How to exit the Friendzone.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jul 28, 2013
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“I’m not ready for a relationship. Can we just be friends?”


I date.

Usually, first dates go pretty well. Whether it’s a doghike or a play or an event of some sort, we choose activities that are fun and worthwhile for both of us whether we wind up connecting, or no.

If we connect, second date. If we don’t, that’s it.

But sometimes, often, between the first and second date, or second and third, I enter the Twilight Zone: the realm of “hard-to-get,” a land where texts are replied to an hour or two or 12 or 32 later, if at all.

And it’s hard: it’s hard to let go, and move on, when we’ve invested time and care in connecting with another. But it’s necessary. There are few excuses for not getting back to someone—whether on Facebook, text, voicemail (if you’re old school). Genuine excuses include: I don’t use Facebook, I was in a meeting/didn’t have my phone/phone was off. A good excuse rings true.

But overlook an excuse and give a second chance, a third chance, and we’re getting a different kind of message: I’m not that interested in you.Waiting by the phone

And the way to respond to that message, generally (after, perhaps, trying to charm/cajole one’s way out of said sinkhole, and generally failing)—is to respond in kind.

Repeat after me:

I don’t want to date boys or girls. I date men or women.

And being “just friends” isn’t an option, generally, either, if one of the two parties likes the other romantically. That just isn’t an honest basis for healthy friendship. We just can’t be a good, true friend to a man or woman we’d like to date, if s/he doesn’t want to date us. Such friendship puts us in the position of not being true to what we want, and him or her knowing it. It puts him or her in the position of disrespecting us. I would prefer not to knowingly put myself, or her, in that position.

And so it’s best to let go. Move on. Go on a hike or drinks with friends. Go climbing or cycling or whatever it is we enjoy. And once we move on, we remember why we like ourselves and our lives. We become, slowly, adults who are comfortable with loneliness, and comfortable with honesty.


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And that’s attractive.

Relephant bonus:

The 5 Stages of the Friend Zone: are you in the Friend Zone?


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


43 Responses to “How to exit the Friendzone.”

  1. Alexa GK says:

    I found this super relate-able and insightful, I have often in the past made the mistake of clinging to the idea of it going somewhere or trying to be okay with a friendship (when clearly that's not the vibe from my end)– or vice versa. I really love your approach, really honest. thanks for a helpful article!

  2. elephantjournal says:

    From FB:
    Deborah M A-men [and thank you very much for this… sometimes i forget how naturally 'attractive' our true confident self is… deeply grateful for reminder ]

    Lara B: Nice article

  3. Jackie says:

    The Friends Zone is a DEAD ZONE. To exit the friends zone LEAVE THE PERSON'S LIFE

  4. Rodger Bennett says:

    cool perspective; cool post. but there's no such thing as a "comfortable loneliness." you have just found a way to accept it, or pacify its emotional effects.

  5. elephantjournal says:

    I beg to differ, but perhaps we're arguing semantics. In the Buddhist tradition, loneliness is seen as a gateway to making friends with oneself, and broken-heartedness (particularly if awake, cheerful) is not seen as an obstacle.

    That said, you may be thinking of loneliness as something different from how I think of it, and we may be in complete agreement.



  6. elephantjournal says:

    I'm not sure what you mean PLEASE BE MORE CLEAR

  7. elephantjournal says:

    Oh, me too! I'm finally, slowly, learning.

  8. tridentgirl says:

    Oooooh man. Why'd you have to go and write this….? And why did I have to go and read it? big sigh.

