Like most people my age, I first learned of the mysterious “friendzone” from Friends when Chandler explains to Ross that if you are friends with a woman for too long then they end up seeing you as only a friend rather than a romantic partner. Since then, the idea of the “friendzone” has had a somewhat unattractive makeover courtesy of angry Internet MRAs and jilted reddit-users and come to express the particular entitled frustration of a man whose overtures of kindness do not earn him instant sex from a particular female friend or friends.
But I wasn’t always this cynical about the ‘friendzone’.
Long ago, back through the mists of time when I was a wide-eyed innocent at university I had a good friend in college – a male (chorus of gasps) – with whom I spent a lot of time. We were good friends. One day we were chatting about his recent (messy) breakup and he happened to mention how frustrating it was that women didn’t tend to like “nice” men but only wanted the “bad” boys and he couldn’t catch a break. At the time, I heartily agreed with him. It was a shame. Poor all those other women who are less smart than me, why can’t they make good choices? Silly women, I thought to myself. Of course. I had never had a “bad boy” (or bad girl, for that matter) complex, I told myself. It all seemed to make sense. Everyone I had ever dated had always been nice to me. This fed perfectly into my inflated undergraduate sense of myself where I not only got to pat myself on the back for being a massive medieval smartypants but I now also got to bask smugly in how smart I was not being like all those stupid other women who were so stupid and did not even realise that nice men were nice and unkind men were unkind. What fools. How I rose above all my sex in the understanding of all matters love.
But of course, like all undergraduate delusions of grandeur this was shattered. And it was shattered by the very ‘nice guy’ with whom I had heartily agreed. Two things happened; one was, he got a new girlfriend. All very nice. But the moment he did, he stopped talking to me entirely. I played back our entire friendship in my head. Yes, I’d often knocked on his door for midnight conversations when I couldn’t sleep and I knew he would be up. But I had done the same with several other friends of various genders. Yes, we had spent plenty of time just the two of us, going for walks in the parks or just chatting about video games or films or books, but again, this was not so unusual. He knew I was involved with someone else at the time, and he knew that person pretty well, so I’d assumed that we were both safely within a friend zone (if you like). I mean, there had been an emotional Christmas card one year, but I had shown that to the person I was dating who had shrugged it off. So I was confused, and I was hurt that I was denied the friendship as soon as a girlfriend came along.
So far, so par for teenage friendship politics, right? Only a few years after we all graduated stuff started coming out of the woodwork. This nice guy whose endless niceness stopped him getting the girls had been sleeping on and off with a mutual friend during his time with the ex girlfriend. He no longer spoke to her, me, or another mutual friend whom he had asked out between girlfriends. When I learned this, I felt like my eyes had been opened, just a little, to what goes on in the mind of the kind of ‘nice guy’ who believes in the Friendzone. Unwittingly, it seems, I had friendzoned him.
And you know what I say to that? Good.
I wasn’t smart or special for only being attracted to people who were nice to me. Other women weren’t much stupider than me. I was stupid because I bought into that whole ugly narrative that women don’t know what’s good for them, and poor nice guys like my friend are hard done by because women are hard-wired to like douchebags. It was a toxic narrative, and I felt so much better when the scales fell from my eyes and I could see my friend for what he had been. Ultimately, he had never really been my friend.
I used to believe in the friendzone because it fed my smug desire to be smarter. Now I am smarter, though only smarter than my eighteen year old self. I know that good friends make good lovers and there is no such thing as the friendzone, only an ugly entitlement fed by irrational anger that other people are capable of independent thought.