Hey Doc, hope this finds you well.
I’m a 33 year old man and I’m writing with regards to a recent experience with a girl who has placed me seemingly firmly in the Friend Zone.
I’d like your insight and suggestions as to what best course of action may be, as I’m aware that anything regarding Friend Zone and or cockblocking tends to be particularly difficult in general.
This girl and I have known each other for years through our mutual circle of summer friends, but between 2019 and 2020, especially during the initial stages of the COVID19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, we became particularly close and more intimate emotionally. Let me also first clarify that nothing physical has ever happened with this girl, and also that she lives in Italy and I in the U.K, so our exchanges have primarily been over the phone and Facebook Messenger.
Over time, our conversations got longer, more intimate and deeper, with her starting to show some of the typical IOI’s, e.g. assessing my current status, asking about previous relationships and other such topics. I could tell her attraction towards me was growing in a sort of zig zag sort of manner, with the odd shit test thrown here and there, some of which I’d pass and some of which I’d fail.
Unfortunately it got to the point where I could no longer hold my feelings in and confessed my crush on her this one night after having had a few drinks (bad bad mistake, I know), at which point she immediately Friend Zoned me. I initially accepted, also due to the immediacy of the shock and feeling quite overwhelmed, but later realised that friendship was not what I wanted and expressed my ultimatum (for lack of better word) to her by saying that I was not interested in being friends only and that if she was ever to change her mind about me she’d know where and how to contact me.
I feel like I have taken the best possible course of action, also having read that walking away can create massive attraction and having heard of few instances in which Friend Zone had been reversed thanks to the guy being able to walk and never look back. I wanted to ask your insight as to whether or not I took the best possible course of action and whether such a course of action has the potential to create the necessary attraction for her to reach out to me in time and progress things further?
Many thanks in advance
Friend Zone Projector
Well, you asked FZP, but I don’t think you’re gonna like the answer.
First things first: there’s no such thing as “the Friend Zone”. While I freely admit that I use The Friend Zone as a term of convenience in the column, the phrase — especially as other folks use it — tends to imply that this is an active behavior; something that’s done to you by others. It’s not; it’s simply the absence of attraction. People aren’t “Friend Zoning” you, nor are they “putting” you anywhere. There are simply folks who aren’t interested in dating or sleeping with you. That’s it.
That’s an important distinction to keep in mind because, frankly, I think you’ve got the entirely wrong idea about your relationship with this woman and you’ve been going about things entirely the wrong way.
Let’s start with the most obvious: you use a lot of PUA lingo in your letter, from IOIs (indications of interest) and “shit test”. As someone who started in the PUA scene and left I can tell you from personal experience: when you’re deep enough in that you’re still using the jargon, then you’re almost always coming to interactions with women with a self-limiting series of beliefs and ones that are often so comedically off base that they aren’t even wrong. Shit tests are a prime example. The entire concept of shit tests is predicated on the idea that women look for men of equal or higher social status or “sexual market value” and are on the look-out for guys who are “faking” their status. Rather than, y’know, act like human beings, these theoretical women will instead “test” men by doing things like “giving them shit” or “asking them to do things like buy her a drink”. Men who are either “high value” or are good at faking it, will recognize these tests for what they are and “pass” them by… well, mostly by ignoring them or otherwise trying to play off of them in some way to prove they’re unruffled by all of this. Because they’re so high value, you see.
The problem is that, as a general rule, women don’t shit test people. What PUAs call “shit tests” are what pretty much everyone else calls “doesn’t want to be bothered,” or “isn’t interested in you and wants you to go away.” Dudes who try to “pass” those shit tests by ignoring them, giving shit back or otherwise sticking around where they aren’t wanted aren’t “proving their value”, they’re being obnoxious and not reading someone’s active disinterest. While yes, on occasion you can find the odd individual who likes to push people’s buttons or wants to prove something to themselves by seeing how much they can get away with, they’re not the norm. In fact, we have a specific name for people like that: assholes.
