I know, I’m late to the party, but it’s my turn to chime in on the ubiquitous Friend Zone conversation/debate/debacle. And like many other sensible people, I’m here to tell you that this is a non-issue invented by dudes who don’t understand how attraction works and believe if a woman likes them well enough to be friends, that ought to be enough foundation for True Love to bloom. They believe that time spent with a woman is an investment, and when that investment doesn’t pay off, you’re not only in the Friend Zone, but you were obviously not man enough for the job.
As Erin Riordan points out in her post, The Friend Zone is a Sexist Myth, the movie Just Friends contains a scene that sums up the Friend Zone perfectly. It also does a great job of illustrating what some men believe it means to be (or not to be) friends with a woman:
Chris: What about Sheila? You making any headway?
Ray: We’ll see. I’m taking her to lunch today.
Chris: Oh, whoa, whoa whoa. Don’t – don’t do that. Okay? Don’t do lunch.
Chris: That’s like the express lane to the friend zone.
Ray: What the hell’s the friend zone?
Chris: See when a girl decides that you’re her friend, you’re no longer a dating option. You become this complete non-sexual entity in her eyes, like her brother, or a lamp.
Ray: I don’t want to be a lamp.
Chris: Yea well then don’t be her friend, okay? Take that guy for example…
[points to a clumsy guy and a gorgeous girl skating together]
Ray: You mean that couple?
Chris: No, I mean the guy that *wishes* they were a couple.
Ray: What is your point?
Chris: My point is – Call Sheila, Ray. Call her right now. Move your day date to tonight. Play the entire thing aloof and no matter what you do, kiss her at the end. ‘Cause friends don’t kiss.
See, dudes who think like this are confused. They think that there’s this window of opportunity with a woman, and that if they miss it, FRIENDSHIP will set in like an infection and all hope is lost. There are so many things wrong with this philosophy. For one, it assumes that once a man and woman are friends, there is no longer potential for sexual attraction. That is patently false: I know from (repeated) personal experience an attraction can spring up at any time between people for whom it just didn’t exist before. And because of its ignorance of this, it also ignores the fact that some of the best relationships start as friendships. It paints friendship between a man and a woman as a sad, pathetic thing and implies that the man wasn’t man enough to make it something more than that. (This, my friends, is one of the ways that patriarchy hurts us all.)
And that brings me to my next point: Choice. Let’s talk about the mistaken idea that a woman a) can choose to be sexually attracted to a person whom, for whatever reason, she currently isn’t, and b) that a woman should somehow be obligated to “choose” a man based on how much time he’s spent with her, how many favors he’s done for her, or any other such perceived “investment.” The former is about chemistry; the latter is about entitlement.
More on entitlement later. Let’s start with a science lesson, shall we?
You see, “attraction” and “liking” someone are two completely different things. I like my postal carrier, but I’m not attracted to him. Attraction is a physical thing that happens within people, and at the heart of it, it’s a chemical process. Person A’s chemicals and Person B’s chemicals are either compatible at any given time or they aren’t. No, I’m not a scientist, but I understand the basics and I think I’m right about this. The only thing I can figure is that the people who believe in the Friend Zone have never once had someone crush on them and not feel the same way back. (That or, sadly, they have never been in a relationship where attraction was reciprocal.)
Yes, I have been “guilty” of not being attracted to men who were attracted to me and really wanted me to return their feelings. And believe it or not, I (and many other women) have wished fervently for that attraction for a friend who meets so many other criteria. Sometimes we’ve even given in to the idea that you don’t have to feel an attraction for someone in order to be happy with them, and then we have learned the hard way that for many of us, that’s just not true. And ultimately, we’ve had to walk away not only from those relationships with people who were once friends, but from the friendships as well.
