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I asked Australian couples how they left the friend zone

Words by Evangeline Polymeneas

Friend zone to end game.

Unrequited love has been the inspiration for art, music, fashion and poetry and unless you’re unsusceptible to rejection, you’ve likely fallen victim to it at some point. While the chase can be a turn-on to some, when a clear boundary has been placed that sees you blocked from sailing the love boat with someone, it can feel soul-crushing. 

Unrequited love can come in many different forms – my unrequited love for Timothée Chalamet for example – but nothing hurts quite like being friend-zoned. The friend zone refers to a social construct that defines friendships where one person has romantic interests that aren’t met by the other person.


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It’s essentially a boundary that someone puts in place that tells the other person that they see them as a friend right now. While the friend zone is indefinite, some do make it out on the other side. To find out more about what this can look like, I spoke to two people who took their friendship to the next level.

Leon* 

Leon fell in love with Elle* in high school. After deciding to tell Elle how he felt, she told him she thought they should just be friends. “It stung a lot at the time, but at least she was clear,” Leon says. Taking it in his stride, Leon gradually came to accept that Elle didn’t feel the same way about him and tried to remain grateful that he was still in her life as her friend.

“I tried to focus on and enjoy our friendship for what it was. Our friendship circles were largely similar and we hung out a lot and as we spent more time together, I guess she started to see a different possibility for our relationship,” he tells me. 

When I asked Leon what he thought the friend zone was, what he said made me rethink what I thought I knew about the friend zones and relationships more broadly.  “I think the friend zone refers to a situation where two people have different expectations for their relationships – in particular, the level of intimacy. I’m divided as to whether I think it’s a healthy way to think about relationships. 

“On one hand, I think it’s helpful for the ‘friend zone’ to be understood because it might allow people to more clearly set out their understanding and expectations of their relationship but, on the other hand, should being ‘friend-zoned’ really be the exception rather than the rule?

“I often wonder whether the concept has its roots in a sense of entitlement to be romantically involved with anyone one chooses, in particular from a male sense of entitlement to any women they so desire. If the concept of being ‘friend-zoned’ exists, does that mean that the default position is that anyone I desire must want me back?

“I sometimes question the normative roots of the term ‘friend zone’ and whether it’s useful and healthy to label people who have different expectations for their relationship. I’m not sure there’s a binary distinction between friends and romantic partners. Levels of intimacy and romance really exist on a spectrum from a total stranger to true love.”

Leon made me wonder whether he was right. The friend zone is seen by some, men in particular, as a socially constructed prison where someone sends a person who attempted to pursue them romantically. Is it a time-out for trying? Or a way to establish healthy boundaries with the people in your life? What I do know for sure is that Elle married Leon and they’re in love. “She is my best friend,” Leon says..  

Gabe* 

The story of Gabe and Tess* is a classic tale of the right person, wrong time. Tess was a friend of one of Gabe’s friends who moved to Melbourne from Geelong. When she moved to Melbourne, she entered Gabe’s friendship circle. “We hit off when we first met and became quite close quickly as friends. The more we hung out I realised I had a crush on her but didn’t really act upon it. After a few months, we ended up kissing at a party when our friend told each of us separately that we had a crush on one another,” he explains.

“We told each other we had some kind of feelings on the night of the party. But in the morning, to my disappointment, she told me that she thought it would be best if we remained friends.” Tess had only just gotten out of a serious relationship and didn’t feel totally ready to let Gabe in. “We stayed friends from about four to five months after initially kissing at the party. On and off through this period, we were often more than just friends – friends with benefits would be the right term. 

“It wasn’t easy for me. I essentially pretended I was okay with not being exclusive. I had to hide jealousy when she went on dates or spent time with other people. Eventually, the friends with benefits situation became too hurtful and confusing so we decided to stop talking completely for an indefinite period to give one another space.” 

After a week of not speaking, Tess’s feelings had caught up to Gabe’s. She wanted to be with him and commit to a relationship. “Although this was a really hard period of not talking and pretending we weren’t friends, the space apart gave her some clarity on her feelings towards me and she realised she wanted to be more than just friends,” Gabe says.  

“I think the friend zone is definitely real and it sucks. It’s hard to be in a platonic or non-exclusive relationship with someone that you have serious feelings for. At times I thought it might be easier to not be friends at all, but I found this even harder when I tried.”

Gabe and Tess have now been together for six months. As it is with most situations, it seems time and perspective can help foster healthy relationships. For both Leon and Elle and Gabe and Tess, giving each other the respectful space to come into their own feelings was all it took. If you have feelings for someone and it isn’t totally reciprocated, a combination of respect and time could be the recipe to a blossoming romantic relationship.  

But it’s always important to understand people’s boundaries. If they aren’t into you, they aren’t into you. Be honest with the people in your life that you have feelings for, because even if they don’t share them in that moment, that doesn’t mean that they never will. 

*names have been changed

Here’s why being friend-zoned isn’t the end.

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