The friend zone sucks.
I'm not talking about being stuck in it. I'm talking about the way men use the phrase to marginalize a woman's desires and attempt to subvert female agency.
Don't get me wrong. People of every gender and orientation have to cope with being friends rather than romantic partners with the object of their desire all the time, and it's perfectly reasonable to be a little miffed when this happens. What I want to talk about is the way that people (mostly straight males) use the phrase "friend zone" to subtly abuse female agency and relegate women to strictly romantic/sexual roles.
When a guy says he's stuck in the friend zone he's turning friendship into a consolation prize; a second-best option. This shows that he may not actually value friendship with women, or that he sees the deep, personal connection that comes with both friendship and a relationship simply as a means to the end of physical relations. If he describes being friends with a person as being “stuck”, then it sure sounds like he doesn’t actually want to be friends with that person. Men who use the term “friend zone” in this way are therefore revealing that women, to them, are prizes to be won rather than equals with whom close, platonically intimate relationships are possible.
And then there's the specific manifestation of the friend zone that says, “I’m stuck in the friend zone while the guy she’s with is crap.” He’s not just insulting the woman’s boyfriend but her judgment, too. Perhaps without even realizing it, he is very subtly saying, “I know what’s best for you, and you can’t make good relationship decisions by yourself. I say that I’m the best choice for you.” At no point does he consider her agency, her authority over her existence. He discounts her desire as secondary to his own.
Ever heard this one?
“Hey, ladies, there are still good guys out there. You’ve just pushed them all into the friend zone!”
At the same time as discounting the woman’s judgment, this phrase also betrays some level of bitterness about being a “good guy,” as if the just reward for putting in the time as a “good guy” is a sexual relationship. This sentiment makes being a polite and decent person seem like a strategy for getting women in bed rather than a good way to carry oneself through life. When a guy says, “Man, I was even a nice guy and she still blew me off,” it sounds a lot like he isn’t actually a nice guy, but was employing a façade to get a woman to like him.
Further, say someone goes into an interview for a code-writing job. The interviewer asks, “Which programming languages do you know?” and the applicant says, “None, but I’m a good guy!” The rest of the interview goes the same way:
“What course work did you do towards computer science?”
“I was a Biology/English double major, but I assure you I’m the nicest guy you’ll ever meet!”
“I’m sure you are. What experience do you have with code-writing or programming?”
“Not much of any, but I’m a nice guy!”
Do you think this guy is getting the job, despite being, at his insistence, the nicest guy in the world? Probably not.
The same goes for relationships.
Most women are not looking for the same things as this interviewer (and maybe knowledge of programming languages gets some as hot as a horny volcano), but a man needs to be more than nice. He has to share mutual interests, have a uniquely charming personality, be funny to his beloved’s sense of humor, or even dislike the same things.
Guys, before blaming a woman for not appreciating your insistence to open doors for her, ask yourself what you actually have to offer to a relationship. Being nice isn’t actually a mutual interest and indicates no actual depth of character. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be nice. Being nice is fantastic! But you also have to be interesting in a way that’s attractive to the woman you want.
And that last bit about being interesting in a way that’s attractive to a particular person is vital. If you are defined by your simultaneous love for the Baltimore Ravens and Star Wars, then don’t get pissy because the girl you like, who has no interest in either of these things, doesn’t want to date you. Sure, be miffed that she doesn’t like your first two loves, but do not discount her taste as inferior. That’s just you rationalizing around the fact that you might bear some of the responsibility for her not finding you attractive.
Don’t despair, though! There’s probably someone out there who will love your Ray Lewis/Han Solo slash fiction as much as you do.
Therefore, guys, the very first thing you should consider when you find a woman attractive is whether you would actually want to be friends with her. It’s fine if you find that you don’t. We can’t all be friends. Just don’t blame her for pushing you into a zone in which you had no desire to find yourself in the first place. Don’t find yourself in a position where you feel the need to use friendship (one of the richest, most rewarding phenomena of the human experience) in your misogynistic rhetoric.