Love & Sex

Why Everyone Should Be Insulted By The Term “Friend Zone”

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About a week ago, I wrote a Nerve article about sex terms that need to be retired, and without meaning to, I kicked off a heated debate about the term "Friend Zone," focusing on misogyny, miscommunication, and um, helping women move. Some people, including me, think "Friend Zone" has a misogynistic undertone. Others don't. I'm all for the open exchange of ideas, so let's try to wade through this together, shall we?

At the most basic level, "being in the Friend Zone" means you're into someone in a romantic sense, but they see you as a platonic friend. And everyone — men and women — is susceptible to this experience. It's a bummer, we know. We alllll know.

But if we're honest, in popular culture, the term most frequently refers to something that is done to men, by women. That's the problem. "Friend Zone" implies a sort of capricious, unfair act, perpetrated by the vagina-ed set.

Chris Rock examines this in one of his stand-up routines: "Men don't have platonic friends. We just have women we haven't fucked yet. I mean, we've got some platonic friends, but they're all by accident — every platonic friend I've got is some woman I was trying to fuck, I made a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up in the Friend Zone: 'Oh no! I'm in the Friend Zone!'"

But I don't think Chris Rock actually has a sum total of zero platonic female friends. I think he's playing with this idea that there's some core difference between the way men and women view relationships, and that men are incapable of viewing women as anything other than potential lays. The idea of the "Friend Zone" devalues actual platonic friendships, because it implies that all of the "friend-ish" things that men could do with women are just a ruse for sex-getting. Rock also jokes that a man in the Friend Zone is just "a dick in a glass case" put on reserve while a woman tries to fuck someone better. Using this logic, a woman would be nothing more than a vagina surrounded by a moat. The Friend Zone objectifies both parties — neither is more than a sex organ whose sole purpose is to pursue or be pursued by the other.

Nerve commenter Slav succinctly sums up the other side of the argument:

"There is nothing inherently misogynistic about the 'friend zone' — it is a valid concept because it reflects a common social phenomenon."

Slav, I love you (as a friend), but I think the term is inherently misogynistic, because in common usage, it implies that an injustice has been done, and that someone has been deprived of sex that they've rightfully earned — that they deserve. But no one deserves sex, not even Ryan Gosling. If you say you're "in the Friend Zone," you've just created a space where, through no fault of your own, the person you were pursuing put you in a no-man's-land of eating pizza without touching knees and late-night discussions without sex. But in actuality, you haven't been moved to a new relationship sector, and your train to Vagina Heaven hasn't suddenly been derailed — you just didn't know which track you were on in the first place. Maybe use of the term is evidence of a breakdown in communication, but it's not a reflection of some social phenomenon wherein women perniciously sort their relationships into Would Fuck and Would Never Fuck, But Would Watch a Movie With.

NEXT: "The last two people I've had sex with for an extended period of time, I'd known platonically for at least three years…"

Here's commenter AAC:

"['Friend Zone'] is a terrible way to start out this article, since it's a PERFECT way to describe the way that many women make (and self-report!) instantaneous, gut-level decisions about whether they would have sex with a particular person and — this is the key part — never change their mind about it. Most men I know don't do that, and don't relate to it at all."

But "Friend Zone" can't be a description of an instantaneous reaction, because most colloquial use of "Friend Zone" implies a relationship, over time, taking a different course than one party expected, and if friendship is determined immediately, the assumption of something else wouldn't exist. Entire pickup-artist manuals are written about how to avoid going into the Friend Zone, after you meet someone.

Moreover, who are these women "self-reporting" every one of their sexual decisions? I would go so far as to say that not one of my female friends determines who they will sleep with based on thirty seconds of interaction. Yes, sexual attraction can be instantaneous, but it can also grow over time. The last two people I've had sex with for an extended period of time, I'd known platonically for at least three years (!) before boning them. This could just be a weird thing that I do, but relationships do change. I'm much more likely to sleep with someone if they're sincerely hilarious and not also completely awful. But finding out if someone is sincerely hilarious (and not completely awful) necessitates spending some time together first, often in the relationship format commonly known as "friendship."

But the existence of the term does show some difference in the way men and women react to sexual defeat. The reason "Friend Zone" is not synonymous with friendship is because it suggests failure. It's as if the Friend Zone is the consolation prize when romance doesn't happen. Here's what commenter oklund had to say on that topic:

"I honestly, truly, have not observed a difference in the way two genders feel attraction; at least, not more than there is difference between any two people of either gender. I *have* observed a vast difference in inner monologue pending success/failure, leading to very different reaction patterns."

Maybe it's because our society still, for the most part, views men as the "pursuers" and women as the "pursued," but when a relationship doesn't turn sexual, men often need a defense strategy. "Friend Zone" is inherently defensive, because it places responsibility on the second party. But no one has sex with everyone they want to have sex with, and expecting otherwise (and complaining when it doesn't happen) is pointless and immature.

In the end, my problem is with what the term says about your power dynamic with the person you're applying it to. There is no ratio governing relationship input and sexual output, and platonic friendship is not a worldly evil designed to give you blue balls. And yeah, everyone — male and female — occasionally tries to parlay kindness and witty jokes into something sexual. That's how dating works, right? But when it doesn't work out, it's not because women have lured you into some crafty vortex of sexlessness, thwarting what could've been a beautiful relationship, or at least a brief, vigorous fucking.