The idea of the friend zone has long been a fraught one, maintained mainly by people who are so sexually stunted that they can’t imagine the possibility of an actual friendship with someone they might potentially be attracted to. This is the same type of person who will refuse to eat dinner with a woman who isn’t their wife.
The latest and perhaps most ridiculous salvo in the all-out war on man-woman friendship is this broadside from senior Federalist contributor Hans Fiene. The post, “Why Men and Women Can Never Be ‘Just Friends,’” is a near-endearingly retrograde set of assumptions about what sorts of things interest men and women. His argument is long, boring and rife with sexism, so we’ll sum up: Men and women need to procreate to avert an oncoming demographic apocalypse; men and women are marrying later; we need men and women to make more kids; therefore, people should stop being friends and get to fucking.
The basis of the argument comes from this weird place of socio-biological essentialism that says that our gender dictates our interests. That rings blaringly false in 2017, when our birth sex doesn’t even dictate our gender. Apparently, and this may be breaking news, both men and women have vast spectrums of overlapping interests. I love football, and there are countless women who can accurately tell me that I don’t know half of what they do about the sport.
The idea of the friend zone is one created by whiny man-babies that don’t have the stones to ask a woman out on the date, so they linger around her in the hopes that this person—who might not be aware of said attraction—will suddenly become so incredibly horny that she just rips off her clothes and, I don’t know, asks the guy to marry her so they can have procreative sex that God approves of. Lots of people might hold up this Scientific American study that shows that men and women often have different ideas about their level of mutual attraction. I’ll spoil it for you and say that men assume that all women they like like them. But that isn’t actually evidence of anything other than that college-age men are dumbasses who don’t read people well.
To take this study and extrapolate it in the direction of “nobody can be friends” is ridiculous; it cuts us off from the possibility of growing as human beings. As we progress, we learn that maybe the girl who’s smiling at us just likes jokes and doesn’t necessarily want to engage in coitus. This may come as a shock if you are, say, a Lutheran Pastor, as is Fiene, or you refuse to dine alone with another woman, like our Vice President, but the rest of us on planet Earth figured this out somewhere in our mid-twenties.
Some people will point to the example of When Harry Met Sally, which is a great film that’s probably inspired a thousand creepy friendships. (Here’s the relevant scene.) To make a very basic point, the film is describing a discrete situation that is true for its characters but not true for, say, all of humanity. If you think you are Meg Ryan or Billy Crystal, I would suggest you seek professional help. And if you actually are Meg Ryan or Billy Crystal, hello and thank you for reading. I admire both of you a great deal.
Rather than saying that the friend zone needs to die, or even use the phrase friend zone, let us make a humble suggestion. Men: If you like a woman, or a man, ask them on a date. If she or he likes you, they’ll say yes. Don’t hang around and try to trick them into falling in love with you; that’s what stalkers and sex criminals do. And, yes, develop friendships with women. They will help you grow, and I’m not joking. You’ll learn things like “empathy” and “boundaries,” and maybe even something about football.