So, if you’re in a situation where you think that a woman is giving you a shit test, you are either a) annoying her or b) dealing with an asshole who likes playing games. In either case, the only winning move is to walk away. If it’s the former, the odds of your being able to “win her over” are low and requires far more time and effort than it would ever actually be worth. What’s far more likely is that you’re going to go from “annoying” to “please someone get me away from this guy.” If it’s the latter, then walking away means you’re not continuing to indulge someone who thinks that playing games is appropriate behavior. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
The same goes with IOIs, especially in the context of the conversations you’d been having with her. While yes, there are times when folks will show interest by asking about your relationship status, you’re far more likely to get this from someone you just met at a social mixer… not from someone you’ve known for a while. If you’re talking to a friend or an acquaintance who’s becoming a friend, that’s far more likely to just be someone trying to get to know you as a person. Especially if the topic of relationships or dating has come up in casual conversation.
(And I have a more than sneaking suspicion that you may have tried to steer the conversation towards dating in an attempt to prompt or force IOIs…)
I don’t think you were “Friend Zoned” in the sense that you intend. I think you indulged in some dickful thinking, started taking normal human interaction as covert signs of interest and, as a result, let your imagination fill in the rest. Then, after a few drinks lowered your inhibitions, you feelings-dumped all over her, she turned you down politely and that should have been the end of that. Except it wasn’t. You went and took backsies on being friends, laid down an ultimatum and walked away from the friendship. Now you’re waiting to see if this is going to be what brings her around.
Well, I hope you packed a lunch my dude, because you’re gonna be waiting for a long damn time. A really long time.
Here’s the thing: there’s nothing inherently wrong with not wanting to be friends with someone you’re attracted to. While friendship isn’t the consolation prize for dating, you’re not obligated to be friends with folks who turned you down. If friendship isn’t something that you want from that relationship, you are well within your rights to say “no, thank you,” and go your own way. That doesn’t make you a jerk.
The way you go about doing this, on the other hand, does. And making a production of “nope, don’t want to be friends” after having been acting like a friend to her up until you got rejected… well, that’s not gonna cover you in glory, chief. It certainly isn’t going to change her mind and build attraction to you. What it’s far more likely to do is make her think that you were trying to pull the Platonic Best Friend Back Door Gambit and were looking for an opportunity to Nice Guy your way into her pants.
And honestly, the PUA jargon isn’t exactly leading me to believe you didn’t have a hidden agenda from the jump.
There’s nothing wrong with finding someone attractive and wanting to date them. There’s also nothing wrong with having developed pantsfeels for someone you are friends with. But in both cases, it’s better to proceed with honesty, openness and integrity than trying to hide your interest until such a time that you think you’ve built up enough Attraction Points that you can make your move.
Let’s be real: that’s not the approach you’re taking here. You’re still treating this as a matter of power and gamesmanship, where if you play your cards juuuuust right, you’re going to impress her with your… I dunno, willingness to walk away and that this is going to somehow win her over. And — spoiler alert! — it won’t. Especially not when you’re metaphorically looking over your shoulder to see if she noticed and if she cares. That’s not displaying confidence or value, that’s making a production of walking away and hoping that it has the desired effect.
The way that you get out of “the friend zone” is to change how she sees you. This often entails time apart and making a significant and genuine change to your life, so that if and when the two of you are in contact again, you no longer fit her mental image and she reassess how she sees you. However, the mistake most guys make is that they don’t make those changes; they only make surface changes in hopes that it’ll convince their crush that they’re different. It only works if you’re making changes for yourself, improving yourself for your own sake and working towards becoming your best self. Doing it for someone else only backfires. It’s not genuine, it’s not lasting and it won’t change people’s minds.
I’m going to be blunt: you’ve backed yourself into a corner here. Your only play is to continue what you started: you walked away, so now you’re gonna have to keep walking. That means legitimately letting her go and letting your hope of getting with her fade into the distance. The more you hope that she’s going to notice whatever you’re doing, the more you assure that she won’t care. Walking away means accepting that this ain’t gonna happen and to move on.
Will that win her back? Probably not… especially since there was no “back” to win her to. But moving on means that you will have learned from these mistakes and you won’t make the same ones the next time you develop a crush on someone.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
Is it true that flirting and attraction are skills, and like all skills, require making mistakes and learning from them?
