I often get individuals coming to me saying they just can’t seem to get out of the friend zone, why does this keep happening to them?

For me this is not so much the friend zone but more individuals who just can’t seem to sustain a relationship for the longer term and as a result, start to wonder if there is something wrong with them, why relationships are such hard work and are they destined to be single for the rest of their lives when all they want is the ‘happily’ ever after

So why does this keep happening?

There is much more choice available these days due to social media, online dating platforms and the likes that people tend to move on to the next person far more quicker than before. It does also seem to be more evident from a generational perspective in that dating in the 21st century is very different to generations before. The more mature age groups may well meet someone online but tend to follow more traditional courting process and this is where the friend zone can happen, whereas the younger generation are more fluid in their dating and open to exploring and having adventure.

As a society, do we focus too much on romance without considering friendships?

A lot of the time romance is confused with intimacy and sex and they are all very different elements. Intimacy is that feeling of closeness, of being connected, how we treat each other, speak to each other, are affectionate towards each other, and how comfortable we are with each other, where we can be ourselves and are not afraid to show vulnerability.

Romance is primarily what we associate with ‘red hearts, candles, roses and scent’, and that being romantic is something you do i.e. a romantic dinner together. In a nutshell: romance is external, the flashy part, like the tip of an iceberg. Intimacy is internal, and it’s what lies beneath the surface that makes all the difference. Sex is the actual deed as a result of romance and intimacy.

Friendship can indeed turn into romance, intimacy and a long term relationship. And as many marriage therapists, counsellors and coaches will say ‘you need to be best friends’. This is because if you have a strong foundation to work from, where you respect, trust and support each other, share similar values and dreams, and can talk about everything and anything then you’re halfway there already. When you grow old and grey together, it’s more about being there for each other, being together and companionship that sustains a relationship. However not all friendships will turn into a budding romance and you  may well need to let go and move on if you’ve been put in the friend zone.

What can you do if you are looking to leave the friend zone?

Both girls and guys can put someone in the friend zone, it happens and it happens for various reasons. If you want to get out of the friend zone then focus on these areas:

  • Make an effort with your grooming, if you constantly show up in your comfortable old sweat pants, you will come across as comfortable and potentially even plain or boring, in other words look good and smell good.
  • Guys are often intimidated by strong, independent women. Show some vulnerability and need for a man in your life e.g. DIY but more so on an emotional level. If you’re constantly taking care of everything there’s no purpose for the man in your life, men like to be needed too.
  • You play hard to get, it can be a turn-off. We are not mind-readers and sometimes don’t read the signals, so if you’re interested in someone, let them know. Long gone the days whereby men have to always be the one who makes the first move – ladies can do the same without coming across a desperate (which is another turnoff!).
  • Stay away from the emotionally unavailable types (i.e. they have a string of failed relationships behind them), they are not ready to be in a relationship irrespective of whether it is with you or anyone else and you will end up with your heart broken. Don’t always be available, if you’re always spending time together as friends then potentially that’s all they will see you as – a friend. Men like a bit of a chase and women like to be desired so.
  • Lastly sometimes it just happens that they’re just not attracted to you in that way so you need to make peace with that and move on to someone that has boyfriend/girlfriend potential.

If a couple wants to take their friendship to the next level they both need to make a conscious effort to bring romance and intimacy into the relationship so that it doesn’t risk being a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship or that it fizzles out before it has even got off the ground.

When looking to take your relationship to the next level you need to have some courageous conversations upfront i.e. the difficult or uncomfortable topics such as:

  • Expectations from each other and the relationship now that you’ve moved past the friend zone and into the relationship zone.
  • Finances (who will pay for what in proportion to income)
  • How you will resolve conflict, how you will share the household responsibilities (i.e. the chores), who will be responsible for what (paying the bills, grocery shopping etc),
  • Setting couples goals (this will keep your attention focused inwards on your relationship and each other rather than on where other couples are at),
  • Boundaries with family, friends, hobbies and interests.

This way you know where you stand with each other from the start and are able to manage each other’s expectations and needs.

Paula Quinsee is a Relationship Expert, Tedx speaker and author of Embracing Conflict. Paula is also a consultant to the TV show ‘Married at First Sight SA’. She works with individuals and organisations to cultivate healthy relationships in both their personal and professional arenas by focusing on emotional skills and personal growth and development.

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