  9. Amy Carole says:

    Funny, I told a guy on our 4th date I just wanted to be friends and truly meant it. Three weeks after that we started, slowly and organically, to develop a deeply special relationship that lasted over a year and a half. This is obviously a rare occurrence. While it may upset the dudes, many of us girls truly mean we want to be friends when we say this to guys we've gone out with. I believe there's a mindful way for two adults of the opposite sex to do this even when the connection started on a "dating" pretense. And you never know how you two can pay it forward for each other…

  10. Rachael says:

    First off, I think that if you’re deciding on whether someone is a man or a woman based on their rate at responding to texts, you maybe should reevaluate. Perhaps try placing an old fashion phone call if one way of communicating isn’t working. Second, I completely agree that honesty is attractive and really the best way to develop any sort of relationship. What I’m having trouble with though is your piece about not giving the friendship a chance. I see how there is a possibility of one party using their ‘advantage’, if you will, and disrespecting in some way. However would you really want to be in a romantic relationship with someone who would do that to a friend anyway? There is a possibility that a woman needs to build a friendship before feeling anything else. I also find that in today’s dating world, there is pressure to be sexual early on, and sending the ‘friend’ message could very well mean that a woman does actually feel a connection but isn’t ready or looking for a sexual connection at the time. I’m not completely disagreeing with you here though. If one feels they can’t put other desires on the back burner, then that’s that; always be true and caring to your authentic self. However, I feel one can risk loosing out on a possible meaningful connection because we can be so wrapped up in the end result. Isn’t it about the journey and the connections we make along the ride?

  11. elephantjournal says:

    Good to see you on here, stranger! You've been one of our best commenters. Hope your heart's okay.

  12. elephantjournal says:

    I agree that may work for you, and whomevers saying "let's just be friends," and of course there's no rulebook. But for many of us, when we open up, are vulnerable, and then are shut down, even kindly, it's best to just be honest that we're open to love (which includes friendship).

  13. elephantjournal says:

    Great points! Hard to disagree with. You should offer your own take:

    That said, if messaging/FBing doesn't work, then not sure why a phone call works. Honest question. It's the same device.

    If the "let's just be friends" gentleman or lady says, instead, "let's not be sexual, I'm not ready, I'd like to get to know your first, but I'm interested in you romantically—let's date and get to know one another for awhile"—that would be different, and more clear. That I would accept and respect. But saying "let's not date, let's just be friends" (and if I change my mind as we go, maybe I'll let you into my life on a more intimate, personal basis) isn't clear, or honest, or fair to the unrequited party.

    Finally: "However, I feel one can risk losing out on a possible meaningful connection because we can be so wrapped up in the end result" is 100% true—and, of course, equally applies to the person saying "let's just be friends."

  14. legalchic7 says:

    In my experience, when someone is interested, you KNOW. When they're not, you KNOW. It may take someone time to respond to a text or return a call, but it doesn't or won't take THAT long, barring an unforseen situation (like an emergency or something). There will always be some gamesmanship (I'll wait an hour before I respond to that last text, let him/her think I have a life), but in the end, no communication, regardless of the form it takes, will go unanswered for too long. Especially if you're on the same page. If you're not, that in and of itself is telling. Life is full of gray area, sure, but it's also pretty black and white, and when it comes to affairs of the heart, it's pretty black and white (at least in my experience), regardless of which side of the equation I'm on.

  15. Aella says:

    Hmm. Interesting article for sure. I have never really had much of an issue with the friendzone thing, though I think some of my friends do. I am friends with everyone I have ever gone on a date with(though I admit that isn't many). And I know some friends given the chance would have gone out with me, but we didn't and everything is still fine. I sometimes try and make friends with crushes knowing I won't date them, but feel satisfied enough to know that I get an awesome person in my life anyway and that clearly things just won't be "more" with this guy, so I will look elsewhere for that. I am curious why people find it hard to remain friends?

  16. Brian says:

    Call and tell that guy you are just not interested. He took the risk of letting his interest be known so be honest and let him know you can't reciprocate. Though it is difficult for both parties, I'd much prefer hearing the truth rather being left in limbo.

  17. Catriona says:

    This is all very interesting 🙂 Thank you! I agree that subconsciously when someone is "not interested" that a part of you may know …. but equally there may be parts of you which are just not ready to hear or accept that. Sometimes, being "just friends", painful though it may be, is a path to learning more about ourselves … even if it is to learn to live as an independent being, rather than as someone who "needs" another (and I mean that whether in or not in a relationship of the romantic partnership sort). I always want to remain friends with past lovers. Often this works, if we are successful in moving on, emotionally and physically, and we can put the possessiveness to one side when another lover comes on the scene … Where it has worked less well is where there is simply too much sexual attraction, in spite of a lack of other stuff, or where seeing the person with another creates in spite of one's best attempts (!) too much angst and jealousy … that can take time to lessen!

