Your Guide to the Friend Zone

Most zones aren’t good. No parking zones. The Demilitarized Zone. The ever-confusing, Cosmo-peddled erogenous zone.

But you may also find yourself in the Friend Zone, which is a dreaded place indeed, a no-man’s…or no-woman’s land of platonic friendship and compliments with the sexiness of a soft-boiled egg. How did you get here? Could you have prevented this hormone-hindering categorization? Why does it itch? What’s more, is there anything you can do?

Unfortunately, over the years, yours truly has become an expert* acquainted with of all of the nooks and crannies of the Friend Zone, so allow for me to give you a little tour.

* The Lonely Planet Guide to the Friend Zone [Paperback] by Ainsley Drew (Author); 456 Page/5 Map edition (August 7, 2011) available now!

There's lots of poking in the back when you dance around the Friend Zone.

Well before Josephine de Beauharnais opted to take an army’s-worth of lovers instead of writing back to her lovesick, battle-stationed husband Napoleon, the Friend Zone has been recorded in history. Numerous books, classical plays, helas madams, and just about all romantic poetry touched on the shitty, sucking feeling of being able to interact with someone who strikes your fancy, while knowing full-well that you’ll never see them naked. There are also worst-case scenarios that have been recorded in the annals of time, like that of Catherine of Aragon, who was put in a pretty awful Friend Zone by her husband King Henry VIII once he found the eye-pleasing trollop Anne Boleyn. (It should be noted, Anne was able to net Henry – and the Queen’s crown – by putting him in the No Sex Zone, which, while a cousin of the Friend Zone, sure as hell ain’t the same thing. Withholding the pussy is a means to an end. There is no end to the Friend Zone. Once you’re there, chances are that no amount of alcohol will move you. You’ll never get to see the family jewels. You might even end up banished and poisoned.)

Now, the Friend Zone isn’t entirely an inhospitable place. At times it’s a very appropriate destination. Let’s say you’ve reached the end of your romantic venture with someone, and the both of you agree that it’s time to move on to greener panties. You still respect one another, and can even stomach seeing them in their skivvies, but a love match it’s not. The Friend Zone is a perfect retirement spot for the two of you, one that shouldn’t be approached with any sort of seething or spite.

But there are those curious circumstances that can lead you into the Bermuda Triangle of ambiguity: crushes. This is the sort of anxiety-inducing murkiness of human interaction that used to lead us to pass notes in second grade emblazoned with a question and two empty boxes – Do you like me? Check YES or NO. Not knowing another person’s feelings when you’re wanting to see their ‘o’ face and taste their pectoral muscles is part of that so-called spice of life, the dopamine-receptor-ringing fiesta of fun known as the initial state of courting, the intoxicating precursor to dating itself.

But if the feelings aren’t reciprocal – and, let’s be honest, if you aren’t a Victoria’s Secret model or rumored to be hung like a San Fernando Valley star, they’re often not mutual – the Friend Zone is the airport where you might be stuck on a permanent layover, ever hoping that the weather lifts and you can catch the next flight to the bedroom.

In case there’s any question (and, really, unless you’re tasting their 32 flavors, there shouldn’t be) below are some signs that you’ve found yourself in the Friend Zone. Just remember, if you’re the one doing the zoning, do not fuck someone you put in the Friend Zone. That’s the cardinal rule. Don’t drink, drug, or dance around them, if any of those vices lead to deviating from this mandate. Once you violate this rule, there is no Friend Zone, and self-induced slut shaming, incessant dramatic texting, inevitable heart break where you are the villain, or an unhappy marriage may occur. Proceed wisely.

No one wanted to be in the Friend Zone with Marilyn Monroe.

Famed American psychologist Dorothy Tennov – known for coining the original synonym for bunny boiler with the academic-sounding limerence – famously stated that the only way to successfully douse desire in cold water is to obtain “indisputable evidence” that your crush is really not wanting to do you.

Seems simple enough to discern, but yet, it’s not: he may cringe when you bat your eyes in his direction, change the subject when you talk about sex, he may have even made a joke where he compared you to his sister, but yet he’s fine with splitting an order of buffalo wings and watching Top Gear with you once a week. Little do you know that, if the future of humankind depended on it, he would rather cut off his dick than so much as expose it to your longing gaze.

Other signs are more subtle. She could talk about her ex in a way that can only be described as “Ahab-like.” She says she doesn’t do relationships, or she starts bustin’ out the L-bomb after the second time you’ve hung out, only for her to laugh it off, saying that she says that to all of her “girls.” (But wait, you’re a guy…) You may have met on an online dating site or a social network, and after months of R-rated G-chats or steamy sext message exchanges, she still won’t meet you in real life. If you do kick it in the flesh, she might prevent you from so much as seeing her smart phone, keeping it closer to her than if it were a third boob.

