The Friendzone and Toxic Masculinity

By Helen-Sophie Krott

Young men today believe that being friend zoned by the girl they like is the worst that could ever happen to them.  I think the reason for this fear of the friendzone is the assumption that being “just friends” with a girl minimalizes their masculinity. Not being able to seduce or convince her that they are boyfriend-material is equated with not being manly enough for her. But still these men continue to hang out with the girl that has no romantic feelings towards them with the intention that she somehow reconsiders her decision. They try to be the best friends possible in hope of being rewarded with a relationship or sex. Often the buy expensive gifts or do very nice things for her she never asked for in the hope that they can make her feel obligated to enter a physical relationship with them. 

A friend of mine had this problem when she met a guy in university. They had the same taste in music and films and started to hang out. However, after a few weeks he tried to get more physical with her; he touched her more often. At first, he just hugged her sometimes but then he would sit very close to her and often tried to lay his arms around her. When she confronted him and told him that this made her uncomfortable he talked it down and said that he just wanted to be close to her, that he loved her. But my friend did not feel this way about him and explained to him very carefully that she was not interested. He did not take that very well. The following months were very hard for her because he who claimed to love her went to all her friends to badmouth her and even tried to get me to stop talking to her. His friends would come up to her and tell her what a horrible person she was for not wanting to be in a relationship with this guy.

This shows how men antagonize the girls that reject them even though they still want to be friends with these men. This seems a little unfair, right? Being in the Friendzone is generally conceived as negative but why is having a good friend, regardless of gender, something bad? Is not friendship one of the greatest bonds human beings can share with each other? This is the paradox I see with the friendzone. Friendship turned into something negative because the other cannot respect the boundaries of their friend.

In school I had mostly male friends and therefore I often heard them complain about being friend zoned. A former friend of mine – let us say his name was Fred – had a crush on one girl – I will address her with Ann – I have never met. Because I heard only his side of the story I antagonized this girl as well until I realized the problematic with the friendzone. Fred met Ann through his best friend who was at this time Ann’s boyfriend. They realized that they had the same interests and played videogames together almost every day. Ann lived a few hours away which was for me and my friends at that time really far away (we were 14 years old). Therefore, they spend time together online, but he would also met her on weekends. He started buying her the videogames she liked to play before she could even ask her parents. 

After some time, he started to gossip about his best friends. He told me, that his friend was the worst boyfriend possible and would not even love Ann at all. From his point of view, he was the better choice for Ann if she would only break up with his friend. Not knowing any better, I agreed with him. After some years Fred finally found the opportunity to tell Ann about his feelings and since Ann only saw him as a friend she told him how she felt about that. Instead of accepting her feelings he began to argue about it. He told her that he loved her since the day they met and that everything nice he did to her was because he loved her so much. She on the other hand felt betrayed because she realized that Fred never was her friend to the begin with. The next day Fred called me crying. Ann had blocked him from every social media platform and even changed her phone number. Other friends and I told Fred to move on, but he continued to pursue Ann. For us he was the poor misunderstood who was deeply in love with this girl.

A few years later I realized how terribly mistaken we were. Fred had started to create fake profiles on social media and even found out Ann’s new accounts when she changed them. He contacted her friends and convinced them to pressure Ann to talk to him. He finally stopped when Ann entered a new relationship. This is how I experienced that the concept of “being in the friendzone” destroys a relationship. It is a sad story, because due to Fred’s aggressive pursuit Ann lost the friendship with Fred but also lost many other friends that took his side. I can imagine how lonely she felt. She probably asked herself if it was her fault that Fred fell in love with her. What if she really had been leading him on without realizing it? After all, this is what Fred claimed. It is generally assumed that the girl in this scenario did certain things that “make” the guy fall in love with her. Such things include: wearing make up or revealing clothes, laughing at his jokes, touching him somewhere (like hugs) and making him compliments. I do all these things with my friends, with people I feel safe and comfortable around. The loss of this friendship was not Ann’s fault because she could have done nothing, except maybe ignoring Fred, that would have prevented his desire for her. It was Fred’s fault: He could not deal with his emotions and felt entitled to know what was best for Ann. However, this would be the easy way out and the truth is not that simple.

The true fault lies in our society. There are hundreds of similar stories and the friendzone has even become a meme. Yet, the girl is always the villain in those jokes or stories. The man is the one we are supposed to sympathise with whereas the woman is the cruel one that just would not give him a chance. We shame girls for being just friends with boys and at the same time we shame them for wanting a boyfriend. Because, when a girl posts something in the internet, like “Why can’t I have a nice boyfriend”, you can be sure that there is at least one comment stating: “You could have, but you already friend zoned him.” As a result, women feel guilty when they are with male friends. Women feel guilty when they get presents or compliments from male friends, because they assume due to this social pressure that they must repay them with a physical relationship. And if they do not, they put him in the friendzone which seems to be a new version of purgatory.

However, the friendzone is not a new phenomenon created by social media but rather a product of toxic masculinity and the suppression of female autonomy. Even Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote in his famous The Sorrows of Young Wertherabout the heartache of Werther because he could not be together with Charlotte who was already married to another man. The inability to be with Charlotte in a platonic relationship eventually leads to the suicide of Werther and since this is written from Werther’s perspective (and a male author) we are supposed to feel sorry for him. I say “no” to that. We must teach the value of friendship to create a healthy environment for boys and girls. Otherwise a friendship between male and female will not be possible anymore. Although I grant that you cannot chose with whom you fall in love with, I still maintain that you should never force and/or manipulate the other person to love you as well. If they do not feel the same about you it is you job to accept that and if you cannot stay friends after that, then maybe your friendship did not mean that much to you after all.

We need to become aware of the problematic regarding the friendzone. I believe that something like a friendzone does not exist but is rather a construct such as the distinction between the colours blue for men and pink for female. Man are not put in the friendzone by the woman they like because that implies that they would put these men there with calculation. Men are not the victims in this scenario. To clarify, men are not passively victimized by being “friend zoned” because they are the ones actively pursuing the woman. I think it is the other way around. Women are “f*ck zoned”. Befriending someone with the calculation of getting them to bed or into a relationship has nothing to do with being a gentleman or a white knight as such men tend to think. It is a cruel practise of tricking the woman to trust this person. Therefore, if you want to be in a relationship with a woman you need to know that nothing is more attractive that honesty. Be honest about your feelings and respect hers. Treat her equal. And if she just wants to be friends with you be happy about the new friendship rather than being one of those men that cannot respect women.