The “Friend Zone,” Sweet or Entitled? : The Unrequited Love Double Standard

Something I will never, never understand is how people talk about the friend zone. And “people” isn’t even code for any one group (read: feminists), because most people seem to at least agree on this one point, and I don’t get it. I honestly don’t. I do understand where the total anti-friendzone rhetoric is coming from, I just don’t understand how it could be so black-and-white.

Much like my thoughts on cultural appropriation, my lack of understanding is rooted in how most of the arguments seem like they’re being made by someone who doesn’t know how human beings work. They sound like arguments constructed in a vacuum where no humans actually exist and interact with each other but where there are vague theories floating around about how things should be done if and when this elusive notion of “social interaction” ever actually comes to pass in the near or distant future. So here is my take on the dreaded friend zone and why I think how we talk about it needs to change.

What you hear about the friend zone can be divided into two parts:

1.) It doesn’t really exist.

2.) People who say it exists are entitled, whiny bastards who don’t only deserve to be mocked but who are also bad people who don’t respect the ones around them.

I don’t understand this, because it’s difficult for me to comprehend how this isn’t a universal notion that everyone can empathize with. It seems right up there with “puppy love” and the “honeymoon phase” and “sexual tension” when it comes to emotional states that it seems like most people who aren’t asexual/aromantic have experienced at some point. I believe it’s the feeling of, “just being friends [insert sad music].” I do not understand how people can say “The friend zone doesn’t exist.” and act like that’s just an ace-in-the-hole argument. Wipe your hands, we’re done here, nothing left to say.

The emotion of being “just friends [insert sad music]” is a very real one and one that most people seem to forget fucking sucks. This is a sad place to be in. This can be emotionally devastating to someone without the emotional/mental maturity to deal with it in a constructive fashion. But people leave their empathy at the door when talking about it and call anyone who complains about being friendzoned an entitled dick, all without even seeming to realize that the person complaining might be, oh, I don’t know, legitimately sad and not just a horrible human who deserves your scorn and degradation.

I’ll get into the nuances of it in a moment, because, as I said, I understand where that negative sentiment comes from. But, for the moment, let’s just focus on how childishly non-constructive having this 100% negative viewpoint is when it comes to “the friend zone.” It’s equally as non-constructive as someone who just doesn’t know how to deal with being in the friend zone and resorts to wallowing in their own misery and complaining on the internet. And in order to talk about it, we have to talk about the double standard.

“Nice Guys” vs. “Good Girls”

When we talk about the friend zone, we talk about two different camps: guys and gals. The guys get our derision and scorn for romantically yearning after a friend, while the girls are seen as sweet and endearing for having romantic feelings for a friend. Men who are friend zoned and are sad about it are entitled douchebags, and women who are friend zoned and sad about it, well, they’re just hopeless romantics. Isn’t unrequited love so beautifully sad? When women are sad about being in the friend zone, it’s hardly ever even acknowledged that that is indeed what they’re complaining about. That’s part of why the rhetoric is so one-sided against men: Women, according to how we talk about it, can’t even be friend zoned, so they can never complain about it, so they can never be mercilessly judged over it the same way guys are.

This is going back to the whole “human empathy and shared experiences” thing, but I have no idea how this notion became so popular. It’s only ever “Nice Guys” who complain about this because . . . the patriarchy making them entitled or something. Girls/Women complain about this all the fucking time. Just as much as guys do.

I was a teenager once. I had platonic friends. I was in love with one of them (“in love” the way an eleven-year-old girl is, anyway) for the entirety of middle school. That glossed-over, aforementioned lesbian crush I had once? Friend zoned. And I was devastated by that: I wept in a corner on my bed for two hours once because she told me that I was “such a good friend.” I was rethinking my sexuality for that girl, and as far as she was concerned, I was “a good friend.” What, I wasn’t worth being in a relationship with? I wasn’t good enough for her? I loved her and it wasn’t even enough for her to notice. I eventually got over it and moved on with my life–as you do–but for a while I felt utterly horrible. I can imagine that it’s the same for anyone–man or woman, gay or straight–who has ever been hit with a particularly brutal case of “friend zoning,” but people just don’t care. If you complain about it, you’re the asshole in the situation (unless you’re the woman, in which case you’re endearingly naive instead), and that’s it.

This is a human emotion. Not just “Nice Guys.” Here’s a montage of songs about unrequited love between friends, guys and girls:

Drew talks to me, I laugh ’cause it’s so damn funny. That I can’t even see anyone when he’s with me. He says he’s so in love, he’s finally got it right, I wonder if he knows he’s all I think about at night. He’s the reasons for the teardrops on my guitar . . .

YOU, you got what I need . . . But you say I’m just a friend. But you say I’m just a friend . . .

