It's probably time to take a break from the airy world of abstraction that I usually write in and come back down to Earth for a breather. Recently, over brunch, a debate arose amongst some friends about the "friend zone" - what is it? does it even exist? Now it's probably about here that I have to dump the obligatory indicator of my privilege - I'm a white male. Since my entering the female conversation on this topic is bound to be met with some resistance how's abouts I enter the male one instead? So guys let's talk about the friend zone and why such a concept is just plain pathetic, cowardly, and intellectually dishonest. Enough of an appeal to your machismo to pique your interest?
Now guys seem to get annoyed whenever the concept of their privilege gets brought up, but just so we can all be on the same page let's run through privilege 101 again. This time, since it's a guy writing about it, maybe this will make it a little bit easier to swallow. Since I'm privileged, let's do this from the first-person pronoun. I gain a lot from my privilege as a white male. I also have a massive sense of entitlement and a bit of an ego. Hell, most of the time I don't even realize women have problems because I get the privilege of not even having to think about them. Nevertheless, there's one area where my privilege always seems to run aground - dating, however loosely you'd like to define the term. Meeting girls or just plain getting laid is frustrating.
In the modern world we get the privilege of treating a lot of people as basically no more than objects - cashiers, waiters, teachers, doctors. If I say the right things in the right order then usually its pretty easy for me to get exactly what I want from them. If I want a small amount of coffee I say "Small Coffee", pay the man, and I get my coffee. We spend a large portion of our lives getting conditioned socially to behave similarly to one of these machine-like people. For those of us who didn't grow up with social parents its easy for the world to seem like it's just one big machine for giving you what you want - you just have to figure out the words and the right order.
This machine-like way of viewing the world causes many men to first encounter women as objects - machines for giving them what they want (sex, affection, adoration, etc). And since everyone knows machines don't have desires we can safely ignore the desires of these women as well. This is the phenomenon we call objectification.
Now what frustrates men in dating is that this objectification - ordering of the world to meet their needs - suddenly breaks down. Women won't behave like cashiers and doctors, but instead seem to have a tendency to escape their best efforts. No matter what they just can't get the girl they pine over to be attracted to them. This frustration ultimately turns into resentment and that resentment eventually gets discharged on the object that appears to cause the frustration - a woman or women in general. This is the position from which concepts like the "friend zone" get created.
Men, who go through a world of objects ordered to meet their needs, are suddenly met with an object that doesn't immediately meet their needs (because it is no object). Instead of wising up to the fact that these are people, not machines, they attempt to force these women into the object status they originally expected of them. This is done by creating a vision of the world in which women are "predictably malicious" ("these hos ain't loyal"). In this world we can still safely ignore these women as subjects with their own desires and embodied experiences.
This is an empirically shitty model. It will fail to match up to reality over and over again. Instead of feeling like they might be missing a crucial piece of the puzzle these some men return again and again, each time more embittered and confused, to the model that makes women first and foremost evil. This model finds its reinforcement through interpreting movies with tropes like "the pretty, popular girl who bullies the kind-hearted low-status male" or "the pretty, popular girl who befriends the low-status male but whose affection he can't seem to win".
Without even going over what the "friend zone" is I'll finish by saying that the "friend zone" is ultimately a consequence of wanting to play it safe. If you're ambiguous and deceptive about your feelings out of "respect" (fear of rejection) it should be no surprise that this ultimately makes it seem like your interests are friendship. The "friend zone" is not a place women put men or a place men arrive at by mistake. It is a pattern of dishonesty and ambiguity, an objectification of a person, and the expectation of a reward for this type of behavior. You don't need to learn to "play the game right" you just need to learn that there is no game, just people and your social relationships with them.