This week’s Daily Northwestern column.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us are probably thinking the same thing : Dating is hard.
And it is, especially in college. People who look for serious relationships (as opposed to casual dating or hookups) face plenty of challenges, such as jam-packed schedules, breaks away from campus, study abroad semesters, plenty of temptation, and, of course, the constant specter of graduation.
Some might say that friendship is another one of those challenges. The concept of the “friend zone” isn’t a new one. On UrbanDictionary.com, where it was the “Word of the Day” back in October 2011, “friend zone” is defined as “What you attain after you fail to impress a woman you’re attracted to. Usually initiated by the woman saying, ‘You’re such a good friend.'”
Despite the gendered definition that UD provides, I’ve heard both girls and guys claim that their crush rejected their advances because they were “just such a good friend” or because they “didn’t want to ruin the friendship.”
I think the friend zone concept is mostly bunk. First of all, the fact that many relationships do start off with the couple being good friends shows that friendship itself isn’t exactly a cold shower.
Second, the friend zone seems like a convenient (if well-intended) excuse that people use when a friend whom they see as nothing more expresses romantic interest. After all, it’s never pleasant to have to tell a good friend that, for whatever reason, you just don’t see them as boyfriend/girlfriend material. And often people might not know the reason for that lack of connection: Maybe they just didn’t click with the person, or there wasn’t chemistry, or whatever you want to call it.
In such a situation, it makes sense that someone would say something like, “I just don’t see you as more than a friend.” And it makes sense that the person they’re rejecting would conclude that the friendship is the problem.
But it’s not. The problem is the person just doesn’t like them that way.
Of course, some people do choose not to date a friend they have feelings for because they don’t want to jeopardize the friendship. However, such people are probably simply valuing friendship over romance for the moment, and that’s their choice — it doesn’t mean becoming their friend was a bad idea.
Sometimes the friend zone explanation arises when a person puts a lot of energy into being a good friend to someone they’re interested in and gets frustrated when their emotions aren’t reciprocated. Since humans are wired to find patterns, the natural assumption is that the friendship caused their crush not to like them back.
However, as important as it is, being a good friend doesn’t entitle you to someone’s romantic attention. In fact, nothing entitles you to that.
It makes me sad when I see advice columns in women’s magazines exhorting them not to act like good friends to the men they like for fear of getting “friend zoned.” These columns generally advise women not to do anything overly friendly, such as worrying about a guy’s health or listening to him talk about his problems. Caring actions like these might prompt the dreaded “You’re such a good friend” comment.
However, unless you’re looking for the most casual of flings, friendship first makes a lot of sense — it allows you to get to know the person well before getting too invested, it helps them understand your boundaries, and it allows you to make sure that both of you are looking for the same thing from each other.
Especially at our age, people vary a lot in terms of the sorts of sexual and/or romantic relationships they’re looking for. Some just want to hook up, some want to date several people, some want an exclusive partner until distance forces them to separate, and others are looking for something serious and long-term. Getting to know a potential partner as a friend first is a great way to prevent hurting each other when you discover that your goals diverge.
Besides, if it never develops into anything more, having a new friend never hurts anyone.
This Valentine’s Day, ignore the cliched advice and go with your gut. People are either going to like you, or they’re not. But they’re more likely to like you if you treat them well.