It's time to let go of the friend-zone myth

Stop being in denial.

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Complex Original

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Ducky from Pretty in Pink. Steve Urkel from Family Matters. Roger from Sister, Sister. Randy from the Scream franchise. Ser Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones.

These are just a few of pop culture’s many victims of the "friend zone"—an unscalable barrier of unrequited love that exists in some male-female relationships. It’s where gluttons for punishment are doomed to eternal torture. It’s where snakes masquerade as sensitive guys to try and finesse their way into girls’ pants.

It's also perpetuated by childishness.

Friend-zone situations typically play out as follows: Guy likes girl; girl doesn’t like guy on the same level; guy waits in the wings by being girl's friend; angst may or may not ensue.

But the friend zone is really an invisible threshold that exists in the minds of those too immature to accept that platonic friendships between the sexes can and do exist, as well as those simply in denial (some people just aren’t into you like that). The entire concept is fueled by youthful ignorance; it's something people should grow out of—unless they want to treat adolescent rhetoric like it’s holy scripture well into adulthood.

Blind optimism leaves some guys hoping for the day their feelings are reciprocated, like in some teen-movie miracle. Others reenact Drake’s "Marvins Room," posing as the "nice guy" despite having intentions no purer than their rivals. Other, more extreme situations have women stiff-arming dudes into friendship, fully aware that these savages would f*ck them at the first opportunity.

But let’s call a spade a spade: The common denominator, here, is a one-sided scenario in which one person wants more—be it affection, sex, or both—than the other. 

Our formative years serve as a process of natural selection: As we grow, people develop more concrete ideas about who they are and are not attracted to. During my high-school, undergrad, and early post-college years, I made a rule: It's cool to be friends with someone of the opposite sex, but don’t be a friend-zone dude. No one wants to be that guy because that guy has zero chance—girls write him off as a "nope" almost instinctively. And since the odds are stacked against that guy, there's a strong possibility that he'd whisper poison into your girl’s ear to sabotage your current or potential relationship à la Bryson Tiller.

By my mid-20s, I found myself in a different position: being introduced as a "friend" to the new boyfriends of girls I had dated or otherwise messed around with in the past. This created slightly awkward (and sometimes slightly amusing) situations at assorted birthday dinners and housewarming parties. But during these gatherings, I’d often wonder if we’d still be doing the same thing in our 30s. What happens when the boyfriends shooting me distrustful looks become husbands? Will their wives and I still be friends then? Considering how these girls—and even my strictly platonic girlfriends—were occasionally prone to going AWOL whenever they entered new relationships, I arrived at a conclusion: Our friendships were real, but had expiration dates on them. 

But as you get older, you realize that interactions between men and women don’t require so many moving parts; that attraction to someone doesn't equal compatibility; that casual sex can be dangerous (unless both parties are on the same page) because you have less time to waste; that men and women can only want friendship from each other.

as you get older, you realize that interactions between men and women don’t require so many moving parts.

These days, I have friendships with women who aren’t governed by some invisible hourglass or the insecurities of whoever they’re dating. What I appreciate most about them is their willingness to be honest with me. I'm usually the brazenly frank friend, but I also need these people in my life to keep me in check; I respect and value their jarring and sometimes humbling honesty more than any praise. They aren't my "sisters"; they're my friends—no asterisks or addendums necessary.

These bonds are beautiful because they've helped us shed any lingering cynicism about platonic relationships between men and women. Just as I’m no longer convinced that our friendships will inevitably end over jealous significant others, they’ve stopped believing that every guy who befriends them has ulterior motives. In fact, one female friend told me that her most recent relationship ended in large part due to her then-boyfriend's suspicion about her male friends. 

Those who still believe in the friend zone as adults are victims of arrested development. They’re still mentally confined to high school, either because that's when they peaked, or because those dark days inspired them to escape from romantic purgatory (like how Bruce Wayne escapes from Bane’s prison in The Dark Knight Rises). The latter isn’t impossible: Urkel eventually ended up with Laura Winslow, and I’ve witnessed guys go from friend to boyfriend against all odds. 

Thanks to the enlightenment that comes with age, most adults no longer believe in the friend zone, and can accept that some people just aren't interested. And that's fine. Life doesn't end because someone isn't attracted to you, and every interaction between men and women doesn't need to be reduced to sex. Plus, it's better to have real friends than to roll the dice on something that might create an enemy if it sours.

The sooner we learn that, the better.

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