Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

Are you flying in "The Friend Zone"?

Daniel Radcliffe, star of the Harry Potter movies and Broadway, created a media sensation this week when he participated in a live interview on Buzzfeed Brews. When asked the age-old question "Can men and women be friends?" that was the topic of the classic Billy Crystal-Meg Ryan hit movie "When Harry Met Sally" a generation ago, Daniel didn't politely demure. That's when a soon-to-be forgotten promotional piece suddenly got very interesting.

Daniel Radcliffe said that if there is no sexual attraction between a man and a woman there should be no problem with being friends. But if there are feelings to take the relationship to "the next level" then there might be a problem.

What Daniel is describing is being in "The Friend Zone". According to author Cherie Burbach, this term applies to friends of the opposite sex, where one person wants to become romantically involved but the other doesn't at that point in time. Daniel described a time when he was caught in "The Friend Zone", but because he discussed it openly with his female friend, they mutually agreed to stay "just friends" and remain so to this day.

The trouble with being in the "friend zone" is that one person has their hopes up, and when they realize that the other person has no romantic interest in them, they often become disappointed and withdraw. Then the other person feels abandoned, used and betrayed that their friend has gone  away suddenly. Then an enemy is created.

The solution for the friend zone is  simple. If you meet someone you are attracted to  at school, at an activity or at work, spend time talking to them. If a real friendship develops, get together for coffee, go to the beach or lake, attend a concert or game as you would a friend of the same sex. Real relationship grow without forcing them to accelerate through the artificial intimacy of sexual attraction, charm and approval seeking. Only go to inexpensive restaurants or Starbucks to meet so the emphasis is on the conversation instead of making an ostentatious display and putting pressure on the relationship to lead somewhere. Give up your need to control and just enjoy getting to know another person of the opposite sex.

Give the relationship time to develop. Resist the pressure to "close the deal" before someone else comes along to sweep your friend away. If your friend does have romantic feelings for you, they will not be swept away by another. So much goes into a decision of who someone is attracted to romantically and who just isn't their type. If you are the right one for your friend, there isn't much you have to do. Just be yourself and give your friend the opportunity to get to know and accept the real you. That is the goal of a healthy relationship: to find someone who accepts your real self, not your phony image.

Instead of being shocked, disappointed and wallowing in pity if your friend only wants to be friends, go into your relationships realistically. Respect your friend's right to choose even if that means they choose not to be your  romantic partner. Don't believe the Hollywood myth that "No means Yes" and that persistence will wear down their resistance, like the character George Costanza on the old Seinfeld reruns. The biggest turnoff of all is being clingy or stalking people who don't want to be your romantic partner. All you do by that behavior is prove that their initial decision was correct.

Don't blame yourself if the person you feel a strong connection to doesn't feel the same way. Accept the disconnect as a natural part of the relationship process. Don't abandon your friend just because it doesn't result in a romance. You never know if your friend's network of acquaintances will lead to you meeting someone who does share your tastes, goals, worldview and has a compatible personality and is interested in becoming involved with you romantically. Keep a positive attitude that there are countless people out there to meet and among them there will be those who are right for you. Don't be imprisoned by "The Friend Zone"!

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.


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