Mars vs. Venus: The Friend Zone: What Are We Doing Here?

Mars vs. Venus is an ongoing series between me and fellow blogger Lauren over at My Life, Incomplete. We’ll be discussing various topics for which the variation between the male and female perspective might create a better understanding of how our two genders think. Also noteworthy is that I offer the perspective of a single male, while Lauren contributes the point of view of a female in a committed, long-term relationship.

A reader recently e-mailed me the following question, and I thought it was perfect for Mars vs. Venus:

“What are your thoughts (and experiences) on becoming friends with someone before asking them on a date? How does the ‘Friend Zone’ work for males and females?”

Sometimes the Friend Zone Is a Good Place...and Yes, We Were Drinking

Ah, the Friend Zone. We’ve all been there in some form or another. Maybe you’ve been friends with someone for a while and have started to develop stronger feelings for them. Maybe you just met someone new and want to learn more about them before you see if they’re interested in dating. Maybe you’ve hung out with someone in groups but want to get to know them more personally.

I don’t think there is a “correct” method for entering, existing in, or exiting the Friend Zone. In general, I would say two things: One, don’t be afraid of rejection. Sometimes people ask others to hang out “as friends” because it’s safer than asking out the person on a date. Relationships aren’t safe. Two, pay attention to the other person. If they’re not interested in you, you’ll know it. And if you don’t–sometimes signals are really hard to interpret–just put your cards on the table and ask them what they think about the idea of going out sometime.

I can’t think of any experiences I have where I befriended a girl to see if I want to eventually ask her out. For some reason it seems like an empty gesture–in a way, you’re faking a friendship to see who the person really is. Sure, there’s the possibility you’ll end up just being friends, but I’d say it’s pretty unlikely (Lauren and I will address this in a future post). Mostly, if I’m attracted to a woman and want to get to know her better after a short period of flirtation, I ask her out.

What I do have experience with–one specific experience–is being friends with a girl and eventually asking her out. I won’t name names, but there’s one particular girlfriend who I knew for a long time before we dated. We weren’t the type of friends who hung out one-on-one, but we shared a group of friends for a while and got to know one another. Eventually we started e-mailing, and it became clear that both of us were interested in getting to know the other.

The tough part of that situation is that once you really start feeling someone out in that way (say, over e-mail), it’s tough to tone things down again. Is there a good exit strategy? If you suddenly stop corresponding, it’s clear that you’re no longer interested, and there’s a good chance the other person will take that personally (which sucks if you want to remain friends with them). I don’t think there’s a magical formula for an exit strategy. I think maybe the best way is to change your e-mail length/tone/rate of response in a noticeable way, and if the other person doesn’t take the hint, just be direct with them. It might be an awkward conversation, but it could save your group-level friendship.

I think the overall key is to come to terms with rejection. It’s okay if someone doesn’t have romantic feelings about you. That doesn’t mean they don’t value you in other ways. It’s really tough to not take rejection personally, but I say put yourself out there, be vulnerable, be open, and respond with confidence to whatever happens.

What are your thoughts about the Friend Zone? What do you think about signals versus being blunt? I lean greatly towards being blunt. Are you really going to end up being friends with this girl? One-on-one friends? Probably not. So put your balls on the table and ask her out. (Sorry about the blunt image, but this was a paragraph about being blunt. Please don’t actually put your balls on any table.)

Now go on over to Lauren’s blog and read her female perspective on this topic.