The Friendzone and Me

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



So, Nice Guys of OKC has shut down. For those of you who missed it, it was a tumblr posting screenshots of okcupid guys who claimed to be “nice,” then proving elsewhere in their profile that they were racist, homophobic, sexist, or otherwise assholish. The main legacy of the blog is inspiring a lot of posts (seriously, a lot) about the use of the term “friendzone.” According to Nice Guys of OKC, the mere use of the term precludes one from actually being nice.

Most posts on the topic rely on the “nice guy” stereotype. It looks like this:

1. You become attracted to a woman.
2. You are friendly to that woman in the hopes she will show you her vagina.
3. She mistakes your friendliness for friendliness and befriends you, neglecting to show you her vagina.
4. You act like a butthurt little asswipe, forever placing yourself firmly outside of the circle on the Venn diagram of dudes she will ever show her vagina to.
5. You complain about it on the internet, and 1000 other maladjusted bro-dudes go, “I know that feel,” and you are validated in your misogyny.

Like all stereotypes, some people fit it, and those people deserve the collective derision they’ve been receiving throughout the the internet for the past week or so. But, like all stereotypes, it unfairly lumps people together and makes a lot of assumptions based on very little information. In my mind, the view that use of the term “friendzone” implies all of that is a bit much. Wikipedia defines it as “a platonic relationship where one person wishes to enter into a romantic relationship, while the other does not.” Urban Dictionary, as it tends to, has a few more colorful definitions, some reflecting Wikipedia’s simple definition, some reflecting the Nice Guy stereotype.

I recently had a discussion about this on my friend Angie’s blog:

the term [friendzone] itself always made sense to me. Unrequited feelings suck, and hearing “let’s just be friends” from your crush sucks. To me, the “friendzone” often bespeaks entitlement both ways. Both sides seem to think that, if the other person weren’t such a jerk, THEY would be the one to dictate the terms of the relationship* (i.e. a sexual relationship vs. a platonic friendship), and the other person ought to acquiesce to their preference. To me, getting “put in the friendzone” is being forced into a category that I don’t want. I HATE being categorized, and I hate being assigned labels that come with arbitrary baggage.

It also makes sense because I always saw the “friend zone” as a different thing than just being friends. As many recent articles point out, if you’re complaining about being friendzoned, you’re not really a friend. But you’re not a lover. You’re occupying a strange friend-like place that has its own rules. I view it as a term akin to monogamish. It’s LIKE being friends, but not really.

Angie makes some really good points, so I encourage you to read the whole discussion.

I’m still figuring out how I feel about all of this, but I think a lot of my discomfort with the negative judgments going around is because I can envision a number of situations which I think are rather common where a man (in these articles, it’s always a man) gets friendzoned merely because of a miscommunication, and not out of anything more malicious or blameworthy than that.

Men and women tend to interpret signals differently. Men tend to interpret things as being far more sexual than women do. I can easily envision a situation where a man is behaving in a way that he believes is sending romantic/sexual messages, the female object of his affections interprets his signals as friendly. Then, she reciprocates, sending only friendly messages, but the man interpreting them as sexual or romantic. Then, when the rejection comes, both sides feel as if they have been misled and lied to, and may get angry and/or whiny. Textbook friendzoning.

In that situation, I see the parties equally at fault. They’ve both misinterpreted the other’s signals while being less-than-explicit about their own. However, I don’t think either party is feeling entitled or misogynistic. It’s just been a misunderstanding. The man’s anger isn’t because he’s owed sex. It’s because he feels like he’s been misled and used. In his mind, he was being obvious about his feelings, and the woman in question ignored his feelings and tried to force him into a relationship model that he didn’t want. He’s wrong, of course, but there’s nothing entitled or misogynistic about his view.

I don’t know. I haven’t heard the term “friendzone” much (though according to Wikipedia, it was coined by Friends, the worst show ever). Is it exclusively used by entitled douchebags? Is there a better word to use that means “wants to be friends, but not touch each other’s genitals”? Is it routinely accompanied by the type of entitlement and misogyny noted above?

*in the comment, I expanded on what I meant by “dictating the terms of the relationship”:

Each participant always and without exception has an absolute right to dictate what the relationship will NOT be. But inversely, neither participant has the right to dictate what the relationship IS. When I hear the term “friendzone,” I sort of automatically assume the dude (let’s face it, it’s always a dude) in question does not actually want to be friends. The presumption on his part is the he thinks the object of his affection is obligated to touch his naughty bits. The presumption on the other side, though, is the presumption that he wants to have a nonsexual relationship. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, but it’s not cool to assume that he does if that hasn’t been discussed.

