It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good character can sometimes just really, really not do it for you. There’s no actual reason – he’s smart, funny, you have loads of in-jokes and apparently he’s quite good looking, but you just don’t want to go there.
Enter The Friend Zone. While it might take some getting used to once you show them around, they won't look back if they're properly settled in. Mainly because they can’t. Once you’ve been friendzoned, there’s no leaving – it’s a one-way ticket until they find someone else. As a good friend once said: 'It's like getting a lurcher, and then finding out you can't walk it enough. It's kinder to return it to the dogs’ home so someone else can look after him properly.' However, returning a dog is nothing to the delicate art of friendzoning.
I speak from experience – both of doing the friendzoning and being friendzoned myself (hint: it’s painful). Contrary to what the bright lights of Wikipedia would have us believe, the zone is not exclusively male. Girlfriends complain frequently of being friendzoned, and I experienced it in what must be one of the least successful friend zone moves ever, the guy in question stayed over, spooned, then reiterated what he'd said the night before about us 'just being friends' that morning. Needless to say we are NOT friends, and the memory still haunts me. Here, then, is the ultimate guide to how – and how not – to downgrade a relationship.
No heavy petting
An obvious one, this, but worth reiterating – and I speak from painful first-hand experience (see above). ‘If you aren't interested in more than a friendship, then make sure you stick to the appropriate boundaries,’ says dating advisor James Preece. If you're unsure of the boundaries, stick to the ground rules: ‘No flirting, cuddling, touching or anything that may give mixed signals, he continues sagely. ‘Otherwise they'll convince themselves you like them back’ and, in turn, all sorts of weird arrives.
Fan the flames...away from you
Suspect your mate fancies him? Tell him immediately, and do so with the same joy you'd reserve for the news that he'd got a job promotion. Catch him checking out your mate? Stage-whisper ‘GO FOR IT’ in his ear. This, initially, is painful because - like any flesh and blood gal - you like the attention, and deep down are loath to let it go. ‘I thought I'd really enjoy it, but I found myself gritting my teeth with each girl I pointed out,’ says recent friendzoner, Emma. She tried a different tack - tell the potential crush how great a guy he is. ‘It was so much more genuine, promoting him,’ she says. If you rate his friendship, describing his great wit will be easy. If you don't, stop reading this and Dear John him at the next opportunity.
Ask him for dating advice about another guy
There's dating talk with a girl, and there's dating talk with a girl you're totally in love with. The first is unpleasant. The second, unbearable for more than two mins, tops. Don't rub it in too much: there's no need to empty the salt cellar into his little puppydog wounds, but done with surgical precision, salt is a powerful disinfectant. That, folks, is an extended metaphor worth remembering.
There are two things in life you should never underestimate. One is the sea, and the other is the male ego. If it gets to the point where you need to Have A Talk, then you can't let him down gently enough. Phrases like 'I so wish I did' can sound profoundly patronising: literally, translated, it sounds like 'I just wish my standards weren't so high'. One friend uses the brother route - a path that simultaneously endows them with the highest qualities and renders them sexless, but the efficacy of that hangs on you a) liking your brothers and b) not having so many brothers the idea if you wanting another one is laughable. For reference, see my family (I have one brother and he’s great).
Invite other people along to anything that could be perceived as a date
If you’re into the more roundabout friend-zoning tactics (i.e. not talking about it and just hoping it’ll go away), then there’s ways to ensure you get the message across. You big coward. One way is, of course, ignoring possible datelike scenarios by becoming a pack animal. Not only does this make awkward convos impossible when you do meet, it sends a firm but kind message. Nothing says friendzone like ‘Yeah I'd love to check out that new gin pop-up! I'll start a Doodle, see when's best for everyone’ and, as James points out, ‘If they invite you out for anything that might be interpreted as a date you need to make it clear that it's just friends meeting.’
Friendzone them publicly on social media
This is a pretty embarrassing way to go about it, judging by the number of angry blogs dedicated to the deed, but I suppose needs must. It’s particularly useful when it comes to presents or kind gestures with amorous overtones. Those flowers ARE beautiful. That surprise trip they made when you felt poorly WAS so sweet. Post it, tag it and in the accompanying caption, give thanks for their loving friendship. ‘My mate gave me these flowers! What a great mate he is. I love having mates. Mate’ could do the trick. Cruel, but kinder in the long run... unless his mate totally gives the game away and points out the friendzoning in the below comments. That could be pretty embarrassing for both of you.
Just be honest
Christ this is a toughie, but James says it's ‘the very best way to handle things’ – and as someone who has tried every conceivable variation of ‘it's not you, it's me’, I'm inclined to agree. ‘Not being in right place right now', 'not looking for a serious relationship', and 'still not over my ex' three years after dumping him are all just indirect ways of telling a guy you don't fancy him. ‘You don't have any reason to feel guilty about that, or offer an explanation,’ says James. ‘But nipping it in the bud early is much kinder than stringing things out just because you enjoy the ego boost.’
Behave like a nutter no sane man would date
What worries me is not how extreme this tactic is, but just how enjoyable it can become once you get going. When I did it, what started as claims of parental-divorce-induced commitment issues became a trolleyload of weird baggage I only vaguely alluded to as ‘family stuff’. As an umbrella, it’s perfect: poor communication, sudden disappearances from gatherings and a chronic fear of romcoms can all fall neatly within its confines, but you can go bigger if necessary. Stamping my feet in rage was great fun, as was bringing deep questions about death and madness apropos of nothing. One friend feigned a baked bean phobia and a snort laugh – and in fact, dinner is the perfect showcase for wacky quirks. In my case, insisting my meal be reheated at regular intervals, fishing out the ice cubes from my glass, and eating each grain of my risotto separately. Just some tips for you, there.
Stop texting them all the time
‘If they don't get the message you may have to slow down your contact and keep your distance for a while,’ James concedes at the end of his advice. Sad, but true if inviting your mates to every one of his date suggestions, guiding him firmly to the sofa bed after a night out, and behaving like a nutter NO sane man would want to date (not wholly recommended… but I'm not the only one to try it) has bombed so badly, you find him back from the sofa, sitting in his pants at the end of your bed the next day.
FYI: Three hours later, after a cacophony of excuses and subtle-not-subtle attempts to get him to leave the house / put his trousers on, I tried some of James' tactics: a two pronged approach of distance, and honesty. We're some way off BFF's, but six months later he is definitely running for mayor of The Friend Zone. See, this stuff works.
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Picture: Eylul Aslan
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.