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.

29 thoughts on “Mars vs. Venus: The Friend Zone: What Are We Doing Here?”

  1. “Please don’t actually put your balls on any table.” Hilarious!

    Great post, Jamey. I find it interesting that you approached this more from the perspective of intentionally entering The Friend Zone, where I hit it from the angle of it being an undesirable place for a man to be!

    Can’t wait to see what our readers think! 🙂

    • I agree with Lauren on this one. The Friend Zone is a downright miserable place for a man to be. There’s nothing good about it. When was the last time I mentioned TFZ in regard to a genuine female friend? Never. If I’m talking about TFZ, it’s already too late, and her table is the only possible place my balls are ever going to go. If I ever feel I am unwittingly nearing TFZ, it’s best to just ignore it and proceed with the best smokescreen I can muster.

  2. I have very mixed feelings about the friend zone. I met my current boyfriend over 13 years ago and he and I started our relationship as just friends. He was married at the time and I was ‘in love’ with someone else. I ended up marrying the guy I was in love with. He and his wife were very good friends with me and my husband. We all hung out and had fun together. Then he and his wife split up, and got divorced. He still came around and he, myself and my husband would all have a great time. When I started opening my eyes to the problems my husband and I were having I started noticing feelings for the friend of ours that were more than ‘friendly’. I, of course, worked hard to convince myself otherwise, because I was married. Eventually I did seperate from my husband and we got divorced. Then my friend and I ended up together. I feel that being in “The Friend Zone” for so long has strengthened us as a couple. Sorry to make such a long reply. Have a great day.

    • Jayde–Thanks for sharing. That sounds like a very unique relationship, the result being a very strong marriage and friendship (from what you say).

      I agree that strong relationships can form from friendships. That was the case with the girl with whom I was friends for while before dating. That was also the first and only time that has happened. With friends, there is a comfort, security, and honesty that can really add to a relationship. I just think you have to make sure there’s also emotional and physical chemistry.

  3. Adversely, if you are interested in severing ties with a girl you’ve been in the Friend Zone with and decided is not right for you, putting your balls on the table would do this effectively.

  4. Could you change the caption to “Jamey and Neeraja keeping their relationship under wraps”?

    As for your questions at the end of your article, I think signals (vs. being blunt, as a way to tell someone you only want to be friends) are a horrible way to tell anyone something. I think it’s very hard to signal appropriately, be correctly interpreted, and have a positive outcome. So I’d agree with you that being honest (and mildly blunt, if necessary) is more productive.

    • That would be a better caption for the photo 🙂

      (this is a response to Te-Mac and Neeraja)

      When I started off writing this article, I went in with a always-be-blunt philosophy. But the truth is, sometimes signals can be pretty clear. You just have to be with someone who is willing to see them.

      Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for bluntness. I’ve used it many a time. But I know it’s imperfect because I’ve never retained a female friend with whom I’ve been blunt. I haven’t been harsh, just blunt. So it makes me wonder if I had signaled a little bit to give them a hint of what was coming that they wouldn’t have been so caught off guard with my bluntness.

  5. I completely agree with Trevor abour being honest and blunt. One of my best friends has had some unfortunate luck with the fellows, and her biggest pet peeve is that men will suddenly change their mind and she won’t know why. She can understand if there’s an underlying reason. She’ll even understand when the reason isn’t very good. But not knowing the reason for the sudden change of heart from a potentially interested party is a real blow to the self-esteem.

    So ladies and gents, please please please just SAY what your issues are, and save the rest of us the trouble of trying to figure it out on our own. Sure, Sex and the City may never have gotten made because there wouldn’t have been anything to talk about on the show, but that’s a world I could live in.

    (and look, it wasn’t me that got around, it was the shawl! That damn shawl was a hussy!).