Though there seems to be some controversy over the actual meaning of the song “Everything You Want” by Vertical Horizon, for me it has always spoken to those times when a close friendship had everything but physical chemistry:
He’s everything you want
He’s everything you need
He’s everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
He says all the right things
At exactly the right time
But he means nothing to you
And you don’t know why
And I have been in the place they call the Friend Zone. I have been crazy about people who didn’t return my feelings. But it never once occurred to me to say “Guys only like women who mistreat them and do X, Y, and Z for them, and there’s no winning, waaaaa.” Because other times in my life, the attraction has been mutual. (And again, I’m sorry for anyone who hasn’t experienced that. But it doesn’t mean women are evil bitches who want rich bad boys who treat them like shit.) For the times it wasn’t, the second chorus of the above song was me all over:
I am everything you want
I am everything you need
I am everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
I say all the right things
At exactly the right time
But I mean nothing to you and I don’t know why…
Now let’s talk about entitlement.
People who believe in the Friend Zone seem to think that if a guy is nice enough to a woman for long enough, he’s entitled to something. (Spoiler: He’s not.) Again, this assumes an awful lot about a woman’s right to choose who the fuck she has a relationship with and pretty much anything else–in fact, it actually removes that right to choose and transforms it into the man’s right to be her boyfriend. In other words, a dude is entitled to a woman once he’s made a sufficient investment in her. If she disagrees, and heaven forbid if she’s interested in someone else, she’s a bitch–or worse, a slut.
Can you even imagine the situation in reverse?
Chris: So, how’s it going with Sheila? Any progress?
Ray: She’s really nice, and I love hanging out with her. We’ve got a ton in common. But I’m just not attracted to her, you know? I like her as a friend.
Chris: But you’d still do her, right?
Ray: If I was a total asshole, yeah, sure, but I’m not, so…
Chris: Ok, glad we got that out of the way. Next question: you’ve been hanging out with her a lot, right?
Chris: And she made you dinner that one time, right?
Ray: Lasagna. It was really good. From scratch.
Chris: And she picked you up at the airport what, three times?
Chris: Dude. You’re in the Boyfriend Zone.
Ray: What? But I don’t want to be her boyfriend. I’m cool with things how they are. I mean, I wish there was something more there, but…
Chris: Doesn’t matter. She’s been super nice to you. You owe her.
Ray: I what? No I don’t. I just don’t feel that way about her. I wish I did, but I don’t. Besides, I met this other girl I really like. Lisa. I’m attracted to her. We’ve got a lot in common, too, and we’re going out tonight.
Chris: You can’t do that. If you do that, you’re a slut.
Ray: I’m a…WTF?
Chris: Sorry, dude. I don’t make the rules.
Poor Ray! He’s stuck in the BOYFRIEND ZONE. Now he has to have a relationship with someone he’s not attracted to (though he really does like her) just because she was nice to him! It doesn’t seem fair, does it?
But what about this poor guy, Rosie? And all the guys like him?
Sigh. Deep breath…
Yes, there are women who take advantage of good men just like there are men who take advantage of good women, so if you’re this guy and she doesn’t have a sprained ankle or something? Yeah, she’s not very nice and you’re not being very nice to yourself by letting her do that to you. But that’s about individuals with low self-esteem and inconsiderate assholes who take advantage of them, not some global phenomenon of women mistreating men.
The Friend Zone as described by the dudes who whine about it doesn’t exist. In reality, it’s just the place each and every one of us finds ourself when we get our hearts broken. And broken hearts are a global phenomenon. They’re the reason poetry gets written and songs get sung–or one of the big ones anyway. If you’ve got a broken heart, I feel for you. I really do.
But seriously? Quit with the Friend Zone bullshit.
We Need to Talk About the Friend Zone (Feminists-at-Large)
The Friend Zone is a Sexist Myth (Hello)
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Guest post by Ro
Note: Ro transitioned several years ago. However, she lived in an isolated setting and had no access to transportation. Late last year, she moved to a village and what follows is her incredible experience. (Originally published on Facebook.)
This is perhaps the most important post I have made on Facebook. Please read.
I am blessed with the best friends ever. What follows should stun you. In November, I moved to a very small village in Wales. When I got here, I didn’t know anyone. I would go down the pub and hang out. I wanted people to get to know me. For the most part, I would just sit there and nod and smile at people. However, I did meet two of the most amazing people I have ever known.I have known this couple for only two months now. Absolutely the nicest people I’ve met in Wales. They live very close to me. It’s one of those friendships where you feel like you’ve known them for years. They have known and supported my new gender identity since the first time I met them.The wife and and another female friend went with me to the pub when I first used the woman’s loo two weeks ago. They came as my support team. How cool is that?