7 thoughts on “The Friendzone and Me

  1. I think Guy Code has nearly an entire episode dedicated to explaining the “friend zone.” Also, it’s a good (imo) song by Ballyhoo! if you like a band that would be categorized as the love-child between Sublime and 311 (clearly I do). I’ve probably done this to a few guys without even realizing it. Some chicks are HUGELY oblivious to, well, everything. This is why I fall up the stairs. A lot. 🙂

  2. This is an awesome post, which I want to read a couple more times to make sure I get it all. Having said that, a couple of initial questions:

    1. Is it “friendzoning” someone if you there’s some sort of aspect of your own identity (ie, I’m in a monogamous relationship and not interested in polyamory, or, I’m gay and not interested in penis) that makes the friendzoned individual categorically not an option for vagina-showing?

    2. What if a person’s preference is to only have sex with friends? Is there a way to communicate that “right now, in this moment, I only know you enough to want to be friends” without making the person feel pre-empted or shoved in a category — or seeming like you’re leading them on (ie,” be my friend and later, sex!”)?

    also: Happy birthday, dude!

  3. Thanks! In response to your questions:

    1. I don’t see why not. To me, putting someone in the friendzone just means that you have different categories for people in your life, one of them is “nonsexual friend,” and that’s where you’ve categorized the person in question. I think a lot of my discomfort with this is that people seem to be implying some sort of malicious intent or blameworthiness to “friendzoning” someone, where I just see it as a fact of life.

    2. I think the best way to communicate that would be to say “right now, in this moment, I only know you enough to want to be friends. I may change my mind as I get to know you better, but maybe not.” People who here “not now, but maybe later” often feel led on, but those people haven’t actually been led on if the speaker was truly being honest. Their feelings of being led on are not really the speaker’s responsibility at that point. If you wanted to really cover your ass, you could always say “seriously, there’s a good chance that I’m never going to want to show you my vagina, so if that’s all your interested in, this isn’t going to work.”

  4. I think “friendzone” is used *predominantly* by douchebags with warped senses of entitlement. It’s the only context I’ve seen it in, at any rate, and I’ve had it lobbed at me by male friends who wanted to have sex with me, and repeatedly tried to convince me to have sex with them. When that failed, they resorted to (ineffectual) guilt-tripping. “I’ve been such a good person to you, and the only people you get into relationships with are assholes!” They apparently don’t feel like being gentlemen for the sake of being gentlemen if there’s no tangible reward involved (sex).

    . . . Nevermind that, you know, I married my best friend and had loved the hell out of him for years before we decided to mate and marry. How many guys did I “friendzone” by marrying my husband, with whom I first had a very intimate, devoted friendship? Suddenly I’m the asshole now for marrying him instead of going against my own feelings, needs, desires, and convictions — not to mention my husband’s — by fucking my other “friends” to pay them back for what should be common human courtesy? Especially after I was so blunt with everyone by saying “I’m not interested in having sex, in case that was on your mind”?

    I don’t think that *only* hetero men do it, of course. I’m sure women have inserted themselves in the “douchebag with warped sense of entitlement” role. Either way, it boils down to honesty, and if people were more honest about their intentions, needs, and desires, the world would be a far better place.

  5. Incidentally, I’m very sad that “Nice Guys of OKC” has been shut down. That site amused me endlessly. Personally, I think that shitty behaviour should be called out for what it is, and shamed like no one’s business. As discussed in the Aesthetics courses I took (namely, Ethics), “an individual can’t know what is ethical and what is not unless someone tells them ‘NO.’ ”

    When you treat women like chattel, when you demean LGBTQ persons or poly people, etc., and wish death on them, when you use your religious convictions as an excuse to be an asshole to other human beings with thoughts and feels, you should be (proverbially) tarred and feathered and paraded backwards on the back of a donkey through the town square. A little public shaming/wrist-slapping, when done correctly, can make even the dullest hatemonger aware of how their asshattery impacts others. And sometimes, Gods willing, they even learn to improve their behaviour. Or at the very least, they learn to keep it to themselves, and live and let live.

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