  6. Also, I want to make a note about online friendships, which I’m just starting to explore, and I think they fit into a category of their own. I think the Friend Zone is completely different with online relationships. Things fade and out more naturally online–you don’t need to have a big blunt discussion about why you’re not e-mailing someone as much or why you’re e-mailing them more often. You just do it, and you hope the other person catches on.

    We’ll see how that strategy evolves–I’ll post more on it later after I’ve learned more about these online friendships. All I know is that I care about these people as I’d care about other friends–just because we don’t live in the same city doesn’t mean that we can’t connect with and relate to one another.

  7. Here are my summarized concerns (to expound further would be as long as Jamey’s original entry). My assumptions for these concerns are that you’re meeting someone at a party/through friends in some capacity/have a way to see the person again. Agree that random people you meet and can’t coincidentally see again, you kind of have to ask out immediately if you’re going to ask them at all.

    My major concerns with the “put your balls on the table” philosophy are:
    1) Guys asking me out mostly because of how I look
    2) I’m in no hurry. Taking time to “run into” the person a couple times gives time to figure it out a little/find common interests, and enjoy the “will he call” drama, which I like the excitement of.
    3) Guys who are in “shotgun dating mode” where they just ask out anyone they’re remotely interested in.

    Also, I echo the thought that most people in the dating world need more courage/confidence, not less. I’m also of the thought that, in general, honesty and being straightforward are some of the two most important (and difficult) concepts in dating to get right.

    • Lisa–As usual, great comment. I hadn’t thought of the party scenario when you’ve just barely talked/bantered with a guy. You’re right, looks are a big part of a person’s impression in that scenario.

      So what’s the “correct” thing to do in that situation? You meet a girl at a party and want to get to know her better…what next? Get her number? Don’t get her number and later ask mutual friends about her? I’ve done both. I’ve also done nothing at times.

      My personal opinion is that if you aren’t able to have a fun time chatting at the party (not necessarily a deep conversation, but a little more than light banter), then you don’t have enough info to decide if you want to get someone’s number. You know what I’d do? I’d drop enough information so that if the person wants to know more, they can. Maybe mention the bar you always go to on Fridays or the church you go to or your blog (holla!) Or try to learn similarly useful info from them without probing.

      In the end, I want the female point of view here. What’s yours? Anyone else want to weigh in?

      • Admittedly, I tried to avoid specific scenario-action combinations because there are too many variables. Sometimes, and for some people, personalities, etc., maybe it’s right to ask them out on the spot. Or get a number, or call later and ask out… it’s all too individual.

        For me (not necessarily women in general): I’m not one for pursuing a guy, so I do well if the guy figures out a way to follow up with me rather than the other way around. As appropriate, get my number, or card, or come up with a way to find me. Though, I would rely on him to extract that as opposed to me purposely dropping it, basically because I’ve historically found that guys do that just fine without me noticing. I have noticed that for many of my female friends who have tried “dropping facts,” they get disappointed when the guy isn’t at their Friday night bar.

        To introduce new vocabulary to the conversation, I’m a huge fan of “pre-dates.” Meaning, you meet someone, get along well, and you do a “Will you be at Katie’s party?” “Yeah I was thinking of going” type exchange. You’re both somewhat interested. Allows broadly for more information exchange and potentially more informed decisions. Not good if you’re in a hurry, or uncomfortable with ambiguous situations.

        • That’s fair–every scenario is different. I like the idea of a “pre-date.” I’ve done that before. (Katie’s party, by the way, was legendary.)

          I like how I read this stuff and write about it and am fascinated by it…and want no part in it. For now. That’s the glory of being intentionally single. I don’t have to look for signals or give signals or be blunt or pre-date or any of that stuff…I can just be. Loving it.

          Lisa, I don’t have your e-mail, so I’ll post this here: I know you said you’re not interested in blogging on this topic on your own blog. But if you’d ever like to write a guest post here about your intentionally single journey, let me know. The same goes for anyone who writes as well as Lisa.

    • But you’ve already done a guest post! (About flossing…this means the invitation is open to you as well.)

