Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Friend Zone

A little background before we start: A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine asked me my opinions on the Friend Zone, whether it's real, and how men generally react when they feel that they're in it. I gave a very thorough reply, but only shared it with a few friends of mine. They encouraged me to share my response publicly, and after thinking it over, I'm happy to do so.

I'll let the letter speak for itself, so please bear in mind that this is its original form, warts and all, save for a few spelling and grammar corrections. Please also note that although I use the term Friend Zone and believe it’s a real psychological phenomenon, I also don’t use it in a dismissive or pejorative sense. 

I understand why many people take issue with it, and why it has the potential to make women out to be the “badguys” in the battle of the sexes, even when they have every right to turn a man down, for whatever reason they choose. To those people, all I can say is that I hope I have expressed myself well, and that we are, in most respects, on the same page.

My views on the Friend Zone don't really line up with either the hardcore MRA or SJW crowds, but I hope that I've managed to address a potentially painful topic with as much respect and consideration as possible. If I have failed to do so, please get in touch with me, and I'd be more than happy to talk it out. Enjoy!


The Friend Zone (™, ®© , etc.) is a mental space a man occupies when he tries to engage a woman romantically and finds that she wants to keep things platonic. The Friend Zone can be a lot of things, depending on what both parties want (never talking to each other again to an actual, genuine friendship), but it's generally accepted that once you hit The Friend Zone, nothing romantic or sexual will happen between the two of you, and you'll never get out of it, either.

This, of course, is not exactly how things always work in real life. Two people can be friends at one time, friends with benefits at another, and romantic partners at yet another. But when a man has been rejected romantically and doesn't see any way of advancing the friendship beyond a platonic one, he's been Friendzoned.

Some men take this with good grace and take the woman's offer to be friends at face value (sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't; for better or for worse, women are conditioned to let men down as gently as possible, which means they may say "Let's be friends" even when they mean "I find you objectionable and would rather not be around you at all" or even "I believe you represent a threat to my emotional or physical safety." Whole other can of worms, that). Other times, they retreat to PUA/MRA message boards and complain about how unfair this particular women was to him, or how unfair women in general are to him. After all, he probably treated her well, showed (or at least feigned) an interest in her activities, tried to make himself available to accompany her places, maybe even bought her things. So why shouldn't he get sex when all those other "jerks" she dates do?

This is related to a condition that the Internet calls "Nice Guy Syndrome," although I think "The Nice Guy Fallacy" is a little more accurate. It's a separate topic, but basically, "Nice Guys" feel they are entitled to attention, especially of the sexual variety, from women because they treat women well, or at least "better" than the people she actually dates.

Anyway, to your specific questions: I've already addressed some of them above, but here are my answers:

What's wrong with it? In short, the Friend Zone sucks because you're not getting what you wanted out of your relationship with a woman. When you hit it off with a woman, it's very easy to fall into the trap of "we get along so well, we would make great romantic partners, too." Sometimes, sure, but sometimes not. And ultimately, the person you ask gets final say over that, not you. Not only have you been shot down after putting yourself out there in a very visible way, but there go all those pleasant feelings you had: attraction, optimism, self-confidence, etc.

There's also a profound feeling of unfairness. You just KNOW you would be a good match if she gave you a chance, so why won't you? And besides, look at the people she dated before, or she's dating now, or she's looking to date. You're just as good as those guys (maybe you're better!), so how come they get what you want, and you don't?

If you want my opinion, these are all perfectly natural feelings, and most guys process them and put them in their proper context within a day or two. You WOULDN'T be a good match, because if she doesn't reciprocate your feelings, that would make it a terrible relationship by default. Sharing common interests DOESN'T mean you would click as a couple. And she could be dating other people for any reason. Maybe those people ARE bad for her, but that's ultimately her choice, and you're not going to change her mind by feeling bitter about it.

