What IS it About this Friend Zone Thing?
“There is no friend-zone, there are just people who want to date or sleep with you and people who don’t. The terminology is used here merely as a term of convenience.”
–Harris O’Malley (aka Dr. Nerdlove)
Recently I read an article from The Good Men Project—it’s a great website so check it out if you haven’t already. The article was about the negative reaction men have when they feel stuck with the dreaded “nice guy” label. It’s dreaded because “everyone knows nice guys finish last.” Or so they may think. Stay with me, you’ll see what I mean.
Right up front: For most guys this is MAJOR. A great big F-word. We call it: The Friend Zone.
The article was written by a woman, and she has some very valid insights to offer . . . from her perspective. I say from her perspective, because we only get to hear one side of the story. There are always at least two sides and at least two perspectives creating a multitude of possibilities. Without justifying the behavior of the man in question, I feel as a lifelong “nice guy” I might have some insight into what may have eventually caused him to blow up. A situation that for some men could easily have escalated from verbal into emotional or even physical abuse.
Again—this doesn’t excuse his behavior, but trying to understand someone can turn the indignation of, “What’s WRONG with them! I just don’t understand (him/them)!!” into something a little more compassionate. Which is often a first step toward a solution.
There is no argument that a woman always has a right to choose her romantic relationships. There is no denying that a woman always has the right to reject a man she has no “spark” with. And I would never say that women don’t feel rejection every bit as deeply as men, if not more so.
There are a few things the article doesn’t say. Like: Was the man still secretly holding out hope? Was the woman not clear enough? Is the guy just an asshole? You can read more about the different types of friend-zoning scenarios in the links below and suffice it to say it comes in many flavors, so we’ll never know for sure what happened between the two of them.
But let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that he was a nice guy and that he had initially accepted and appreciated “just” being friends as opposed to having a romantic relationship. Let’s also assume that he did not still hold a secret hope that sex was on the horizon.
Under that set of assumptions, I’m not convinced that the man’s anger was all about her rejection of him, or his unrequited love for her. I think it might have more to do with the man’s own self-image and eventual hatred and/or dislike for himself. If you read the article, they managed to be friends for a while before he lost his temper. He had (hypothetically) accepted that romance was not in the air and was satisfied with their friendship. It was when she discussed being interested in other men with him that things changed—we get the sense—seemingly quickly and out of the blue.
As humans, we are programmed to “lash-out” when we are scared, hurt or in danger. It’s the fight side of the fight or flight response. And unless we’re damaged by abuse or neglect in childhood, we also learn to build a picture of ourselves as essentially “good” or “worthy” of love, affection and romantic relationships. It’s part of our ego. Everyone has an ego and ego isn’t intrinsically BAD . . . but unexamined? That thing can land us in trouble quick!
Particularly when we’re younger (the author said she was 22 at the time), our self-worth and our acceptance of ourselves is built more on how we’ve learned to see ourselves based on how we perceive OTHERS see us. And when the ego meets a hit to our self-worth either real or perceived? The battle for the psyche has begun!
Back up a couple of paragraphs and note that I specifically used the word “choose” to describe the woman’s right to choose whoever she felt like dating. In his mind, she chose to say to him, “Your worth as a romantic interest and sexual partner is not sufficient for me to consider you a contender.” And initially in our scenario, the man seems to have accepted that.
As time went by and other men showed up, I can guarantee the man started to do comparisons between himself and her new choices. He may have intellectually understood there would be no romance, no sex, no relationship between the two of them, yet compare he did. Perhaps one of her new dating interests had a drug problem, or was less educated, or had a history of abuse. Or maybe he was a decent guy but for some reason just seemed inadequate. It was quite likely he found inadequacies with all of her dates whether they had them or not, because the battle had begun. If it were conscious, it would sound something like this:
Really?! I’m better than that guy!!
At least, I thought I was . . .
Of course I am!!
What’s he got that I don’t?
What is she doing with a guy like HIM?!”
And not someone more like . . .
He’s a Loser!
Wait . . . Am I a loser? She chose him not me!
Nahhhh . . .
Over time, this internal war beats him down and he began to get angry. His self-worth, what he “knew” to be good and right and true, his very identity—was ripped from him. She chose someone else to be her MVP, so therefore (in his friendzoned mind) his value as a man is now LESS THAN some other guy he considers an “inferior.” His ego needs to believe this. So it does.
He wasn’t lashing out at the woman personally, SHE didn’t do anything wrong and deep down he knows that (bcz: friend). He lashed out because he just took a shot that required him to admit he didn’t have the “value” he always assumed he had.
So in order to make himself feel “better” about himself and reset his internal belief that he is a man worthy of love, he had to make the woman wrong. Here’s the head talk again:
Her choice is foolish and wrong!
There must be some sort of mistake.
Someone much more like me is a better choice!
(and here’s where I’m gonna lose you ladies, but stick with me!)
Sh*t, This would be OK if he was someone richer or hotter (than me) because that would’ve been a better choice (than me)
I think you can see by now: This is a vicious mental circle. It. Never. Ends. And all he wants it to do is just END……………. It’s unbearable; fight or flight kicks in; and this time, he blows up. It is not her fault, she did nothing wrong. Yet pain is pain, and in his mind, she’s the logical target.
Basically, it’s an attempt to reestablish himself as a dominant male that the woman should have been attracted to. Taken to a greater extreme, to get rid of this ugly feeling, a man may try to dominate her in ways beyond the verbal abuse mentioned in the article. Ways like violence, physical and emotional abuse or rape. It can get scary; the potential is there.
In my novel FBoM there are characters who succumbed and allowed their anger to escalate their behavior toward women in some pretty heinous ways. (Never fear, there’s a Hero. Or is there?)
I’ll say it one last time IN CAPS: THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR THOSE ACTIONS. THE BEHAVIOR IS WRONG.
And I hope that just one person reading this maybe understands a little better what might be going on inside some guy’s head when in their former view, he was acting completely without reason.
The confusion, anger and ultimately the outburst is from his tanking self-worth and tarnished self-image. And from not being equipped to realize that the person he should be working on? Is himself.
But more on that later.
Here are those links I promised:
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If this article made you think of yourself or someone you know who could benefit from some of that “working on himself” I mentioned, here are some books written by Harris O’Malley (aka Dr. Nerdlove) that might fit the bill. You can also find his blog right there on his Amazon Author’s page, or just click here. His writing is readable enough for the young and meaty enough for the young at heart.