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Gentlemen Speak: Why Guys Hate Being Stuck In the Friend Zone

This is quite possibly a man's most dreaded relationship status.
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Art Credit: Taylor McCutchan

Ah, “the friend zone.” A man's most dreaded relationship status.

Ladies, let me tell you something about the friend zone: It's real. In talking with female friends, this seems to be a particularly male predicament, wherein the object of our affection is right there, laughing with us, confiding in us about her terrible boss, sending one-liners back and forth via text. And yet, we get the distinct sense that you think of us as "just a friend."

It's terrible. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. You're close friends, there seems to be some romantic tension, yet being around that special someone is almost torturous because you want more. It seems like maybe she wants more, too, but she's not sending you any definitive signals. Is that a "don't flirt with me" or a "try harder"?

Take my buddy, Paul, for example. He met Freda while he was living overseas in Rome, and they immediately hit it off. By all accounts, Freda was an absolute catch, and Paul was incredibly attracted to her. But Paul had struggled with something since high school known as “always the friend, never the boyfriend” syndrome. Sure, he’s handsome, smart, fun, and popular with the ladies—just, you know, not in that way.

So inevitably, he and Freda slipped into the friend zone. He wasn’t sure exactly how it happened, but he definitely didn’t want it to continue. Did she interpret their interactions as simply friendly and not flirty? Was he not direct enough? Was he too timid? Did she just not see him as her type? Or worse?

Paul had had enough. He sought out help from—who else—his dad. Good ol’ pops gave him simple advice: Kiss her. If she goes for it, you’re in; if not, at least you know. So what did Paul do? He kissed her. And she went for it. Now I'm not advocating that every man surprise kiss girls, but Paul knew they already had chemistry so it worked. Better luck next time, friend zone.

Hearing Paul recount the story, it occurred to me that there’s more here than simply overcoming unrequited love. When a man’s romantic overtures to a woman are not reciprocated, it’s difficult to take—trust me, I’ve been there. But he’ll eventually get over it and move on. Still, there’s something particular to being “friend zoned." When a love interest doesn’t reject a relationship altogether but defines it as strictly platonic, that’s sending a different sort of message. One that's particularly hard to take.

To put it simply, when a woman relegates a man to the friend zone, she is saying, “You’re not sexually attractive.” Which, of course, is not the same as, “I don’t think we would make a good couple,” or even, “I’m just not that into you.” She’s saying, “I am into you, I think you’re great, I can’t imagine my life without you, but I just can’t stand the thought of you touching me.” And when a man hears that from a woman—whether she says those exact words or not—he would probably have preferred that she kicked him square in the gonads. It is, quite simply, a blow to his manhood.

Of course, it’s not a woman’s job to make a man feel better about his lack of attractiveness. Just know that I have yet to meet a man who could simply turn it off. So if you don’t want to date him, it likely means you can’t be close friends and confidants either.

And perhaps more importantly, if you ever get the sense that a guy likes you but you’d rather just be friends, be careful not to send mixed messages. Exclusive attention such as one-on-one time and significant texting or phone conversations—especially in the evening—will likely stir up more than you’d bargained for. As much as you might love hanging out with him and being able to confide in him, keeping him close can give him false hope and set him up for heartbreak down the road.

It might just mean being honest with yourself. And if you really do care so much about him, you should want him to find somebody for himself, and he’s not going to do that watching rom-coms with you every Friday night.

But here’s an idea: Think about giving him a chance. You obviously think highly enough about him, and he’s paying you the ultimate compliment. I think sometimes—whether from Hollywood, Facebook envy, or just a romantic notion that we’re supposed to be infatuated with everything about someone, from their personality to the curvature of their nose—we let unrealistic expectations get in the way of considering real human beings for our mates. Before writing him off completely, consider letting him buy you dinner and treat you like a princess for an evening. What’s the worst that can happen?

Sure can’t be any worse than the friend zone.