If you're asking "what's wrong with it" in the larger context, I would say nothing, really. For most men. Where it goes wrong is when some men hold onto these intense feelings of rejection and worthlessness and channel it into misogyny. An even smaller fraction of these men will go on to believe that violence against women must be permissible, because there is no other way to get what they want. This is what happened in the Isla Vista shootings.

Is there any blame attached? Get on the blame train. There's more than enough blame to go around. In general, there are two targets of blame when a guy gets Friendzoned: the woman he wanted, and himself.

Why he blames the woman is easy enough to figure out. She's being so stubborn and stupid and stuck-up and selfish. Doesn't she understand that if she would only give him a chance, she'd see how perfect they are for one another? She's robbing them both of Perfect Happiness, and is going to waste her time and effort pining after some other guy who doesn't even deserve her! Once again, these feelings tend to dissipate once the initial sting of rejection dies down and he can consider the situation logically once again.

Blaming himself goes a little bit deeper. Sometimes it's warranted, sometimes it's not. He feels emasculated and worthless. She wouldn't have rejected me if only I hadn't been so pathetic! If only I'd been thinner/smarter/handsomer/more charming/less awkward! If only I'd come on stronger/not come on so strong/asked her more about herself/told her more about myself/waited longer/not waited so long, then she would have said yes.

This one is harder to analyze, at least from my own personal experience. For the most part, at least from a logical standpoint, there's not much you can do to convince someone to be attracted to you if she's, well, not attracted to you. It has very little to do with you and everything to do with her and her preferences.

BUT (and this is a fairly sizable but, because I like big buts and I cannot lie), sometimes there's some truth to it as well. Maybe you ARE creepy, or out-of-shape, or poorly-groomed, or overeager, or timid. Sometimes your personality or physical appearance needs adjusting — not because it will get you girls, but because you should have some self-respect and be willing to improve yourself.

Where many guys have trouble (myself included) is differentiating between not being good enough in general and not being right for this particular woman. I don't have a good answer for what the right balance is. If I did, I wouldn't have gotten to the point where I felt I had to swear off women forever.

Is there entitlement? ​For the most part, yes. Men feel they are entitled to women's attention and women's bodies simply because they're friendly and attentive. But, as I've said before, being nice to women in exchange for sex is immoral; being nice to women because they deserve your respect could lead to good things down the road in addition to being the right thing to do.

The simple fact of the matter is that you're not entitled to anything that another person possesses that he or she doesn't want you to have. Not her time, not her money, not her body. You can grouse about how unfair this feels all you want, but men have to remember that Western society is constructed in such a way that they generally have to pursue women, rather than the other way around. If the tables were turned, men would not want to feel obligated to have sex with every woman who was nice to him — hell, no self-respecting man should feel obligated to have sex with every woman who's nice to him, even as things stand!

I think maybe that's part of the problem: We are conditioned, to some extent, to view every woman as a potential sexual partner (see: When Harry Met Sally, Seinfeld, etc.), even though most people have an average of 10-20 partners in their lives, and we meet WAY more than 10-20 people of the opposite sex. The math doesn't support our delusion, but I guess that's why it's a delusion in the first place.

This is why I take the Middle Path and maintain that while The Friend Zone is a real and often very painful place to be, it's still not the worst thing in the world or indicative of women's attitudes in general. If you get Friendzoned by every woman you approach, well, maybe there's something wrong with you, or maybe they're just the wrong kind of partner. It's hard to tell, and I think that uncertainty is what makes the Friend Zone such a confusing place, and why it drives some people to the extreme conclusion of "all women treat men unfairly." It doesn't make sense under strict scientific scrutiny, but it's a much more comforting thing to believe than "I am at the mercy of a ton of intra- and interpersonal factors, only a fraction of which I'll ever even be aware of."

That was pretty heavy, so next time, we'll talk about some Tolkien. See you then!

