As I was re-reading the sub-heading of this title, it immediately hit me that it felt judgmental. I could hear the voice of my friend, Ian (who has been friend-zoned his entire life) say, “Maybe I’m just really ugly and nobody wants to date me.”
So, I thought about it. Was he right? Was it something he was doing (and therefore a completely avoidable situation?) or was it simply that he was unattractive (and there was nothing he could change about it)?
Ian’s close relationships consist of a lot of women who love him — just “not that way.” I know, because I am one of those women. I was attracted to Ian on sight. He’s handsome, athletic, and had a great smile. It wasn’t just my opinion. People would frequently stop us in the street to tell us what a cute couple we made. On our first date, he made me laugh and was very sweet. He was very easy to be around.
But there’s a reason we’re not dating and it’s not because he is unattractive. Over our years of friendship, I’ve met the other women in his life who have friend-zoned him as well and we all share the same perspectives about him.
As I asked more and more of my friends (and readers) about the people they have friend-zoned, most admit that they would have dated the person had the vibe been a little “different.”
So, the bad news is that if you always end up in the friendzone, it is likely something you are doing but the good news is that it is probably something you can change. Here are some of the consistent patterns that people who end up in the friendzone exhibit and what you can do differently:
1. Choosing the wrong people
One of the first things I noticed about Ian was that he definitely had a type.
He had an anxious attachment style and to feel safe in a relationship, he craved attention. The problem was, he was always drawn to the people with the attachment style that was least likely to provide him with what he needed— avoidant people. The women he chose tended to be highly independent and somewhat aloof.
It ended up repeatedly creating a dynamic where he was chasing and they were running. Because he had so many redeeming qualities, they always chose to keep him in their lives — as a friend.
Just as the real estate mantra is, “location, location, location,” the dating mantra should be “selection, selection, selection.”
Maybe your issue isn’t choosing the wrong attachment style but there are plenty of other ways to choose the wrong people. Here are some signs you might be doing this:
You have a type — Whether it’s bad boys, crazy girls, playboys, your friends have a label for them. You often say things like, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” It’s common for you to be unbelievably smitten with them very early on even if they don’t seem to be too interested in you.
You have very specific standards (that are often impossibly high) — Important relationship standards are things like kindness, empathy, and good communication. In contrast, having very specific standards that may not relate to a partnership is like saying you need someone who has an Ivy League education, is at least 6’1, has an MBA, has blue eyes, etc.
You put people on pedestals — Liking someone sounds like, “I had so much fun hanging out with you” while putting someone on a pedestal sounds like saying, “ You’re my perfect woman” after the first date. Being someone’s perfect person is a lot of pressure and will often cause someone to back away.
How to stop doing this:
All of the situations above involve you trying to fit someone into specific expectations. You’re probably usually falling in love with the “idea of someone” rather than a person. Because your feelings are based how great you “think” they are and not a connection between you and the other person, it increases the possibility that they will not feel the same way.
Instead of being so fixated on who they are and how perfect they might be for you, you should pick people based on how the connection itself feels. Choose people who have indicated an interest in you, that you are compatible with, or that you just really enjoy spending time with. Allow connections to blossom and match their pace of interest before letting your imagination take over.
2. Being too available
Ian tended to say things like “I’ll do whatever you want, whenever you want.”
Unfortunately, it’s a well-understood phenomenon in economics that when there is a lot of supply but demand is low, something is valued less. As humans, we appreciate things less when they are always available to us. Here’s how to know you are doing this:
You schedule your life around them — You often wait to make plans “just in case” they might want to hang out. You try to clear the day so the date can extend as long as possible.
You’re willing to reschedule things to suit them if they make last-minute plans — You cancel on friends, or your regular frisbee training, or work functions when they call to casually ask if you want to hang out.
When I told him that I didn’t want to date him anymore, Ian asked me, “Who do you want me to be?” and that was precisely the problem. I didn’t want him to be who I wanted him to be, I wanted him to be his own person. The biggest problem with completely molding your life to someone else’s is that it makes it hard for them to respect you.
How to stop doing this:
Unless the other person is also going out of their way to dedicate every available moment to you, don’t go out of your way to be too available to them. I’m not saying you should play “hard to get”, I’m saying you should not put your life on hold for them. Don’t blow off your friends or important activities on the off chance that they might want to hang out with you.