  18. elephantjournal says:

    Amen! Clarity is kinder.

  19. 50shadesofmale says:

    I agree with you Rachael. I recently had a guy that i like a lot tell ask when we were going to have sex because we couldnt be friends without having sex. I chose to let him go. I did like him a lot but needed more time to get to know him and see if we had more in common than that initial attraction.

  20. bizdoc says:

    I would have a very limited circle of friends if having sex with them was a requirement for said friendship. That is so terribly odd sounding to me. I have lots of close friends who I adore and who enrich my life and with whom I have never had nor ever will have sex. That in no way makes them less important or valuable to me.

  21. J.P. Guy says:

    We did yoga often, ran hundreds of miles together and enjoyed some long, slow dinners. After 6 months, I wanted more. She said no, just friends. But I just can’t stay in that space with her. The disappointment hurts too much. So I said I could no longer be alone with her and I tried to move on. 4 months later and it still hurts. We miss each other and she has tried hard to be a friend and reconnect. Our relationship, whatever it was, was special. But I just can’t go back. I wish it could be different. What else can one do? Thank you for writing this.

  22. Faye says:

    Oh, this pushes buttons for me…

    Questions swirling in my head: What about caring about a person “as it is” today, free from expectation? Do we stop caring because someone is not in a dating place? I don’t mean it to sound inflammatory, bc I honestly think I could be seeing this from my own fears, but: isn’t that the difference between love and parasitism?

    Doesn’t love give for love’s sake, trusting itself? And parasitism looks like love from the beginning, but in the end, the compassion is somewhat conditional, based on what one feels like they can receive from another?

    I have struggled w this concept- men who have touched my heart with how caring and kind they can be in a relationship or in courting mode; sometimes, when it is over, if they no longer want to know me at all (I mean, I get a break, of course…) or don’t seem to care about my well being or feel compassion toward me anymore…well, I find this so confusing. In fact, it is a current confusion of mine. I think, “Did they ever care at all, or was it conditional bullshit?”

    Wow, this really pushes buttons for me.

  23. Penny says:

    I find you can truly mean you want to be friends, but when one person in the relationship wants more the “friends” gig is up. If one person wants more, then it is no longer just friendship.

  24. Lucy says:

    Absolutely. Being friends is sometimes incredibly painful if you both feel differently, and leaves room for that most hideous of all relationship demons, false hope.

  25. Nick Kavanagh says:

    Amy, it can be very worth it. I dated a girl for nearly two years while in the Navy, and she actually transferred duty stations with me. Then she left. I pined for her for a long time, and she wanted to be friends. I gave it a shot, I've known her 22 years now, and she's one of my closest friends. We help each other through the pitfalls and highs of having re-entered the dating world after we both divorced. She is my rock, and she says I am hers. Our friendship is a beautiful thing.

  26. michele says:

    I agree…I have just had a horrible break, and, after 2 months, I still cry myself to sleep over a man who decided, after 6 months of intimacy that he 'just wanted to be friends'…..I love him dearly, and always will, wish him no ill will, and would love to know that he is happy/safe/joyful, bu I cannot even imagine seeing him without dissolving into a puddle of sadness on the floor in front of him, which I don't want to do. I get the sense that this is a man who is used to being 'friends' with his ex lovers, and I think that remaining 'friends' soothes him and his heart after breaking up…incidentally, he is classically the breaker upper in his relationships until only recently…. I get the feeling that he does not realize how difficult it is for the other person that he has decided he no longer wants to be intimate with to turn off romantic love and step into friendship…..right now I am some how left feeling less than for not being able to pull this off…..and I am not ready for this lesson on letting go with love…..