I’m the one who wants to be with you. Deep inside I hope you’ll feel it too.

Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?

‘Cause she wears short skirts. I wear T-shirts. She’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers. Dreaming ’bout the day when you wake up and find that what you’re looking for has been here the whole time. If you could see that I’m the one who understands you, been here all along so why can’t you see? You belong with me . . .

From the moment I wake to the moment I sleep. I’ll be there by your side. Just you try and stop me, I’ll be waiting in line. Just to see if you can. Oh, did you want me to change? Well, I’ll change for good.

It’s been three years since I’m knockin’ on your door, and I still can knock some more. Ooh girl, ooh girl, is it feasible?

The girl he wants don’t seem to want him too . . .

That’s also ignoring all of the Disney Channel sitcoms that banked off of unrequited love as one of the main emotional elements of the show (Lizzie MacGuire for the girl with the crush, and Kim Possible for the guy, comes to mind). Then there are the legions of romance novels and romantic comedies centered around the notion of a woman trying to win the heart of her guy friend, or switch it around and have the woman realize that she loves her guy friend. And these are things that women consume and eat up because they think it’s sweet and romantic. Women are the ones shoveling out money to buy these products, not “Nice Guys” and not patriarchal men. And it’s women who create those products in the majority of cases because they think it’s romantic too, and they rightfully think other women will think it’s romantic. So if you’re going to complain about the friend zone, maybe you should acknowledge that.

Unrequited love with a friend is a thing that many, many people experience. It just doesn’t make sense to demonize the ever-loving hell out of it like some “enlightened” thinker without the ability to realize that not everyone can be as in control of their emotions as you are. Having emotions is not bad. Having selfish emotions is not bad. It’s being unable to deal with them that causes problems not the mere existence of a thought or mentality.

I’m against the championing of romantic love above all kinds of other love. That’s what Fabio-covered romance novels and lowest-common-denominator chick-flicks do. It’s the main reason I detest the string of Young Adult novels like Twlight and I am Number 4 that has “at first sight true wuv” be the best, most powerful thing in the universe. That’s why I really wish English would take a cue from ancient times and get different words for different kinds of love so as to leave out all the confusion. What makes romantic love any better than paternal love or love between siblings or, yes, love between friends? Nothing. It’s not better. It’s not stronger. It’s not more pure.

But sometimes that’s just the kind of love you want.  And when it’s not what you get, that’s hard to deal with. If all love was the same, there wouldn’t be any need for the distinctions, but it’s not. Love from a friend is different than love from a romantic partner, and while one isn’t better than the other, they’re just not the same thing. You don’t feel the same way about friends as you do about your significant other, even though both of those things can be described as love and both of those relationships can be fulfilling in their own ways. Why don’t we just totally eschew romance for a moment to get away from all this entitlement talk?

How about friends? Have you ever been best friends with someone only to find out that, while they’re your best friend, you are not theirs? It’s a punch in the gut. How about parents? I’m from a single parent household. My mom is around, but my grandmother paid the bills and took me places. I know that my mom was (and still pretty is) constantly insecure about her children loving their grandmother like a mom instead of her. How about siblings? Every single only child I’ve ever met has been jealous about not getting that “special bond” people have with siblings, and I also know plenty of people who are legitimately sad that they and their siblings don’t seem to have that “brotherly love” that they’re supposed to have.

And how about relationships? When my high school boyfriend broke up with me (for possible “racist dad forbidding the relationship” reasons), he still wanted to be friends and hang out. And while I was all for parting on good terms, I did not want to continue hanging around him in a situation where neither of us could move, where I wanted something that I couldn’t get. It’s uncomfortable for everyone involved. It’s emotionally painful to be around someone who you have to pretend to not want “that way” and stifle what you actually feel for them, and I didn’t want to deal with that. I didn’t want a friend.

I already had friends. I didn’t need anymore friends. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like him. It didn’t mean I didn’t respect him. It just wasn’t what I wanted. People want things from people, that is why they interact. And when they choose to interact more extensively with a person, it’s because they have a goal in mind. I’m not saying that people actively plan out what they want their relationships to be like with everyone around them and actively pursue that. But if things don’t go how you expected or anticipated, disappointment is normal, no matter what that expectation was. I’m sure he was disappointed that I didn’t want to still hang out every weekend. Two people coming together with two vastly different expectations for how the relationship is going to work out is bound to end in at least one party disappointed.

Yearning for a specific kind of relationship with someone who does not have a mutual yearning does not make you a bad person. It does not make you entitled by default. Some people are, but people feel the way they feel. It’s not them telling themselves that they’re entitled to that relationship. If being sad about not having something is an indication that you feel entitled to it by default, well, I guess we’re all entitled bastards. It can be seen as selfish, but emotions are selfish things. Why single out this one instance of it and act like it’s the worst thing ever?

