Entering The Dreaded Friendzone

The Zone

When joey told Ross that he is the “mayor of the friendzone” , little did he know that the city is going to be so populated!

The official origin of the term “ friendzone”  is subject to much anticipations yet the alleged popular incarnation of this global youth phenomenon goes out to  the 90’s TV series “FRIENDS”.

The official description of “friendzone” (Yes! It has an official description now)  according to oxford living dictionaries [1] is “A situation in which a friendship exists between two people, one of whom has an unreciprocated romantic or sexual interest in the other.” To modify the jargon to suit the present notions on “friend zoning” : It is the “unwanted but inevitable” friendship that exist between two “not meant to be together” individuals” when one “unlucky” party gets romantically interested in the other party. The term has become an epitome of tragicomedy, and is now being used in more in more in context of love, likings and friendship.

Friendzone Interest.png

[This plot shows the popularity of the term in Google Searches worldwide from 2004 onwards, 100 is most popular and other numbers are relative]

The age we all are living in is, to a  great extent, obsessed with the idea of “having the special someone” in life. A significant number of us are obsessed with social media photos, hangouts, memes, a fulfilling, worth telling and hence quite naturally sometimes, worth flaunting love story. So this obsession for “the special someone” may lead to the desperate, sometimes deliberate but rest of the time unconscious,  sometime aggressive but rest of the time passive search for that special someone. This path to intended joy is however, eclipsed by a number of factors, resulting into  unrequited love, estrangement or “the dreaded friendzone “. As the term “friendzone” has become quite common in pop culture, we travel deep into the friendzone to present some theoretical facts and experimental research for you so that you have a good tour!

Though it is possible that all kind of sexual roles and orientations are prone to the concept of friend zone, here we will discuss only the heterosexual relationships as we don’t have the capability to comment on other aspects. Also though girls can be friendzoned, it can be argued that boys are the major inhabitants, as we will discuss in the following supported by theory and experiments. Hence our analysis will be majorly focused on this scenario. However by no means we are trying to be insensitive to other aspects.

Entry Into The Zone

Bateman’s Principle: Bateman’s principle [2] is a principle of evolutionary biology which states that  that in a heterosexual setting, the sex which has to commit more resources for reproduction tends to be more choosy in the mates. In mammals, males produce millions of sperms easily for the reproduction. But for females, undergoing the cycle of reproduction is much more demanding, including 9 months of carrying another living being inside them and the lactation period afterwards. This is why, the lions have to fight it out to win over a lioness! These days the relationship or dating is much more beyond the reproduction, but proponents of evolutionary psychology (For a counter view see [3]) would say that being very selective in romantic relationships  amongst females is natural due to evolution. This is why, despite not all males being jerks, some friendzoning is inevitable due this selection process.

Bateman’s principle is also supported by a study done as late as in the year 2000 [4]. The authors of this study formed a hypothesis: “For men more than women, one function of an opposite-sex friendship is to provide sexual access to the opposite sex” They tested this hypothesis by forming four predictions i) Men will perceive the potential for sexual access to an opposite-sex friend as more beneficial than will women ii) Men will report experiencing unreciprocated attraction toward an opposite-sex friend more often than will women (this is a measure that they were trying harder than women, hence more unreciprocated responses!) iii) Men will report being denied sexual access to their opposite-sex friend more often than will women. iv) Men will perceive being denied sexual access to their opposite-sex friend as more costly than will women. Three of these four predictions had positive statistical significance! The last one was inconclusive, men expressed same costliness on being denied sexual access to the opposite sex friend as women.

If we think about the societal norms of monogamy around us, friendzoning is inevitable as “many to one” mapping  of liking can’t really be converted to “one to many” mapping of commitments and romantic reciprocity. Even if one possesses all the desirable traits and despite certain amount of liking from the other side, it is logical that prior commitments or similar proposal from others limits their chances of converting from a friend to a romantic partner. This is bound to happen and should they continue remaining friends, they are welcomed into the friendzone!

Nice Guys Do Not Finish Last

Now that we have discussed what friendzone is and how friendzoning is inevitable at times. There are many prevalent myths in our popular culture, which are sometimes very dangerous for young minds. One very common myth in popular culture is that the friendzoning occurs because “nice guys finish last”. Nice guy here is supposed to mean as per traditional metrics: kind, emotionally sensitive, respectful, caring about others etc. This is to assuage the cognitive dissonance by portraying one’s own self as the ideal/best candidate possible and sometimes putting blame on the other person for the rejection of romantic proposal.  Basically “nice guy” is just a decent human being! As per this myth, women prefer “jerks” who will not treat them as nicely, who are flirtatious, slightly arrogant and demeaning but maybe physically more attractive and sexy.

We are going so bold as to call this a “myth” because it has been debunked in many studies. In one study [5], women were presented with three almost identical dating profiles of “Nice Todd”, “Neutral Todd” and “Jerky Todd” with subtle hints which described their niceness as per traditional metrics. Guess what? “Nice Todd” was preferred twice over “Neutral Todd” and eight times over “Jerky Todd”! Traditional nice qualities were associated with not only great friends but steady boyfriends and good marriage prospects. Though this study also cautioned that “nice guys” can be perceived as intelligent but less assertive, but as the results show, they are preferred for long term relationships. There are other studies [6] which show that “nice guys” may be perceived sexually less experienced and even  less attractive, but their commitment levels are higher and hence they receive more interest for committed relationships.

Why This Article ?

The perceived notions related to Friendzoning in popular culture may lead to negative consequences. A particularly disturbing one, sometimes, is the inherent sexism attached to the term, where perceptibly it is the girl’s fault in putting someone into the friend zone. This can lead to the sense of entitlement that kindness or niceness deserves or must be rewarded with a romantic relationship. Remember that if one is being nice with ulterior motives, one is not nice in the first place!  When this pop culture fed expectation is not fulfilled, which is more natural as we tried to argue through this article, this can lead to, sometimes, violence being unleashed on both sides. We have heard of acid attacks, sexual violence and suicide attempts for failed romantic attempts. (We are not trying to say that all of this has the roots in this phenomenon, but this does lead to bitterness and hence it needs to be addressed, as we tried here). In more passive forms, sometimes, the person who is friendzoned stops his usual kind or nice attitude and either turns negative towards the person or ends the friendship completely. Sometimes, the person who is friendzoned turns really bitter or sometimes gets really depressed, harming his own self in the process. The negative connotations attached to this term may sometimes make it hard for someone to exercise their autonomy of decision making in romantic advances.

What we  would like to emphasize in the end is that this process is inevitable and natural as we argued. Really it’s no one’s fault! No denying the fact that it sucks when you are friendzoned because your romantic advances are not reciprocated. However, in the current world where real and good friends are hard to come by, maybe Friendzone is the place you are most needed! Take it positively and we daresay, be a proud citizen of Friendzone 😉



[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bateman%27s_principle

[3] G.R. Brown, K.N. Laland and M.B. Mulder, “Bateman’s Principle and Human Sex Roles”, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 294, 297 (2009)

[4] A.L. Bleske and D.M. Buss, “Can Men and Women be just Friends?”, Personal Relationships, 7, 131 (2000)

[5] G.C. Urbaniak and P.R.  Kilmann, ”Physical attractiveness and the “nice guy paradox”: Do nice guys really finish last?  Sex Roles, 49, 413 (2003)

[6] E.S. Herold and R.R. Milhausen, ”Dating preferences of university women: An analysis of the nice guy stereotype. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 25, 333 (1999)


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