  27. carla says:

    I had a platonic friendship with someone for 5 years before it developed into something with a romantic nature…if either one of us had adopted your friends rule we would have missed out on something really special. I also know that if I hadn't really gotten to know him well, over time, I never would've been attracted to him. The best relationships are often based on friendship.

  28. Andreia Martins says:

    It's even worse when the person who doesn't want a serious relationship with us (and know how we feel about him) give us, from time to time, (false) hopes and has romantic relapses when we try to move on/away… It's just unfair and mean (even if the he doesn't do that deliberately to hurt us) and the only possible move in this situation is to really let go and walk away forever. It's the only way to reconnect with ourselves, rebuild our self-esteem and remeet our inner piace and joy of living.

  29. chrissy says:

    This was perfect and timely for recent events in my life.

    I was wondering why each time I would spend time with my ‘friend’ I would be left feeling insecure and sad after.. aware of what it feels like to be in the company of men who actually want me/love me, the contrast was just so depressing and i found myself losing self esteem and only able to be in my ‘friend’s’ company if somehow intoxicated because the reality of it was too much to bear. Looking back my desperation for his affection and desire for something i had felt before from others in totally different relationships to exist in a ‘friend zone’ situation was ridiculous…and a really painful waste of time. I wanted to blame him for it but it was self inflicted. Sometimes we are blinded by our desires, ignoring reality in hope of something else. Friends off!

    Aspiring to be a confident woman instead of ‘that’ girl~ c.x.

  30. DNY says:

    I am living this right now. It has cost me a fortune in time and in money. I guess the bottom line is that there is no such thing as a "comfortable loneliness" and as an adult we decide who hurts us and how. We all need to find our way in this world and alone is as alone does. This article has put things in a bit of a different perspective- while I am still madly, deeply for her I can see through these eyes that I have simply been used. Now its time to move on and this is where the hard stuff happens. Thank you for this timely piece and for all of the comments which gave me the perspective that I very sorely needed.

  31. Jay says:

    What happens when the male don’t want to be friends but the female do.

    The female won’t stop calling or end the friendship. Kind of sending mixed messages.

  32. Ron says:

    Yes. In fact, so many so-called "arranged" marriages in the middle and far east succeed because the respective families have set up a liaison in which the husband and wife get to know each other and ultimately find love. it's not all Mills and Boon.

  33. rebecca says:

    This is the response of an actual mature adult person. if your only interest in a person hinges on them being romantically available and you can't get over your rejection and bruised ego – that's childish. if the person was interesting enough that you wanted to DATE them, then chances are that awesomeness will also make them a good friend (possibly great friend). people need to get over their egos and stop treating the Friend Zone like it's some kind of death sentence. be open to what people are willing to give you, not hung up on what you want from them. in the end, romances come and go, but friendships can last a lifetime.

  34. Josh says:

    Thank you for this perspective. I am trying to make sense of conditional and unconditional love at this moment following a break up. She was my first real love. I am feeling dissonance because I see that continuing to be friends with her could be a good thing but I question my intent. Is it because I just want to keep a door open so she can enter my life as a lover again? Or do I truly love her enough to let her be free and leave my hope behind? She gave me the reason that she wanted to work on herself and couldn’t handle a relationship and that the only people she wanted around was friends without ulterior motives. I respect that. It just hurts me too much to see that she, only a week after parting ways, returned to a past boyfriend. I care deeply about her and wish her the best even if, beyond hope, I wish that was with me. I am slowly learning how to be grateful of the growth I experienced when we briefly walked the same path in life. I rest easy knowing I have no regrets but release of all the expectation I placed on the relationship has been hard. I am realizing that holding those expectations may have made me less appreciative of the time we did share.

