Back in the ’90s, the following exchange brought forth raucous laughter:
“It’s never gonna happen.”
“You and Rachel.”
“What? Me and Rach—whatta…why not?”
“Because you waited too long to make your move, and now you’re in the friend zone.”
“No, no, no, I’m not in the zone.”
“No, Ross, you’re mayor of the zone!”
“I’m taking my time, alright, I’m laying the groundwork. I mean everyday I get just a little bit closer to—”
This conversation, from Friends, suitably, is credited for coining the term friend zone, a phrase that somehow persists even if it has lost much of its comedic pop or social relevance. Nevertheless, I have been tasked to write an article on its many aspects for Valentine’s Day. So, where to start?
The friend zone is a place of nightmare. To be friendzoned is to be banished. That is what a lot of people would like to believe. It is when a man, typically, develops feelings for a woman, typically, and those feelings are unrequited—hardly uncommon. As the phrase suggests, the man has become a friend of the lady and has failed to woo the lady. His desire to mate has been thwarted due to a combination of misread cues and likely his own obliviousness to her intentions.
The man then uses the friend zone as a way to not only come to grips with his own inadequacy as a sexual being, but also as a veiled insult to the woman, and to guilt her into not reading the thoughts of his own mind. It has been labeled misogynistic, perverse, a plea for entitlement.
The Internet is flush with references to the friend zone. There are countless articles with titles derivative of ‘Avoiding the Friend Zone’ and memes devoted to those lost in the friend zone as if it was the Bermuda Triangle of romance. On that note, there is also no shortage of metaphorical comparisons drawn to highlight the apparent bleakness of the friend zone.
Ali Benazir, a self-titled “Happiness Engineer,” actually called the friend zone “Justfriendistan” and said that it is a “territory only to be rivaled in inhospitality by the Western Sahara, the Atacama, and Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell.”
To which I respond: Huh? Has Ali Benazir ever read Dante’s Inferno? That is the true stuff of nightmares, maybe because it concerns actual Hell. But her hyperbole does reveal the priority that regular people, that we as humans, place on navigating relationships, and how nerve-wracking, self-destructive, and un-fun it is to be on the constant lookout for the pothole that is the friend zone.
Honestly, I find the whole concept absurd. To be a good partner is to be a good friend. The two are not mutually exclusive. If we believe them to be, then that only gives dimension to the vacuum of imagination our cultures have when it comes to managing healthy relationships. I’m not saying that in order to be a good lover you must first pass through the “Atacama” that is the friend zone. I am saying that friendship is the sharpest weapon there is to fight for a romance, because quite frankly, then you can cut the bullshit and get to the feelings without sacrificing intimacy. But to do that requires you to be open to the entirety of a person and not to simply see them as walking genitals.
On the off chance that this is too daunting a task, I hear the priesthood is always looking for new members and that the Atacama is lovely this time of year.
(I use man and woman as the two halves of the whole in this article but friend zone may apply to all sexual relationships if the term has or is to have any significance.)