Now, it’s generally accepted wisdom that women automatically classify guys as either Boyfriend or Just Friends, and never the two shall meet. The idea of guys crossing from “Just Friends” to “Boyfriend” is almost exclusively the domain of bad romantic comedies. People who have actually made the leap are like the Loch Ness Monster – everybody’s heard of it, almost nobody’s seen it and everyone’s pretty sure the people who say they have are lying.
Today we discuss how to escape the Friend Zone.
Now before we get to it, a little background about me. I am intimately familiar with The Friend Zone. I have spent so much time there that I could legally declare it my primary residence and run for political office.
The fact of the matter is, I was one of those people who would willingly put himself into The Friend Zone because I was too chicken to make a move and would rather rely on the Platonic Friend Back Door Gambit to try to weasel my way in rather than risk rejection and make a move.
Even when I was starting to improve my approach with women, I could still find myself slipping back into old, bad habits. This took an especially sad (and ironic) turn when I let a case of Oneitis get the better of me and stayed “friends” with an ex in the hopes that I could stick it out long enough for another chance. And this is at a point when I should have known better.
Now years later and decidedly wiser for the experience, I’ve had fewer opportunities to escape the Friend Zone because, frankly, I’ve learned how to stay out of it in the first place. But the process of learning to avoid the Friend Zone also taught me how to escape it. And I have successfully leapt out of the friend zone several times, with old friends/crushes of long standing. The process was long and time consuming… and it decidedly wasn’t easy.
But it can be done. If you are willing to put in the effort. If you know how.
Which Friend Zone Are You In?
I’ve detailed the various forms that The Friend Zone takes, from the LJBF polite rejection to the genuine friendship, and it’s critical to know where you stand. In the first two: the LJBF and The Big Lie… well, to be perfectly frank, you need to bail. In the former, you’ve been given a more socially acceptable “thanks but no thanks” from someone who isn’t interested in you. In the latter… well, you’re not really in the Friend Zone because you’re not really their friend. At best, you’re an orbiter; at worst… well, you’re an asshole, really.
(One slight digression: it’s possible to end up as genuine friends following the LJBF speech; sometimes there’s chemistry but no attraction and being friends really is a viable option.)
Of the two remaining categories of the Friend Zone, the the folks who have found themselves in Mistaken Intentions have the easiest time of changing the nature of their friendship. If you’ve found yourself in this zone, then the odds are good that you haven’t been friends for terribly long; weeks rather than months or months rather than years. You have far less emotional inertia to overcome and her((For the sake of convenience, I’m going to be using the feminine pronoun – the Friend Zone is predominately something that guys inflict on themselves- but my advice applies equally for men and women.)) mental image of you is going to be considerably less entrenched than if the two of you have been friends for years.
It’s the poor bastards in the last, the long-term friends, who have the hardest time. You have the force and weight of shared history working against you. Emotions have a mass and intertia of their own and it can be incredibly difficult to shift them into new directions. Even more troubling, however, is the fact that your crush will have a mental image of who you are that’s tied up in how she responds to you emotionally – and this will have been reinforced through the months and years that you’ve been hanging out together. If you’re especially close – hanging out more than once per week – , it’s even tougher; familiarity may not breed contempt, but it will continually reinforce the fact that you’re Good Ol’ Wossisname, her very good friend that she is not at all attracted to.
If you’re going to get out of The Friend Zone, you’re going to have shake up how she sees you. You need to challenge her pre-conceived notions of who you are and how you’ve been classified in her mind.
What Do You (Both) Want?
Before we get started on the process of escaping the Friend Zone, you need to know what you’re actually hoping to get out of this.
It’s time to do some fairly deep soul searching, and you need to be absolutely, brutally honest with yourself: are you looking for sex, or are you looking for an actual relationship? It’s incredibly easy, especially if you haven’t had much experience with sex, to confuse physical desire for an emotional connection. This isn’t to say that a purely sexual attraction for a friend is a bad thing, but it can cause complications, especially if you aren’t on the same page. An infatuation can feel an awful lot like love, but it can be incredibly transient – especially after a couple of orgasms.
For that matter, you need to be sure that you aren’t in “love” with her because you can’t have her. It’s human nature to chase after things that are “safe” – things that we can’t have for one reason or another. It gives us an object and outlet for our emotions and provides a handy excuse to not pursue something that might – gasp, shock – actually have consequences. If you go in expecting a fairy tale ending with cartoon cherubs and singing woodland animals and find out that your “love” for her was predicated on the fact that she was forever out of your reach; now that you actually have what you always wanted… well it’s not really what you expected, is it?
