Philosophical Advice About The Friend Zone

In this article I explore the dynamics of the “friend zone” as it is typically described — involving heterosexual relationships where the man feels rejected as a romantic partner by the woman after a period of friendship. That being said, I personally know women and gay people who have experienced the same type of romantic rejection and unrequited love after developing a deep friendship with someone, so a lot of this analysis and advice is equally applicable to women and non-straight people. But I’m going to frame everything assuming a heterosexual narrative and focused on guys who feel “friend-zoned” because that’s where the controversies are typically focused.

This article has four main sections in case you want to read selectively.

The Heterosexual Friend Zoned Nice Guy Narrative
Humanizing Friend-Zoned Nice Guys
What’s Really Going Wrong For Friend-Zoned Nice Guys?
9 Tips For Staying Out of the Friend Zone and Finding Happiness Instead 

The Heterosexual Friend Zoned Nice Guy Narrative

So, a guy is frustrated by the fact that he has put in considerable effort to get to know a girl that he likes for who she is and to support her in ways that reliable supportive friends do, only to wind up not being taken seriously as a romantic partner when he eventually works up the nerve to ask her to turn their friendship into a romantic relationship. Or he pines for her indefinitely, waiting for signs she reciprocates his feelings before making a move and they never come and he winds up feeling rejected. In the paradigm friend zone complaint, said complainant watches as the girl dates “jerks” who hurt her while he loyally supports her. He feels bitter that she chooses ostensibly less emotionally available and nurturing men over he who genuinely cares for her and treats her like a person despite not getting any sexual or other romantic benefits from the relationship.

So, in his bitterness he finds the following line of thought appealing: “Women say they want nice, caring guys but they all really want men with more stereotypically masculine traits like physical strength and a kind of emotional “strength” that manifests itself as indifference towards women’s affections to the point of being capable of mistreating them. Women are drawn to the challenge of a man who is hot and cold with them and bored with men who are too easy to get to be nice to them. They want an assertive guy who will pin them down against their protestations that they want someone passive. Women really want an “alpha male” and an alpha male proves he is one by not falling for women’s claims they want a “feminized” man but by being defiantly “masculine” in the sense of domineering.

Nietzsche, the recipient of one of history’s most infamous friend zonings, put the problem thusly in a book he wrote while he was coping with this enormous blow:

“Whom does woman hate the most?–Thus spoke the iron to the magnet:

‘I hate you the most because you attract, but are not strong enough to pull me to you.’

The happiness of a man is: I will. The happiness of a woman is: he wills.”

The conclusion men like Nietzsche reach, in a nutshell, is “Women, at the end of the day, want assertive men who they can’t control, who skip past being friends with them, and who instead go straight for what they want by seducing them straight off.”

So, these “friend zoned” men feel like they’ve “done everything the right way” by both traditional and feminist standards.  In a culture where resilient traditional messaging says women don’t want sex and prefer to be wooed platonically and won over sexually through acts of virtue and where feminist messaging is sometimes focused on the pathologies of “toxic masculinity” and is vigilant against women’s sexual objectification, these “nice guys” feel like they have done right in both respects. They’ve not pushed these members of the supposedly less sexually desiring sex into something they’re not as likely to have wanted casually–for either traditional or feminist reasons. They have tried to respect women by being friends first, liking and appreciating them for their good qualities. They’ve sent the clear message that they’re not out to ruin their reputations, treat them like they’re “easy”, push them into the sex without love that many women say they don’t want, use them merely for sex with no interest for them as people. They’ve shown they would invest time and energy in the women they’re attracted to without any sexual or romantic rewards and so feel cheated to see other guys skipping that whole stage of proving one’s sincerity and jumping straight into the sack, into relationships, and into marriages with women.

