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Articles > Relationships January, 28, 2013

The psychology of the friend zone

January, 28, 2013

Adam Rogers Graduate Panel member, Marketer. Member since Nov 2011.
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What is the friend zone? In a sentence, you became unattractive and needy. This is definitely applicable to the “nice guy” and is purely aimed at the male end of the courtship process, but I think there will be a lot of answered questions for the girls here too. We’ll throw a scenario out there now and then break it down.

The psychology of the friend zone

Photo by Casey Hussein Bisson

You met this girl through your social circles and there was mutual attraction the minute you met, you were introduced and you held eye contact that little bit too long – the first spout of sexual tension. You have things in common, you were having fun, being playful and teasing; you end the night and get each other’s numbers, just as you head off with your friends elsewhere. You’re excited about where this could go, and keep daydreaming of the possibilities in your mind, so a day or two later you set up a date, doing that “thing you both have in common” and by the end of the night you’re a little bit more infatuated and really liking this person, but as soon as you try to set up another date, it’s like getting blood from a stone to get a “yes”. Instead you get the “let’s just be friends” (LJBF).

So where did you go wrong? Well, first is aspect 1: we’ll start by breaking down the mentality; you came from a place of abundance and you went into a place of scarcity. Why were you abundant? Mainly because at first you didn’t need this person in your life, but you wanted them in there, hence the exchange of numbers and meet up. So how did I get to a mental state of scarcity? Well your mindset was probably unhealthy, and placing too much importance on getting this girl to like you.

You probably started laying out your qualities for her like a shopping list. You’re trying too hard, so it essentially becomes needy and unattractive. You need her to like you back. This comes across verbally and through your body language. A study by Pennebaker on speed dating analysed this.

“The person with the higher status uses the word “I” less. [. . .] We use “I” more when we talk to someone with power because we’re more self-conscious. We are focused on ourselves – how we’re coming across – and our language reflects that.”

So what does this sound like in a conversation and where does this shift come from? Firstly, you’ve put the girl up on a hypothetical pedestal. You somehow think “this girl’s so great, I don’t deserve her/what’s she doing with me, I need to get her to like me.” Actually you were doing fine in your initial meet with her, you displayed attractive qualities; you teased her, made her laugh, you found things in common, shared experiences and most importantly had a connection. But on the date you killed that, because your mentality dropped, and you started to almost disrespect yourself by acting scarcely, thinking she is better than you and placing too much importance on getting her.

So what if you did all of the above and still find “LJBF” on your phone screen. Then you’ve fallen foul of aspect 2: failure to escalate things physically. This doesn’t mean go around grabbing arse until you get a positive reaction, because that will rarely happen. What it means is carry on doing what you’re doing but don’t be scared to touch her. But make sure you’ve got compliance. You do that by making the physical escalation a natural progression, keep it low key. At first a handshake with your name, then touch on the upper arm to emphasise a point. Now test for compliance, the classic arm around the shoulder with a little pull in towards you to test for resistance. If there’s resistance, try again in a minute and if it’s still there then she’s not compliant to going any further with you so move on to another girl who is. If she is compliant, then begin to start touching her like a girlfriend, (after all this is what you want right?) Hands on lower back, hips and thighs, which frames it for a kiss to be next in the natural progression. If this sounds weird, then it’s even weirder to be expecting to go from shaking hands to kissing later on. Also it’s not a check list, you have to calibrate to the girl at hand. So if earlier she said, “I hate my thighs being touched”, then listen and don’t touch her thighs! (Of course, these are just basic examples.)

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So what if you don’t do this, because you’re scared of losing her? Well you don’t “have” her yet so there is nothing to lose in trying. As the saying goes, it’s better to have tried and failed, than to have not tried at all. This shows confidence in trying and that’s an attractive trait. Take account of the ladies side of the situation, after a successful date and you’ve not tried to kiss her or at least hold hands, she might just take this as “well maybe he’s not interested.” (So girls you can help us out a bit there, it’s not that we lack intent, sometimes we just don’t have the guts.)

But you plead “No girl likes being touched up like that.” Wrong, a girl who isn’t comfortable with you doesn’t like being touched up like that and you’ve also been watching too much TV. Social conditioning has had you believe that girls hate sex and you have to reward them for it by buying drinks, dinner and gifts. When a person is rewarded external factors for something they already like doing, they’re going to lose motivation for these things. Ann Boggiano and her colleagues (1985, 1987) at the University of Colorado:

‘Pay people for playing with puzzles, and they will later play with the puzzles less than those who play for no pay. Promise children a reward for doing what they intrinsically enjoy (for example, playing with Magic Markers), and you will turn their play into work.’