I went back to the pub with the wife again last Thursday when I was told by the bartender that I couldn’t use the proper loo. Even though we had just met, my friend was outraged. She walked out of the pub with me and was so very concerned about how I was feeling. She knows me better than I know myself. I was sort of in shock and it took a few days to sort out my emotions. I posted about it here and got remarkable advice and support. Thank you!
She and her husband are boycotting the pub. How cool is that?
I met her, her husband and their 2 wonderful children at a different pub on Sunday. They told me they had been talking with their families and friends about what had happened. They made an offer that totally floored me.
They, their relatives and their friends have made an incredible offer: they want to go to the pub with me again. Not only are they going there to stand up for me, they are offering to go dressed in the clothing of their opposite gender.
Not only will the men dress as women and the women as men: they will go to the loo for the gender they present.
Let me repeat that: New friends, their family and friends (who I haven’t met) will not only support me in my legal right to use the appropriate loo, they will cross dress and use the appropriate loo. Most of them have never met me.
As soon as I was alone, I had a good type of cry. How do I deserve friends like this?
Again, I live in a sleepy little village where everyone knows everyone. A couple I only recently met, their friends and family (again, who I haven’t yet met) are willing to do this wonderful, amazing and brave thing.
I told them that I want to meet with the pub landlord first and discuss the issue. If he doesn’t agree to do the legal thing, I don’t know if I will take them up on their offer.
But, regardless, I stand taller and more confident that these amazing people are willing to stand with me.
I am blessed. I am amazed. I am lucky.
This is why we’re here people: to stand up for each other. I never thought I would meet such wonderful people.
I am grateful to them beyond words. And I am grateful to each of you who support me here on FB.
If others stand tall for me, I must stand tall as well.
Life has never been better. How cool is that?
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Today my friend Anne is on the receiving end of all sorts of criticism for the post I shared with you yesterday in which she bravely considered a future when her son might cross a line despite her best efforts. You see, Anne realizes that even though her little boy is two years old now and loves his mother more than anything, one day he will experience–as we all do–a need to go his own way and take his cues from sources that do not love him with all their hearts and want him to be and have the absolute best.
I have known Anne less than a year, but in that time (in addition to getting to know her personally and coming to call her a friend) I have read many of her posts on The Belle Jar and have been at turns moved to tears, anger, nostalgia, a strong sense of simpatico, and fits of giggles. Her ability to bring herself–her personal stories–to her constant struggle to contribute to the greater good means that her work (on TBJ and elsewhere) reaches more and more people every day. And that means that in addition to the thousands of people who need her stories and words–either because they weren’t quite awake and she splashed their faces or because, like me, they’re out here fighting the same fight and desperately need the solidarity and ideas and perspectives and common vocabulary to do what we do–there are those who will tear her down.
Some of these people just don’t get it. Others are on a crusade to expose the evils of feminism. As for the former, I can only hope that some seed has been planted and germinates even now in the depths of their brains. But the latter? Allow me to submit that they are the true measure of the impact Anne is making. I don’t envy her the negative attention, the stress, the bad feels that I know even now are making it hard for her to do the important work she’s doing. But I, for one, want to say that I’m counting on Anne to take what strength she can from all of us who love her, love what she does, love her stories and her strength and her courage, and remember that what all of this means is that she’s doing something right.
And I’ve known that all along. <3
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
It was 1988 and I was working at a small computer game company–one of the first of its kind–in a small mountain town. I don’t remember exactly how it happened that the Internet came to us, but we certainly didn’t know it by that name. It appeared on my desktop computer in the form of Prodigy, a portal to another universe. I don’t remember anything about Prodigy except that it connected me to people I’d never meet any other way. One of them was K.