Does he tell you about his romantic pursuits in a way that indicates that he doesn’t give a shit that you’ve told him that you think about him when you masturbate? It could be worse, think about what it would mean if you weren’t privy to his lusty details. Oh, you’re not? Yeah, he’s not that into you, ‘cause he doesn’t even choose to tell you about how it’s going in the case of his courting. If guys avoid talking about sex, even innuendo, it’s usually a sign.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon knows that taking advantage a situation isn't fair in the Friend Zone. He calls for a cab instead.

More tips, this time for the gents. Does she call you to do things because nobody else said yes, or because her “real” date fell through? That just signals you’re not at the top of her list, bro, which means that, most likely, you’ll never be on top of her. Or, worse, do you offer her baseline tickets to the Knicks game – or the Michael Buble Arbor Day Special or whatever typical girls like – and she turns up her nose at the opportunity to do something so fucking awesome, even if you’re part of the package? Face it, she’s just not that into you.

The map of the Friend Zone can also be decoded with this helpful quick key: you’re not in his phone, he doesn’t call or text back, you’re not friends on Facebook, he only deals with you because he’s paid to. That first one, that’s a killer. I’d given a guy more than one private tour of my clitoris before I scoped that my digits were just that in his phone, math without a name attached. Sex aside, I knew where I stood. Friend. (…but not on Facebook.)

If you are in a pay-for-flirt situation, you can exploit it to your advantage, of course. If you’ve got the funds and he’s a masseuse, your superintendent, a personal trainer, or your therapist, you’re in luck. Set up a scenario where he’s yours for an hour or two regularly, all for some USD. Of course, then it isn’t the Friend Zone, so much as it is unrequited love and some form of prostitution.

Keep in mind, a lot of these Friend Zone symptoms seem simple, but things can get tricky if you’re crushing on your coworker. Sometimes there’s little difference between the Friend Zone and complying with your company’s policy against sexual harassment.

Why are you looking at me funny? Is there mayonnaise in my mustache?

In a 2007 copy of the Chicago Tribune, the Friend Zone was described as follows: “When a guy agrees to be friends, he’s forced to stifle his attraction while regularly seeing and talking to the woman he’s attracted to. She discusses her love life and has the audacity to ask his advice on it. He performs occasional “manly” household and automotive favors for the woman. Essentially, he does everything a boyfriend would do — without the benefits.”

I take issue with this. First of all, women can totally exist in the Friend Zone, obviously. Secondly, you can be in the Friend Zone and hump. Granted, this is probably a sign that things in your life are really going poorly and the Friend Zone may very well be the least of your problems. Lastly, what’s described in that article isn’t the Friend Zone. It’s a bad B-story to a failed romantic comedy, otherwise known as “being a chump.” Get wise, dude. If she’s having you change her light-bulbs without letting you screw anything else, go to the hardware store and ask if they have a radial arm life.

This is fingering in the Friend Zone.

Existing in the Friend Zone is enough to drive someone batshit insane, or at least to the point of writing poetry. (Basically the same thing.) Even the Roman poet, Ovid, wrote of remedies for the Friend Zone in his famed tome Remedia Amoris. He suggested traveling, avoiding love poetry, being sober, and hanging out in nature. All are good things, and sound advice, though I’m not sure that – as a sober, poetry-avoiding, frequent flier who avoids any destination too far from modern urban conveniences – partaking in any of Mr. Ovidius Naso’s solutions will fix the problem for yours truly or just create more suffering. I’m sure I’d be put in the Friend Zone by a lovely nurse or orderly in the psychiatric wing of whatever hospital I’d wind up in after an attempt at wilderness camping.

But let’s say you’re not the unlucky victim in this case, instead you’re looking to be the concierge for a suitor’s endless reservation at the suite of your Friend Zone. How do you do it in a way that doesn’t either offend them, mortify you, or continue their Pepe le Pew-like pursuit…all without cutting them out of your life completely. After all, the whole point of the Friend Zone is to stay friends.

Of course the most direct approach, and the one that respected publications like Psychology Today would suggest, is being upfront and honest. To which I say, “Bullshit.” Honesty is the mature person’s way out, and it is hard. Instead, here are some simple ways to get your Friend Zoning across without having to directly address the problem at all.

Start by asking yourself, “Do I have a crush on anyone?”

No? Okay, fine, Ryan Gosling it is. (Gentlemen, if you can’t even go gay for Gosling just this once, there’s something wrong with you.)

Now get lost in the blissful abyss of thinking about all the lovely things you’d want them to do to let you know they were hip to taking you out on a date. What sort of non-verbal and verbal cues would Mr. Gosling, or whoever, toss out?

Next, think of all the ways that Hollywood producers illustrate courtship in romantic movies and sappy sitcoms on TV. Try not to retch.

Got ‘em all?

Okay, now, here’s the kicker…don’t do any of those things with the person you’re looking to Friend Zone. Say something in passing along the lines of, “I’m so glad we’re…friends.” Which really is the way to say, “It’s not you, it’s me” without ever exchanging fluids.

Of course, you could always do some charity work, sleep with ‘em, and then tell them just that over brunch. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and, after all, it’s a Saturday night. So do me this solid, would ya? Isn’t that what friends are for…