The two of you are the only ones left in the place. You’ve both lost track of time, and now the restaurant is closing. The waiter is wiping tables down and putting the chairs up all around you, the barman is cashing out the register, and you and your date are enclosed in a cozy, energetic little bubble. But as you’re gazing into each other’s eyes she says, “You’re a great guy. But I just want to be friends.”
You’re devastated. You thought it was going so well. She said she’s had a nice time, and she really did appear to have a nice time. You have similar interests, maybe even some friends in common. You think that maybe she’ll change her mind. So you swallow back your pain and say “OK.”
Men trying to choose whether to accept friendship from women as a consolation prize for romantic involvement have labeled this type of relationship the “friend zone” in recent years, and just the phrase has ignited some controversy. It’s been reviled as sexist and self-pitying. There are even people who suggest that we ban the phrase altogether—as though taking away men’s language for describing this dynamic will somehow remove the dynamic itself. But we need a phrase to describe this trap that some men fall into. Because there really are men who, for many reasons, will accept the company of women who have no intention of becoming sexual with them. In the short run, this type of relationship might make a man feel good and give him validation, but eventually it will hurt his self-esteem. With nowhere to go, his desire will feel to both people like the “elephant in the living room”—a presence that defines and sets the terms for the whole relationship, though no one likes to admit that it even exists.
I strongly believe that desire needs to be reciprocal in order for there to be any kind of healthy relationship at all between two people of the opposite sex.
I am not talking about women with whom you might have a lot of things in common, who are unavailable for almost any other reason. One or both of you might already be in a committed relationship, or separated by a long distance, or outrageously busy with work or school. Furthermore, there might be women in your social circle whom you know casually, whom you know as part of a larger group of buddies. There are also powerful and engaging women—creative or social powerhouses, forces of nature whose value goes way beyond anything romantic or sexual. You can let these women know you find them pleasantly attractive, and enjoy your attraction to them, without feeling the least bit compelled to do anything about it. If you’re in that position, you’re not in the friend zone, or anything close to it.
Instead, I am speaking about a specific situation where you and a new acquaintance both like each other and feel ready for a relationship. You’re both single and actively looking for a partner, and there are no obvious barriers to the two of you getting to know each other better. You’ve made your intentions clear, and she responds with something like, “I am not feeling it with you. But you’re a really cool person, and I’d like to be friends.” And she means that, she’s not just saying it to make you feel better about being rejected, or to make herself feel better about rejecting you. She’s actually imagining a future where the two of you do fun things together and enjoy a healthy, platonic relationship.
Don’t do it. It’s too easy to lose your center in this situation. By remaining friends with her, you’re allowing yourself to be distracted from things, and people, that are important to you. You’re also accepting a relationship that doesn’t allow for healthy expression of your sexual desire. Don’t expect her to consider this. As a woman, she experiences sexual desire differently than you do, and your management of your own feelings is your job in any case. Here are my top four reasons why you should never accept being friends with her:
1. You probably don’t have time. If you’re really the cool person she says you are, you’ve got a lot on your plate. There are challenges in your life as well as family and other important people who count on you for certain things. Real friendships require an investment of time and energy. Don’t make commitments that you can’t keep.
2. You’re expecting her to change her mind. This is not a beautiful place to be. If you’re hanging around her hoping she’ll develop feelings for you, you’re trading your enjoyment of the moment for a future fantasy that will likely never pan out. It saddens me to see guys caught in this mind-trap. In my experience, once women make up their minds about a guy, it’s pretty rare for them to change their minds.
3. You haven’t learned to circulate your sexual energy. Staying in the friend zone with an attractive woman is okay—maybe—if you’ve learned to circulate your sexual energy and not let it get trapped in your genital area. There are plenty of tantric exercises to help you develop this practice. Books by Mantak Chia, David Deida, and Charles and Caroline Muir teach this centuries-old practice and make it accessible to modern Americans. Learning to circulate energy makes it easier to enjoy without feeling compelled to release it.
4. There are so many other women you could be spending your time with. Putting your attention on a woman who doesn’t want you takes time, and your time is not unlimited. Why not spend it with someone who does want you instead? If you’re looking for a partner, then look for her.
Unrequited love may make for good poetry, movies, and music, but it’s painful in real life. Don’t accept it as a substitute for what you really want. Spend time with women who want to enjoy your sexual side too, and cultivate genuine friendships with your male buddies. You’ll feel better about yourself, and you’ll have plenty of time to spend with the people in your life who are closest to you.