Plenty has been written about the dreaded “friend zone” — the place that men get banished to when a woman enjoys his company but isn’t interested in him sexually. Some men, in fact, consider themselves to be permanent residents of the friend zone. Some have visited only to return bitter and frustrated. Some have guarded themselves against a layover in the friend zone by, as one guy once explained to me, “surrounding yourself with people who want to fuck you.” Apparently an old Italian told him that in high school, and he never forgot the advice.
But what about the men who friend zone themselves? That is, what about the instances when there’s mutual chemistry and attraction but for one reason or another, something isn’t right? Does such a thing as the auto–friend zone exist?
As usual, I opened up my DMs and asked the masses: Have you ever friend-zoned yourself?
The cynics will have you believe that no man who is attracted to a woman will ever self-friend-zone, and if they say they do, they’re lying. “No guy deliberately ‘puts’ himself in the friend zone… EVER… unless it is with benefits,” says Jason. “He gets put there.” I don’t, though, think this gives men enough credit, and I have 20,000 words from men who beg to differ.
Here then are the most common reasons for a man’s decision to auto-friend zone, which generally fall into three categories — practical, “the high road” and emotional…
About half the reasons cited were “we work together,” “she’s married” or “she’s a subordinate.” But I don’t really consider turning down advances in these situations “friend zoning” yourself. It’s doing the right thing, and in some respects, listing these as examples gives credence to the idea that a man won’t turn down an opportunity to be with a sexy, amazing woman unless he absolutely has to, and even then, it’s a challenge. There are, however, legit practical reasons. Such as:
Bro Code. A common explanation for a man planting his flag firmly in the friend zone is that the woman has been with one of his friends, his brother or someone else very close to him. “Once, because the girl I liked was my best friend’s younger brother’s ex girlfriend, it definitely could have made things awkward,” says Jack. These self-friend zones aren’t always without feelings of sacrifice. “She had just broken up with the brother of a close friend, so I felt obligated to do said friend a solid by not swooping in,” Brian tells me. “I later regretted it.”
No Chemistry. Maybe she was the ideal woman in every single way. Maybe they had a long friendship that stood the test of time. Who among us hasn’t tried to make something work with that perfect person on paper that “checked all the boxes” but we knew something was missing? “I was good friends with a girl, but I wasn’t attracted to her physically,” Jason explains. “We spent a lot of time together, mutual friends asked why we weren’t officially dating/in a relationship, but it just was never going to happen.”
Kids. Many single dads cited their kids as a reason to friend zone a woman — particularly in the first year or two after getting divorced. “I have kids. Earning trust toward my kids and me was vital,” Jack says. “So the friend zone seemed like the right thing to do, even if it meant months or a pass on that person.” Adds Cameron, “I was 48 when my 43-year-old wife passed. I want to enjoy life, but my children and business are my focus now.”
If you’re going to date, great, I’m not suggesting you don’t have a love life. But I recommend doing it on your off weeks. Keep the kids out of it. As a child of divorce, I know of what I speak. Presenting stability to your kids in the aftermath of splitting is imperative, and nothing is more destabilizing than a revolving door of potential mates.
Misreading the Signs. Apparently, a lot more men than I realized have absolutely no clue when a woman is flirting with them — I’ll address this issue in separate column — but this was cited multiple times as a reason for the self friend zone. Jim recalls, “Recently divorced and my long-time, 20-year crush asked me out for a drink. We’d been friends for just as long. And I viewed us as friends going to get a drink. Now five years later, I think back and realize that she likely meant it to be more. I’m so stupid.” Dan did the same thing: “I ran into an old friend of a friend, we hung out some and didn’t know she was interested in more than friends because I’m usually oblivious to the signs, and someone needs to hit me with a brick to make me see it.”
The High Road
Contrary to popular belief, not all men are self-serving pieces of shit. Many an emotionally mature man is capable of putting another person’s feelings before his desires. This skillset definitely improves with age, and in many ways, it’s self-preservation born out of wisdom. Daniel sums it up best, “They developed feelings I couldn’t return; they had previous issues I knew I wouldn’t involve myself in, and hurt was possible. You just cut your losses in the beginning and know it’s for the best. Not because I’m so much better. You just see the writing on the wall.”
