellion does not need to be something that routinely brings you down- raise the bar when it comes to those you allow into your friend zone in order to avoid unnecessary headaches.
Questions to ponder:
1. Have you experienced friend zone rebellion? If yes, how has it affected you?
2. Do your criteria or expectations of friends and romantic interests differ? Why or why not?
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