We’ve all had some personal experience in this great area of life. Whether it was at university or crushing on the “guapo” colleague at work…only to find out they’re in a committed long-term relationship and you’ve been completely friend-zoned. Needless to say, each of us at some point in time has had the honour and heartache of making it into this grey area of a relationship/friendship.
The friend zone is often perceived as extremely complicated. In reality, however, it is far more simple. To explain how simple it is let’s focus on how we intuitively ration out the gender we are attracted to into two categories of “friends”:
1. Definite ‘Friend zone’ // This is someone who is totally a friend, there is no attraction whatsoever, and never will be. This is the person who, if they made a move on you, they would be getting a right old slap across the face, or be deeply scarred by the repulsed look you gave them. All too often when we place someone into this “friend zone” box, we implicitly think “I don’t like them, so, therefore, they don’t like me”. Naïve, yes. Common, extremely!
2. The Other/Potential ‘Friend zone’ // This is a tricky one to explain. All too often we use words to disguise our true emotions. Take for example the classic “We’re just friends” (only to be followed by a sly, unconvincing grin.) This can be extremely confusing for the other person involved, causing uncertainty, doubt and feelings of inadequacy.
To be able to explain the 2 difference between the “zones”. Let me give you the quickest science lesson in the world.
In every human that walks the planet, we have a remarkable piece of anatomy: our brains. They are like the bouncer at a nightclub, filtering through constant messages and sorting what is allowed to come through and what isn’t.
Over centuries, our brains have developed into what they are today. In the “modern” brain there are 3 distinctive areas: Reptilian, Limbic System and Neocortex.
The Reptilian part is like our foundation to exist. Its core purpose is to regulate our body and keep us alive “survival system” which includes breathing, balance, hunger/thirst, and reproductive drive.
The Limbic System is an extremely interesting area of the brain because it is our “emotional” part. It drives all emotions (eg: anger, love, hate, fear, shame, jealousy). It is also the part of our brain that stores memory. Studies even show that the limbic system in a female’s brain is proportionately larger than our male counterparts.
The Neocortex is the most recently developed and is the final portion of our brain that gets fully developed during our early-mid twenties (provided it has been healthily growing up to that point). What makes the Neocortex unique, is it is where logic, analysis, language, morality and rational thought exist.
Type 1 (The Definite Friend Zone) – This decision has been fully processed through our brains. It’s passed through the Reptilian part, we feel safe in the person’s company. Through the Limbic System, we have sorted the variety of emotional factors, which could also have included past memories (eg: they’re a childhood friend and it would feel weird to see them as anything more.) Until it finally comes into the Neocortex where we can easily put language to how we feel: “We’re just friends” (Genuinely).
Type 2 (The Potential Friend Zone) – This is slightly harder to explain. Here’s why. When something is sitting in our Limbic System, we’re still processing the emotions around it. We can try to use our Neocortex to put language to the emotion, but even then it doesn’t FULLY capture how we feel. Take for example strong emotional reactions that we have in life; seeing a bride walking down the aisle, looking up at the stars at night, or watching a loved one get acknowledged for the hard work they’ve put in. We all feel something. Yet, when we try to put words to describe that moment it never quite does it justice. The same is to be said for when someone is in our “potential friend zone.” We’re still processing where we sit emotionally; if the feelings are mutual, and whether there are any conflicting messages. To put the appropriate language in place, can be confusing, lead to poor articulation and potential hurt.
Unfortunately, all too often, I have heard many friends (including myself) say that if they’ve been “friend-zoned” they would never go for that person EVER AGAIN!
The first step is acknowledgement. Acknowledgement that we don’t and can’t control people and their emotions. We (every human being on the planet) are beautifully complex, and that is something worth celebrating in itself.
Fortunately, through recognising the two zone’s we see that just because you were “friend zoned” doesn’t mean the opportunity has passed. There are ways that you can find love in the 21st Century. So you’re not out of the game yet…unless of course you have directly approached the person with your feelings or tried a move and they explicitly told you “umm no.” If that’s the case, it’s okay, we’ve got your back with a further explanation of why we’re scared to step out and how to overcome it.
Connection. Whether it’s connecting and supporting someone as a dear friend, or more as a lover and confidant. Being able to walk alongside someone in life, is something that is truly worth celebrating and makes our whole brain go into party mode.