The behavior of those alleged jerks who proposition women for sex without first putting in all the investment and commitment of months or years of friendship is rewarded, while these guys who put in all this patient effort into honoring women as people, without any sex involved, get stuck with an involuntary chastity and loneliness. The entire female gender is then disparaged on moral grounds. Women, despite all their protestations to the contrary, are in the end said to be drawn to superficial things–like physical strength, social status, wealth, and alpha male domineering tendencies–and are ultimately unattracted to men who are nurturing, emotionally sensitive, and prone to err on the side of respectful sexual restraint. These men wind up susceptible to a lot of PUA (Pick up Artist) messaging that encourages outright ignoring feminist messaging and thinking much more like a gender traditionalist of the old school sexist type. The advice is to adopt more traditional models of the world in which the friction between the sexes and their gender-based differences in desires, personalities, and roles in the great cat and mouse game is what’s supposed to generate romantic and sexual heat.

Now there is a ton wrong with this picture. While I feel for my awkward sensitive male brothers who are so desperate to get laid or be loved that they are open to figuring out whatever recipe that will do the trick, I ultimately think they’re making profoundly wrong inferences and adopting backwards strategies when they go down the PUA rabbit trail. I know the pain these guys endure. I lived through a brutal run of unrequited loves from 11 to 16 and then from 17 to 23. I didn’t manage a single date in college despite putting a ton of energy into a number of women. I had periodic nights of deep self-pity where the temptation to the Dark Side of misogyny was great. But despite that, when I left college, I rejected the “Friend zoned Nice Guy” and the “Pick up Artist” paths.

So, I don’t consider myself a Nice Guy who presently wants to appeal his many trips to the friend zone.

But nonetheless, before explaining critiquing the Nice Guy narrative and giving guys my constructive advice, I first want to correct for some simplistic, uncharitable, and counter-productive explanations often given when inferring the mindsets and motives of the guys making complaints that they’ve been friend zoned. I think that a more empathetic reading of their concerns can help us (1) learn from their frustrations about how our messaging about relationships is hurting them, (2) reveal room to meet them on common ground, (3) work with their existent nascent feminism (rather than alienate them from feminism altogether through hostility and invalidation of their feelings), and (4) think through constructive solutions that help both men and women.

Humanizing Friend-Zoned Nice Guys

So the first mistake that I think some people make in pushing back against the Friend-Zoned Nice Guy is insisting on reducing all his complaints to an entitled demand for sex. One popular way of putting this is that the Friend-Zoned Nice Guy looks at women as merely slot machines that you put coins in until they give you sex. Another way of putting this is that these guys reveal that they weren’t really a woman’s friend to begin with but only ever truly interested in sex. This is supposedly evidenced by their whining, their hostility at not getting sex, and interpretations of their friend-zoning complaints as basically a disparagement of the value of friendships with women that don’t end in sex.

The argument is that if they were truly interested in women as people and not “sex dispensers” then they wouldn’t feel so entitled to sex from their women friends and feel so spurned at being “only friends” with women. So, the reasoning goes, these men reveal themselves to be entitled objectifiers of women who slimily play at being friends with women only to get in their pants as part of some really long con game and reveal their true colors when they’re turned down. Some women’s response to being unfairly morally castigated for having the temerity to just not be interested in their guy friends is to say that Friend-Zoned Nice Guys are not actually very nice at all. Were they really nice they wouldn’t be so demanding, demonizing, and friendship-destroying. One woman amusingly (and valuably) turned the tables on Friend-Zoned Nice Guys and complained that she was tired of being put in the “girlfriend-zone” and satirically lamented that she wish she could find good guy friends who wouldn’t want a relationship with her.

I find a lot of these sorts of reductionistic readings of Friend-Zoned Nice Guys involve some gender-stereotype-based disparagement/demonization of men. (I’d call that a form of sexism, but that men could ever be the victim of sexism is a debate for another time.) Often the problem is that they take for granted the questionable truism that all any heterosexual man ever really wants from a romantic relationship with a woman is sex. They interpret a man’s entire desire to move from friendship to romantic love as a desire simply to add sex to the existing friendship–as though there is no other salient difference between a romantic relationship and a friendship that incorporates sex, and as though the guy could not possibly be hurting over his experience of romantic rejection more than his experience of merely sexual rejection.

