We have all experienced the “friend zone” – the area of mismatched romantic or sexual expectations between friends. And as much as we have discussed the friend zone, the debate is always centered on whether men and women, particularly, can be “just friends”. A discussion with a few friends, both male and female have suggested that men and women might have very different goals and motives for “friendship”. Each look at the responsibilities in friendship and love a bit differently. As a result, they tend to co-create this friend zone confusion.
So this “just friends” question has been debated for a long time, that a survey was done to try to end the speculations that come with inter-sexual friendships. A survey was done on University students regarding the benefits and costs of opposite sex friendships in their lives. In general, many of these benefits and costs were the same for both men and women. For example, both sexes enjoyed opposite-sex friends for dinner companions, conversation partners, self-esteem boosts, information about the opposite sex, social status, respect, and sharing resources. Both sexes also noted some similar costs of opposite-sex friendship, such as jealousy, confusion over the status of the relationship, love not being reciprocated, cruel or mean behaviors, and being less attractive to other potential daters because of the friendship.
Women had their own unique costs and benefits of opposite-sex friendships. They were more likely to experience the benefit of their male friends paying for outings and enjoyed the physical protection of those friends (men saw these as costs of time and money). Women also enjoyed the ability to network through male friends. However, as noted above, women found it costly when those male friends desired sex or romance. They also disliked when their male friends caused difficulty in the women’s other dating efforts.
The conclusion of this research is that, men and women may sometimes have very different goals and desires in opposite-sex friendships. Although both may sometimes be looking for a companion and nothing more, on other occasions, plans may differ. More specifically, men appear to be more likely to look at opposite sex friends as potential sexual and romantic partners. Women, in contrast, tend to prefer non-sexual friendships, which provide protection and resources.
To make matters worse, each sex sees the other’s benefit as their own cost. Thus, women tend to find it costly and difficult when male friends desire sex and romance. Men, in contrast, find the time and money demands costly and frustrating, particularly when their romantic desires are not reciprocated. So, due to the mismatched desires, we have the makings of friendship difficulties.
What does this mean for the “friend zone”? The friend zone is essentially an unequal relationship, where the desires of both friends are not equally met. It may exist in a “just friends” context, where resources are being shared (usually gratifying the woman’s needs), but sex and romance is not an option (usually frustrating the man). A mismatch can also occur in a “friends-with-benefits” context, where sex is being shared (usually satisfying the man), but resources and protection are not forthcoming (usually frustrating the woman).
Although these patterns are the most common, however, it is important to note that either sex can experience either situation. Some women may desire no-strings-attached sex with a friend. Some men may desire a long-term relationship with a hook-up buddy. The important thing to remember is the MISMATCH in goals. The trade is not equally satisfying for both friends.
The research conducted shows that it may often be hard for men and women to be friends. They often have very different expectations for what that “friendship” will entail. However, there is some common ground. So, with a bit of effort, in some situations, satisfying friendships can be created. Understanding different friendship needs can be helpful in identifying the type of friendship you will have. It is common for people to think only about what they want. They may even think what they desire is somehow more noble and important. That simply is not the case.
When entering into any relationship, even a simple friendship, what others desire may be different. Each person’s goals for the friendship may be unique. Some people want companionship, others resources. Some want sex, others commitment. To have a friendship of any kind, it is important to respect those differences. Don’t let anyone shame you out of your desires. Don’t do it to your “friends” in return either. When entering into a friendship, even an already existing friendship, Communicate your intentions. Frustration and difficulty starts when both individuals are not honest about their goals.
For example, a man may claim he desires only companionship, when he really wants a girlfriend. Or, a woman may hook-up, when she really desires to be dined, protected, and dated. Without knowing, their “friends” may not take care of those needs.
So, if you want something specific out of a friendship, it is important to show it. That may mean a conversation and asking questions. It may also mean acting more like a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” than a simple friend from the start, making sexual or commitment requests early on. For example, some men say that “they don’t pay for outings, unless a woman is looking to be their girlfriend”. Some women communicate that “they don’t sleep with men who are not interested in a longer relationship”.
Yet others talk about their pre-existing “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”, letting others know that “friendship only” is available. In any case, it is important for both parties to be clear what will and will not be part of the “friendship”.
It is essential to communicate your desires and listen to those of others.
Can men and women be just friends? In many cases, the answer is no. Sometimes that is good thing, when both people see friendship as a step to mutually-satisfying love, sex, and/or commitment. At other times, men and women cannot be “just” friends because only one friend desires something more. Those mismatched desires between men and women lead to unequal friend zone situations, where one person’s needs are completely satisfied at the other’s expense. Those unfortunate instances and the frustrations around them are the friendship problems we hear so much about.
Nevertheless, friendship between men and women is not impossible. However, it does require finding someone with friendship goals matching your own. Communicating clearly and leaving when there is not a match is key. Also, if you desire “just friends”, then it may be better to pick only friends who are already in other romantic relationships. That way, you can have a satisfying exchange, a good friend, and no frustration.