Evolution and the Friend Zone

Evolution and the Friend Zone

How I discovered a quirk of evolution that explains the Friend Zone and other weird things that come up in dating.

The Friend Zone

The first time I experienced the “Friend Zone” was in my first year of university. Her name was Iylana and she had bright green eyes and high cheekbones, and moved with this waify Russian elegance that drove me crazy. We sat next to one another in our first year political science class every Monday, and afterwards we would go for lunch or coffee and talk about whatever was on our minds.

She was still dating her highschool boyfriend, a guy who had dropped out in grade 11, and was working construction and selling pot on the side. She would complain about him regularly, and I would listen, attentively, as a nice guy would. We had things in common, she laughed at my jokes, and she would tell me I was “cute” on a regular basis.

Sometime after thanksgiving, we were sitting at the Second Cup Cafe on campus when I got the news I had been waiting for: she had broken up with her boyfriend. It was time for me to make my move.

“Now that you’re single, we should go on a date”, I said, only slightly awkwardly.

“Oh Chris. I really like you, but we’re just friends.” she said, and gave me a patronizing pat on the head.

I was confused.

So what, I thought to myself. After all, isn’t the best kind of relationship one where you’re friends first? Why wouldn’t she want to date her friend, as long as there was some attraction? I had met her boyfriend, and later I met the guys she dated, and it’s not like these guys were in a different league than I was – they were pretty plain dudes. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was trapped in the friend-zone and they were not, and somehow that made them more datable than I was.

What is the Friend Zone?

The friend zone is a phenomena that guys everywhere have experienced. Most Love Systems students know it well. Usually it works like this: you meet a girl, you appear to have good chemistry and a lot in common. There may even be some sexual tension at the beginning. But for some reason or another, a romantic relationship doesn’t happen early on, and you become friends. Then, maybe weeks or months down the road, you try to make a move and turn things from a friend relationship to a romantic one, but it doesn’t work. You are stuck in the friend zone.

The thing that bugged me with the friend zone though is that is doesn’t really make sense. It would be one thing if women put guys in the friend zone when the guys don’t meet their standards, but the friend zone doesn’t really work that way. I’ve known guys who were rich, successful, confident and everything, yet they were put in the friend zone by women who were dating guys who were beneath them in apparently every way.

Now, there are definitely guys who are in the friend zone because they simply don’t measure up. Guys like this guy, this guy, and this guy aren’t just in the friend zone, they’re fools who will have a hard time getting anyone to like or respect them until they learn a little bit about how the world works.

But the friend zone isn’t just a “consolation prize” for guys who aren’t cool or attractive enough to be boyfriend material. Guys who might actually be attractive enough to be a boyfriend or a lover wind up being disqualified when they fall into the friend zone. There are plenty of good-looking, otherwise smooth guys who are stuck in the friend zone.

How could it be that becoming friends with a woman actually reduces your chances of starting a relationship with her? I decided to look into why, and I found some interesting evolutionary theories that would explain why this might be the case.

The Sexy Son Hypothesis: The Evolutionary Theory Behind the Friend Zone

The sexy son hypothesis is an evolutionary theory that Richard Dawkins describes in his book The Selfish Gene:

In a society where males compete with each other to be chosen as he-men by females, one of the best things a mother can do for her genes is to make a son who will turn out in his turn to be an attractive he-man. If she can ensure that her son is one of the fortunate few males who wins most of the copulations in the society when he grows up, she will have an enormous number of grandchildren. The result of this is that one of the most desirable qualities a male can have in the eyes of a female is, quite simply, sexual attractiveness itself.
Now, Richard Dawkins is writing with the presumption is that sexual attractiveness is a physical characteristic. But sexual attractiveness in humans is both physical and behavioural. Women are not just attracted to guys who are good looking, they are also attracted to men who are confident, bold, passionate and assertive, amongst other things. These qualities are significantly more important than looks when it comes to generating attraction in women. I know this because I hang out with a lot of confident, bold, passionate and assertive guys who get a lot of women despite being pretty plain looking (the Love Systems team), and I know a lot of good looking guys who have little to no game.

So, if we assume that a) at significant portion of sexual success and attractiveness is behavioural ( “game” works), and b) a significant portion of this behaviour is heritable, then the Sexy Son Effect starts to apply to “game” as well.