Protecting the Woman. Dozens of men expressed some version of the awareness that they were either emotionally unavailable, too busy with work, didn’t want the same level of commitment as the woman or were on the rebound. “I met a woman I really liked and was attracted to while in the throes of my divorce,” says Bill. “But I was so hurt and angry about the divorce — my wife had been cheating on me — that I didn’t want to take it out on her, so I shied away from a relationship. Lost out on a great girl, but there’s no way I could have been good to her at the time.”
Similarly, Brian says, “I’d just broken up with my girlfriend that I’d been with for just shy of two years. The woman I was talking to was very interested. I flirted a bit, but when she wanted more, I said no. I liked her well enough; I just knew it would be a rebound, and I didn’t think it would be fair to her.”
If you’re dubious about the authenticity of these claims, it was exactly this dynamic that inspired this piece — a man and I were falling for each other, and he friend zoned himself to protect me. For the record: It sucks, but I love him even more for it.
Female Friendship. According to most of the men who wrote in, good female friends are hard to come by, and when you have one, you generally don’t want to lose her. That said, there’s always that moment — a drunken night, a seemingly harmless massage — when it might become more, but as Matt relays, while “I would’ve done it for that night, I know it wouldn’t have worked long term, and I hated the idea of losing her as a friend, which would have been the outcome.”
Men also won’t venture outside of the friend zone if it has larger implications on their social life. “Dating girls in your circle of friends can screw things up with them and the larger circle,” says Tom. “If you go there, you better be sure.” Taylor sums up the crux of this argument beautifully: “Of course guys do this. It’s a lot harder to find a good friend then to get your next girlfriend.”
The other reason men generally put themselves in the friend zone: FEAR. Which seems to be the byproduct of three main things…
Low Self-Esteem. Once we’re adults, our self-esteem is ultimately our responsibility to cultivate and maintain. Still, several men expressed a lack of confidence as the reason they friend zoned themselves. “If a girl even showed the most obvious interest in me, I wouldn’t let myself buy into it,” says Ethan. “Invite me to a party? She just wants scoop on a friend. Dance with me at a club? She’s obviously trying to get a rise out of some other guy. No way she’s into me.” Adds Cliff, “I’ve done it, when a woman was much more attractive than me. My looks really are not my best asset. I’m just… average.”
A Broken Heart/Cheating Ex. The worst thing that happens when people cheat, aside from the betrayal, is they fuck up the trust people have with themselves. “My ex cheated in a bad way — lied and hid multiple affairs; I second-guessed myself and ignored it all the time and convinced myself they weren’t happening until it was hard to prove otherwise,” Adam writes. “So now when I think something is starting with someone new, I have to think twice: Is she really into me, or is she just playing at that? Unfortunately, I don’t ignore those second thoughts and just keep things platonic.”
“Even a year after my last relationship, I was too scared to let someone in again,” adds Chase. “I like the idea of a relationship. I WANT one again, but the fact that I could do literally everything for a girl and have her cheat on me scares me because I don’t want to go through that again.”
A Distaste for Rejection. Oftentimes in life, we reject ourselves before we give someone else the chance. This refrain, “I’m afraid of being rejected,” appeared over and over and over again. But it’s a bullshit excuse. Fear of rejection keeps you small. Your life ain’t gonna live itself — well, it will, while you’re waiting for it to begin.
And so, I’ll leave you with this inspiring story from Kyle: “I was in the friend zone with a woman for five years. To me, she was the perfect woman — I’d known her for 20 years before this, but we were both in other relationships. I wanted to be more, but I was very concerned that by approaching her in this way, I’d make her uncomfortable. Most likely, we weren’t going to become the romance of a lifetime (most new relationships don’t), and I could strain the friendship.
“Long story short: We had a magic moment where we crossed the gap. It’s been the best 15 years of my life ever since. So guys, take that chance.”