I once read a Dear Abby column responding to a letter from a girl who, as I recall, was in middle school. She was asking for advice about an awkward incident that happened to her at school: a boy asked her out with her peers watching, and she turned him down. She was subsequently told by her peers that she was cruel for rejecting his advances.
In modern terms, the girl of this boy’s affection placed him in the “friend zone.” In a nutshell, “friend-zoning” somebody is basically not reciprocating their romantic feelings. This places them in a “zone” of people who will never be more than friends to them, which apparently is this dreaded place where they are of no value to the object of their affection.
I have never had a romantic relationship or even asked a girl out, so I’m not a dating expert. However, I find the concept of the “friend zone” to be a misguided approach for a number of reasons.
Interestingly enough, the concept of the “friend zone” actually originated from an episode of the sitcom Friends, and though the definition seems to be gender-neutral at its core, it is most often applied to the scenario of a woman not reciprocating a man’s feelings. That gender-specific way in which the concept manifests itself is problematic, not only because it perpetuates many misogynistic ideas that are widely accepted in American society, but the implications of it can be chillingly dark.
For example, it contributes to the idea that a woman can’t say “no,” and that a woman who doesn’t reciprocate a man’s interest in her, whether for a relationship or sex, is cruel and heartless, as the girl from the Dear Abby column was told. This places an unhealthy amount of pressure on women, and I suspect it to be a factor in the prevalent fear among many women of rejecting a man’s advances and the man retaliating with violence.
I’ve seen it argued that the “friend zone” idea perpetuates rape culture, and I think that’s an accurate assessment — the idea that a woman can’t say “no” is the epitome of rape culture. Romantic relationships and sex require consent, and sexual consent is a basic human right, so it is vital that comfort zones and consent are respected. Therefore, the notion that a woman is cruel and heartless, or a “bitch,” for simply exercising her right to consensual relationships or sex is inherently rapey, and quite sexist as well.
Beyond that, there are other harmful attitudes at play. Our culture at large tends to put romantic love on a pedestal, and within that is this tendency to take offense when someone says they’re not romantically interested, as if that is an insult to one’s character or ego. Again, the lovestruck one is often a man and his romantic interest a woman, and this attitude is often accompanied by bemoaning the prospect of being considered “just a friend” by the crush.
But what’s wrong with that? Why is being “just a friend” a bad thing? At least you still have contact with the person, and you can have some sort of relationship with them and be valued by them, even if it’s not in a romantic way.
That’s the beauty of platonic friendships. I have many friendships with women where there is no romantic interest involved, and I highly value those friendships. Without the romantic aspect, there is less awkwardness and complication, and these friendships flourish on simply enjoying each other’s company and relating to one another through our shared hobbies and interests. I don’t see myself ever being romantically interested in some of these women, and that’s okay. It’s also fine if they never feel that way about me.
Honestly, the “friend zone” sounds great to me. It’s better than the alternatives: the “I never want to see you again” zone, or if the guy really can’t take rejection, the “restraining order” zone.
It’s important that people learn to value platonic friendships, and learn to relate to the people of the opposite sex as comrades and friends. Some in my generation have this problem of viewing anyone of the opposite sex as a potential romantic partner, and for men in particular, I think there is an objectification factor within that, and an inability to see women as comrades and friends, or anything more than sex objects. That, I think, contributes to the lack of value placed on consent, or a woman’s say in the matter.
Other times, the inability to take rejection results simply from unhealthy emotional attachment from building your crush up in your head too much. And I totally get it. I had some unreciprocated crushes in high school myself, and being rejected is not pleasant. If you have a romantic interest in somebody and want to ask them out, go for it. If they don’t return your affections, it’s fine to feel disappointed, at least for the moment.
But keep this in mind: you are not entitled to a romantic relationship with anyone. You are not even entitled to a friendship with anyone. Everyone is free to choose who they want in their lives, and some people might decide that you are not worth their time, for whatever reason. That’s just a reality of life, and it’s important to develop a bit of a thick skin in this area, and learn not to take offense when someone says they are just not interested. If that is the case, respect this individual’s ability to consent and move on.
If somebody lets you into their friend zone, that means they value you as a person and consider you worth their time. So savor it, and be thankful that you are valued.
This article originally appeared on Medium
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