Saturday, August 17, 2013

The (Fri)end Zone

Because I have an absurdly charmed life, I’ve never had to take a dip in the cesspool that is dating in 21st century America. Consequently, from my perch far above the melee, I amuse myself by opining on the barbaric process of modern courtship. What I mean is: I tell all my single friends how they’re going about it all wrong, despite having no experience in the field whatsoever myself.

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations specifically on the topic of the “Friend Zone,” which I’ve come to regard as the Kaiser Soze of psychological phenomena: no one’s seen it, but everyone believes they know what it is. The mechanism is fairly well known: in a male/female relationship, if the male fails to escalate the relationship toward sex quickly enough, the female will end up viewing him in a platonic light, i.e., a “just a friend.” But as to the causal factors at play, there are about as many theories as theorists.

My theory is: it’s bullshit.

Sexual attraction is typically instant and not a function of time. While women often have to put more effort into arousal than men, it is not the case that a woman needs to be told to view a man as a potential sexual partner. Unless she’s asexual or gay, she’s making that assessment from the first moment she sees him. So if at some point you make a move and she’s not interested, she either 1. was never attracted to you in the first place, or 2. was attracted to you initially but subsequently learned that you are an unsuitable partner. If the FZ exists, then, it must fall under 2.*

A woman may find a man attractive initially but will later deem him an unworthy partner due to additional information gained over time. This information may be deal-breakers for a romance but irrelevant to a friendship. This is the closest thing I can imagine to a legitimate “friend zone,” however had the relationship escalated to sex before these deal-breakers came to light, the information would still come out eventually, likely ending the relationship entirely (romantic and platonic). I think this is why a lot of women feel the FZ complaint is about men seeing sex as the purpose of a male-female relationship, like the Friend Zone is a sand trap on the way to the End Zone of sex, to mix my sports metaphors a bit. The FZ talk can sound like it’s about slipping your dick in before the fact that you are a dick slips out.

Football is a game in which hyper-masculine alpha males alternate between protectively carrying and brutally kicking a stitched-up vagina made from the skin of a pig. The Patriarchy of it just makes me sick.
Of course this is unfair to most guys, because what they’re actually hoping is that the girl will get carried away by the romance and overlook the Spider-man nightlight or weird toenail or whatever. If you can prove you’re a good lover before she learns about your Halo addiction, she’ll put up with your capture-the-flag marathons instead of giving you the “let’s be friends” speech before the romance even gets started. The thing is, if this strategy can work, then the deal-breakers were never actually deal-breakers, and the issue is not the existence of a “friend zone” but a lack of self-understanding among the dating population.

Ok, so here we’ve identified the closest thing I can imagine to a real FZ, that is, women have established false deal-breakers that can be overcome by initiating the romance prior to revealing the existence of these false deal-breakers, at which point the momentum of the relationship will cause the woman to dismiss the false deal-breakers when they are at last revealed. This is the sort of “Give me a chance to show you how great it will be to date me even though I’m poor/nerdy/short/different than your usual type,” model common in media.

Personally, if I were trying to win a girl back, my strategy wouldn't involve reminding her of the time I cried after sex.
I’m inclined to invalidate even this narrow zone as the infamous “Friend Zone,” however, because it depends on a significant failure of self-understanding and value-prioritization. While it’s true undoubtedly that the general dating population is not great with the “know thyself,” it’s 1. equally true of men as women, yet men have no “friend zone,” 2. this systemic failure at self-understanding manifests in many more ways, and causes much bigger problems, than the supposed FZ, and 3. failing to understand your own values so much that you completely turn off attraction that previously existed, to me, suggests such a massive failure of introspective and extrospective ability that you should be excluded from consideration as a romantic partner anyway, because you’re a hot mess.

Which brings me to my ultimate opinion about the Friend Zone, Game, the Rules, and basically anything anyone says about dating strategy: you can’t make a sow’s ear into a silk purse. That is, all of these strategies are designed to succeed with (read: manipulate) the average single person. But the average single person sucks. He’s irrational. She’s capricious. He’s insecure. She’s dumb. He’s incompatible with long-term happiness, in a relationship or outside of one. Any “trick” you employ consequently will achieve only a short-term goal, whether you’re a pickup artist plotting a one-night-stand or a Rules Girl laying a marriage trap.

If you’re a rational, honest person looking for mutual happiness in a long-term relationship, you don’t need a strategy to avoid the Friend Zone; you need a strategy to avoid people who have Friend Zones.

There’s also the question of what people mean in practice when they bitch about the FZ. There’s the Jenna Marbles version:

TL/DW: You need to lower your expectations and go after girls who are actually interested in you. You ended up in the FZ, because you were rejected. Escalating earlier would not have changed that.

There’s the GirlWritesWhat version:

TL/DW: Women take advantage of men’s sexual interest (and the favors and gifts that come with it) and avoid reciprocating if possible. The FZ is what happens when the woman realizes she can get all the benefits of your courtship without the “cost” of putting out (emotionally or physically).

Then there’s this bizarre thing:

"I, Barney Stinson, a womanizer played by a gay man, approve this message."
TS/DR (Too Stupid/Didn’t Read): Referring to the perennial complaint that women say they want a nice guy but date jerks.

Each of these responses applies to a different type of man/woman pairing. Jenna is talking about that super awkward and embarrassing spectacle of a 5 going after a 10, probably because he watched too many movies where “it’s the beauty on the inside that counts.” Yeah, no it doesn’t, dude. Also beauty is correlated with intelligence and money, so, yeah, most of the time the person who wants beauty not to count is 1. going after someone beautiful while he is saying this and 2. not bringing anything else to the table to replace beauty. The way women tend to exaggerate their flaws, men exaggerate their strengths, even when they don’t have any. 

GirlWritesWhat is talking about a narrower context where the woman is legitimately unavailable, and the man is laying groundwork for future possibilities. Look, guys: all women know what’s up. You’re not being subtle. Unfortunately, some women (a lot of them?) will use this to their advantage. The man in GWW’s story is a hero to me, actually, because a lot of guys wouldn’t have had the courage to call that bitch out. Good for him.

Fake-NPH, for some reason, points to the contradictory message we supposedly hear constantly from women as to the kind of men they want. Here again we have the “know thyself” problem in the dating pool. We tend to say we want what we think we should want rather than what we actually want, and many times the more primitive parts of our brains just won’t let us get sexually excited over the skinny dork with glasses. Women take a lot of shit for this, but guess what? For every woman who dates a handsome jerk there’s the “nice guy” salivating at her heels, claiming to want a woman who isn’t superficial.

So everyone in the dating pool sucks, and dating sucks, and it has nothing to do with this so-called “Friend Zone.”

Thus far I’ve given men about as much crap as women, but I should mention that I do not envy men their position in this at all. The contradictory messages men receive from women are just insane. Treat her like a lady, but respect her independence. Sweep her off her feet, but don’t be aggressive. Admire her appearance, but don’t objectify her. Accept promiscuity as sexual liberation, but don’t push for sex, ask permission before each escalation, and be prepared for the consequences if she gets knocked up or regrets her decision and cries rape.

Anywho, I’m glad I’m not dating, and I’m sorry for those of you who are. Maybe people will get better soon and start understanding themselves better, leading to flawless algorithms. Or, better yet, maybe polygamy will be legalized and we can all marry James Marsden.

Now there's a guy who'll never see the inside of a Friend Zone.

If only,

S. Misanthrope

*Of course sometimes friends turn into lovers, but in that case there’s clearly no friend zone at issue.

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