The following post is written from the perspective of a heterosexual cisgender female person. I don’t presume that this phenomenon exists exclusively in heterosexual male-female relationships, but I can speak only to my experience.
Welcome to Friendzone, USA, home of lovelorn men and blindsided women.
I see you, O Downcast Man, sitting in the passenger’s seat. Chances are, you’re wondering how you got here. If you’re anything like most men I’ve known, you had hoped not to end your journey here—to pass through, perhaps, but never to arrive. In fact, although your Woman of Interest (henceforth WOI) has been driving this whole time, you’ve been prompting scenic detours for the entire trip, hoping to circumvent Friendzone entirely. The WOI has humored these suggestions, and you’ve been encouraged in your pursuit of her every time she smiles at you, hugs you, or laughs at your jokes.
You can’t help feeling a little insulted, then, when your proverbial Jeep Wrangler trundles up to Friendzone, USA, and stops there. Your WOI leans over and asks if you’d like to explore the town a little bit. It’s a great place to be with friends, she says, and smiles her infuriating little smile that shows off both of her dimples, and how have you never noticed her freckles until now?
You consent to walk with her. This is salvageable, you think. If I just wait until she’s drunk or single, I can get her to tell me how she really feels. I can get her to want me, too.
But the atmosphere in Friendzone depresses you. You meet some of your WOI’s other Friendzoned men, and your fate is spelled in their pale, hopeless eyes. You panic. Your WOI’s freckles aren’t that cute, after all, and maybe she was never as whip-smart as you always said she was. Maybe you hate her. Maybe you never really wanted to have sex with her or hold her hand.
You feel as if you’re going to vomit, and then your WOI turns to you, smiling:
Isn’t it wonderful? Let’s stay here forever.
“I thought he was my friend.” —Every Straight Woman Ever at least once in their life, probably
Throughout the course of my twenty-three years, I’ve had a lot of men pass through my life.
This is not as scandalous as it sounds; in fact, I’ve only ever dated two people, and gone out on dates with a handful more. But until recently, I’ve always had an unusually large number of male friends. At least, I thought they were all my friends. It pains me, now, to realize that despite whatever friendly feelings they held for me, a healthy majority kept me around because they wanted something. They wanted everything but the very thing I sought: friendship. Pure, sexless, Platonic friendship.
Some time ago, I noticed that many of my male friends dropped off the map sometime around the time that they got girlfriends. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. However, some of those same people mysteriously resurfaced either (a) after their relationships ended or (b) they caught word that I was single last spring. After a number of awkward confrontations, I’ve been forced to reckon with the notion that several of my straight male “friends” wanted my romantic and sexual companionship.
Even now, it’s hard to believe that men would befriend me in hopes of getting in my pants, but I can hardly blame myself for my naivete. I was uniquely blessed and damned from the beginning: I have never known a world without platonic cross-gender friendship. My best childhood friend was a boy, and we preserved the integrity of that friendship through puberty and into adulthood. We have always loved and respected each other, but never like that. Nate has been my brother, and I, his pseudo-sister from Wisconsin. How could I ever have known how uncommon that was when my stalwart friend and I insisted that our friendship was normal?
I grew up expecting male friends to behave like Nate: to respect me and to show up for me not for future romantic rewards but because that’s just what friends do. I still believe that’s how it should be, but nine times out of ten, that’s not how it is. Straight men don’t invest significant time and energy into straight women unless they want something, be that sex or a romantic relationship. Or so I’m told. I’ve come to expect this now.
To be clear, I cannot fault people for “catching feelings” for their friends, nor can I honestly say that women behave differently. However, what I cannot excuse is someone entering my life and caring for me with the overt or latent purpose of keeping me around just in case their feelings are requited and never revealing the true nature of their intentions. And I cannot allow such duplicitous relationships to continue existing in my life.
The abandonment of these “friendships” would cause me pain but for the knowledge that I have lost nothing of value. Anyone who fears the Friendzone and pretends to be friends with me nonetheless does not deserve my time. I know who my truly platonic male friends are, and the list is barely three names long. Hence, I am grateful beyond measure for the men whose motives hold up to scrutiny. They will never fear the Friendzone because, for them, it isn’t purgatory. It is a place of loyalty, honesty, and love: it is Friendship.
Caitlin Gent (’15) graduated with a writing major. She lives in Milwaukee and works in fundraising and development. When she’s not working, Caitlin is usually walking with a friend or singing in the kitchen. She likes to wax poetic about Wisconsin to anyone who will listen.