      Sorry, Neeraja’s right…I shouldn’t have named names there. Anyone is welcome to write a guest post on this blog if they’re compelled to do so and have a relevant topic. Just e-mail me.

  8. My friend-zone story… I approached this girl when I was in 8th grade and she was in 7th, and I went right for it, asked her out. She flat out said no, but we became friends. That was almlost 30 years ago. We’ve been close friends, intimate friends. Been together through thick and thin, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, breakups, divorces, etc. But I’ve always had a thing for her. Still do. Nothing ever happened until one night last summer. We were out, hearing music, drinking, I poured my heart out, then we made out and went back to her place. The next day we talked about it, and she said that she was worried we’d ruin our friendship if things didn’t work out, so we should just be friends and not pursue it anymore. She did say it was great and “who knows…” But since then, we’re back to just being friends. It’s hard for me because we’re like a couple in so many ways- in touch on a daily basis, travel together, spend holidays together (sometimes even with each others’ families), everything. People always tell us we’re such a great couple and then, when and if we tell them we’re actually just friends, they’re shocked. “But, well, you guys, you’re just so, so, so…” I wish I could change her mind somehow. There’s probably not much I can do at this point, but thoughts, suggestions, or just plain old sympathy would be appreciated. I think I’ll post this on Lauren’ blog too to hear a woman’s perspective.

    • Ryan–Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you’ve had quite a relationship with this woman.

      Something triggers an alarm in me when I read that someone wants to change someone else’s mind, especially in matters of love. Really, it’s more like changing her heart, which doesn’t seem right. If she wanted you in that way, she would have had you by now. I know it’s tough to let go, if she’s not seeing what you want her to see, then wouldn’t you be better off with someone who does?

      • Jamey, you’re right of course. I am not trying to change her mind or heart, I just wish things were different. Thanks for the feedback.

        • I hope you find the right person for you, Ryan. And if it’s this girl that you’ve known for so long, I hope she realizes it someday 🙂

  9. I’ve had a few situations where guys ask me out (from a dating site for example, so the context is clear) and then we go out, and they keep asking, but nothing physical beyond a hug every materialises, and I’m left wondering- are we dating, or have we become friends?

    One situation hit this point, we talked about it, he said he wasn’t interested, I started dating others, and yet a year later we are still spending time together, with people asking if we’re together, him calling me while out of state, picking me up from the airport, cooking for me, and lots of lingering hugs. Neither of us is a player, or to my knowledge really dating anyone else at the moment. Now, I’m interested again, and he appears to be…

    It’s confusing because – I don’t want anything physical with guys I hardly know – I do want time to get to know them, but at a certain point, I’d like to move along…

    • Nina–Thanks for your comment. It’s been a while since someone commented on this entry.

      The situation you mention is a tricky one. I think that romantic feelings can sometimes creep up on people…maybe someone whom we didn’t find all that attractive can grow on us over time (a friend of mine calls these “growers”).

      This situation is really tricky because the question is: Have you BOTH grown on each other? Because if only one of you has grown on the other, and the other person is just along for the friendship, things can get very confusing.

      My unsolicited advice would be to tell the guy that you cherish your friendship, but that you also want to date him. But make him feel secure in the friendship–assure him that if he doesn’t want to date you, the friendship will continue. Put that out there and ask him if he wants to date you, give him a day or two to think about that, and then talk about it. And then let me know what happens 🙂

  10. As a guy, how would you feel if a friend asked if you wanted to take it to the next level? As a woman, is it better if we just keep quiet until the guy makes a move? I’m afraid my “friend” is very shy.

    • Jamie: Thanks for your question! It’s nice to revisit an older blog post.

      I’m currently of the thinking that (a) it’s best to only pursue the next level with a friend if you are fairly certain they’re interested and (b) if you’re not fairly certain they’re interested, they’re almost definitely not interested.

      So, despite your friend’s shyness, are you fairly certain he’s interested?


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