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In popular culture, friend zone refers to a platonic relationship wherein one person, most commonly a man, wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship, while the other does not. It is generally considered to be an undesirable or dreaded situation by the lovelorn person. The concept has been criticized as misogynistic.
There are differing explanations about what causes a person to be placed in the friend zone by another. It might result from misinterpreted signals or from a fear that a deeper relationship might jeopardize the friendship. A Chicago Tribune writer suggested there were several cases in which someone might become relegated to the friend zone: (1) person A is not sufficiently attracted to person B, (2) person A misinterprets nonverbal cues from person B signaling their interest in deepening the relationship, (3) there is sexual repulsion (but not enough to block a friendship). In a friendship between the two people, being relegated to the friend zone can happen to either person. In another instance, a woman described her male friend, someone she was comfortable with as if he was one of her girlfriends, but their relationship became problematic when he wanted their relationship to develop romantically but she did not. One man compared the friend zone to being a "third wheel" and having only a platonic relationship with a woman.
Marshall Fine of The Huffington Post suggested that the friend zone is "like the penalty box of dating, when your only crime is not being buff and unobtainable." Dating adviser Ali Binazir described the friend zone as Justfriendistan, and wrote that it's a "territory only to be rivaled in inhospitability by the western Sahara, the Atacama, and Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell." Mastin Kipp of the Huffington Post described himself as always having girlfriends who were "girls" but were only his "friends", meaning there was no sex between them.
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Some feminist bloggers have argued that the friend zone concept is misogynistic. They say the friend zone concept implies that if a woman and a man have a platonic friendship and the man becomes romantically attracted to the woman, then the woman has a duty to return his affection. A woman who does not return her "nice guy" male friend's affection is viewed negatively or seen to be at fault.
Some prefer the term "unrequited love" instead: while the term "friend zone" implies that the person who does not return the affection, usually the woman, is at fault, the term "unrequited love" assigns the source of the conflict with the person who is unable to accept only friendship.
Others argue that the term friend zone is not misogynistic, and that women as well as men can be "friendzoned".
The term was popularized by a 1994 episode of the American sitcom Friends entitled "The One with the Blackout", where the character Ross Geller, who was lovesick for Rachel Green, was described by character Joey Tribbiani as being the "mayor of the friend zone". The question of whether a man can ever "escape the friend zone and begin dating one of his female friends" helped make the "geek dream couple" of Ross and Rachel storyline dramatically compelling, according to viewers.
Since then, the friend zone concept has often been a plot element in television shows and films. The 2005 film Just Friends main character, played by Ryan Reynolds, reunited after ten years with his friend played by Amy Smart, who informs him that she loves him "like a brother", essentially dashing any hopes of him having her as a girlfriend. In May 2011, MTV had a show entitled FriendZone. In an interview with a national publication, a producer said:
The idea for the show came out of my own experience. Unfortunately, I know the pain of telling the girl of your dreams you love them and want to take the relationship to the next level only to be told they don't feel the same. I figured if it happened to me, it might be something others could relate to as well. If it works, you have the beginnings of a great love story. If it doesn't, well, pain and humiliation make great TV, too."—an MTV producer