It was a brisk Saturday morning at Barnes and Noble in the middle of October. Long-time friends Todd and Amy arrived right at opening so she could stake out their favorite comfy chairs while he picked up their coffee before the lines were congested with Christmas shoppers. Their conversation ran the gambit from recent reads and new bands to theological debates and life events. A couple from their church small group happened by on their way in and passed the two friends again on their way out. The wife interrupted their conversation, requesting Amy join her in getting coffee refills. As soon as they were out of earshot, she pulled the girl aside and exclaimed, “Are you two dating now? I had no idea! When did he declare his intentions?”
“Oh no, you’ve got it all wrong.” Amy laughed at the absurdity of the thought. “Todd and I are just friends. We will never be more – we put each other in the friend zone years ago.”
With the girls out of sight, the husband turned to Todd and asked pointedly, “What’s going on with you and Amy? My wife says she is an amazing young woman and you both seem to really enjoy being with one another.”
“Yeah, she’s pretty amazing,” he admitted. “We enjoy spending time with each another. We’re good friends.”
“We’ll see. I am definitely open to exploring the option to take the relationship further in the future. If an option presents itself I will probably take it. I am not ready to shift into a full-blown pursuit, because she is still getting over her last relationship, so for now we are good friends.”
Ah, the difference in male and female perspectives! Sometimes it really is like living on different planets. God created us male (Gen 2:7, 15) and female (Gen. 2:22-24) and there are some days when all we have in common is the fact that we were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27).
~ What is the Friend Zone ~
The term friend zone was popularized in a 1994 episode of the show Friends, where nerdy Ross was mooning over his beautiful and popular friend Rachel. As a result, he was labeled the “Mayor of the Friend Zone” by their friends. In current culture, the friend zone is used to describe somebody with whom you spend considerable time but not for romantic reasons. Marshall Fine, of Huffington Post, suggested that it was “like the penalty box of dating, when your only crime is not being buff and unobtainable.”
But why did this idea of a friend zone develop? The rise of feminism in society resulted in many things other than just rights for women; the idea of total equality led to guys treating girls just like they treat their guy friends and girls treating guys like they treat other girls. Biblically, that is wrong. God created men and women equal in worth but different in function (and thought processes, in case you haven’t gathered that already). Our very natures – masculinity and femininity – are distinct (Gen. 2:15, 22). They complement each other in their oppositeness. But men and women come at life from completely different perspectives. And our understanding of male/female relationships is markedly different. So, to help us females understand the mystery that is the male mind, I’ve invited my good friend from seminary, David Jones, to provide insight on the subject.
~ The Effects of the Friend Zone ~
Gabrielle: I’ll be honest – I never really thought about what the friend zone idea does to men or to male/female relationships. It was just a given in the feminist culture of the eighties and nineties when I was growing up: you had boys you dated (or would date) and boys who were just your friends (like brothers) and the two didn’t mix. But now that I dig into Scripture, I see what a lie that is because it goes against everything God designed us to be as male and female (Eph. 5:21-33). Me stamping a guy with the friend zone label is, in effect, neutering him! It is also wildly disrespectful to our guy friends, because relegating a guy to the friend zone where there is no option of a relationship, is in effect treating him like your neutered lapdog that meets your needs but doesn’t disturb your life. Rather than live in reality and accountability with all men (Eph. 5:3), we often find it easier to stamp the good guys with the friend label in a lazy effort to ignore temptations that naturally come with guy/girl friendships (see Tuesday’s blog for details).
David: The idea of a friend zone is incredibly frustrating to the guys who are pursuing God and seeking to honor Him in how they go about relationships because when a guy is exiled to the friend zone, he is prevented from stepping up and pursuing the girl who has exiled him. Effectively, the friend zone hinders him from practicing godly masculinity and assuming the role that God created for him, since the girl refuses to see him as anything more than a mere friend. For examples of godly masculinity, see Gen 39; Ruth 2:1; 2 Tim 2:22 in contrast to 2 Tim 3:1-6.
The whole idea of a friend zone nominalizes the godly guys who are seeking to honor God in how they pursue girls. Actually, it aids and abets Christian players, guys who will take advantage of the friend zone to date girls without commitment or accountability. The friend zone encourages guys not to lead in relationships, and instead to lead girls around in a circle (Note the contrast between 2 Tim 3:6 and 1 Tim 3:2, specifically the exploitation of these “weak” women who are burdened with sin and lead astray by their passions, or possibly the passions of sin, and the one woman man who is steadfast and faithful).
