The Gang Gets Uncomfortably Personal


Taking a break from our regularly scheduled programing, this week we bring you a pseudo-feminist rant / bitchfest, in which Jacob recounts his romantic failures and generally struggles to maintain a sense of self-worth.

It is currently quite trendy for those of the feminist persuasion to be dismissive of the social phenomenon some men refer to as the Friend Zone. As I consider myself of that persuasion this creates something of a dilemma, as while I hate angry, entitled, bros as much as the next self-respecting leftist, I have myself had a long series unrequited crushes, infatuations, and more serious affections, many of which follow the basic pattern of the purported Friend Zone. The personal history is damning enough: nine times, dating back to around age 14, I have been romantically interested in a girl who did not return my feelings (to clarify: to my knowledge, no one has ever been romantically interested in me, what this has done to my sense of self-worth is a matter for another time). At least three of those nine exhibited strong Friend Zone characteristics, meaning that we were good friends prior to the development of my affections. While certainly not a singularity, I believe myself to be in something of a unique situation in this regard. In liberal circles much is made of the value of the perspectives of those who are marginalized – that oppression must be understood from the inside out. While my situation is certainly not one of systemic repression, I would like to suggest that a similar principle can apply. Just as the fact that white people don’t feel themselves to be racist does not mean that racism does not exist, the fact that women don’t believe that they create and maintain a Friend Zone does not mean that such a thing is not happening. Obviously, no comparison should be implied between the severity of these examples; they are similar qualitatively, not quantitatively. What follows is an attempt to describe the Friend Zone from the perspective of its recipients in such a way that one need not sacrifice one’s feminist principles to acknowledge its existence.

The first thing that must be said about the Friend Zone is that it is an overused term. The Friend Zone describes a status applies by women to men, not their actual lack of romantic interest, meaning that just because a woman is not romantically interested in a man does not mean that he has been “Friend Zoned.” What I am positing is that the actual Friend Zone amounts to the existence of a third gender in modern western society: an underclass of sexless males who are viewed as somewhere between children and eunuchs by their female friends. This designation is not institutionalized or even universally accepted, rather it is an effect of the expected sexual dynamic between men and women, namely that men instigate mating rituals and women respond to those instigations either positively or negatively. Consequently, men who tend not to instigate mating rituals are viewed by women as belonging to this third category, which the men, who possess all of the romantic urges of their more forward peers, resent utterly. The entire phenomenon can therefore be seen as a result of the rigidity of our socially conditioned gender roles (meaning that if we could all just get over our collective desire for males to be domineering we wouldn’t have this problem).

Some differentiation is in order between “Friend Zoning” and simple rejection. It should go without saying that a woman has every right to not desire or otherwise be interested in a man and nothing I am saying should be interpreted as an whiny, “meninist,” rant. The Friend Zone is a much more specific type of rejection, a categorical rejection akin to that of a heterosexual person rejecting the advances of a member of their own sex. The key difference between this example and what is being here described is that the Friend Zone gender/orientation is imposed rather than self-identified, meaning that the woman believes the man to be something that he is not, and rejects him, at least in part, out of confusion; i.e. she rejects him because she has never considered him a romantic possibility. This experience is quite disconcerting for the man because he believes, correctly in many cases, that the woman cares deeply about him and is interested in him as a person, qualities which, especially between two young, healthy, single, people, often preempt a romantic relationship.

The basic problem appears to be that for a man, a similar Friend Zone exists only for the highly unattractive and, in essence, every female friend is a potential romantic partner. Women, it seems, are much more selective, resulting in a situation where the average man is more romantically interested in the average woman than vice versa. Although there are certainly cultural reasons for this asymmetry of desire, it appears to be found throughout the animal kingdom (meaning that even if this particular piece of reality makes me want to go live in a cave and eat locusts, I just have to deal with it).

The close reader will have noticed by this point a critical flaw in my argument: a somewhat suspicious lack of evidence. I have done no interviews, collected no surveys, studied no statistics; I have only my own experiences to go on and it is entirely possible that I have misconstrued everything. Maybe those nine women had no interest in me for nine different, perfectly legitimate, reasons; maybe I smell funny and everyone is too embarrassed to tell me; maybe I exude some sort of weird anti-pheromone; maybe I have horns growing out of my head; god knows. A great many people, having been informed of my perennially single status, have presented their own version of 101 Ways For Jacob To Get Laid, and without fail I laugh it off. I can look around me well enough and observe that many, much stranger and more unpleasant, people than me can get a date. Aside from a profound uncomfortability with taking any sort of sexually aggressive stance, there is no one thing causing all of this. Which has led me to this conclusion, this understanding of the Friend Zone as a product of our rigid gender roles that demand that men be the aggressors. Aside from admitting to myself that I am just a shitty person who no one wants, I have no better explanation.