The dreaded Friend Zone

By now, you know the territory, or at least you’ve figured out the map:

Venn diagram detailing location of the dreaded Friend Zone

One Christopher Tognotti, evidently a full-time resident, decided to cry into a HuffPo microphone about it:

You’d be shocked how easily the thought I really like you as a person but I’m not attracted or interested in dating you can be conveyed with just the flicker of an eyelid.

Trust me, I wouldn’t be shocked. I know this land like the back of my hand.

Perhaps you’ve heard this story before, of a self-proclaimed “nice guy” who feels miffed by the romantic inattention of a close female friend. But assumptions that the alleged “nice guy” may be making — feeling aggrieved, maybe even angry, that she couldn’t be more open-minded, or see how great a couple they’d be — fall perilously short of anything describable as “nice.”

Vehemently complaining that a woman is dating somebody else instead of you hinges on the assumption that she’d want to date you otherwise. I understand the impulse, even the drive to convince oneself that such a romance could flourish.

Self-described “nice guys,” as a rule, have a tendency to fall back on that old saw about women being attracted only to bad boys | douchebags | asshats [select one or more]. It does not occur to them that the problem is not in the stars, but in themselves, that they are underachieving.

Robert Stacy McCain suggests that it’s an act, not of desperation, but of sheerest cynicism:

The problem is not their superficiality, but his.

He’s basically a stalker, a romantic voyeur, dishonestly using the “friend zone” as an excuse to get close to women in a non-sexual context, secretly hoping that he can then exploit this proximity to convert a girl friend into a girlfriend. But when he finally works up the gumption to express his secret purpose, not only are his overtures unwelcome, but his female friend feels understandably betrayed: If she had known his interest in her was erotic, she never would have let this pitiful scrub into her “friend zone” to begin with.

One might reasonably ask if there’s any substantive difference between Mr Tognotti, author of that wail, and yours truly, author of several dozen such. Well, there’s one that comes most immediately to mind: I know who’s to blame for my predicament. And unlike Tognotti, I don’t, in McCain’s phrase, “overestimate my range”:

Suppose a guy’s overall attractiveness — including all possible factors, including income, personality, etc. — is 5 on a scale of 10.

As a general rule, a 5 male’s romantic prospects are seldom going to include women who would rank as high as an 8. The best such a guy can realistically hope for is to catch a 7 in a vulnerable moment and if he doesn’t want to be hopelessly lonely while waiting for that lucky shot to come along, Mr. 5 would be wise to seek companionship among females ranking 5 or below. The very nature of Chris Tognotti’s “nice guy” complaint tells you that he’s not playing that way.

Faced with these daunting odds, I opted for the only rational choice: I gave up hope altogether. And I feel better, though admittedly not to the extent I’d like.

(Venn diagram via Notre Lien Quotidien.)



  1. fillyjonk »

    21 April 2014 · 2:51 pm

    As someone who apparently once discouraged a fellow who fancied her with some kind of random eyelid flicker….I’m just really bad at this flirting stuff.

    (I had someone tell me, after I graduated from grad school, that so-and-so had “liked” me but he was afraid I “wasn’t interested in him.” Considering that I never got the sense he was trying to gauge my interest…..well, missed connection and all that. I would have gone out with him. It might not have gone anywhere, but still: I would have gone out with him.)

  2. Will Truman »

    21 April 2014 · 10:04 pm

    I consider this to be the best primer on the subject. It’s not specifically about mate-attraction, but the lessons are valuable in that arena. Focus on being a better or at least more genuinely interesting person.

  3. Tatyana »

    22 April 2014 · 8:13 am

    …and McCain’s problem is that he sees the world in terms of athletic game. There is a 1 to 10 scale in his mind, and somebody always “scores” to detriment of others. Guess what: I score big because I avoid guys like him.

  4. Roger Green »

    23 April 2014 · 2:35 am

    Dammit, I hate it when you write so knowingly about too many of my previous romantic encounters.

  5. Romance redux (because I love the word redux) | Ramblin' with Roger »

    3 May 2014 · 5:26 am

    [...] Still, I wrote, in an e-mail titled I’ll take another shot, if you give me parameters: “Not sure what kind of answer I could give you about romance. Among other things, I hardly ever pursued a woman, because I’m painfully shy. So she had to be a friend at some level first…” (Indeed, Dustbury speaks well of the anxiety guys like me experienced all the time.) [...]

RSS feed for comments on this post