The Truth About The Friend Zone

As a relationship coach, I interact with and listen to other relationship coaches. Sometimes it’s helpful for continuing education despite having twenty years myself in the relationship-coaching service, but other times it results in my eyes rolling or, even worse, a face-to-palm response.

Just like most other businesses and services out there, a good sound bite on a trendy topic can be valuable. And you don’t get much more trendy or sound-bite-worthy than the phrase “friend zone.”

There was even a television series that bore its name, firmly placing it into today’s vernacular. Being in the friend zone is seen as the dungeon of the dating world, leading many people to believe that if they are ever friends with someone that there is never any hope of a romantic relationship with them.

People are also afraid of being too friendly or to do kind things for someone they are interested in because they don’t want to be in this dreaded friend zone.

I’ve had coaching clients describe their behavior toward someone they wanted to date but were afraid of being friend zoned by them. Often times they come across as selfish, arrogant, unreasonable, or a player.

While it’s true that some people can consider someone a friend and not a romantic partner, it’s all based around attraction. If attraction – physical and emotional attraction – is high, then a relationship can be strengthened by adding a genuine layer of friendship.

In speaking with literally thousands of married people, the most common thing that I have heard from those who were happily married was that their spouse was their “best friend.”

That doesn’t mean that they don’t feel passionate about him or her. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have hot, steamy, toe-curling sex. It just means that they feel close enough to this person that their relationship is multidimensional – and that’s a very good thing.

Relationships that thrive and last are both romantic partners and best friends. Their relationship is diversified rather than only romantic or only friends.

You can be attractive to someone while still being good to them, doing kind, thoughtful things for them, and being willing to compromise at times.

In speaking from two decades of professional experience – not theory or sound bites – I can tell you that if you want a relationship with someone, attraction must exist. That happens first from you passing the eye test (we are visual creatures) and second by them interacting with you. If you get those two areas right, being a friend as well is nothing short of endearing to this person and enhances attraction.

Did I say be needy, clingy, or for you to act as though you don’t deserve the other person? Absolutely not. Respect yourself, approach her/him with confidence that you are attractive and that you are a great catch. Don’t consider them being physical with you to be a favor. And, yes, be their friend. Be flirty, sexy, and bold enough to show physical interest in a confident way – but also be their friend.

I can also tell you that if you want a romantic relationship to last, there must be a layer of friendship and companionship.

The reason for this is that most romantic relationships develop a form of romantic love called limerence that kick-starts their desire to be together. Limerence is an intense emotional attraction that almost always holds a powerful physical element.

It’s the infatuation of a new relationship where everything seems magical and even urgent. Each participant in the relationship wants to devour the other and be devoured by them. It is what makes two strangers want to keep seeing each other and feel an intense connection to the other even though they hardly know them.

Limerence, however, doesn’t last forever. It will ease and even, in many cases, completely end. If a companionate shade of love doesn’t develop underneath it, then nothing is left once the limerence high fades. The couple just breaks up, feeling that the “spark” has gone and that they are headed in different directions in life.

That companionate shade of love is the deep friendship that develops as the two get to know each other intimately, have unique experiences together, and feel the others love.

So friendship is not just a plus. It’s not optional. If attraction is there, friendship will significantly add to and even protect the relationship. Adding friendship to a romantic relationship should be something that we should all strive toward because it’s unlikely the relationship can survive without it.

When you have this double-edged sword of attraction and friendship, you will likely notice that each dimension strengthens the other. Friendship supercharges attraction and attraction reinforces friendship. This only happens when they both genuinely exist, but it is something that occurs like clockwork in romantic relationships.

Being friends and being lovers actually aren’t mutually exclusive. Sure, you can just be friends with someone just like you can just be sex buddies with someone. But the relationships that nourish and stand the test of time have both. And you know what, I think that’s a pretty good sound bite.

Coach Lee is a relationship coach who helps people get their ex back after a breakup in addition to coaching on relationship dynamics, mindfulness, and marriage.