What this also means is don’t start being tight and thinking she has to pay for everything for herself, but ask yourself would you do this for one of your friends? That’s a good enough gauge, but if you just simply want to buy something for because that’s who you are, then do it; just don’t expect anything from it apart from “thank you.”


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  1. Ivan
    July 2, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    hi. it was quite a nice article, and so were the comments. here is an experience of mine, and I’m still stuck in it. there was a girl, to sum up, one day I told here how i felt toward here, and she actually refused me. me not being the kind of guy to give in fast in any condition, tried for nearly six months. the final result was that i forget about my feelings and she come straight to me whenever she felt that way about me and we stay kind of best friends. it maybe helpful to note that she told me she was cheated on in here only relationship she’s had(and it was a 4 year length relationship). both of us are 20 right now and it would be really nice if u give me a piece of advice. thanks.

  2. Trishana Singh
    February 8, 2013 at 1:06 am

    I believe this is very true. However, it is becoming clearer that more girls are entering the friend zone. This could be either girls feel more of an adrenaline with the ‘bad boys’ who tend to simply want nothing more than friends with girls. But it is too late as these girls seem quite infatuated by these guys. When entering the friend zone, a girl who is proved to be more emotional will take this to heart.

  3. Kimberley Martin
    February 4, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Another reason you are catapulted into the friend zone after the first date or even before don’t use social networking sites to, near enough, declare your love for a girl. (when you have only just met her). Yes, you may happen to be awake at 3am but you don’t have to message her to tell her how much you like her after having a coffee for an hour. It becomes full on too soon.

  4. Edward Judd
    January 29, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    This was a very interesting read; one thing that is very clear is the necessity to balance how the guy portrays the girl, with how he presents himself.

  5. martyna momatiuk
    January 29, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    It’s an interesting article, but I dont necessarly agree with what you said about physical contact. personally i don’t think touching is gonna make it happen. I wouldn’t like to be touched by a guy straight away, even if i found him’s slightly invasive. maybe there are other reasons why a girl wants to stay friends? Like not wanting to be in a relationship, or just not knowing the guy enough to commit just yet. I think you concentrate too much on what the guys want and how they should get what they want from a girl.

    • Adam Rogers
      January 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      I appreciate your angle, I genuinely do, I’ve even noted to not go around ‘grabbing arse’ in the article itself, because there’s a fine line between sexual harassment and sexual escalation. But your also taking emotions out of the equation, look I can do it too: boy likes girl, girl likes boy, they talk for a while, like each other even more as a result, they kiss a bit then isn’t the next step to go home with one another and have sex?

      The content of article is dominated by sexual intent demonstrated in physical touch, mainly because it will always remain a controversial and grey area; but that’s only a portion of the courtship process (but the most defining if it’s successful). If a guy wants to hook up or date a girl he has to first get his act together, he has to become an attractive man, luckily for men unlike women they aren’t just perceived attractive on their looks, although it’s also a key factor, men can demonstrate attractive traits to a woman, and she will calculate his worth of value to her life (subconsciously) which will result in attraction or not.

      The take away message for guys (as commenter Edward Judd recognised) is: No one is ever better than you, and don’t let them make you feel that way or put them on some kind of hypothetical pedestal. Everyone is important, but no one is more important than anyone else. It’s also worth noting that girls have the final say in the courtship process, you could demonstrate everything attractive she is after, but if she’s is still not interested then there is nothing you can do to make her interested. Women have all the power in courtship.

  6. William Cleary
    January 29, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Hurrah, but you should also say that the friendzone implies that a girl is obligated to be romantically interested in you/have sex with you (you kind of implied it a bit). And nobody uses LJBF, come on.

  7. Max
    January 28, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    It’s due to catastrophic relationship advice like this that people are getting progressively poorer at initiating and maintaining long term fulfilling relationships.
    The purpose of the text appears to be not to advise, but to confuse, and to lower the self esteem of the inexperienced, making them second-guess themselves and work themselves into a nervous panic.
    I could find better advice in a trashy men’s mag.