Ian thought being super available would make women like him more. In fact, it was a huge turn-off. Someone who has an interesting life going on that they are passionate about is far sexier. Here is a newsflash — if someone only ever makes last-minute plans with you, they are not that interested in you. Anyone who really likes you will plan ahead to make sure they actually get to spend time with you.
3. You try to please instead of seducing
If there’s one piece of feedback that Ian has heard a lot, it’s that he is a “nice guy.” Ian went out of his way to please the women he was interested in. He tried to be the shoulder that they could lean on when they were upset about the latest guy and he would happily be their stand-in boyfriend when they needed one. Here’s how to know if you are also doing this:
You are the person they call about their crush and/or dating life—You often try to create intimacy by asking them to share about their love life and offering to be there if things were troubled.
You usually wait for a long time before making a move — I’ve had a few friendships where I was interested in someone but they didn’t make a move or show their interest in any way. Eventually, I moved on — only to find out years later that they had a crush on me this whole time but tried to be my friend first.
You do coupley things with your romantic interest but they won’t commit to a relationship with you — They want to go to nice restaurants with you, have you over for movie nights, or take you to weddings when they need a plus one but are not willing to be your partner. They often call you or flirt with you when they’ve had a bad date and want some validation.
How to stop doing this:
Don’t openly offer to hear the details about their dating life. There are plenty of other ways to be emotionally available and supportive to someone without putting yourself in the friendzone.
Also, don’t accept being a substitute partner if you actually want more. Maybe you think that they will eventually change their mind, but they likely won’t if you set this dynamic. If you feel that they are using you as a placeholder until someone else comes along, be sure to clarify your boundaries on how they should behave with you.
In all these situations, make sure your actions firmly reflect what you want. First, tell them how you feel and what kind of relationship you want. Second, create intensity by actually flirting with them. Don’t ask them how hot their date was, tell them that they are hot. Instead of making it a “friendly dinner,” say or do things that make it clear that you want more.
4. You constantly highlight your own insecurities
When I met Ian, he was fit and had a great body but that wasn’t always the case. He was the fat kid growing up and he still carried those insecurities with him. Though I didn’t know him then and didn’t see it that way, it was hard to ignore it when he constantly made references to it. Here are some ways you might also be doing it:
You have difficulties accepting compliments — Instead of saying, “Thank you, that’s so sweet of you to say,” you might say something like, “You think so? I’m always worried about wearing spandex” or “It’s good lighting. I’d never wear this in broad daylight!”
You highlight your insecurities by joking about it — Ian would always make seemingly harmless jokes about the jiggling skin on his belly, his emotional eating, or how he was always friend-zoned. Though they were funny, the constancy at which they popped up in our conversations detracted from the attraction I had for him.
When you constantly highlight your insecurities, you are inadvertently telling the other person, “I care that you what you think about this flaw of mine. Please validate me.” This act of frequently seeking validation reminds the person you are with that you don’t love yourself and can make them value you less.
How to stop doing this:
Whenever you hear a compliment — especially about something you are insecure about — make a conscious effort to simply thank the person for their kindness.
Try not to bring up your insecurities in conversations regularly. If it helps, be on the lookout for phrases (e.g. “fat kid” in Ian’s case) that you use a lot that relates to your insecurity and try to catch yourself when you use it. Intentionally confronting and discussing insecurities is a good thing. Having them as a constant companion to the relationship is often not.
In the markets in Southeast Asia that are frequently visited by tourists, it’s common for the vendors to inflate their prices. It’s also an accepted practice to offer locals a cheaper price than tourists. Sometimes, it’s was a lot more expensive for the tourist. The same fake Gucci bag can cost $10 to a local and $200 to a tourist. How is that possible?
Here’s how — the tourists allowed the vendors to define the value of the item, while the locals would haggle and name their price. Ultimately, the buyer always wins because 10% profit is better than 0% profit. As long as they knew the true value of the item, the locals would always get the best price.
Ironically, the most important haggling tool I learned was the willingness to walk away if they weren’t willing to give me the price I wanted. Ten out of ten times, the vendors would cave. I learned that thirty minutes of haggling was nowhere near as effective as me simply walking away.
The moral of the story is this — don’t let someone else define your value. You know it best. But it’s up to you to make your value known. It’s also up to you to be clear on what you want and not allow yourself to be taken advantage of. And always, always be willing to let go of your fantasy if the person isn’t willing or able to give you what you want. Don’t be someone’s placeholder, when you can be someone’s main priority.
“Sometimes you have to walk away from what you want in order to find what you deserve.”― Belle Aurora