~ The Friend Zone is Unbiblical ~
David: The primary goal of male and female relationships is marriage. I believe it is borne witness to by the general lack of biblical norms for male/female non-romantic, non-familial relationships. The Bible actually speaks against these types of relationships after marriage, as it is from these relationships that the majority of adulterous relationships spring (Prov. 7). A married man does not need an emotional connection on any level with any woman other than his wife, his daughters, and, maybe at a much lower level, his mom. Of these, it is only the married man’s wife who is to meet his emotional needs (Heb. 13:4). This is the very essence of the one-flesh union and being a one-woman man (Gen. 2:24; 1 Tim 3:2, 12). If the end goal of male/female relationships is heterosexual monogamy, why should a man multiply sorrows by fostering emotional connections with scores of women? If he is looking for one woman with whom to connect at every level, why would he exhaust himself by putting time and effort into relationships for which he knows there is and can be no future? He shouldn’t and he won’t if he is wise. Generally, men do not initiate and cultivate friendships with women with whom they do not enjoy interacting.
Gabrielle: I agree. The entire idea of the friend zone is unbiblical. It is disrespectful to God’s design of masculinity in not allowing godly guys to act as men. It is also rejects God’s plan for male/female interactions to lead to marriage by eliminating candidates because we labeled them ‘just friends’ and refuse to see them as anything more. (1 Cor. 12:26-27, Eph. 4:15-16, Col. 1:18) God is the only one who should eliminate candidates from our list (via Scripture: do not be unequally yoked, etc.), every other god-fearing guy should be given the chance to pursue. Guys should be eliminated as potential husbands by their character and lifestyle, not a friend stamp on his forehead.
It is good, healthy and God-honoring for a brother in Christ to notice and pursue a sister in Christ with the intent of marriage. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we all long to be pursued. But for that to happen, we need to live in submission to God’s design for masculinity and femininity, which means not treating the godly guys in our lives/churches like neutered lapdogs.
~ Life without the Friend Zone ~
David: With no friend zone, it is vital that male/female contact is regulated by the guy to ensure that he is not cultivating romance to which he is not ready or willing to commit. God appointed men to be the pursuers in relationships (Eph 5:25; for the sequence of events,Rom 5:8; seen in distinction from sexual immorality, Eph 5:2-3). This means that the guy is the quarterback of the friendship and the initiator of the changes to the relationship, including the communication of his intentions. Before he initiates romance in any form, he must settle his intentions in his own mind. He is responsible for ensuring that things do not simply change because he is fickle and cannot make up his mind. He is NOT allowed to initiate multiple romances at the same time – the Bible is crystal clear that heterosexual monogamy is God’s plan (Gen 1:26-28). This is an issue of integrity – failure to do this results in the guy being “the Player,” a jerk that strings girls along in order to meet his physical or emotional needs (even if he is not conscious that he is doing this). Usually, the Christian version of the “player” is not into serial sex, but into serial emotionally-charged and confusing relationships.
Gabrielle: I’ll admit, as girls, we like the friend zone. It makes life so much easier and more organized. The hard thing about not having a friend zone is that no guy is “safe.” Now every guy is an option (eliminating those who Scripture eliminates, of course). And while – hopefully – you aren’t dreaming of marriage with every guy in your church and you aren’t looking at life through wedding-tinged glasses, it does require a conscious taking captive of thoughts about the guys around you.
We females know that if a guy isn’t an absolute “no,” then he could be a yes at some point and our temptation as girls is to mentally explore what that would look like …. all the way to the altar. And that is wrong because it isn’t true today (Phil. 4:8). So eliminating the friend zone means more work: more dependence on the Holy Spirit to keep our thoughts in check, more trust in the Lord to provide for our hearts longings, more taking a stand with Christian player’s who try to assuming the familiarity of a brother/husband without declaring their attentions.
Guarding your hearts (Prov. 4:23) and taking thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:5) about your male friends means not having expectations that a guy will act/pursue, not allowing wandering thoughts to imagine a future that is not promised, and holding all guys to their word. If they aren’t declaring themselves, then they don’t get romantic-based attention. Period. When a godly guy wants to pursue you, he will make it known. It won’t be confusing, you won’t need your girlfriends to interpret his actions, it will be clear.
~ There’s no Happily Ever After in the Friend Zone ~
Will Todd and Amy make it as friends, as a couple? No one knows. It depends on Todd stepping up, in the God-ordained time, and repenting of passivity to pursue this friend who intrigues him. It depends on Amy repenting of living in the lie of the friend zone, so that she can interact with Todd as the man God created him to be. Will they find the love and marriage that they both long for? It depends on them.
And so your future depends on your willingness to reshape your thinking to what is biblical and God-honoring in relationships, rather than worldly ideas that are easier.