A misconception about “friend-zoning,” and what can be done

I recently read a post about the dreaded “friend zone” and saw some genuinely caustic remarks from both men and women about they are tired of hearing this term.  One man said the old refrain of women are not “just machines you can put a few tokens in and hope sex comes out.”  While this is a truism, these gripes and calls to stop using this term and it’s more aggravating related “family zone” slang actually raises a counter argument few want to consider:

This isn’t about sex; it’s about a sense of frustration with people going after the “wrong” instead of the perceived “right.”

Let’s face it; we all make this mistake at some point.  There’s that man or woman who we befriend, get to know and, somehow, absolutely fall head over heels for and take a chance on pursuing it.  For whatever reason, the feeling just isn’t mutual.  Whether it is as basic as a lack of physical attraction, a deep seated fear of wrecking a good friendship, or something  much deeper which makes a relationship impossible, one thing is certain.  This situation absolutely sucks. 

It’s a perfect lesson of “life’s not fair,” but fairness is still essential in one regard, and this is a matter which many who are tired of hearing the term “friendzone” don’t want to admit.

It’s not about sex; it’s about feelings.

Let’s be real; if a so-called “friend zone” situation was just about sex, it wouldn’t hurt near as much.  It would be a mere ego bruise; yes, a deep one in some cases, but still just ego.  The reason these situations hurt is that emotions, however misguided, have been invested.  Yes, said emotions can border on obsession, and sometimes people have a right to be nervous about the person whose unreturned affections have become stronger than expected, but in most cases, the person who was “relegated” figures out a way to deal with it, even if that means being whiny about it or removing themselves from their beloved life for a while.  Pop culture can spin it all they want; a genuinely painful friend zone experience is not about sex.  Making it about sex is little more than a tacit dismissal of the validity of someone’s feelings, and often that’s a defense mechanism to assuage guilt or anger at oneself.

Sorry to say it, but we all do that.  If you need proof, just remember how badly you bad mouthed that ex from your last really bad breakup.  You likely bitched about him or her to your buddies or girlfriends.  They were the devil incarnate.  Your BFF was likely ready to throat punch them when it was all said and done but, eventually, you burned through those emotions like a fire in a paper factory.  It’s human nature and everyone who’s been hurt does it.

There is, however, a huge difference between a “friend zone” and a break up.  In a breakup, there was a relationship of some sort which had a romantic element.  In a “friend zone,” somehow a seed of expectation was planted in the mind of the heartbroken.  That expectation is never realized, and it causes an emotional reaction due to rejection.  Whether it was justified by the actions of their beloved or a delusion of sorts, the heartbreak is the direct result of this unrealized expectation.  There is one other thing we all need to face (those who have suffered the friend zone bug recently really should pay attention here):  being “friend zoned” is, at a fundamental level, rejection.  No amount of rationalization or justification can dismiss this.  Still, rather than statement of moral judgment, it is simply defining the core issue, that many friendzone heartbreaks are actually not the result of the lack of attraction, but a much deeper issue – the insecurities triggered by this feeling of rejection. 

For those of you tired of feeling “judged” for “friendzoning” someone, it’s time to face an uncomfortable truth:  there are expectations leading to the feelings of rejection which can, in fact, be created by the person doing the rejecting.  Regardless of how much one denies “leading them on,” sometimes a behavior by the rejecting person creates the expectation, however unintentional .  It could be something as simple as habitually flirtatious behavior, or something as easily misread as an invitation to dinner.  That seed of expectation, if identified early, can be corrected to preserve the friendship prevent an awkward or painful situation.  One other thing to consider; those are well aware of their behaviors, whether it is the rejected or the one rejecting,  tend to become most defensive when called out about it.  This is not to say someone should apologize, but a means to understand the “why” of the heartbroken – granted, some folks have conditioned  themselves, out of necessitiy, to be dispassionate towards those whose hearts they break, but that comes with this territory.

Let’s be clear about one thing before going any further; this is not giving those who disrespect rejection a free pass.  Being hurt is one thing; griping to friends or family is natural and a part of life, but to retaliate in any way which causes physical harm to the rejecting party, or causes them fear of such, is not acceptable.  Those who engage in this sort of behavior need to seek immediate help.  Those who are heartbroken and considering self harm as from rejection also need to seek help.

Regardless of what people may think, those who choose to cope by talking to friends and family, even if it means complaining about the situation, or the person involved, are doing something which is quite healthy.  It is a means of humanizing the person for whom an unhealthy or unrealistic expectation was centered around.  Sometimes it means distance and isolation from that friend, but one fact remains, and it’s one which people who are tired of hearing this term need to come to grips with; a real “friendzoning” is not about sex, but genuine heartbreak.  Sadly, in the extreme case, the friendship must be ended for both parties own good.

To those who have been on the “zoning” end, do you and your friend a few favors, especially if you truly respect them and your friendship.  Give yourselves both time and healthy space to heal.  Show you care, but be detached enough that you can explain things in a healthy, compassionate way which doesn’t reopen the wound.  If that person can’t get you out of their head, encourage them to seek help or, at the least, ask mutual friends to help out.  Also, be gentle, understanding and forgiving.  That friend is suffering a deep wound, and it often takes a long time to heal because their confidence has been shattered.  Above all, never talk to them about your romantic or sex life.  That’s literally akin to giving a suicidal person a loaded gun with the safety removed.  Let them heal, be supportive (even if at a distance) and please remember the prime rule of karma; what goes around does come around. You’d want that friend to be just as caring and tender with you, right?

I’m no expert.  Just speaking from experience, and I hope this helped out a few folks who are either suffering with rejection to struggling with the “why me” question about how someone can feel that way about you when you don’t feel the same way.  The heart wants what it wants but, fortunately, that feeling is often fleeting, even if that fleeting moment lasts longer than expected.  Remember, what you put out is what you get back.  If you put out respect, caring and tenderness, it ultimately gets returned.

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