It seems based on everything, these are skills that can be worked on. However, all skills require making mistakes and learning from them so the person learning doesn’t do them again. However, unlike most skills, flirting and attraction have the very real risk of hurting women when learning them, things like sexual harassment, bringing up trauma, or just being creepy is definitely possible. These can lead to, at the very least, a worse reputation, ostracization, or worse. I’m pretty sure if dancing had these kinds of risks, and the people who did these kinds of things to people who were still learning dancing weren’t just seen as assholes, there would be a lot less people who are into dancing.
But when it comes to flirting and attraction, that seems to be the one skill where people expect perfection from the beginning when trying it. So how is a man supposed to get better at it?
Gonna level with you BN: what you’re doing here isn’t jumping to conclusions so much as vaulting past them and ending up in different territory entirely.
Yes, flirting, knowing how to connect with someone and understanding how to build chemistry and attraction are skills. This is, literally, why they’re called social skills. And yes, as with all skills, you improve them through deliberate practice. There are no skillsets that are built or improved without practice, and the way you practice those skillsets is through using them.
The disconnect that you’re having is that you’re assuming results that are not only not typical, they’re edge-cases at best. This is akin to someone being worried that if they take a chemistry class in high-school, the logical conclusion is that they’re almost inevitably going to blow up the lab if they make the slightest mistake. You’re not looking at the logical extension of the situation, you’re looking at worst-case scenarios born out of anxiety. The things you’re imagining — sexually harassing someone by accident, causing trauma, getting ostracized — are all fears, and it’s blown so far out of proportion that you’re looking at a funhouse mirror version of reality.
I think part of the issue here is that you seem to have a distorted idea of exactly how one learns how to connect with women, how to flirt with them or otherwise get to a place to start dating. It seems that you’re expecting to have to go full-tilt boogie from the jump, charging into the dating scene like an oversexed Pepe LePew, latching yourself onto the first attractive woman you see and begging them to come with you to zee Casbah.
(Nevermind that this is a reference to the movie Algiers and the line is never actually said by anyone…)
Now, if that is how you’re practicing flirting, then yes, you’re far more likely to get into trouble. But honestly… that’s not how it works. That’s not how folks learn how to flirt, nor is it how folks ask people out for dates. Flirting is conversation. While there are many, many ways to flirt and many different styles of flirting, at its core, all flirting is just letting someone know you find them attractive in a fun and engaging manner. That’s it. Can you pay your friends a compliment or tell them that they look good today? Can you make jokes with people without offending them or pissing them off? Then guess what? You can flirt without worrying that you’re about to get a visit from the Slap Fairy.
I think you’re having two issues here.
The first issue is simple: you’re assuming that flirting is relentlessly sexual to an absurd degree. And, in fairness, there’re dudes out there who think that the key to flirting is to constantly be bringing up sex, steering conversations towards sex or turning everything into innuendo a la Austin Powers. However, those are people who tend to be bad at flirting. The folks who are good at flirting, even incredibly sexual flirting understand that flirting is about having fun and keeping things light and playful. You don’t go hammer and tongs with the sexual aspect; you use it incredibly lightly and sparingly and in ways that allow folks to either build on it or ignore it. Craig Ferguson is famous for his sexually tinged flirting during interviews, but part of what makes him fun instead of creepy is that he reads the room. If you watch some of the clips of him interviewing various actresses, you’ll notice that he’ll either make a mild innuendo or ribald joke and then wait for the other person to respond. If she gives a positive response — especially if she flirts back — then he’ll build on the moment. If she doesn’t, then he drops things and moves on. That allows his interactions to have a playful give-and-take, one that is premised on everyone having a good time and being in on the joke.
You’ll also notice how rarely he flirts in a way that makes someone uncomfortable. He never comes across as the horny guy, nor are his comments about how much he wants to dick someone down. It’s often either about how awesome the other person is or an intentional comedic misunderstanding.
Another key to understanding flirting is that, in a real way, flirting is about creating a permission structure for someone to do something they want to do. As I’ve said before: think of being at the pool on a hot day. The pool is nice and cool, but someone isn’t sure that they want to get in. Flirting is how you persuade someone that they should get in. Maybe you talk about how nice and refreshing the water is and how great it is to float in the sun. Maybe you encourage them to get into a splash-fight with you. Or perhaps you use a joking form of reverse psychology, telling them that it’s like ice and they’d be miserable if they got in so it’s better that they stay out in the sweltering heat.
