By Krystal Lambert
“Men and women can’t be ‘just friends’.”
I’ve heard this concept thrown out in many a conversation throughout my life, and shocker, it’s been exclusively said by men.
The first glaring problem with this logic is that its entirely heteronormative. It’s an erasure of LGBTQ folks because it limits romantic and sexual relationships to heterosexual relationships. Gay people exist. They don’t force every encounter or friendship with the same sex into something more. Attraction should always involve enthusiastic consent from both parties, otherwise it is predatory.
Secondly, this idea insinuates that women are not wholly human. That they exist simply to be recipients of male attraction and don’t have intrinsic value outside of that spectrum. Did you know you can be friends with a woman and even find her objectively attractive without needing to have sex with her? Wild concept I know, but stay with me.
As a woman, it’s easy for me to see the other side of this issue because I have had many deep, meaningful and intimate friendships with men that existed entirely outside of sex or romance. There have even been times when I was attracted to a male friend and could see him in a romantic light, but I never once thought he owed it to me to be attracted to me or want more than friendship. Society has not brainwashed me to see men as sex objects, and so I have always been able to value men as complex, nuanced individuals. Have I ever pined after some great unrequited love? Sure. This is a very human experience. Do I take to the dark webs raging about the indignation of a hot guy not wanting to have sex with me? No. I respect the men I am friends with and don’t feel entitled to their attraction or affection. If men cannot appreciate the absolute gift of friendship with a woman, they are truly missing out. Grow up, and learn how to be friends with people.
The Friend Zone
“The Friend Zone shames a woman for exercising her right to say no, and Slut Shaming shames a woman for her right to say yes. No matter what we do, we can’t win.”
“Women are not machines you put kindness coins in until sex falls out.”
I couldn’t find the original source of these quotes, but I think they put the concept of the “Friend Zone” in its place. As I’ve addressed above, women are actual human beings with thoughts and feelings, and no amount of “nice guy” deeds are going to magically make us fall in love with you. Attempting to be a good friend to a woman in hopes you can guilt her into a sexual relationship is manipulative at best and rapey at worst. If a woman hasn’t given you the green light for more, assume it’s just a friendship. If a woman has explicitly told you she’s not interested, take her at her word and stop trying to earn her affection. Women are not trophies, they are people. I have never once in my life been interested in/attracted to a guy and thought, “Hmmm, I really like this guy but I’m gonna pretend I don’t so he will chase me harder.”
“Hard to get” is not a thing. It was created by a very patriarchal mindset and is closely in line with rape culture. Fellas, can you imagine a woman you aren’t interested in constantly trying to convince you that she’s worthy of your love? A woman you aren’t attracted to demanding that you be her boyfriend because she’s been really nice to you? Such a woman would be seen as desperate and pathetic. Stop romanticizing “the chase” and blaming women who don’t fall prey to your traps. If you take the prospect of sex away, would you still want a relationship with her? If the answer is no, you don’t care for her as a human being. You care about what you can get from her.
Friendship is More Than Enough
I think at the heart of these issues lies a very toxic and delusional view of friendships and romantic relationships. Society, until very recently, has depicted romance as something that exists in a vacuum. Reality says otherwise. Romance is not a Disney fairy tale involving one man and one woman, a Pinterest wedding, a mortgage, 2.5 kids, and a picket fence. Some of the most romantic moments of my life have been with friends, family, or sitting on my front porch alone. Life has so much meaning and magic outside of traditional monogamous relationships, but we rarely see it because we are blinded by the societal pressure to live out a fairy tale on Facebook. This pressure is especially acute for women because we are seen as damaged or unloveable when our life doesn’t take the traditional path. I still feel this pressure from my family as a 33 year old single and childless woman. It’s hard not to take it to heart. I may not have a husband, but I have dozens of dynamic friendships that satisfy me in a way no romantic relationship with a man ever has. More importantly, marriage can be an abusive and miserable prison for one or both parties, but no one wants to talk about that.
What I am truly hoping to express here is that there is no such thing as a traditional relationship. Every single relationship is unique to the individuals involved. There is no right way to live life or to experience love. Some people thrive in a traditional monogamous relationship. Some people prefer to have deep friendships with people they have sex with but remain single. Some people are asexual and have no desire for sexual relationships. Some people get their heart broken countless times before meeting the love of their life at age 60. Some people are hopeless romantics but never win the life lottery of a fairy tale romance and so they find joy and romance in other aspects of life. Singlehood is not a death sentence and marriage/monogamy is no measure of happiness.
Above all, there are no rules to this game of being a human being. Our best bet is to check our expectations at the door and enjoy whatever friendships or romance the universe was kind enough to bring us, rather than pressing for more and being constantly disappointed by our own projections of what love and life should be.