It works like this: Imagine that there was a gene (or more likely, several genes) for “game”. Not only would it be advantageous for guys to have this gene, but more importantly, it would be advantageous for women to be attracted to guys who have this gene. Both the male genes for “game” and the female genes for “attracted to game” would wind up spreading within a population.

On the contrary, if we imagine a hypothetical “no game” gene, it would be advantageous for women to identify and avoid these guys, at least as reproductive partners. After all, hooking up with a guy who has a “no game” gene would lead you to have sons that have no game, and therefore significantly fewer grandchildren – even if the “no game” guy is otherwise an excellent mate choice.

The result is a sort of feedback effect in which game doesn’t just help you to EXPLOIT the attraction you already have, but it actually magnifies attraction. And to the contrary, having bad game, being hesitant and not being in touch with your sexuality doesn’t just prevent you from taking advantage of the attraction you have, but it actually destroys attraction, permanently. To quote the wikipedia article on the subject:

The theory will function regardless of the physical or behavioral trait a female chooses, as long as it is heritable, because it is possessing the trait that makes males attractive, and not the qualities of the trait in itself.

So, confidence, boldness and sexual competence are attractive in themselves – even coming from a guy who might not be considered sexy otherwise.

How does this relate to the friend zone then?

Some guys fall into the friend zone simply because they don’t have what it takes to generate attraction with a particular woman. But more often, guys fall into the friend zone because they screwed up in the courtship process, and are getting weeded out by the Sexy Son Effect. When you don’t take the first (or at least second) good opportunity to make a move on a woman, suddenly the Sexy Son Effect starts working against you. The result winds up looking a lot like the “Friendship Ladder Theory” (a popular friend zone analogy from a few years ago), in which women have two “ladders” they rank guys on – one for friends, and one for potential lovers.

The Ladder Theory

The guys on the friendship ladder have the Sexy Son Effect working against them, the guys on the ”real” ladder have the Sexy Son Effect working in their favor – because they demonstrated sexual confidence and competence, while the guys on the friendship ladder did not. And the recursive power of evolution explains why it’s nearly impossible to move from the friendship ladder to the “real” one.

What this means.

The sexy son hypothesis explains a bunch of seemingly strange stuff that happens sexually that otherwise wouldn’t make sense. For example, these are all things I and other Love Systems instructors have observed over many years of experience that make sense only if you understand the sexy son hypothesis.

If you almost seal the deal with a woman, but don’t make it happen, you rarely get another chance. (The One Kick at the Can Rule)
Even confident, assertive women prefer to be passive and receptive the courtship process.
The man almost always has to make the first move.
Women often seem to make things intentionally difficult, even when they like you (Shit tests, etc)
Escalation, boldness and making a move can actually CREATE attraction.
Not making a move when a woman shows interest in you destroys attraction. (Don’t drop the ball!)
You usually have about 3 dates or 10 hours (max) to turn things sexual with a woman, after that you’re going to hear “lets just be friends” nine times out of ten. (the 10 hour rule)
Attraction in women is fickle and harsh – they can love you one minute and the next minute they’re leaving and not even giving you their phone number. It seems irrational, until you understand the sexy son hypothesis, and that they are really selecting guys not just for their personal qualities, but for their skill at navigating and understanding female sexuality itself.

How do you avoid the Friend Zone?

First, if you are stuck in the friend zone, my honest advice to you is to MOVE ON. You actually have a better chance of dating another girl of the same calibre that you didn’t drop the ball with in the first place. There is nothing more emotionally draining, confidence destroying and pathetic than a guy who is hopelessly in love with a female friend that isn’t into him. If you must, make a bold move and risk “ruining” the friendship. Otherwise, just walk away. Maybe you can be friends later when you’re over her, but you simply can’t be friends with someone you love unless they love you back. It’s soul-crushing.

The best strategy for dealing with the friend zone is to not get into it in the first place. That means you need to start showing interest in a woman and leading the interaction at the first good opportunity. Usually, this is when you first meet, but sometimes, such as when you work together, or if one of you is in a relationship, you can start moving things forward later. With Iylana from the opening paragraph, I probably should have started making a move as soon as I knew she was unhappy in her relationship, rather than waiting for months until they broke up. But learning game, making a move early and acting confidently is the secret to avoiding the Friend Zone in the future.