    • Adam Rogers
      January 29, 2013 at 7:08 pm

      This isn’t relationship advice, but thank you for recognising that and pointing it out for me, I forgot to include that. This is advice to stop you going on multiple dates where you think you’re getting somewhere and you haven’t even held hands on date 3; it stops you getting yourself into an emotional void, and getting obessive with someone who doesn’t reciprocate your interest. Make a move you’ll find out straight away whether she likes you back, or you could keep going out and wait for her to make a move – but you’ll still be at that stage in 6 months looking after her sick dog while she’s out on a date.

  8. Samantha Ashman
    January 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    This is a very interesting article. I would suggest however that conversation (in this technological age) can also be very productive. All of those people I have maintained sexual relationships long-term have been those who I have met or conversed with extensively online. From a female’s point of view (not that of all females, just my own) it’s more likely to result in conversation than drooling on his part. You are correct that excessive admiration or preoccupation with ‘getting somewhere’ is like a cold shower, flirting-wise.

    This article it insightful, but it does risk telegraphing the idea that the physical touch is of more importance than the communication, to men who are inexperienced or unsure in such situations. Being female myself, I can say that no matter a girl’s orientation or preferences, there is one thing that she can’t fail to appreciate in a guy, and that’s confidence. I don’t mean cockiness, or being too forward; I mean solid, dependable, knows-what-he-wants confidence.

    Honestly, I’d suggest you all go on soul-searching world tours. It makes all the difference!

    • Adam Rogers
      January 29, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      Thank you for your perspective Samantha. Whilst I agree that conversation and finding things in common is the pinnacle and most defining characteristic of a strong relationship. That neglects hook ups, one night stands, and even short term relationships, and I would say if a guy and a girl both want that, then the content of the article is definitely relevant. On the other hand even if his conversation and lifestyle is intriguing, if he doesn’t make a move and you’re left waiting, you’re going to get bored aren’t you?

      Allow me twist your words some more and with what you say about confidence in mind. If a guy came up to you and he demonstrated his intentions confidently in wanting you, and he displayed this with pure core confidence, wouldn’t that get you going just a little bit? You could be one of those girls that says “I’ll never do a one night stand,” but if he’s so solidly confident in his intent, doesn’t that give you cognitive dissonance within your own standards (wanting to go home with him, but saying you won’t)?

  9. Heidi Marchant
    February 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    “Slut” is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say “yes”. “Friendzone” is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say “no”

  10. Heidi Marchant
    February 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Haven’t you ever considered that the girl MIGHT JUST NOT BE ATTRACTED TO YOU? Like girls actually have brains (!!!) and don’t become infatuated with every boy who flirts with them. I hate boys that believe in the friend zone- they’re real nice up until they get the perfectly understandable “let’s be friends” line, and then they think it is their prerogative to call the girl and slut, a whore or whatever. And they still mantain they’re “nice guys”. LOL. You expect girls to encourage your advances and fall at your feet, and if she doesn’t you call her mean, but if YOU reject a GIRL’s advances that’s perfectly fine. Boys who believe in the friend zone are essentially mysogynistic and have a ridiculous sense of entitlement and uhhhhh
    This article articulates what I am trying to say better than me:

    • Adam Rogers
      September 2, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      A little late…but hopefully worth the wait

    • Adam Rogers
      February 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      Actually yes I have and I pointed it out:

      ‘Now test for compliance, the classic arm around the shoulder with a little pull in towards you to test for resistance. If there’s resistance, try again in a minute and if it’s still there then she’s not compliant to going any further with you so move on to another girl who is.’

      You are right in a way, because this was left wide open for interpretation, I should have phrased it a lot better, but there’s only so much content you can get in 1200 words.

      And I agree with you, nice guys deserve to finish last, I’m writing a blog about that soon, so will link it here when I’m done.

      The idea to call someone out on their behaviour from your own judgement whether they are a slut, whore or even frigid, this comes from an ever unrecognised desire that person is frustrated with themselves and needs to blame someone else for their short comings. This is apparent in men and women, for instance they can’t get laid, so any man or woman that is a bit more liberal with their sex life instantly becomes a slut, whore etc (here we can go to the classic player vs. slut argument, and I agree with you it’s not fair on women at all).

      Men that believe in the friend zone are simply scared of rejection, they need an outside variable to blame why they aren’t attractive to someone. The article here suggests making a move here so the pain of finding out she’s not interested is cut down from 3/4 months to 1 week or 2 dates etc.

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