Follow Marshall on Twitter or get in touch with him on Facebook.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Tough Call

Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this post, let me start with a story. Don’t worry; I promise it’s relevant, and it’s about video games. Here goes:

When I was a senior in high school, widespread digital distribution for PC games was still a distant pipe dream. Sure, every once in a while, you’d get a developer who wanted to sell a title directly, and piracy via torrent was always an option, but generally speaking, it was discs or bust.

There was a game I wanted to play called Spellforce: The Order of Dawn. For those of you not familiar with the series, Spellforce is a hybrid RTS/RPG from a small German studio. It’s not great, but it has its charms, particularly if those are you two favorite genres. I could have bought the initial game in the States, but its two expansions were only available in Europe. So, I gathered up my funds and imported the three games, obscene shipping costs and all.

There was only one small problem: the game wouldn’t work. For some inexplicable reason, whenever I booted up the game, I would see the loading screen and get kicked right back to my desktop. When I checked task manager, the game’s process was still running, but the actual game just wasn’t there.

Well, I’m no neophyte when it comes to getting recalcitrant PC games to run, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I trawled Internet forums. I e-mailed the developer. I cross-checked every process running on my PC, every update to every driver, and every possible hardware incompatibility. I stayed up late, left my homework till the last minute, gulped down meals in as few bites as possible, and let all my other hobbies fall by the wayside. I was going to have fun, damn it, no matter how hard I had to work at it.

This process went on for about a week before I thought to myself: “Just how much misery am I willing to endure for the sake of fun?” In the end, I shrugged my shoulders, dusted my hands off, put the games in a drawer, and bought something else (Battle for Middle-Earth, if memory serves).

In the end, I learned an important lesson from those games: After a certain threshold of driving yourself absolutely up the wall, something you want — even something you want very badly — is just not worth it. It’s time to apply that lesson again.

Here’s the problem: I’m a straight male, and have known since I was 13 that I wanted a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. The only problem was that 13-year-old me was very bad at attracting women. Then again, 13-year-old me was just finding a solid group of friends and taking some pride in himself for the first time in his life, so we can cut him some slack for not having much success.

High school followed, and the same thing happened. No matter how many times I got up my courage and actually asked someone out, I got rejection after rejection. There were exceptions, of course: rare moments of success when the stars aligned and I got a coveted yes instead of a no. But nothing ever panned out, and as always, the sheer numbers were against me.

It was OK, though, they told me (“they” being friends, teachers, and family). High school girls often don’t appreciate good guys, they said, but wait until I got to college. Then, they’d see all that I had to offer.

And, boy, in college, did I have a lot to offer! I got in shape for the first time in my life. I learned how to bartend and got rid of my last vestiges of social anxiety, killing two birds with one stone. I was in an a cappella group. I took a ton of interesting classes, read lots of great books, attended fascinating lectures, and explored the sometimes seedy, sometimes charming city I inhabited. I got out to parties and events every weekend so that I could meet exciting new people. And, by and large, I still got nothing but rejections.

It was OK, though, they told me. College is such a chaotic time that you can’t really expect to find a satisfying relationship. Just wait until you get out into the world and have a steady job, and girls will see how responsible and accomplished you are.

So, I went out and got a job. At first, I didn’t expect much, since I had a horrible retail job, and had to live with my mom to make ends meet. But then I got a less horrible office job. And then I got a real editing job. And then I got my own place. And then I got a freelance journalism job. And then I got a full-time journalism job. And then I got money to spend and money to save.

In terms of career and monetary success, the last five years have been an unparalleled success for me. I have broken into a very difficult field, and excelled in it. I live very comfortably in one of the toughest cities in the world, with a nice apartment in a stellar neighborhood. I’ve continued studying martial arts to improve my mental discipline and stay in excellent shape. I have interesting hobbies, interesting hangouts, and interesting people in my life.

But, for all that, I still get almost nothing but rejections from women. Every. Single. Time.