  35. Cassandra says:

    However, not feeling attraction/love at the same time as the other person and not keeping an open mind about that person could be denying both of you the chance to let attraction/love build and grow over time. And the Friend-Zone is not always a one-way ticket to loneliness either…

    One night out, I met a man casually, through mutual friends and thought he was 'weird' the first time I met him (because he was very touchy-feely with me as soon as he met me, and I was feeling defensive from men keep hitting on me, trying to grab me and kiss me whenever I was out for a night out with friends)! We hung out kind of accidentally together though because my best female friend was dating his best male friend, so we'd go out to watch bands etc as a group. I stayed polite and courteous, for the sake of the group dynamics, but kept my distance to start off with. SLOOOOOOWLY, the more time I spent with him, the more I started to see that what I had at first dismissed as 'weird' was a really kind, caring personality who just really LOVES all people and is very affectionate (in a NON-sexual way!), and we became friends in our own right. This grew into a deep friendship where we could trust each other to tell each other EVERYTHING, sharing and baring our souls to each other. Still not a 'relationship' in this context though, and neither of us seemed to have any kind of sexual attraction to each other. I still didn't fancy him at ALL at this point either, and he didn't see me in 'that way' either.

    Then at the end of a night out, he spontaneously decided to kiss me… WOW!!! What a life-changing kiss!!! The most amazing kiss we've both ever had, and suddenly a whole new side of us opened up to each other that we'd never been aware of before, and the sexual chemistry between us was (and still IS) incredible! However, even with the deep friendship and the now sexual chemistry, I still wasn't ready for a full-blown relationship. So we became what is described as best friends with benefits for a time (which was challenging to me as I had beliefs about sex, love and relationships that this idea was in contradiction to) without any pressure on each of us to force anything to develop into more. But I opened my mind and went with the flow, as it felt so right in my soul, even though my mind tried to tell me that this wasn't something 'nice girls' did!

    He was the one that 'fell' first, and told me how his own feelings had changed into love. At first, I was scared this would 'spoil' what we had, as I didn't feel that way about him at the time. But I still stayed open rather than running away, and gradually, I started to see him differently again, challenging my beliefs about love and relationships that I was struggling with from the demise of my marriage, in a good way! And then I too started to reciprocate that love, because although he had been on a different page to me, he had showed infinite patience and didn't pressure me to force myself to change how I felt about him just because he wanted me to.

    We're now living together and sharing the most amazing, wonderful relationship where we can't get enough of each other physically, still totally LOVE spending time with each other, and the deep love we have for each other keeps growing! We know each other really well because we did so much sharing of our souls before we even got together as partners; during dating, there is often a feeling of "I dare only show my good side so I don't scare them off with the real me" and then we hide a lot of our authentic nature. We didn't have that as neither one of us was seeking a relationship; it all just evolved organically. So we can communicate really deeply with each other, and resolve any issues as they come up instead of letting them fester and build resentment, as had happened with our previous relationship, and we neither feel there is any part of us that we have to hide from the other in case it's somehow unacceptable or disapproved of. We accept and appreciate each other completely I'm sure because we had chance to get to know each other so well before we got together.

    I still look at him now like he's the sexiest, most fanciable man on the planet, and I can't take my eyes off him, whereas my first impression was VASTLY different and the attraction had to have time to develop. We'd have both missed out on a wonderful life experience though if we'd labelled each other as 'Just Friend Material' and stuck each other in that box. We're both in our mid 40s and neither of us dreamed we could be in such an amazing relationship, so you're never too old either 😉 So I say, stay open to the flow of life, and keep your mind open, because you never know how your own feelings can change, even whilst you're getting to know someone. That 'weird' man/woman at work that you think is physically unattractive right now could one day become someone very special to you if you just give them a chance and get to know them properly…:)

  36. Kitten says:

    The reason it never works is because the guy has already decided he wants to sleep with you… Friends or whatever … until you calls "friends?" he is still in that "waiting because I still have a chance of getting laid" … And then the fragile male ego takes a whipping and they selfishly say NO… why? Because they never got what they wanted… Who cares what you want?? I have only once been in the situation where a guy wanted to stay friends with him because he liked being with ME .. the rest were like "I can't be friends with you because I am too attracted to you and want to sleep with you." (yeah they actually said it). All I see there is ME, ME and ME… How could I really be friends with a person who only thinks about what THEY are not getting? They can't see other people.. Being a friend means you SEE the other person and are able to put your own selfish interests aside… testosterone gets in the way and ruins a possible good friendship… That is what I see anyway..

