THE FRIENDZONE DOES NOT EXIST
Written by Emily Dudley
Despite its light-hearted beginnings in Gen Z memery as symbolic of unrequited love, the ‘friendzone’ has become an accusatory tool to undermine those who dare to reject the often uncomfortably persistent advances made by those who have pre-established platonic relationships with said rejector. In order to clarify that this is not an exclusively gendered issue (although most of the self-proclaimed residents of the friendzone are cis, hetero men), the imagined action of ‘friendzoning’ is used universally as a safety blanket to soothe the harsh sting of rejection that at some point saturates the love lives of pretty much every human being, ever.
Since the beginning of humankind, the dynamics of male/female relationships have been psychoanalysed to death in the most sickeningly heteronormative move since the 1950s model of the nuclear family. For some unfathomable reason — despite the progressive spaces which have been curated within twenty-first century society — binaries continue to plague us and, because of these, the intricacies and complexities of human relationships have been reduced to such juvenile concepts as single (if you are located anywhere from millennial to Gen Z you have been indoctrinated to think single = failure. Newsflash. It absolutely doesn’t.); taken (a term which aligns itself far too closely with a possessive tone for my liking); and finally the undetermined middle ground which encapsulates the infamous 'friendzone'.
Allow me to dismount from my oh-so-high horse for a minute. Through some empirical research within the realms of my male pals— all of whom consider themselves hardcore feminists— I have come to stand corrected. While I've been simmering in my rage over the ways straight men have weaponised the 'friendzone' to both inflict guilt on their rejector and simultaneously soothe their fragile egos as a metaphorical, yet highly problematic, burn balm, my friends have been utterly clueless. Clueless as to the danger it poses to not only women but to everyone, clueless as to how the 'friendzone' can negatively affect cultural and social boundaries, utterly clueless as to all the way in which this phrase perpetuates toxicity. Although by no means a reasonable excuse, it was a slight relief to discover that by large this issue is caused by naivety rather than an absence of moral care.
So if you want to be someone who ~gets~ it, listen in. Firstly, the 'friendzone' indisputably undermines the necessity of consent. It holds an implication that a "no" absent of a 'good reason' (truly the amount of times I've been obligated to give a 'good reason' for rejecting a prospective date means every time I hear those words strung together I have to fight an eye-roll) doesn't mean "no" at all, it means "not now". I refuse to go into every single thing wrong with this implication because I think it's fairly obvious but to be clear, *clears throat*...NO ONE IS ENTITLED TO ANOTHER PERSON'S BODY, MIND OR SOUL. NO CAN SIMPLY MEAN NO. WHY? BECAUSE WE DON'T WANT TO SAY YES.
Secondly, the whole concept and its rhetoric lends itself to the idea that a platonic relationship is secondary to a sexual or romantic one—as if the default nature between a man and a women is one of physical intimacy? And, not only does this ill-thought-out concept exclude the entire LGBTQ+ community, it normalises and preserves heteronormative ideas and stereotypes. By assuming that male/female relationships are automatically sexual yet never questioning the platonic relationships between two men or two women, society reinforces the toxic—and frankly homophobic—model in which women are presumed to be attracted to any man who shows interest and subsequently breeds male entitlement.
Finally, the direct connection that can be drawn between the imagining of a 'friendzone' and the perpetuation of rape culture is overt and deeply concerning. The 'blame and shame' strategy has been Rule#1 of the playbook for misogynists and bigots alike since the dawn of female exploitation. Semi-adjacent to my initial point about the 'friendzone' negating consent, being made to feel guilty or ungrateful shifts the accountability, and particularly in male/female dialogues completely removes a woman's agency to make her own fucking decisions. Damned if we do and damned if we don't is sadly the nauseatingly pervasive outcome for women living within the confines of a culture which doesn't condemn rapists but castigates the victims.
The 'friendzone' has become a dangerous addition to dating discourses, rooted in the systemic misogyny that characterises toxic masculinity and perpetuates the rape culture. Stop giving this dumb concept power, stop employing it as 'banter' and realise how such a seemingly simply phrase can contribute heavily to a harmful and unjust social space.
In the meantime, please enjoy these perfectly sarcastic commentaries on the simplicities of our dear pal, the 'friendzone'.