I don’t like throwing around the term “just friends” because it implies that there’s something better, but you’re not there. There are plenty of people who are in platonic relations who are perfectly happy with being friends, no “just” about it, and that’s the end of the story. I’m among those people. But beings “just friends” doesn’t mean that you don’t value your friendship with the person, that you’ve dehumanized them into something that you want to have sex with and you just don’t give a fuck about them other than that possibility of sexual interaction. Most people who are in the friend zone stay in the friend zone specifically because they value their friendship with that other person and don’t want to mess it up by trying to break out of the zone and asking them out on an actual date. So the idea that people who complain about it aren’t valuing their relationship with the object of their affection doesn’t make sense. It’s essentially because they value their positive relationship with that person that they’re stagnating in self-pity over being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

So is the friend zone bad? Yes. Of course, yes. It exists, firstly. And it is bad.

It’s not bad because it makes you an entitled bastard who doesn’t respect women (or whoever else) and who only wants sex from them and doesn’t appreciate their friendship. It’s bad because it doesn’t let anyone move on from the situation. There’s a reason so many of the songs in that above montage are Taylor Swift lyrics–being stuck in the friend zone is something that resonates with teenagers.

I’m not saying that adults don’t get friend zoned. They get friend zoned all the time. But wallowing in it is what teens do. It’s immature, and it’s immature for both parties involved. Bob, stop trying to date Alice, she’s not interested. Alice, make it clear to Bob that it ain’t gonna happen. This silent angst is good for no one. You can only hopelessly pine after someone for so long before it starts getting sad. Unrequited love is not meant to be wallowed in and perpetuated. Romance stories–written and consumed mainly by grown women, to repeat that point–make it seem sweet and romantic. Aw, he/she never stopped loving them. He/she never gave up! Love found a way! But real life is not a paper back romance novel, and you’ve got to move on. That’s why it’s bad. It stops people from pursing other things in favor of wallowing in self-pity.

Then, of course, you have the very American need to root for the underdog and have a “Happily Ever After” ending no matter what. Feminists will insists that “the geek getting the girl” stories are all about male power fantasies and entitlement to relationships, but they totally forget to mention that their are just as many geek-girl-gets-the-dream-guy stories and movies as there are Seth Rogen movies where the geek guy gets the girl. Americans like seeing happy endings, and they like rooting for underdogs to achieve their dreams. It doesn’t really matter who that underdog is, male or female.

There’s, of course, the fact that human beings are shit at dealing with emotions. When I got friend zoned by my lady friend (who I am still close friends with, by the way–I got over it, like I said), I felt worthless. I loved someone, but I wasn’t worth being loved back. That’s how I felt. And when someone is made to feel that way, they can lash out. A lot. Sometimes they call the person who friend zoned them bad names because that person made them feel horrible about themselves. You lash out at people who make you feel like shit. That’s what people do. So I really do not think that saying mean things about the girls who are “just friends” with them is something that you can judge a guy’s character on. I just don’t think you can. People put their foot in their mouth when they’re mad and sad at the same time, trying to justify how things worked out. They’re being immature for not being able to deal with their feelings in a constructive manner (both in confessing romantic affection and in dealing with perceived rejection), but you can’t really call them anything else until you know more.

Still pining after someone who just wants you as a friend is immature. And you may not be dehumanizing the person of your affection, but you’re not really being honest with them either. And if you love them, they at least deserve honesty. And you owe it to yourself and them to move on with your life. They don’t have to be with you, but you don’t have to be with them either. Let it go. Stop being “just friends,” and just be friends, for your own sake, not just theirs. Or stop hanging out. That’s a perfectly acceptable option as well.

If we continue to write off every single person who goes through the friend zone, that misses the point and is severely lacking in human empathy. If we look down our noses at all men who talk about it, point and laugh at them because they clearly don’t respect women and deserve our scorn; if we shake our heads and smile condescendingly at the women who still pine after a man like they’re teenagers, so young and idealistic that we don’t want to burst their bubble just yet; that is bad.

It’s bad because there’s no quality control. We group sad, lonely people who just don’t know what to do, people who love someone who doesn’t love them back–and we put them together with sexist and misogynists and “Nice Guys” like they’re all the same thing. We tell them that they’re bad, mock-worthy people for daring to be open about their feelings for someone else, unrequited as they may be.

We mock all of them, tell them their problem doesn’t really exist, and call them bad people for not being able to help feeling a certain way about someone. And then we miss all of the douchbags and assholes in the world who actually are that bad. The ones who actually do just feel entitled to the affection of whoever they put the cross hairs on at the moment.

You actually need to do a spot check every now and again, guys.


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