The Problem With the Friend Zone

This is a continuation (after a fashion) of this post.

The Friend Zone is more or less universally a negative place. The individual pursuing romance is frustrated by the fact that the relationship is stuck at the level of friends. To be Friend-Zoned is to lose out.

Yet this is certainly strange on two levels. The first level has been pointed out often before me: being a friend is not a bad thing. The idea that somehow your relationship is ruined because you can’t have romance/sex with the other is highly demeaning to the majority of the relationships one is in. Our inability to value friendship is damaging.

Recently I was talking with a friend about why I thought dating is problematic today (not the concept but the practice): “we have forgotten how to be friends” as a culture. This is fairly obvious. It does not mean that nobody is a friend or there are no friends; rather people generally presume romantic entanglements on any couple of people. Two people can hardly have dinner together without there being a presumption of romance (a recent article presumed that since Jennifer Lawrence had something nice to say about someone they might well be “Hollywood’s next a-list couple”). Others have commented on this better than I.

The second level is the one I feel has been neglected, or at least poorly presented: being a friend is the only sure foundation for a marriage. We see this in the idea of “marrying your best friend” but when it comes to practice this rarely means anything more than “marrying the person you spend the most time with.” It tends toward an impoverished definition of friendship.

Our romance-saturated storytelling reminds us over and over again that the best foundation for a lasting marriage is head-over-heals in-love-ness. Once we find that incredible emotion that is indescribable we know we’ve found “the one” and our romance concerns are over.

Any survey of marriage survival rates will disprove you of this notion, at least until you next fall in love.

Friendship.

Friendship.

When I consider the attributes I am looking for in a future spouse the first one is friendship. I have no interest in hoping my random sentimentality (to use Pope St. John Paul II’s term) will result in a good (much less successful) match. Rather, friendship—in the serious, Aristotelian sense (likewise espoused by C.S. Lewis)—is a system for success which is a natural platform to grow sentimentality and romance.

The hardest part about this idea is that it is so simple it feels almost ‘wrong.’ It can be summed up as “friendship is better for marriage than romance” which tends to sound like I’m saying I don’t like romance (a charge I have been forced to answer on several occasions). It is not that I dislike romance/sentimentality, but rather that I find friendship so much more powerful. I want to marry my best friend because there is no one else I would rather spend the rest of my life with.

In the end, this is not an opposition to the romance in our culture. It is an opposition to how we go about finding that romance. It is much easier to turn your friendship into a romance than your romance into a friendship. And in the end, it is better to have one true friendship than a thousand romances.

Justin Burgard is finishing his MA in philosophy and eyeing one in theology.

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