Purely platonic; what is the ‘friend zone’, and how to avoid it!

Friends out hiking

A popular term in many a millennial’s vernacular; the ‘friend zone’ is a 21st century phrase with a longstanding pedigree. It’s also something that shouldn’t be taken lightly; wanting more than a friendship can be a frustrating predicament. Here we step into the friend zone for a closer gander, and ponder the best way to escape its torpor.

What is the friend zone?

With a name that sounds more like a feature you’d find on a social media site, it’s worth picking apart what’s meant when the ‘friend zone’ is being batted about. Essentially, it’s a fairly uncomplicated concept to get your head around; it describes the all-too-familiar situation encountered by two friends where there’s a distinct mismatch in romantic feelings.

Taking inspiration from Jeremy Nicholson, Psychology Today’s resident ‘attraction doctor’, the friend zone is all about disparity1. The stateside psychologist reckons that there are a few scenarios where friendships can be put under duress by unmet desires.

More often than not, the most common expression of the friend zone is when one half of a platonic partnership longs to be ‘more than just friends’ – and these urges aren’t reciprocated. Less frequently, ‘friends with benefits’ who’re already engaged in a sexual relationship can be frustrated too when one half wants to form an emotional bond.

Breaking out of the friend zone…

If you find yourself in the friend zone (or think that your buddy might harbour feelings you can’t return), how do you go about broaching the topic? Like anything that involves emotions, it’s not an easy matter to bring up. Nonetheless, there are a few ways to make amends.

Valuing what you’ve got

This point may seem counterintuitive if you want your friend to take it to the next level. However, it’s a really crucial thought to reconcile before pushing for anything else. Essentially, could you run the risk of destroying a brilliant friendship by pushing for something your friend doesn’t want? Weigh this up before you start placing demands on them (asking yourself whether it’s the right choice won’t hurt either). If you feel your friend might be angling for romance, make your position clear so they know where you stand.

Create some space

There’s nothing more damaging to relationship building that stifling the person you want to be with. And when you’re in the friend zone, it’s very easy to overlook the fact you could be spending too much time in each other’s company. Turn it down a notch or two. Not only will cooling things off give you a chance to assess your feelings, it could also make your friend revaluate what you mean to them. It could be that you’re filling a void for your friend that they’re not yet attuned to.

Veritas sine timore

The Romans were a virtuous old bunch when they spoke (perhaps a little less so in their actions!). Although this subhead comes across more like a stuffy school motto, its meaning is something we could all do with adhering to. ‘Truth without fear’ is a useful principle if you find yourself in the friend zone. Telling your friend how you feel about them shows integrity, honesty and trust. If they truly are a best mate they’ll be eager to find a workable solution, romantically or not.

Don’t kowtow

It’s very easy to pander to a friend’s every whim if you want them to fall in love with you. Whilst you may do this with the best intentions in mind, it only widens the gulf between your emotions. Overly attentive behaviour whiffs of trying too hard, something that’s renowned for being an unattractive quality. Being servile puts you in a position of inequality too; neglecting your needs at someone else’s expense is unhealthy and can easily breed bitterness. In the end this will only cause a rift.

Be independent

Independence is a laudable quality that any prospective partner will admire. Demonstrating that you’re your own person is a sure-fire way to break out of the friend zone. Deciding what’s best for you (and following through with it) is a massive shot in the arm for your self esteem. Having confidence in your own judgement and taking the reins are two characteristics people are drawn to. Neediness, especially when directed towards someone you’re trying to woo, will only scupper your chances of getting closer.

Avoid manipulating

There’s a tendency for people in the friend zone to try and be a bit artful in order to persuade their chum to step it up a gear. There are reams of articles online that suggest it’s worth engineering an environment where your friend comes round to the idea of being romantically involved. Whilst this technique might seem appealing (and work in some instances), it’s founded on dishonesty. Ask yourself whether you’d like to found a relationship on deceit. If the answer’s negative, open up and be frank! Sometimes letting go is necessary, but you have to try and see this as a step forward (as hard as it may be).

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About the author: Alex Rennie

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