The Science of the Friend Zone
Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.
And today we’re going to talk about the science of the friend zone.
You know, the experience of liking someone and then finding out
that they would rather just be friends with you.
Why does it happen? If there’s hope of escaping the friend zone, how can it be done? And, more importantly, should you? The term “friend zone” was popularized by the TV show Friends on November 3, 1994. In Episode 7 of the first season, Joey tells Ross that Rachel likes him, but will never like like him. Ross is in the friend zone.
Now, of course, everything turned out fine for Ross,
but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Back when I calculated how much money love is worth I discussed the feeling of having a crush on someone. Those emotions, the nervousness,
the excitement have a name. What you feel when you have a crush on
somebody is known as limerence. It’s exciting to feel
butterflies in your stomach whenever you’re around somebody and those butterflies may be caused by the release of adrenaline, which pulls blood away
from things like your stomach and toward the muscles,
where it may be better used. Of course, this can cause the stomach to shut down
a bit, become upset. It may also explain why people have a reduced appetite when they feel love sick.
Now, whether you are male, female, gay, straight, everybody can be friend-zoned.
And, biologically speaking, the route of the friend zone may be Bateman’s Principle.
Named after Angus Bateman, the principle states that
whenever a species, like us humans, contains two different sexes, each with dissimilar sex cells, for instance, sperm and egg, inevitably one sex will
have to commit more resources to the production of offspring.
In mammals this is especially true. A female can have only a limited number of offspring, whereas a male can have a virtually unlimited number.
This causes a biological tendency for one sex to be competitive and for the other to be choosy.
The newest episode of Earth Touch’s “Wild Sex” goes into a lot
more detail about this, so be sure to check it out.
But today, regardless of whether or not
reproduction is the goal, the roles of pursuer and pursued have extended beyond the Bateman
principle and are now quite hard-wired into our culture.
Because not every pursuer can win and because not every pursuer is a terrible jerk, some friend-zoning in is inevitable. It’s disappointing when it happens to
you and it’s easy to rely on the “nice guys finish last” excuse, but so far research hasn’t found much evidence for it.
What’s more likely is that you have idealized the other person as a potential mate, but a neutral observer could tell you that in reality the two of you don’t have as much
in common as you think. This is the argument put forward by Jenna Marbles in her fantastic video.
It’s called homogamy. We select our mates based on how similar
they are to our own personalities, interests and ideals for the future.
And so when someone is friend-zoned, it’s often not because they
were too friendly or too much of a nice guy, instead, it’s often just run-of-the-mill incompatibility. But let’s not rule out being too friendly or too nice from every situation just yet. Marshall Fine described the friend zone
as a penalty box that you’re sent to when your only crime is not being buff or unobtainable enough. Buffness falls into homogamy. It’s about
what someone else’s interests are and what they want from a mate. But what fascinates me is the part about being unobtainable.
Why would being available and present and friendly make you less attractive? And why would being kind of a jerk, too cool, aloof or hard to get make you more attractive?
Well, Robert Cialdini calls this the scarcity principle.
We desire things that are difficult to obtain, because we don’t like to have our freedom limited and we act before it can be.
This happens all the time in business and it’s equally true when it comes to attraction. Using the scarcity effect yourself is often cited as a possible escape route
from the friend zone. Make yourself less available and see if your crush responds, or try using the Ben Franklin effect.
Benjamin Franklin wrote about how he was able to form relationships with other people by asking them to do things for him. The theory is that by doing favors for
you cognitive dissonance occurs in the person’s mind. Why would they be doing favors for you unless they liked you? Now, it’s no guarantee
that you’ll become more than friends but just by simply becoming friends, you’ll be doing something quite special, because today, we all, on average have fewer friends, fewer close individuals we can confide in than we did decades ago.
And we hang out with those friends less than we did before. This phenomenon was
explored famously by Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone.”
For instance, from 1965 to 1995, the number of minutes people of all ages
reported spending per day with informal socializing, hanging out with friends, going to parties, hanging out at bars or
having informal conversations fell from 85 minutes to just 57.
In about the same time frame, the number of picnics held fell 60 percent. And the number of times on average we
entertain friends at home fell from 14 to 15 times a year to a mere 8. We spend more time than we used to on entertainment, sleep, exercise and transportation. Not bad things, but since the middle of the 20th century, the two activities that many of us still
do that have decreased the most are attending worship service and hanging out with friends.
We’re also now spending time on this new thing called the Internet. It’s a great tool for
communication and social networks, but like T. S. Eliot said of the telephone before it, the Internet may simply allow us
to speak to more people than ever before, but be more lonely doing it.
Social networks have somewhat diluted the power of the word friend.
But way before MySpace or Facebook, the word friend was on the way out.
So much so that we had to start using a new word, ‘best friend.’
Robert Wuthnow cautions that on the Internet what feels social may be less of a way for us to focus on actual interpersonal relationships, and instead more of a stage for us to focus on ourselves in the presence of other people.
To be sure, virtual communities are often more equal, because we know less information about
our discussion partners, like age, race or gender.
But what we gain from anonymity often comes at the cost of an evening out of interests and values. I can retreat from real-world conversations and hide within niche communities online,
where everyone thinks like me and generally shares my worldview. It’s called cyberbalkanization. It’s when online interactions provide a lazy environment, free from actual discussion
and outside views. Whereas the real world often forces us
to deal with the greater diversity of interests and values.
Now, because we choose mates that are so similar to ourselves, this vital exposure to new, honest ideas often has to come from friends – a resource that is diminishing in our society.
And so, although it’s disappointing to be friend-zoned, in a way it might be where that other person, and all of us, actually need you the most. And as always, thanks for watching.