Oftentimes, when a repugnant thought enters the cultural consciousness, it cuts through people like two land masses experiencing a seismic rift. One side defends it “It’s just a joke!” or “It really happens!” and the other responds “That is offensive, women owe you nothing,” “You’re a neckbeard loser”. But no one really ever sits down and think “Why the fuck are we even discussing this?” Even repugnant ideas come from somewhere, and enough people must experience them for it to catch on as a meme.
Even fedoras were once cool, so cool, that every dude almost had to wear them. Now fedoras exist in the uncomfortable realm of Bros, Nerds, and the Pickup Artist Community (THE LOVECHILD OF BROS AND NERDS). The Pickup Artist community deserves its whole separate deconstruction, so i’ll save that for later. But the Friend-Zone didn’t just appear as a boogie man of men’s rights activists. The Friend-Zone exists because men and women have been socialized to ignore each other and suppress their desires.
What we’re talking about when people discuss the Friend-Zone, has been unfortunately gendered and distorted. It simply is the very modern result of relaxed sexual mores coming into conflict with traditional gender roles. There does exist an uncomfortable situation that occurs before or after sex occurs with a new person-of-interest, where one of the persons (at least) is unsure of what role the other should take. When you hear Nerds and Bros and PUAs speaking about this, this is why they need feminism. Unfortunately, they are often too pigheaded and stubborn to see that. The patriarchy has failed them, because when the strict codes of behavior begin breaking down on how to interact with women, those last vestiges morph into an artificial reward/punishment structure….a game.
There are nice guys, and bad boys. Sluts and Virgins. How to score. How to get past “No.” Even feminist theory plays the game, “Yes means yes” “Are you privileged?” “Weight loss and Feminism.” Each person has their avatar, and each person must play the game of interacting with the opposite gender in such a way that a winner is you.
Unfortunately, all a game amounts to in the real world is manipulation of others. And you only need to manipulate others, if you’re unsure you’ll get what you want by simply asking for it. We can’t just ask for it though, because there’s the undeniable fear that removing oneself from the game also removes yourself from the rewards. One tolerates the punishments, in hope of eventually obtaining the reward. It’s the sunk costs fallacy writ large. We’ve been playing this game for so long, for generations, that we can’t discard it without tearing each other apart.
Why is the Friend-Zone a meme so easily grasped by Bros and Nerds, opposites on the social stigma spectrum? Perhaps Bros and Nerds are identical in their complete social-acceptance of modern male-chauvinist brainwashing. The Bro is an alpha dog, the Nerd is King of the Nerds. The Bro says she deserves it, the Nerd says she doesn’t even know who Rocket Raccoon is. United are they, in their inability to see past their limited male-centric bubble. All the while, dating remains with the male’s sphere of influence. The old traditional ways still define that the man pursues, the man is hyper sexual, the man provides. Sadly, this also means the man isn’t responsible for his emotions and his mistakes.
Dating still exists, but it’s also dissolved into hooking up, hanging out, casual sex, open relationships, “it’s complicated” status changes, FB stalking, Snapchat, Tinder, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, try-sexual. The BroNerd is a caveman in an increasingly complex world. Traditional roles only allowed for so much complexity. You could only play if you were straight and stayed with your own kind. Gay? Sorry, can’t play. Get out and die. Interracial? Sorry, can’t play. Get out and die. BDSM? Sorry, can’t play and SHUTUP SHUTUP SHUTUP! If you wanted to just get a god damn blow job, you had to pay for it. Literally. Don’t ask your wife to do that. The BroNerd doesn’t have the vocabulary to even discuss what he wants, but he also hasn’t been given the emotional complexity to vocalize it even if he could.
I’m focusing on the BroNerd, and speaking about men, because it’s what i know from first hand experience. I am a mostly straight dude. I’ve been “friendzoned” (I was afraid/unable to tell a person what i want and the person didn’t know what they want enough to tell me). But for every bro, for every nerd, there’s also a woman who has grown up believing the exact same quasi-traditional American beliefs. Women are just as socialized to be pursued, to be demure, to receive. This also means that a woman, in American society, is completely responsible for all emotions (the male’s too) and for all their mistakes.
What you end up with, is the broken situation where a woman is unable to be sexual, but wants sex, but will be punished for wanting sex, so often learns that to be pursued provides the most rewards in life. Even something like “slutwalks” or naked protests, quite obviously traffics in agreeable male patriarchal desires, while simultaneously attempting to subvert them but reaping the traditional rewards — attention, consideration, discussion. How often do feminist articles explore questions like “Is Miley Cyrus a feminist?” “Is wearing a hijab feminist?” as a result of the inability to separate a woman’s appearance from the reward system of the male gaze. Those questions would be as irrelevant as a man’s nipples, if a man’s gaze didn’t value women’s nipples. Existence is a reward itself, when your very gender makes you invisible in many walks of life. Modern dating rewards women who are pursuable, but does not ever reward being the pursuer, or the result of being pursued: sex. It does however reward being purchased: traditional marriage. How can a woman define what they want, when all the new choices afforded to her are still linked with punishments. Own your sexuality? You better be ready to discuss it. Don’t want to have children? You gotta talk to a man about that first. Silence is the only refuge, and that’s perfectly okay for men who don’t want to listen.
For a man, conquest at any cost is rewarded. Even if it destroys your own soul. A “nice guy” values conquest too, he only defines it as a “girlfriend” but it’s really a wimp’s way of making a marriage purchase. The BroNerd is a caveman, only able to communicate in grunts. And grunts are all it needs. He doesn’t have to discuss how much sex he wants or how he goes about getting it. He doesn’t want children, he’s just a busy guy. Grunts are good for aggression, and that’s perfectly okay for men who don’t know what to say. Together, cavemen and cavewomen get along just fine, one grunts while the other is silent. The world is changing however. As we navigate these changing social norms, we are all evolving, because we are all in some way dealing with our traditional gender role baggage. Evolution occurs when an animal must adapt to a changing environment. Those who do not adapt, perish. The caveman is going extinct. And its death is seen on arguments on a Facebook wall. In death, it is flailing about in complex new encounters between the sexes, like a cricket with broken legs trying to sing a song of seduction.
Traditions seek to control the environment by limiting the amount of possibilities. Ain’t no bird gonna fly if you always get shot. But our world has become truly global, and our traditions are crashing against other traditions, and creating new ones. Thats where the Friend-Zone came from, and it won’t go away until we’ve discovered a new paradigm. Until a woman won’t be punished for just wanting a friend, punished for just wanting sex, punished for just wanting to be monogamous, then it’ll be impossible to tell a man exactly what they want. Nor will men, who treat sexual conquest as a reward, who see friendship as simply a path to conquest, and face no consequences for being single or married, ever be able to see past their socially impaired tunnel vision. Caveman can’t talk, caveman can’t understand. Cavewoman gets hit when she speaks, cavewoman can’t understand why.
For now, when I go on a date, I try to pay for it while looking really cool and like I didn’t really even think about it, so that she doesn’t think I’m trying to be some throwback but still values traditional status symbols like affluence and confidence, and if she really wants to pay for herself, I just ask three times — very casually — and then let her. That’s a lot of complex decision-making just to pay for a burger. It’s really annoying, but BroNerds just ain’t got the higher reasoning skills to deal. Also, yes, I just humble bragged cause I’m still playing the game. Don’t hate the player, hate the game, it makes losers of us all.
further reading –