In Defense of the Use of the Term “Friendzone”

By J.N. Reynanice%20guys%20photo

Note: This piece was originally published on the author’s blog and reposted with permission. You can find the original here.

Only recently did I become aware of “The Nice Guys of Okcupid” tumblr.  At NGoOKC, online dating profiles of self-proclaimed nice guys are posted along with their responses to various questions (e.g., “Do you feel there are any circumstances in which a person is obligated to have sex with you?” and “Is a girl who’s slept with 100 guys a bad person?”) which make them seem like the total opposite of nice.  To be clear, at best these men do not know the difference between being nice and being good and at worst these men are just ignorant hypocrites.  While I have qualms with social media shaming sites like this one (and the culture of web shaming, overall), one of my biggest issues here has less to do with the purpose and content of NGoOKC and more to do with appropriation into the dbag lexicon of a perfectly acceptable and useful term: friendzone.

The admin of the “nice guys” site suggests that friendzoning is a term used by “nice guys” who feel women owe them something in return for their so-called friendship. The admin clarifies: “They [“nice guys”] can’t see being a friend as a good thing, so they refer to it as being ‘friendzoned’ in a negative context. They treat the whole time they spent with the woman as a waste. Needless to say, the whole theory is sexist, misogynist and dehumanises women. Anybody who uses the term seriously is an idiot.”

I do not find friendzone theory, as the admin calls it, to be inherently sexist.  I espouse a more neutral use of the term friendzone.  Some psychologists, like Dr. Jeremy Nicholson, would describe the friendzone as a situation in which one individual’s feelings and expectations are different than the other individual’s feelings and expectations, such that the relationship stays a “friendship” and never anything more.

Returning to the admin’s definition, let’s be real: Sometimes being a friend is not a good thing and the time (hopefully not all of the time) you spent with someone is a waste–especially when you are lying about your true motivation and just pretending to be a friend to get what you want from the other person.  The problem with “nice guys” is that they are bad liars and don’t understand, or have the ability to even tastefully conceal, the sexist origin and nature of their expectations.  That so many of these clueless misogynists find themselves in the friendzone is no reason to think the friendzone is a space exclusively reserved for sexist pigs.  Men and women, of all sexual orientations, have found themselves in the friendzone at different points in their life for different reasons.  Some people get stuck there, never realizing the romantic relationship they desired. Some linger there after a relationship is over.  It is not a true state of friendship and shouldn’t be labeled as such.  Being in the friendzone simply signals that your expectations of the social exchange in question are out of line with those of the other person.  In other words, your interpretation of the situation is out of line with reality.

Some people’s faulty interpretations in this regard can be traced directly to strongly held sexist beliefs about whether sex partners can be friends, or what courted partners owe in return for the pursuer’s  time, financial, and energy investment.  Others in the friendzone are there for other, more general falsely held beliefs about relationships and friendships.  If you’ve ever found yourself in the friendzone, this does not necessarily mean you are inherently a sexist.  It is not misogynistic or sexist to be disappointed by unmet expectations.  It is misogynistic or sexist, however, if you think women who don’t cater to you are stupid bitches.  It is not misogynistic or sexist to be upset that the object of your desire rebuffs your advances.  It is misogynistic or sexist, however, if you think that her being attracted to or sleeping with other people, and not you, makes her a dumb whore or a slut.

Again, some people find themselves in the friendzone for reasons other than being sexist aholes.  Personally, I have both said and heard the phrase “let’s just be friends” on more occasions than I care to admit.  Over the years, I have gleaned various meanings from the phrase, including:

5. “Let’s not be friends.”

Some people will try to placate others with the idea of remaining friends but will truthfully have no intention of ever maintaining any type of relationship with you.  These people will say “let’s be friends” but never demonstrate any friendly behavior like say, communicate with you or be seen in public with you.          

4. “Lose my number because I really dislike you and don’t want to have to hurt your feelings by telling you.”

This one is pretty self explanatory.

3. “I’ll sleep with you when it’s convenient for me but you shouldn’t expect that I am going to elevate this arrangement into an actual relationship.”

 This will most likely never be a situation that the “nice guys” of OkCupid will object to. But, for many other people who are interested in being more than friends-with-benefits, this area of the friendzone is painful in its own right.

2. “I recognize, but will not return, your feelings for me and will manipulate you as I see fit.”

The worst of these users and abusers are straight up sociopaths.  They are few in number but they are out there, though. They are certainly not your friends.   

1.  “Let’s just be friends.”

Yes, sometimes it does mean just that.  Sometimes people are honest.  But, these types are also few in number.

I’d like to think that naming the friendzone and acknowledging this uncomfortable place exists for legitimate reasons (which may or may not be directly related to sexism) can be an important part of understanding interpersonal relationships.  To that end, writing off anyone who uses the term as a sexist idiot does a disservice to furthering our knowledge of this social psychological phenomenon.  But clearly, sites like NGoOKC are not meant to be educational.  They are instead a part of a modern intellectual cyber freakshow where enlightened folk like us get to rubberneck, point and laugh at these lonely, sorry souls in their failed attempts at being decent humans.  How that kind of use of the internet can be defended, though, is a topic for another post entirely.

profile J.N. Reyna is a queer Chicana born and raised in Chicago. She is a writer and researcher currently working toward obtaining her doctorate in social psychology. Broadly, her academic research interests include the self, social identity, and consumer psychology. To stay current with her daily musings, you can find her on Twitter @reynabot and at her blog,


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