dating

There is no such thing as the 'friend-zone'.

Last night, on episode one million and three of Married at First Sight, Jesse stood on a beach at sunset opposite his fake wife Michelle.

“I’m so thankful our paths have crossed,” she told him.

“I do want you in my life forever, but not as your partner. I want to be the friend you confide in… to continue the friendship that we have formed here in this experiment.”

Michelle held back tears, as Jesse reassuringly held her hand.

Listen to Clare Stephens and Kelly Glover recap Married at First Sight. Post continues below. 

It was a moment that had been coming for eight weeks. From the beginning, Michelle had struggled to find any romantic chemistry with Jesse, and viewers were at a loss for why. Week after week, she continued in the experiment.

Perhaps she was deeply conflicted because she very much liked Jesse. He was funny, respectful, laid back and kind. He was everything she thought she wanted.

But no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t feel it. Something was missing, and she might never know what. Most people know the feeling of being drawn to a person, and really enjoying their company, but not having any real desire to kiss them.

In an ideal world, Michelle would have ended it sooner.

Jesse’s feelings developed, while her’s plateaued, and in not being entirely transparent, she might have caused him more pain than was necessary. But that’s just the ‘game’ isn’t it? It’s messy, and confusing, and complicated, with alarmingly high stakes.

Image via Channel 9.
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Jesse did not get angry or defensive, like so many of us do in the face of rejection. He graciously accepted her decision, most likely planning on having a big ugly cry later.

"I opened up too late. I should have opened up much sooner," he told the camera.

But it was the next observation he offered that made me uncomfortable. Not because Jesse is a bad person, but because the culture he lives in has fundamentally misled him.

"It's pretty much nearly impossible for a guy to get a girl out of the friend zone. It's like trying to climb a barb wire fence."

"It's impossible to get out of the friend-zone." Image via Channel 9.

The mythical friend-zone is pervasive in popular culture, and almost exclusively applies to men. Women rarely get "friend-zoned", and if they do, they never call it that. They're too busy bashing themselves over the head with their worn copy of He's Just Not That Into You.

The friend-zone assumes a woman's lack of interest in a man is a) circumstantial and b) transient.

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It also penalises a woman for rejecting a potential suitor - it's not that the man wasn't what she was looking for, it's simply that she failed to see it.

The man who has been friend-zoned claims he is being punished for the crime of being "too nice". Maybe he didn't play the game well enough, or make a move at the right time.

Ultimately, it's a socially constructed defence mechanism, which suggests that being left with a female as a friend is the greatest possible failure. It's emasculating. A position that warrants being teased by your mates. One could not imagine a more crushing loss.

Mamamia's TV podcast, The Binge, discusses the never-ending story that is Married at First Sight. Post continues below.

Of course, rejection hurts. It's excruciating, regardless of your gender. But there is a gendered difference in how we interpret and narrativise our own rejection. The feminine response is to internalise; "I wasn't enough," "There's something wrong with me". The masculine response is to project; "she was a tease," "she put me in the friend-zone".

As Nell Grecian wrote for The Huffington Post, "The word ‘slut’ attacks women for their right to say yes. The phrase ‘friend zone’ attacks women for their right to say no."

So what really happened when a man claims he was put in the 'friend-zone'?

Well, she just wasn't that into him. There was a lack of romantic interest. She may have liked him as a person, but not as a partner.

He was never in a zone. He has been right in front of her the entire time. She just made a conscious choice; she doesn't want to be with him.

Friendship is not a punishment, even if that's not what one party was hoping for. Jokes about the friend-zone insinuate that a woman's worth does not extend beyond her potential as a sexual partner.

As was posted anonymously on an Internet forum years ago, “Friend-zoning is bullshit because girls are not machines that you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.”

I am not claiming that Jesse is a misogynist. He did not feel 'entitled' to Michelle, nor did he stomp his feet up and down. But the term he drew on exists in our cultural lexicon and absolutely requires interrogation.

The friend-zone is a myth, and it's time we got rid of it.

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