I can’t really speculate as to the reason why. If I had an answer, I would have found a solution long ago. I’ve read an awful lot of dating blogs (particularly the excellent Paging Dr. Nerdlove), and the recurring theme seems to be that if you can’t find a date, you have to look inward and fix the things you don’t like about your own life first.

That, however, is where I run into a problem. I like myself. I like my job, and where my career is going, and the state of my health, and where I live, and my money situation, and my family, and my friends, and just about everything in my whole life, except for the fact that I can’t find a woman willing to give me a chance romantically. I feel I would be a good partner; they feel differently. That’s fine. That’s their prerogative. But “fixing” something about myself won’t help if I’m happy as is.

Nor have I been derelict in trying to find women to date. I’ve tried meeting people in person, meeting people online, letting friends set me up, and even gimmicks like speed-dating. I’ve tried asking out good friends and women I’ve just met. I’ve tried being absolutely straightforward and completely coy. I’ve tried every strategy I can think of short of engaging in repellent PUA tactics and approached every attempt with all the confidence and optimism I can muster.

Not only have my attempts failed, but they have actually gotten worse. Last year around this time, I was devastated because ten women in a row had rejected me. At this point, I have lost count of how many times I’ve been rejected since my last successful date, but I would not be surprised if it were triple that amount. I don’t know how, but women have actually found me less attractive as my living situation has improved. I always thought the opposite would be true.

I don’t know what’s wrong, and I don’t know how to fix it, and honestly, my friends and family don’t, either. I’ve asked good friends, casual friends, total strangers, and my closest family members what’s wrong with my approach, and no one has a solid answer. I have come to believe that this is because there is no solid answer.

The realization hit me when I was reading a post in Paging Dr. Nerdlove’s blog. Some men, he said, no matter how smart or handsome or successful, will just never find anyone. They may be perfectly viable mates, but if you run the numbers, some men (and some women, of course) just never find anyone. It’s the luck of the draw.

This was possibly the most freeing thing I’ve ever read in my life. For the first time since I was 13, I realized that the problem isn’t me; it’s just statistics. Yes, I’ve been dealt a bad hand (well, really, 14 years of bad hands), but it wasn’t my fault. I can’t change the fact that women don’t want to date me, but I can change my attitude about it. That’s why I’m officially taking my hat out of the ring.

From now on, no more dating for me. No more romantic entanglements with women whatsoever. Will this hurt? Of course. It hurts already. I’ve been near tears several times just while writing this post. But I also know, in my heart of hearts, that it’s the only healthy way for me to live.

As much as I tried to frame a romantic relationship as the one thing missing from my life, the truth is that it’s just Spellforce all over again. I tried and tried and tried to solve a problem without an obvious cause, and all I got in return was frustration. Except getting rejected romantically no matter what you do is much, much worse than failing to run a video game. Instead of frustration, you have heartbreak. Instead of wasted leisure time, you have doubts about your worth as a human being. I can’t live like that, and no compassionate person would want me to.

A friend of mine told me (correctly, I think) that if I wrote this post, people would see it as attention-seeking. Maybe it is, but it’s also incredibly cathartic. I had a problem that literally kept me up at night and drove me into paroxysms of intense misery on a regular basis. I have now solved it — admittedly in the most extreme way possible, but solved it nonetheless.

Does this mean that I’ll never know the intense satisfaction of a healthy romantic relationship? Yes. But I’ll also never have to deal with the constant, soul-crushing despair that goes with getting rejected at every turn and never being able to figure out why. Given the choice between a slim (and rapidly diminishing) shot at happiness balanced with an overwhelming helping of despondency, or a perfectly even keel, I’ve decided to take the even keel.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. From where the sun now stands, I will date no more forever. The only thing I can offer by way of advice is to be kind and respectful to the women in your life, even if you’ve suffered rejection like I have. Learn to let go, and you’ll both be happier for it.

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