The Friend Zone
Friend-zoning is one of those lessons a person learns early in life when he or she is starting to have an interest for the other sex. A young man and a young woman will work together on something, maybe something for school; the young man shows interest in the young woman, but hesitates a little before telling her; when he finally does tell her, she offers an awkward thanks but would prefer to remain friends with him. As she proposes this, she may want to end things right then, but it is more likely that she would like to continue the relationship because she likes the free attention that the young man provides.
At this crossroads, the young man should realize that he has missed his target and discontinue the relationship. He has offered something deeper than mere friendship; he has offered his heart, and she has rejected it—or, in the case of her desiring friendship, she wants to use his heart and exploit it. Although he enjoyed talking to her, such a friendship, with no hope of anything more, would only tie him down to something sad and futile. The best route for him is to accept his losses (in time and attention) and move on to a girl who will return his affection.
Then again, sometimes this lesson takes a little longer to learn. Often, the young man, hoping for a change of heart from the young woman, will accept the terms of friendship. To her satisfaction, he will actually be playing the part of a boyfriend, listening to her stories, charming her with jokes and compliments, and supporting her in general. He thinks he will win her over with this, but in reality, he is only wasting his time. She has what she wants already, and he only makes it worse by investing more and more of his time and effort in something doomed to failure.
Some might argue, in the style of Cyrano de Bergerac, that he does have something: her company and friendship. He may not be able to call her his own, but he can at least spend time with her. However, this argument mischaracterizes the situation and fails to consider the losses suffered by the young man. He does not want her friendship, but the young woman herself. Like a hungry beggar looking at a delicious hamburger but can only afford a side-dish of fries, the young man must look at the love of his life and settle for only a few pleasant moments—and might even have to look on pathetically as she dates someone else. Thus, this incongruity makes being with her more painful than being apart from her.
Moreover, continuing on as “friends” with this young woman emasculates the young man. As he spends time with the young woman, he often sacrifices the possibility of courting and dating other women as well as the chance of befriending other males. Instead of cultivating virtues and gaining a sense of self, he accepts a lesser view of himself and allows himself to be used. At best, others may pity him—and he may sadly welcome their pity—but normally, they will likely lose their respect and avoid him. Even the young woman who desired all this in the first place will eventually lose any remaining respect for him.
The Friend Zone Encroaches On Friendship
After experiencing such a personal loss, one would hope that the young man mends his ways and sets himself free. Unfortunately, he may not. In today’s world where women make up the majority of the workplace and schools, many men have resigned themselves to such friendships. While a few social justice warriors hail this as a great triumph for feminism and the equality of the sexes, what results is a sense of isolation and loss of self-respect. Men and women carry on something that is not natural, friendship with the opposite sex, and frequently deny something that is natural, friendship with the same sex as well as a conjugal relationship.
Contrary to the opinions of most people (who usually exploit this arrangement as the young woman mentioned above), men and women cannot be true friends. If, as C.S. Lewis says, citing Aristotle before him, that friends are those who see the same truth, who face the same object before them, unlike lovers who face one another, then the possibility of men and women—who have different natures and thus different perspectives—becoming friends is very unlikely.
Put simply, men relate differently to one another than women do. For this reason, Plato necessarily excludes women from the conversation of platonic love (something close to the idea of true friendship) in the Symposium in which discusses the matter. Men are competitive; they seek honor; they value and pursue inner and outer strength; they are often rough and blunt in their communication. Women are usually the opposite of all these things. Hence, true friendships can work well with those of the same sex, but not otherwise.
When men and women try to have a friendship with one another, this will always lead to confusion. One will fall in love with the other and misunderstandings will abound, sometimes in a humorous fashion but mostly in a tragic fashion. This plays out in so many popular sitcoms: Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, etc. If the show has even the smallest modicum of consistency to human nature, friends will soon become lovers at some point; and it is telling that audiences will always expect this.
While the problem of false friendships and friend-zoning has grown with the modern mania of mixing the sexes in every environment possible, it is certainly not new. In The Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales devotes whole chapters to avoiding friendships with the opposite sex, noting that it usually brings out the worst in both men and women. Nevertheless, he allows that if a couple enters into a courting friendship with the intention of a deeper union in marriage, this is fine.
Otherwise, men and women should listen to their hearts and stop deluding themselves. A good friendship can enhance a man’s masculinity and woman’s femininity, and thus their overall attractiveness, so long as they keep with their own sex and distance themselves from the opposite one. Such a distance really will make the heart grow fonder on all sides and lead to less loneliness and happier couples.