Many people would have you believe that once you’re in the Friend Zone, there’s no way out. Once the object of your affection sees you as a platonic friend, says this theory, they stop thinking of you as a member of the opposite sex. You’re one of the gang, “a good mate” – and sleeping with you would be plain weird.
Nice theory, but it’s only half-right. There is such a thing as the Friend Zone, but it’s not a dead end to romance. In fact it’s an excellent stepping stone. If you want a truly fulfilling relationship with someone who knows and respects the real you, the Friend Zone is the only place to start. Here’s how to make the transition.
1. Be a good friend
Friendship is one of the three basic ingredients of a successful relationship, along with passion and respect. So don’t run away from friendship in the mistaken belief that it’ll destroy your chances of a relationship. Instead, see your friendship as an important part of making them fall in love with you, and don’t be in too much of a hurry to move things along.
2. Show them how much you’ve got in common
Opposites only attract in the short term. Peas in a pod are far more likely to have a relationship, partly because we’re all egomaniacs at heart: we feel reassured by the presence of people who think and behave like us. Studies have even shown that people are more likely to fall in love if their names are similar.
However, don’t pretend to have things in common when you haven’t. Confidence in your own interests is a very attractive quality, and an acceptance of your differences can go a long way. Which brings us to…
3. Embrace the things you haven’t got in common
Part of being a true friend, and what makes friendship so fulfilling, is developing a real understanding and acceptance of each other, including your differences. So show your friend that you know how they feel about things, and show them that you value their views, even when you don’t share them. You want them to think: “I really feel like I can be myself around you.”
4. Show just enough affection
A simple touch of their arm is sometimes all it takes to tell someone that you appreciate their company. This kind of gesture makes them feel great about themselves, and soon they’ll subconsciously associate those “I’m great” feelings with your presence.
5. Cultivate their emotional dependence
That may sound hilariously manipulative, but all friendships and relationships are based on some degree of emotional dependence. It happens naturally when you spend a lot of time with someone. If you get on well together, the more you interact with your friend, the more your friend will like you.
It’s basic psychology: several studies have shown that repeated exposure to more or less any stimulus makes us like it more (unless we didn’t like it in the first place). The old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt” just isn’t true in most cases. So spend a lot of time with your friend, and soon you’ll become a habit that they don’t want to break.
6. Stop being so available
OK so maybe this is where it gets manipulative, but you can’t expect Fate to do the hard work all the time.
Once your friend is used to you being around, make them realise how much they miss you when you’re gone. What’s more, showing your friend that you’re independent and self-reliant helps to cultivate their respect – and that means that your friendship is already growing into something more substantial.
7. Flatter your friend
While it’s important not to be so available that your friend takes you for granted, don’t play hard to get either. Love begets love, and flattery will get you everywhere. Compliment your friend on things that you know mean something to them, such as an item of clothing that they weren’t sure about, or a meal they’ve cooked. They may seem to reject your flattery (“oh don’t be silly,” etc) but don’t believe a word – they’re tickled pink.
8. Say it with your eyes
If you’re horrified by the thought of telling your beloved friend “I think you’re amazing,” don’t worry: this message is more effectively communicated in silence. Just use your eyes. Hold your friend’s eye a little longer than necessary when you’re talking to them.
Many studies have found that eye contact cultivates feelings of attraction. Relationship counsellors often ask couples to gaze at each other as part of their therapy. It can feel uncomfortable, but that’s part of what makes it so intoxicating and powerful. When you do look away, drag your eyes reluctantly. Nothing else says “I want you” quite so beautifully.
Some say that it’s a “trick of the brain,” based on the fact that lovers gaze at each other more than, well, mates down the pub – so extended eye contact supposedly tricks the other person into thinking that they’re in love with you. What’s more certain is that eye contact causes the body to release the chemical phenylethylamine (PEA), a natural stimulant that’s also secreted by the nervous system when we first fall in love. (It’s the “heart skips a beat” chemical.)
9. Don’t underestimate the value of friendship
If you’ve tried locking eyes with your friend and they keep looking away, chances are they’re just not interested. That’s not because you’ve made the mistake of entering the Friend Zone – it’s simply because they don’t fancy you, and you can’t force them to change that. Enjoy their friendship, and flirt with whoever you like. If you and your friend can remain close while you’re both seeing other people, that’s a friendship to treasure.