Why 'The Friend Zone' Is Offensive (And Doesn't Even Exist)

It may seem innocent enough, but the loaded phrase is a big problem.

young woman in pink sweater shrugging her shoulders Cast Of Thousands / Shutterstock

Referring to "the friend zone" may seem innocent enough, but in recent years, more and more women have come to see the phrase as highly problematic.

People who don't like this dating term believe "the friend zone is" a misogynistic concept, largely used by men to describe a failed romantic pursuit towards someone they are friends with.

What is the friend zone?

The "friend zone" is a relationship concept asserting that once two people who could potentially have a romantic connection spend too much times as "just friends," at least one of the two, usually the woman, will no longer be able to see romance with the other as an option.


The friend zone is like the island of misfit toys for unrequited lovers — a fictional place full of self-loathing individuals — and it’s unfortunately become part of mainstream language.

Unrequited love sucks and can be a painful, upsetting experience for those involved, especially if the object of your affection is someone you share a close friendship with. It can be even harder to move past your feelings when you see and interact with that person often.

You can't help who you catch feelings for, but you can control the way you handle the situation when faced with rejection.

Unfortunately, this made up "zone" has become so mainstream that it is frequently used without thinking about the messed up social implications.


Where does the term "friend zone" come from?

The exact origins of the term are unclear, but it seems to have first surfaced in a 1994 episode of "Friends" called "The One with the Blackout," during which Joey tells Ross that not only is he in the friend zone, but he is "mayor of the zone."

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The term went from a simple joke on that episode to a cultural phenomenon.


For example, MTV dedicated an entire show to the friend zone from 2011-2014, and in 2018 the New York Times published a wedding announcement entitled, "36 Years Later, He’s Out of the Friend Zone" about two high school friends reconnecting after several years and marrying one another.

Though that story is heartwarming and inoffensive, the use of the term “friend zone” in the headline received some backlash online and not for nothing; the term is completely sexist and often used by men to manipulate and deride women who aren't interested in them.

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Why is "the friend zone" offensive?

Although both men and women can equally feel the sting of unrequited love, it’s typically men who complain about the “friend zone.”

Generally, when a guy isn’t interested in a woman, it's explained in the simplest terms, i.e., “He's just not into you,” and women are expected to immediately move on.

When a woman isn't interested in a man, however, she’s often seen as “crazy,” "ungrateful," or a "tease."

The friend zone doesn't exist

In an interview with Mic, Michael Kimmel, one of the world’s leading experts on men and masculinities and a distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, stated that the "friend zone" is an extension of constrained gender norms and the need to constantly perform masculinity in front of other men.


Kimmel condenses the “friend zone” to a “face-saving” tactic used by men who don't know how to deal with rejection so they project the responsibility onto women.

The “friend zone” is a term and a concept that needs to be abolished because all it does is put the unnecessary blame on women and devalues their feelings and wants as human beings.

Here's what I consider the top reasons the term "friend zone" needs to be edited out of the mainstream vocabulary.

1. Because the blame and shame rhetoric perpetuated by the “friend zone” is the same mentality that keeps rape culture alive.

Objectifying a woman’s affections is problematic, as it perpetuates the notion that men are entitled to women and their bodies. As long as women are continuously blamed for the sexual wants and desires of men based on their appearance and/or behavior, then victim blaming will persist in society.


This undermines the importance of a woman's consent, of taking her at her word when she says "no" or "I'm not interested."

It reinforces the idea that "no" doesn't actually mean "no", it means "try harder" (which just feels rapey) and that a man can use a woman for what he wants because he has some socially assumed "right" to.

It encourages men to be manipulative and to dupe a woman into feeling comfortable enough to take advantage of her later.

Women are people with the right to govern themselves, and If this was better understood and accepted, then neither the "friend zone" nor rape culture would exist.

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2. Because being nice to a woman doesn't mean you "deserve sex."

​The “friend zone” implies that one's "right" to sex and a romantic relationship has been unjustly denied to them. But guess what?Human interactions don’t work that way!

You can’t make someone reciprocate the feelings you have for them and it’s certainly not your right, so stop acting like it is. If you think it’s painful to be “friend zoned,” imagine the hurt the other person feels when they realize someone they really cared about was just biding their time until they got what they wanted from you.

It’s a deceiving and belittling feeling to find out you weren't really friends at all, you were the endgame. Women are people, not objects to be conquered. Respect women as people — and equals.

Recognize that sex isn't a battle to win or lose nor is it a reward for being a "standup" guy.


3. Because if you were really her friend you would respect the way she feels and support the choices she makes for herself.

Friendships are a special relationship and deserve to be cherished and valued like you would a romantic one.

The “friend zone” disrespects friendship all together and suggests that platonic friendship is a waste of time and effort for the person with unrequited feelings.

The fact that someone cares about you enough to get to know you, spend time with you, and be there for you is something that should be celebrated. You should appreciate the authentic connection you share and honor one another's company.



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4. Because it reinforces the notion that men and women can't be friends because they're assumed to be sexually attracted to each other.

Just because one friend has feelings for the other does not mean they should end up together or that the other person should "give them a shot" simply because they really like them and are good to them.

The “friend zone” assumes that women should be attracted to or want to date any men they value as friends, because if they're good enough to be friends then why aren't they good enough to be romantic partners?

It makes it seem like the one who doesn't return the feelings is a bad person because they won't give the other person a chance, but in reality, that person doesn't owe the other person anything, not even an explanation.


Why is it so unfathomable that a woman doesn't want to date you but still values you as a friend? It's not because you're in the "friend zone", it's because she said no.

The “friend zone” also leaves out people in the LGBTQ community and perpetuates ideas and stereotypes around heteronormativity. When two women or two men engage in platonic friendships, you never hear people talk about being "friend zoned."

You don't see it in mainstream media: it’s left out of movies, TV shows, music or even in real-life conversations. The "friend zone" is just another example of how the promotion of heteronormative culture and relationships dominate the mainstream world.

5. Because it reinforces how society doesn't only scrutinize women based on who they sleep with, but also judges women based on who they don't sleep with.

For women, it’s an ongoing losing battle that will only persist until we change the culture and rhetoric surrounding women and their autonomy.


The "friend zone" is about ownership and feeling wronged because you didn't get what you wanted; it's time to grow up and realize a woman doesn't owe you anything.

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Katana Dumont is a writer and storyteller with an interest in the eccentric and phenomenal.