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Escape the Friend Zone: Going From "Just Friends" to More

Go from friend to girlfriend or friend to boyfriend.

Key points

  • When someone gets stuck in the friend zone, they have entered into an exchange that isn't even.
  • To get out of the friend zone, one can employ tactics such as being less needy and creating competition.
  • Once someone is out of the friend zone and there's an even exchange, one can ask for the change they want.

Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor.

How do you motivate a friend to be "more than friends?" How do you move forward from "just friends" to girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, or lover? How do you escape the "friend zone?"

I often get questions like these from readers asking how to get out of the friend zone. I have also been watching the new MTV show Friend Zone lately. So, I've decided to share my own advice on how to transition from being just a friend to a girlfriend, or just a friend to a boyfriend. Read on and learn how to go from a friend to a lover with a few simple techniques...

What Is "the Friend Zone?"

For those who don't know the term, "the friend zone" refers to a situation where one individual in a friendship develops more intense feelings and wants to become "more than friends" with the other person. More often than not, the other person is unaware of the friend's desires and quite happy in the friendship-only arrangement. As a result, the person is "stuck" in the friend zone, unable to transition from just friend to girlfriend or boyfriend.

Being stuck in a friendship and wanting more can be a frustrating position. Sometimes this frustration is sexually motivated, with one friend desiring a physical relationship with the other. On other occasions, the friends are already sexually involved (i.e. friends-with-benefits), but there is a motivation to transition into a "relationship" as a committed girlfriend or boyfriend. In other instances, both motivations play a role. Nevertheless, in any case, wanting more than you are currently getting is a heart-wrenching situation. The friend zone is not an easy place to live!

Why Does the Friend Zone Happen?

Before I help you get out of the friend zone, we first need to discuss why people get stuck there in the first place. Essentially, all relationships are social exchanges (for more, see here). This means that people set up give-and-take agreements, usually without discussion, to get what they want from the other person and give what they are willing to give.

When someone gets stuck in the friend zone, they have entered into an exchange friendship that isn't even. The other person is getting everything he/she wants...but the person stuck in the friend zone isn't. In a nutshell, the friend zone person sold himself or herself short. They gave their "friend" everything, without making sure they got everything they wanted in return.

Let's look at some examples to make this point clear...

Bob and Jenny are friends. As "friends," Bob pretty much does everything for Jenny. He takes her places, buys her things, listens to all of her problems, and helps her out of trouble. Bob, however, wants to be Jenny's boyfriend. Jenny, though, isn't interested because she's having all of her "boyfriend" needs met by Bob, without having to meet his. She can be free, non-committed, and still have all of Bob's effort. That is why Bob is in the friend zone.

Sally and Pat are friends-with-benefits. They hang out and hook up. Sally, however, wants to be in a real relationship with Pat. Pat, in contrast, is happy to just hook up. Pat is being sexually fulfilled, without having to meet Sally's commitment needs. The exchange isn't in Sally's favor and she has nothing left to bargain with. Therefore, she's stuck in the friend zone.

How to Escape the Friend Zone

To escape the friend zone, you must first realize that all relationships involve negotiation—and you are attempting to "re-negotiate" the current exchange. Essentially, you want "more" from the other person. Most likely, you are already giving too much and what you really want is for them to balance the scales.

Fortunately, there are a few principles that do indeed balance the scales. Using those principles, we can devise a few steps to get you out of the friend zone:

1) Be Less Interested - The relationship is already imbalanced because you value it more than the other person. Take a step back. Being "needy" is no way to negotiate. Desperate people end up with what others give them, not what they want. So, be less interested and ready to walk away if you don't get the relationship you want. Those who are more willing to walk away have the power to guide the relationship (called the "Least Interested Principle" - Waller & Hill, 1951).

2) Make Yourself Scarce - Spend some time away from your "friend" and do less for them. If they truly appreciate you, then your absence will make them miss you and want you more. This is the principle of scarcity—where people value something more when it is rare or taken away from them (Cialdini, 2009). When you are no longer around as much or tending to their needs, they will most likely feel the loss. This may increase their desire for you and their willingness to meet your needs back. If it doesn't, then they are just "not that into you." In that case, find another "friend."

3) Create Some Competition - Go out and make some other "friends" of the sex you are attracted to. Broaden your social network. Then, talk about these new friends with the friend you desire. Competition and a little jealousy are another great way to develop scarcity (Cialdini, 2009). People value more what they think they might lose. If you are busy with other people, you might just find your friend a bit more eager and motivated for your time and attention. If you don't see any jealousy though, then they might not want to be "more than friends." In that case, set your sights on someone new!

4) Get Them to Invest - Ask your friend to do things for you. Contrary to popular belief, people like you more when they do favors for you, rather than when you do the favor for them (for more, see here). This is called the Ben Franklin Effect (Jecker & Landry, 1969). The more they invest in the relationship, the more you will mean to them. So, stop doing favors ... and start asking for them. Get them to give you a ride, study with you, fix something, etc.

5) Be Rewarding - Don't forget to be grateful and reward your friend when they behave as you desire. After they are good to you, remember to be good to them back. Always remember to keep an environment of mutual gratitude flowing, too (see here).

Taking It From There

From those first steps, it is a matter of changing the actual relationship, either by asking the question directly or indirectly. Perhaps you'd like to indirectly ask them out on a real date (see here)? Maybe you'd prefer the direct approach (see here and here)? Or, perhaps a conversation is more your way (see here)? In any case, find a way to either directly or indirectly ask for what you want.


It is possible to dig out of an uneven, "friend zone" exchange with a little persuasion and influence. Just remember to focus on your own worth, don't be desperate, and be willing to walk away. Allow some space for the other person to miss you. Make some friends outside of that friendship. Finally, let that friend invest in you and reward them for it. If they truly value you in their life, then they will be much more likely to take the relationship to the next level. If they don't, you already have some new friends, your self-respect, and one foot out the door.

© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Cialdini, R. (2009). Influence: Science and practice. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Jecker, J., & Landy, D. (1969). Liking a person as function of doing him a favor. Human Relations, 22, 371-378.

Waller, W. W., & Hill, R. (1951). The family, a dynamic interpretation. New York: Warner Books.

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