While we’re asking the hard questions, you also need to ask yourself what she is looking for and where she is with her life. You may be picturing the cliched house with the white picket fence, 2.5 kids and 1.4 cars, but if she isn’t interested in relationships at all, then even if you do manage to escape the Friend Zone, all you’re doing is setting yourself up for an even greater heartbreak. She may only be interested in casual, short term relationships. She might well be open to a Friends With Benefits situation but pushing the L-word1 might send her screaming for the hills. You may find that you just want sex while she’s looking to settle down with someone on a long-term basis.
For that matter, she may be feeling the pressure to date someone, anyone – and you happened to catch her in a moment of weakness.
If you have any hope of escaping the Friend Zone and making the relationship work – especially without damaging your friendship in the first place – then you need to make sure that you’re both on the same page. The last thing you need is to find out that you don’t want the same things and wind up hurting each other.
Get A Second Look
The trope of “suddenly sexy” is a long-standing cliche in fiction, especially romantic comedies; one moment it’s your old childhood pal who’s like a brother/sister too you and then all the sudden there’s a slight change and then you can’t get them out of your head.
The problem is that it can be hard to pierce the filter of our pre-concieved notions about our friends; we have built up these images in our heads, a sort of mental short-hand that stands in for the real thing. You need to give her cause to re-define who you are to her – and that means it’s time to make some changes and shake up the status quo.
And the best place to start is with your body and your look.
If one of your friends has ever made a sudden change to their wardrobe or hairstyle - one that seems out of character for them – then you know the effect that I’m talking about; you know that it’s your friend, but they’ve moved so far out of your expectations that you’re forced to look at them in a new light. Sometimes the changes work – they feel natural and help emphasize your friend’s good points – and sometimes they don’t… but either way, your mental image is shaken.
This can be a critical tool to making your escape from the Friend Zone.
Back in the bad old days I didn’t exactly know how to dress – oversized clothes in the hopes of hiding that I hadn’t gained the Freshman 15 so much as the Freshman 40, really godawful t-shirts layered with ugly flanel (hey, it was the 90s!) – or how to carry myself. I slouched and folded in on myself, afraid to take up space for fear of inconveniencing other people. Everything about me screamed “LOW SELF-ESTEEM!” My style was “whatever is (mostly) clean and is comfortable”. My archetype was “Reclusive Nerd”.
It was no wonder why women weren’t exactly beating down my door, is it? This was my default for decades – and this was the image that was locked into the heads of my friends – especially the ones I had an interest in.
When they saw me few years later, they were astounded. I had made a complete transformation – I’d lost weight and taken up weight training, I had learned to appreciate stylish, well-fitting clothes; I had a hair style that wasn’t the SuperCuts Discount Special and – critically, the way I carried myself had changed. I was standing straight, with my shoulders back and my arms held loose at my sides. When I walked I had what could almost only be described as a “swagger”, born out of the fact that I was more relaxed and moving with purpose. I was so out of line with their pre-conceived idea of who I was and what I looked like that they were forced to re-consider who I was and how we related to each other. I was no longer “that nice guy I’ve known for years”, I was almost a stranger. They had to re-learn who I was - and this gave me the opportunity to re-define our relationship.
Now, this is not to say that you have to completely re-invent yourself in order to get out of the Friend Zone; in fact, you might be surprised by the returns you get on some small changes to your look. Better fitting clothes and a new, more flattering hairstyle can work wonders. Improving your body language and posture by adopting more confident attitudes can make you seem like a new person. If you wear glasses, consider contacts. If you have facial hair, shave it off or adopt a style that works better with your face – not every style works well for every sort of face.
Just keep in mind: the longer you’ve known your crush – and the closer you are with them – the harder it can be to shake that mental image of you. I’d been friends with mine for close to a decade or longer before I got out – and part of what assisted my transformation in their minds was my having to not see them for a few years.
Act Like A Lover, Not A Friend
I covered this some last time, but it’s worth reiterating: if you want to get out of the Friend Zone, you can’t keep acting like a friend. You need to be willing to treat her more like someone you’re dating.
This means that you can’t be available to her all the time, the way you are now. You have to be willing to say “no” to her when she asks you for favors or to hang out; you aren’t going to convince her to change how she sees you when you’re dancing in attendance on her at all hours. Let her miss you a little; we tend to value things that we miss more than what we have available to us at all times. Don’t forget: this doesn’t mean that you’re going to make yourself artificially scarce and lie about being unavailable in hopes that she’s going to break down eventually – you need to have your own life going on, one that doesn’t necessarily include her all the time.
