Friend zoning.

Before I begin, naughty language alert. If that’s not your thing, no worries, but this may not be the post for you.

Now, onward.

Go here first. Visit Chez Wendig for some Miriam-truthing and then come back here.

Thanks. So I’ve been struggling recently with the friend-zone topic because there’s one person I know who is not a dick-weasel but succumbs a bit too much to the attractive pity-hooks of the Friend Zone. He wants to understand why making friendly overtures can result in hostile responses; he wants to know why reasonable pleasantries are suddenly A Bad Thing. He wants to not be in the mine field.

This is the sum total of the problem:

ENTITLEMENT. Wrapped up in entitlement are codified layers of expectation as inculcated by social norms and customs.

The Friend Zone is built on the faulty-as-hell foundation of entitlement. If a man approaches a woman and tries to make small talk, and she refuses — politely or no — then the response is to accept the refusal and move on. No means no. Honest. This idea that there are games people play may be true in some rarified atmosphere of very broken souls but for the most part, it is a fabrication of crappy romance movies (as opposed to good romance movies and these do exist) that posits truisms for the express purpose of making mawkish emotional points from a three-act structure to be topped off with a happy fucking ending.

Is your life a movie? Mine sure isn’t.

There’s a post that’s gone around my Facebook circles. It’s a screencap of a FB exchange which I don’t have the time or inclination to post here, but the gist of the matter is that a guy started coming into a store for the express purpose of seeing a sales clerk.

There is nothing romantic about pining fom a distance. A guy pines, a girl doesn’t see it at all. The guy builds expectation, and the girl goes on with her life. This is a set-up for serious pain in the not too distant future.

So this guy, then, through a bit of Google-fu and mutual friends determines the name of the sales clerk of his dreams, and contacts her via Facebook.

Okay, kids, that’s a problem right there. If you want to talk to someone, talk to them. If they can’t at the time (say, they’re on duty or busy or are not in the mood), then ask if you can talk later. If yes, then yay! But if the answer is no, respect it. Move on. I cannot stress this enough.

Because it doesn’t matter if you’re Sir Fucking Galahad of the most chaste and pristine intent, no one is under any obligation to talk to you. For any reason. Ever. At all. And this is where the Friend Zone concept begins to show its poison. Because a person (I’ve seen women do this to men, it’s not exclusively a male fault, though the majority of perpetrators are male on female) who operates under the general paradigms of Friendzoning has inbuilt assumptions about the rules of social engagement.

The dude in the FB anecdote, he wrote the sales clerk. Out of the blue. Said, “remember me? I’m the guy who blah blah blah.” Of course she can’t remember him she was at work, where she sees tons of people a day. Could he have gotten one of those mutual friends to introduce him? No way to know, but I guarantee it would have been a much less threatening option.

He was miffed she didn’t remember him. A gentlemanly, two-faced kind of sorrow. And then he pressed the matter. Asked her more questions. She didn’t respond for a day or two, and he pressed further, saying things like “I’ll take your silence to mean your non-refusal to talk to me.”

BIG. RED. FLAG.

Silence is not approval, it is not acquiescence. It is never correct to assume silence means anything other than silence. Assumption is part and parcel of entitlement.

He pressed on with faintly romantical declarations for this sales clerk — how he thought she was beautiful, how he longed to talk to her and spend some time.

This is Manic Pixie Dream Girl land, here. If you’re not familiar with the term and why it’s a big barrel of trouble, read here. And when sales clerk finally got back from moving house, during which she had neither the time, nor energy, nor access to respond to anyone on FB, she took him down a whole heap of notches.

She called him on building this role for herself in his life, without her say or autonomy, as if she should be grateful he’d assigned it to her; she took him to task for assuming she should be flattered and delighted by his true, honest interest and intent. She took him to task for stalking her. She took him apart. And rightly so.

There is no Friend Zone except for the one people build themselves to assuage them of the sting of being called out on grossly entitled behavior. Some have said that current media and social expectations seem to promise a hot chick to every hot blooded male who wants one. I’m not sure this is the case on its face, but current western society does build up the assumption that women owe men their time and attention, always.

This is not fact. No one owes anyone any time or attention, for anything. If a guy helps a girl out — helps her move house, offers a shoulder to cry on, buys things, supports her in her endeavors — if he does this with the expectation of some kind of reciprocal appreciative response (physical or emotional, either or both), this guy has fallen victim, or has purposely chosen, to buy into a damaging relationship myth. This is not how healthy, real relationships are built. This dynamic is not applicable to human relationships in any healthy or positive way.

That kind of expectation is not friendship, it is not romance. It is manipulation. It is engagement for the sake of personal gain. A real relationship — friendship or otherwise — is a constantly shifting give and take. But it is mutually rewarding. I help a guy friend move because I know how much it sucks to move house, and because he’s a friend of mine. I don’t like moving house, but I do it because he’s a friend. Not because I expect him to buy me pizza and beer afterwards. Relationships are not Pez dispensers; they are not trigger-reward mechanisms.

Relationships are dynamic things that require trust and honesty to exist and thrive. The Friend Zone is built on the opposite of trust and honesty. It’s built on deceitful actions — efforts done by one person in order to effect a reward from another, as opposed to efforts conducted out of sincere friendly or romantic affections. Or even out of the common goodness and compassion of the heart.

Are there women out there who play men in order to get nice things and favors? Absolutely. But a relationship with anyone who manipulates another for a reward is not a relationship at all: it’s extortion. On both sides of the equation.

Friend Zone = extortion. And that’s why it’s bullshit.

I understand it’s hard for some men to approach women. I understand the anxiety that comes from constant rejection. I went over five years with no dates or romantic attachments at all, and that was not by choice. But the way to alleviate the problem is not demand attention because noreallyhonestyou’reaniceguy. The only way to alleviate the problem is respect the people you interact with. If they disrespect you in turn, then cease to interact as best you can, or work out your differences in a reasonable fashion. But just a show of respect is so rare and meaningful in today’s society, it will go miles toward proving what a decent human being you are.

And respect is incompatible with manipulation and extortion. Which means respect and the friendzone are equally incompatible. And that is why the Friend Zone is bullshit.

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