It may have been a Weird Al group or “board” or whatever Prodigy called it. K, who lived on the opposite coast, was a huge Al fan, and after a brief email friendship he sent me a couple of tapes I wish I still had. One was the standard mix-tape, the precursor to what kids these days know as the shared playlist, I guess. I dunno, I almost typed “mix CD,” so that shows you where my head’s at (also it’s “early” and I’m just having my coffee). It was my first experience with what would later become a familiar ritual: that of hearing songs for the first time among familiar ones in an order that came to almost be sacred. The other tape was a bunch of K’s songs, which had the Weird All silly factor, but also a certain heart that was K’s alone–at least, I thought so. And we talked on the phone, and mailed stuff back and forth. And we fell out of touch, and got back in touch, and repeated the cycle. It’s now been 10 years since I’ve talked to K, but I know when I track him down again it will be like that decade never passed. And we’ve never once met in the flesh.
Of course, after the Internet really came to town, there were dozens of ways to make contact with people all over the world. Now we have Facebook and Twitter and our blogs, and I talk to more people I don’t “know” every day than ones I do. I talk to more people virtually than I do in person, but I talk to far more people than I’d ever be able to in person. I recently discovered that I’m an introvert. I don’t know whether you can be an extrovert and then become an introvert, but that feels like it’s what happened to me. I don’t have the energy to engage with people for long periods of time. I need time away. On the Internet, I can interact with dozens of people at a time, have scintillating conversations and fiery debates, and then I can get up and walk out of my office and go outside into my garden and dig my toes in the soil and none of those people can follow me out there because they’re safe and sound in a little box on my desk. I love that.
Not that I don’t love being with people, because I do. In smaller doses. In some ways the Internet (and the people on it) is sometimes frustrating as hell, but in a very real way, it requires less energy and places fewer demands on my psyche because ultimately, I’m in my own space and in control of where I place my attention. (My mom the Jedi Master would say that’s true in any situation, and she’s right, but I can tell you it’s a hell of a lot easier to shut the lid on a laptop than to escape a crowd of well-meaning people who want to make small-talk or ask you how your writing is going or…)
So now I have dozens, even hundreds, of acquaintances with whom I spend the hours of my choosing sharing ideas and news and supporting projects and watching children grow I’d never have seen any other way, and once in a while a real friendship grows out of that. You never know when it’s going to happen or with whom. Sometimes it’s a whole group of people coming together around a common interest. Sometimes it’s just two people connecting across the miles through the ether (and even, as you’ll see, across parallel universes) and creating a new entity where it didn’t exist. A collaboration of spirit.
One such in my life is my very good friend Elsie Snuffin. In a universe very like our own, and one I sometimes wish I inhabited or could at least visit through one of Walter’s gadgets, Elsie works in the White House. She runs the speechwriting department (Toby Ziegler’s old job) for the Santos administration. A year and a half ago or so she and her colleagues (along with members and cohorts of the Bartlet administration such as Toby, Leo McGarry, Donna Moss, Danny Concanon, CJ Cregg, and even the President Hisownself) appeared on Twitter, and I followed every single one of them. (Josh Lyman keeps a current list for your convenience.) Being a huge We–ahem, White House fan, I was in heaven. It was like getting together with a group of old friends.
And it wasn’t long before Elsie and I hit it off. She tweeted something sort of despairing one day, and I told her a nice story, and she felt better, and the rest is really history. For over a year now we’ve been tweeting, emailing, chatting, even collaborating on projects. And most importantly we each know the other is there when something difficult happens and we just need to talk. Elsie is funny and sweet, kind and thoughtful, and fully as smart as they say she is. She has a heart the size of Texas, and an ego modern science has yet to detect. She is a talented writer (duh) with a passion for finding common ground among people who disagree. She would rather build a bridge than be right, and that’s a trait that all of us would do well to strive for, as difficult as it sounds (and is). To Elsie, it comes naturally. She inspires me to be a bridge-builder, too.
Unless I perfect my variation on Walter’s door, I may never meet Elsie in the flesh, and sometimes (after too much wine flying to DC where she lives but I can’t reach her) that has made me feel a little sad. It makes me feel sad right now with only coffee to blame. But who knows–one day I may meet a mutual friend. Either way, I’m fine. We may be “virtual friends,” but Elsie is as real to me as any other friend, and more real to me than a lot of people. I wouldn’t trade our friendship for any number of “in-the-flesh” encounters in any number of universes. It turns out friendship is something that happens without regard to time, space, or even reality.
I think that’s a beautiful thing.