Similarly, you need to be willing to express yourself sexually and have her acknowledge you as a sexual being. We sometimes can have a problem acknowledging that our friends have a sexual side to them – it’s part of how we compartmentalize people. In practice, you need to be able to talk about sex – especially your sex lives – with her. It may be tough hearing about the other people she’s slept with; not to sound cold but deal with it. Everybody has a sexual past, and it’s a mark of maturity to be able to handle it without freaking out, pouting or acting squirmy. A hint of jealousy is good; acknowledging her other partners as “lucky bastards” is a nice, subtle way of indicating that you wouldn’t mind being in their place without driving the point home.
How do you bring up sex without sounding like you’re trying to perv out on her? Talk about the other girls you’ve dated, especially in the context of what makes a good boyfriend or girlfriend. “Yeah, Michelle was sweet and she gave great massages but we just didn’t click in bed, you know?” “Leah and I were a bad fit. She was needy, I was in a bad place but we stuck together because the sex was just mind-blowing.” Leave a little bait to encourage her curiosity and wait for her to ask for details – you don’t want to just launch into a conversation about how this girl you knew gave the greatest head because she could do this one thing; you run the risk of too much info, too fast and making your friend uncomfortable. Let her take the lead when it comes to finding out more. If the conversation starts to flow away from sex, let it. Once again: you don’t want to sound like you’re trying to convince her that you have sex, nor do you want to sound like you’re trying to pump her for details for your masturbatory fantasies. You want her comfortable with the idea of you being sexual in general.
You’ve Got To Touch
Once again, much like with avoiding the Friend Zone, touch is incredibly important. Part of acting like a lover is to be willing to make physical contact. You have to be willing to touch her, and with greater intimacy than just a sock on the shoulder. You need to be willing to be physically affectionate. If you’re not touchy-feely already, then you need to learn. Give her your arm when you’re walking some place. If you’re leading her to her seat, put your hand on her lower back. Put an arm around her and pull her in for a side-hug and let it linger for a second. Give her a hug goodbye. Snuggle up on the couch while you’re watching Netflix.
Just remember to be aware for signs of discomfort: muscles tense up, she doesn’t lean into the hug or the arm or moves away; you want to be the one who breaks contact first, before she becomes aware of her discomfort. The last thing you want while you’re working your way out of the Friend Zone is to have her associate your touching her with feeling uncomfortable or awkward.
You Want Her But That’s Cool. Because She’s Awesome.
Now obviously, you’re going to want to flirt with her and even hit on her a little. This is critical – you can’t just come out one day and confess your undying love for her and expect the purity of your passion to win her over in an instant. You need to build that attraction.
At the same time, you can’t just start telling her you that you think she’s hot and you totally want to bang. Doing so is going to make her think you’re only her friend because you’ve been trying to get in her panties from the beginning. You want to acknowledge your attraction to her… while emphasizing the fact that you love being her friend too. You’re not friends with her because you’ve been harboring this secret desire for years, you’re friends with her because she’s awesome. The fact that she’s awesome is also why you are attracted to her.
Early on, I had one case of being in the Friend Zone with somebody who knew how I felt and was incredibly uncomfortable about it and about the fact that I kept bringing it up and hitting on her in my clumsy way. The problem was that I made my constantly throwing my feelings for her in her face a condition of being friends with me. We couldn’t have a conversation that didn’t eventually come around to how I felt and our relationship. It made things awkward and nearly sank the friendship entirely.
It took years to repair the damage… and those years didn’t make me any less attracted to her.
What did change was my attitude towards her and how I expressed my attraction. When we had managed to fix things and we were back in regular contact, I was still flirting with her, but I made sure that she understood that I was uninvested in the outcome. I was willing to keep things to the level of “Hey, I like you, I want to get together with you, it’s all good if you don’t feel the same way.” She was much more comfortable with this; the fact that I liked her and was attracted to her was not going to be a big deal. As a result, she didn’t feel put on the defensive about how she did or didn’t feel about me and was able to relax and enjoy herself. She was even willing to flirt back a little because it was low-stakes.
We hooked up soon afterwards. And it was awesome.
The fact that I was willing to start flirting with my crushes – even bringing sex into it – was a major part of how I would get out of the Friend Zone; it was easier to accept because a) it was leavened with humor and b) I was also willing to acknowledge our friendship was great too and I was really happy to be her friend. I wasn’t asking her to make a decision – be my friend or be my lover – I was just expressing myself in a way that was entertaining, even flattering, but unthreatening. You want to let her know: “Hey, look, I think you’re awesome and you’re a great friend, and I want to get together with you. Feel free to shoot me down, I’m going to be totally cool with that, but that’s not going to change the fact that I’m attracted to you. I think you’re cool to hang out with and I’m super-happy that we’re friends.”
Send Mixed Signals
This is going to sound manipulative and mind-game-y but stick with me here.
