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How should a guy deal with being stuck in the ‘just-friends zone’?

Shouldn't being a good friend and developing a healthy friendship be the first step towards nurturing a deeper relationship?


Hi there, I’ve been reading Boundless since I left for college two years ago. I enjoy the articles and appreciate the wisdom that’s so freely given. Here’s my question — with the focus on relationships lately I thought it would be appropriate. How should a guy deal with being stuck in the “friend-zone”?

Here’s a hypothetical situation to clarify what I’m talking about. A guy and a girl are friends. They spend time together one-on-one, and he is always there for her when she needs help — a ride to class, fix her car, listen to her rant about how there are no good guys out there, etc. And therein lies the rub: Because he is such a good friend, she cannot see him as anything more than just a friend.

Among my guy friends, the friend-zone is a well-known state. We’ve all been there at some point or another. We joke that once you are in the friend-zone you might as well be a girl.

Here’s my first problem with the whole thing: Shouldn’t being a good friend and developing a healthy friendship be the first step towards nurturing a deeper relationship? Yet, so often after all that effort has gone into developing a friendship, we guys find that it’s a dead-end. Some guys say that it’s on account of being too available or too nice that will leave one stranded in the friend zone.

Here’s my second problem with this issue: More often than not, after a guy who is stuck in the friend-zone with a girl has expressed his feelings to her, assuming she rejects him — a likely outcome — the friendship will most likely be lost. It will simply become too awkward with her because she knows that he likes her and that makes her uncomfortable because she only thought of him as a friend.

This is basically the story of nice guys everywhere. They’re the good friends that girls don’t see as anything else, even potentially. The friend-zone is a black abyss of wasted energies, unmet expectations, disappointment, and awkwardness. Who is at fault?

I do not think that guys should be less friendship-centric when approaching a girl. I think that girls should rethink how they view guys they are friends with, and instead of using the nice guys, give them a chance. What do you think?


Before I answer your question, I need to make a confession. As early as I can remember noticing that there was an opposite sex (Christie or Misty in kindergarten was my first love as I recall), I have never understood the whole guy/girl “buddy” thing. Unless I’m forgetting someone, I don’t think I’ve ever had one single “buddy” of the opposite sex. Of course I had friends, but never any relationship of any depth, unless I was interested in pursuing her as a girlfriend.

By “relationship of any depth,” I mean a relationship where very much emotional energy was shared. I don’t recall going out of my way to make sure that never happened, I’m just saying that, for some reason, it didn’t. Maybe I was just a shallow individual, who knows? But my buddies were guys, and the girls with whom I shared emotional energy, I did so in pursuit of a (dating) relationship with them.

So, that’s my bias as I come to your question. I’m not a big fan of opposite-sex buddies. Boundless has written about this extensively. It has only been in the last few seconds of history that this has really been much of an issue. Historically, opposite-sex relationships have been reserved for guys and girls intent on marriage, or at the very least some kind of romantic (or sexual) pursuit. I can’t think of a single Scriptural example of male-female pals. Male-female relationships in Scripture led to either (positively) marriage or (negatively) extra-marital sex, and of course the occasional battle.

But the blurring of gender distinctions over the past few decades has changed all that. At least one of the many negative outcomes of the feminist “men and women are the same” propaganda modern society has swallowed whole is the muddled confusion about guy/girl relationships. “She’s just my tennis buddy,” he says. “I can always call him when I need someone to talk to,” she says. Boys and girls, we’re all just the same.

Feminism is an easy target, but I can’t lay all the blame there. Communication (or lack thereof) is also to blame. If either of the genders believes that his or her friendship is being used or abused by the opposite sex, that is his or her own responsibility to do something about it. I’m sorry, but I can’t blame your female friends for using or abusing your friendship. You are letting them do that.

If you’re interested in something more than a very, very casual friendship, it’s your responsibility to tell her. If she balks, then keep it very, very casual. Don’t be there for her emotionally. Let her share her boy troubles with her girlfriends. My advice is the same to the girls: If he’s using you emotionally, but doesn’t want to be anything more than casual friends, you’re responsible for stopping it. As long as you let that go on you have no one to blame but yourself.

Please don’t misunderstand me, emotional friendship is very different than masculine chivalry. There is nothing wrong at all with helping a girl who is in need of a chivalrous act. Chivalry need not die in order to keep gender distinctions from being blurred. For eons, chivalrous men helped women without there being any emotional attachment or expectation. It was part of what defined true manhood.

You should be able to distinguish between a girl who has a true need for chivalry and one who is just using you emotionally. Let me be plain: Numerous one-on-one conversations over coffee is not chivalry. Walking her safely to her car from the library is. Being her personal taxi is not chivalry. Changing a flat tire is.

But don’t forget: Her need for chivalry is something God uses to help her realize her need for a spouse. Your “being there” for her too much might serve to keep her from realizing her need more quickly — kind of a twist on the old saying, “If the milk is free, why buy the cow?” If you’re doing for her most everything she needs a spouse for, what incentive are you giving her to pursue a relationship? In other words, by your “being there” so much for her, you might be enabling her lack of interest in a serious relationship.

She’s got plenty of friends and you’ve got plenty of friends. As soon as you realize she’s absolutely not interested in being anything more than “just friends,” it’s probably a good idea to kindly let her find another chauffeur.



Copyright 2007 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

John Thomas

John Thomas has been a Boundless contributor since its beginning in 1998. He and his wife, Alfie, have three children and live in Arkansas, where he serves as executive director of Ozark Camp and Conference Center, a youth camp and retreat center.


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