Though the term “unrequited love” already exists, a more popular phrase floating around these days for the phenomena of one member of a relationship wishing for a romantic connection while the other prefers to remain platonic is “the friend zone”/”being friendzoned.” At first blush, the change in terminology doesn’t seem all that problematic. It is a common human experience to be rejected or disappointed by romantic pursuits – and it is, of course, acceptable to express that angst and hurt when this happens.
It’s important to clarify that the problem here lies not in the term “friend zone” itself, but in the gendered expectations and poorly veiled misogyny that have developed surrounding it. To best illustrate what I am describing, I will point you to this image, one of the first that came up when I did an internet search on “the friend zone.”
There are many men who have the attitude seen above, that a male/female relationship only exists because the man finds her sexually or romantically attractive, and therefore a woman should act accordingly, i.e. behave as if she is being courted. This not only implies that men should only take interest in or provide kindness to a woman if she will provide sexual favors in return, but also vilifies women who exercise their right to reject a sexual advance or to maintain a personal relationship with a man in which they feel safe. Almost any man who complains about the friend zone will describe himself as a “nice guy” in the same breath as his vitriolic diatribe about about how stupid the women in his life are for not appreciating him in the way he would like, which says to me that simply being nice to women is something, in his mind, that should be rewarded and applauded.
Instead of advocating for “nice guys” who offer their friendship in return for sex and spew hate at the “friends” who don’t oblige, let’s encourage a shift in communication – one that is rooted in honesty, listening, and valuing one another. I shudder to think of the truly amazing and beneficial friendships that have been destroyed by this sense of entitlement – because, yes, as amazing as women’s bodies are, there is in fact more to them. As long as there is this stringent belief that men and women can only interact positively while one is pursuing the other, women will continue to be reduced to vending machines that deliver sex in exchange for compliments and support while men are wolves in sheep’s clothing whose motives must always be questioned. I think we can all do much better than that.