  37. Dan says:

    Your point of view saddens me. Can't you see men are not only controlled by their sexual needs? If a guy says he can't be friends with you because he wants to have sex with you, that may very well be his way of saying that he got feelings for you. So he may choose to stay away from you, because a friendship might hurt him. All i see in your comment is ME, ME and ME… You think men should be able to handle being around a person that they might have feelings for because you just want them as a friend. Let me quote yourself "Being a friend means you SEE the other person and are able to put your own selfish interests aside…" – which can also meanfor you to put your selfish interest in having them as a friend and supporter aside and letting them go, because men might express affection through sexual channels, but our feelings are just as real and easy to hurt. A men saying he can't have a friendship with you because he would want to have sex with you is not necessarily being selfish, he might just be brutally honest. Would you rather have a broken hearted friend or a happy stranger?
    How can YOU be that selfish and not think about anything else but what YOU are not getting from that person..? 😉

  38. Dan says:

    Wooo hold on.. she returned to a past boyfriend after a week of breaking up with you!?
    After she told you she can't be around people with ulterior motives??
    Walk away man, have some self-respect. Nobody deserves to be treated like that… it is NOT your job to be her friend and support network while she's treating you like shit.

  39. Bria says:

    This all sounds so high school. If someone is not physically attracted to someone but likes them as a person then why can’t they be friends? If you are in the friend zone and say that you can’t be friends because you’re too attracted to someone but mean that you’re hurt they are not into you then grow up and tell them how you feel. I don’t want to be in a relationship with someone that can’t communicate and isn’t brave enough to tell me how they feel. It’s not selfish for someone to want to be friends with someone they are not attracted to physically. It’s not selfish for a woman to not have sex with you because you want to have sex with her, ever. That’s mysoginist and entitled. It is self-centered to expect someone to read your mind and know how you feel without telling them. And if you’re just looking to have sex then that’s also not honest. Everyone is different and we have to express our wants and desires is not easy, it’s vulnerable but that’s what relationships are about.

  40. Bria says:

    So, Waylon, I find what you said about texting confusing. I recently got out of a relationship with an abusive narcissist. It was emeshed, passionate, messy, scary and almost killed me. This is not an exaggeration. I don’t want to be in or attract another round of craziness so I know the answer is be clear about me and my part. So, I’ve been working very hard on myself and boundaries. I am one who always put other people’s feeling and need first. This is what got me into trouble. One of the things that I started practicing is letting communication unfold naturally. I started with my friends. If I’m busy, if I don’t feel like I’m up to communicating, I don’t. If someone is in crisis I get back to them asap but otherwise I wait. Thisis truewithall my communications. Text, call, FB, whatever. My friends have good boundaries and they do the same. I know I can’t be a friend if I am strung or on lack of sleep or whatever. Then I’m completely they’re for them when I am. I can be honest, vulnerable and real. In my experience, immediate responses equate with drama. I’m contemplating dating again at some point and what you said about texting worries me. It makes me think if I don’t get back to someone immediately I’m communicating that I don’t like them. Really if I don’t get back to someone immediately it is because I am living my life. It’s not personal. I might be in the middle of dinner with a dear friend or a conversation with my brother, or working. I don’t keep my phone in my hand 24/7. It keeps me from being present. So, am I in store for constantly alienating men when dating?

  41. Sylvia says:

    You have brought up a very good point here, and I am curious to hear what Waylon (or anyone else) has to say about this.
    I am in a long-distance relationship where I will send a text one day and not hear anything back for 3 days sometimes. I know for sure that he is only working hard, coming home late, and even working weekends, so he has no time (or want/need) to look for other relationships. So, am I supposed to think that I am being disrespected??

  42. HeroGames says:

    لعبة طبخ باربي من أفضل واحسن العاب الطبخ الخاصة بشخصية باربي الجميلة والمشهورة في العالم كله اهلا بكم جميعا.

  43. Shannon says:

    Yes yes yes yes yes!!!!!!