The Opposite of “Friendzoning”

What do we call the act of forcing women into a relationship-or-bust situation, and why don’t we have a word for it?

Yesterday I trekked up to a coffee shop in my new neighborhood in Astoria, Queens. It had been a turbulent day mental health-wise and I needed to unwind the knots with some steaming tea and a stack of projects to write.

As I stood up to leave a few hours later, the friendly guy who had been tap-tapping his keyboard in synchrony chimed in, “Are you a copywriter, too?”

For the next 15 minutes we chatted with friendly banter. We had a lot in common — we both just returned from traveling Europe (Amsterdam was the best, right?), learned a lot about ourselves, worked in tech marketing, loved the remote lifestyle, and had ambitions to pursue self-employment.

Towards a natural lull, my new friend asked my if I’d want to check out a bar in the neighborhood next Friday since I’m new to the area.

“Sure!” I said. But sensing a rapid turn in the conversation, I added cautiously, “But just as a heads up, I’m in a relationship. However, I’d love to hang out as friends!”

The mood shifted dramatically; his kind smile fell. And despite everything we’d just bonded over, despite exchanging info and promising to chat more, he never reached out.

Today over coffee, I asked a good friend and natural wordsmith, “What’s the opposite of friendzone?”

She didn’t know, so she sent a group chat request out to a group of girls. They understood the concept right away, had felt it themselves, but — there just wasn’t a word for it.

They related to that feeling: Being a straight woman who, upon meeting a straight man in a social situation, felt a silent but potent expectation that once you pulled the “I have a boyfriend” or “I’m not interested like that” card, the conversation (and possible friendship) would tank.

Yet when this situation flips on its head, anecdotally, I’ve seen a drastically different result. Cis-female friends have handled this situation with, eh, what I can only call human normalcy.

I’ve heard friends as recently as yesterday tell me, “He has a girlfriend, but he’s got a great personality and is a good hangout buddy,” or, “He doesn’t date girls outside his religion, but we’ve become great friends.”

When I traveled Europe for a few months to focus on my mental health, I was very candid with everyone about my emotional mission. I met and bonded with dozens of great people. But I’ve noticed as I’ve returned home and photos with my now-boyfriend have emerged onto my feed, some of my male friends and their friendly, “just checking in” messages kind of… disappeared.

I’ve gone on first- and second-dates with men with whom I didn’t feel a spark, or we had valid differences, or for other reasons a romantic relationship wasn’t preferable or viable. But upon asking earnestly to continue a friendship with someone I had a real connection to as a human, I’m often met with coldness. Or disappearance. Or worse, resentment. It makes me wonder, Did you really enjoy my company anyway?

By definition, friendzoning is an unwillingness of someone to consider a relationship with another, thus putting the victim in an unbreakable zone of friendship. It’s often got a negative connotation, a battle cry flooded with alligator tears, and flung at women who seem careless to the sexual and relationship needs of the men they befriend.

But what about the people — often men — who don’t even consider a relationship with a woman unless there’s a romantic date, relationship, or hook-up involved? Isn’t that a different, yet equally hurtful, kind of cage?

Is “reverse friendzoning” an unwillingness to take on female emotions unless there’s a sexual promise attached? A general distaste for the company of women as, you know, people? A misplaced lash-out to a deeply held fear of rejection, or a numbing response to a poke at weak self-confidence? And then I need to ask: How could any of this be the woman’s fault?

A popular meme floated around recently: “Nobody will ever be as nice to you as a straight man who wants to get in your pants.” In my experience, it’s only (cringingly) funny because it can be true. That is, if “nice” comes fully loaded with personal questions and emotional concern that strangely wither at the first mention of your boyfriend.

I, for one, feel emotionally tired from finding ways to subtly weave my relationship into a casual conversation. Or sending unanswered messages to once-friends who swiftly disinvite me from seemingly casual events when I ask if they’d like to meet my boyfriend, too. Or, as I see many of my friends endure, swat off flirtatious or downright sexual side comments from male friends who just can’t wrap their heads around the “I’m not interested” thing.

Not all men are perpetrators of “reverse friendzoning,” of course. I have deep respect and admiration for the men who asked me out, heard me out, shrugged and asked me to hang out anyway. And I can also understand the valid malaise if, after a long or emotionally invested romantic relationship, your now-ex promises “to still be friends.” Power to you if you don’t believe that shallow veneer, or want none of that, thank you very much.

Don’t get me wrong: I respect the courage it takes to ask someone who you admire out. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing romance if you think there’s a chance and feel a bond.

But if you don’t want to engage someone once your options are limited to genuine friendship, did you even like that person in the first place? Or was it a shallow pursuit to fill your own unacknowledged voids?

In the end, we need to level the field. We need a word for the opposite of friendzoning, with the same stigma of unconcern and self-centeredness. And for the love of gender equality, we need it now.