And flirting doesn’t even need to be sexual. One of the best examples of non-sexual flirting I’d seen recently was someone who jokingly asked his Hinge match if she’d want to steal his comfiest hoodie and whether she’d prefer the olive green or burgundy one. When she said the olive green one, he responded with “Sweet, I’ll wear that on our first date. Speaking of, when is that?”
His match was impressed with the smoothness of the line and the humor. He got the date.
What makes this work is how low-key and low-stakes the interaction is. To start with, he’s flirting with someone that he met in a dating context — so a place where flirting isn’t just normal but expected. Similarly, it’s clearly playful, based on the common experience of women “borrowing” their boyfriend’s hoodies or sweatshirts and keeping them. By framing the situation as a hypothetical — would she be interested in stealing his comfiest hoodie — he’s creating a mini role-play game, where she’s already his girlfriend and thus likely to abscond with his sweatshirt. By playing along — saying yes she would, saying which she would rather take — she’s engaging him at that level. By playing along, she’s demonstrating her own interest and building on the scenario he created. The pivot at the end — “I’ll wear this on our first date” — is both a display of confidence and underlining his romantic interest in her. By saying “which is when, again?” he’s now making it clear: he’s asking her on a date, and doing so in a way that lets her say “yes” or “no” as she chooses.
The second issue you’re having is that you’re assuming that your interest is inherently unwanted, offensive or otherwise an imposition on others. You’re coming to this from a place where you think that you have to work to get yourself out of a hole and hope that you can build to “neutral” before actually getting to “attracted”. This isn’t an issue with flirting or even learning how to flirt and everything to do with the belief that you’re undesirable or that people would be offended by your being interested in them. And while I can understand that anxiety — been there, done that, built my entire career off learning how to overcome it — it’s still just anxiety. Part of learning how to build your social skills is understanding that being attracted to someone is inherently neutral. It’s what you do about that attraction that makes the difference. \
If you talk with someone, vibe with them and then ask them on a date? Then odds are that the worst you’re likely to experience is someone saying “thank you, but no.” People don’t sexually harass folks unintentionally, and being a creeper tends to involve being almost willfully oblivious to the other person’s comfort or lack of interest. The folks who end up being creepers are the folks who ignore someone’s disinterest or treat it as something that they can get around. The guy who keeps taking “no” for “try harder”, the guy who thinks it’s appropriate to track someone down on social media after she swiped left on Bumble, or who gets inappropriate on social media? Those are folks who are being creepy; they disregard someone else’s disinterest because they feel entitled to her time and attention. If you can read the room, prioritize people’s comfort and — importantly — take “no thanks” with good grace? Then you’re gonna be fine.
And here’s the thing to keep in mind: most of the time, the mistakes you’re going to make aren’t going to be the world-enders you’re imagining. If you realize that you’ve stepped on a metaphorical landmine, touched a nerve or otherwise said or done something offensive, then you apologize. You don’t give a non-apology or a passive-voice “sorry you were offended” apology, you say “oh, hey, I’m sorry” and then you don’t do it again. People, as a rule, are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and interact with you in good faith. If you demonstrate that you recognize that you made a mistake and step back from it, then they’re usually going to accept that apology. It may mean any chance of a date is gone, but it’s still not the disaster that you think it’ll be.
You’ve almost certainly made jokes with your friends that fell flat. It’s not the greatest feeling in the world, but a moment of “ugh, that was awkward” isn’t going to destroy you. More often than not, everyone moves on and the moment is forgotten. That’s what most mistakes are like when you’re developing your social skills; momentary awkwardness that’s soon forgotten. Flirting with someone who turns out not to be interested? Not that big a deal, certainly not going to lead to your getting kicked out of society — assuming that, again, you take “no thank you” or “not interested” with grace and move on.
If you’re making incredibly offensive, hurtful or obscene comments, jokes or gestures or becoming Captain Bad Touch, then yeah, you’re going to get bounced. But most folks, especially people trying to polish their social skills aren’t doing that. They’re just talking, trying to ping for interest and asking people out on dates. So, seriously: turn the dial down a few notches, king. You’re inventing trouble where it doesn’t exist, based on exaggerated fears and unrealistic ideas about what flirting and socializing look like. Focus on just getting comfortable talking to people and find the flirting style that works with your personality. Everything else is just conversation.