You need to keep your crush off balance. You want to be a little unpredictable. You don’t want to just be hitting on her or flirting with her incessantly – even if it didn’t make her uncomfortable, it just ends up becoming part of the background radiation of your relationship. Similarly, being permanently unavailable is just going to mean that your friendship is going to wither and die. You want to run hot and cold – you flirt a little, you pull back. You give a sincere compliment and follow it up with playfully giving her shit. You want to keep a balance of pushing and pulling, basically, “go away a little closer,” if you will.
You don’t want things to be too comfortable or too easy to define; the last thing you want is to reaffirm the status quo of being “just friends”. There’s value in ensuring that keeping your status in flux – after all, you want to be seen as more than just a friend, you want to be seen as a potential lover and partner. The unpredictability and uncertainty is, contrary to expectations, surprisingly attractive; as much as we like certainty, certainty can be boring. We find unpredictability to be intriguing because it challenges us. We want to know, which means we keep coming back to it in an attempt to define it and understand just where we stand.
Sending those mixed signals will help spur your crush to invest more into your relationship… and into you.
Date Other People
You want to break out of the Friend Zone? You need to date other people.
Yes, it seems counterintuitive, but it works. To start with: you don’t want to be hung up on just one person, no matter how attracted you are to them. Dating other people will keep you from spending all your time moping about “Whyyyyy won’t she luuuuuuuuurve meeeee” and annoying all of your friends about how unfair it all is. It will help keep you grounded in the reality of relationships instead of getting caught up in the fantasies about your fairy tale romance with your crush. It will also do you a lot of good to be reminded that not only are there other awesome women out there, but they find you attractive too – not only will this boost your confidence and self-esteem, but it also means that you will ultimately be less invested in your non-relationship in the Friend Zone.
It also will help her realize that a) you’re not waiting around for her, b) that you clearly have something going for you if all of these other women find you attractive and c) maybe she’s just a little jealous that these women are getting the attention that used to be hers and hers alone.
Ultimately it’s a win-win situation; on the one hand, you win your crush’s heart. On the other, you may have been shot down by your crush, but you’re still dating awesome women. Hard to go wrong, really.
Take It Slow, Bro
Look, even under the best of circumstances, this isn’t going to be a fast process. In an ideal situation, it will take weeks to months. If you’re dealing with a long-standing friendship, it could take years. Changing a long-held perception of you and your relationship is a marathon, not a sprint. You want a slow boil; getting impatient and trying to rush things will only make her uncomfortable and end up blowing things. Badly. Push too hard, too fast and not only are you not going to get out of the Friend Zone, you’re going to lose the friendship entirely. You need to be calm. You need to be patient. If you aren’t willing to put the time and effort in knowing in advance, you need to seriously reconsider whether you’re feeling honest emotion or that you just want something you can’t have.
Make Your Move
It’s starting to look like maybe all that effort is paying off. She’s flirting back with you. She’s initiating the physical contact and is more accepting of more intimate (but non-sexual) touch like snuggling on the couch. She’s sharing much more of her own sexual interests with you. She’s starting to show signs of jealousy when you bring up the other women you’re seeing.
If everything works well – if you’re starting to get definite signs that she’s starting to see you as more than just a platonic friend rather than trying to analyze her every word like it was the Zapruder film – then it’s time for you to make your move.
This does not mean that you’re about to confess your deep and abiding love for her; even if she is becoming attracted to you as a potential lover, dropping the L-bomb2 is going to freak her out. You’ll be putting way too much pressure on her considering she’s only just starting to see you as someone she could date.
Yes, I know I told you to let her know you were attracted to her – there’s a world of difference between acknowledging that you like her and want to get together with her and telling her that you believe the two of you are soulmates and you’ve already picked out the names for your kids.
No, you’re going to have to make a physical move.
You’re going to have to kiss her.
The best time for it would be at a point when you’re fairly intimate already - hanging out at a bar together with your arm around her, snuggled up on the couch watching TV, something – but ultimately there is no “perfect” moment. The “Perfect Moment” is the one that you make. It can be as the two of you lean over the balcony of your apartment and admire the view or it can be spur-of-the-moment in a bar watching a band. What ultimately matters is that you take that attraction that you’ve been building and act on it.
If it goes wrong – if she’s not into it… well, your attitude needs to be “no harm, no foul”. She will likely take her lead from you; as long as you treat it like it’s no big deal, it won’t be a big deal. Shrug your shoulders, say “Sorry, thought I’d take my shot,” and move on – preferably to one of those other women you’ve been dating.
But if it doesn’t go wrong, when she wraps her arms around your neck and starts kissing you back…
Well, just try not to get distracted by all the fireworks.