If someone wants to be with someone else romantically and is offered only friendship, they’ve not only been turned down for sex, they’ve been turned down for romantic love. To cast these guys as only interested in sex because they’re not satisfied with mere friendship with someone they romantically love is rather cruel. It’s dehumanizing in the way it completely erases these men’s full capacities and needs for love and the very possibility that they could want women for more than sex. To disparage their friendships with women as inherently insincere because they also wanted romantic love is to ignore the pain of rejection involved when someone you romantically love doesn’t love you in the same way back.

Believe me, I’ve had friends I just hoped might want sex with me but who shot me down and I’ve had friends who I desperately hoped would romantically love me the way I loved them. The “no sex” rejection took anywhere from minutes to a day to get over. The “no love” rejections? That’s where the agony was. That was where the feelings of bitterness were tempting.

Because, as the old cliché goes, the opposite of love is not hate but apathy. It really is true that people, men and women alike, regularly experience rueful resentments towards their former romantic partners and others who reject them precisely because they were so passionately attached to them. Sure, it’s to a degree a selfish love that projects blameworthiness onto someone for just not being into you. But the blind, raw, excruciating suffering is part of the human psychology of attachment. We all need to take responsibility not to become terrible people in response to that pain. But to look and see men bitter over feeling romantically rebuffed and accuse them of never having had anything like sincere interests in the women they’re bitter at and to accuse them of just feeling entitled to sex and bitter that women aren’t giving it up to them is fairly demonizing. It’s not a charitable or empathetic approach to men’s psychology.

And let’s remember that the tendency to derogatorily overgeneralize about “what all women are like” by straight men has seemingly always been coupled with an equal tendency by straight women to derogatorily overgeneralize about “what all men are like”. This is classic “battle of the sexes” stuff. It’s awful. It hurts and demonizes women and men. But men engaging in it are not uniquely misogynists necessarily (though of course misogynists are the worst offenders) any more than the countless women who fall into this way of thinking and speaking are all “misandrists”. Gender stereotyping is a larger problem than just men’s dominance over women and the solution is to transcend such categories altogether and look at everyone as full people, rather than to double down on the worst “battle of the sexes” stereotypes about men.

So if you hear a man describe to you that he is in love with one of his women friends and he’s in agony over the fact that she sees him as just a friend and you think he must just feel entitled to sex from her and this is evidence he just sees her only as an object for his use, then you’re claiming that the only thing that could possibly cause a man agony is not having sex. How dehumanizing and reductionistic is that? If a man is in bitter pain over a woman not loving him back and can’t endure going on being friends while that rejection is a palpable component of the relationship for him and you assume that he is reducing her to an object, then you basically are concluding, for no good reason whatsoever that men can never see women as anything else than objects. You are dismissing his yearning for an intimate subject-to-subject connection with a life partner of the most intimate kind most of us are led to imagine exists as “just another species of objectification” and “just another manifestation of men’s entitled misogyny” and just another instance of male sexual pathology? What can a man do to prove that he doesn’t objectify a woman in that case?

What’s Really Going Wrong For Friend-Zoned Nice Guys?

Let me spell out what I see as the real problem with the Friend-Zoned Nice Guy’s thinking, more charitably construed. I can use my own extremely well meaning but warped former ideas about love and relationships that I had growing up in order to illustrate what I see going on here.

In my case my interests were unequivocally not about sex. I was a willing virgin, out of both religious and non-religious moral convictions, during all my years of agonizing unrequited love before I deliberately learned how to stop falling into unrequited loves.

From ages 11 until 21, I singlemindedly wanted one thing: to find a wife. I didn’t want sex. I didn’t even want just a relationship. I wanted to find the woman God had made to be my perfect equal and partner. I dreamed we would have the most profound mind-meld. She would be both another Self to me and my other half. I wanted us to marry as virgins and only ever experience sex together so that the utter intimacy and experience of uniqueness that would come from only knowing sex with each other would make its bonding powers for us incredibly more intense and effective.

I was also terrified of screwing marriage and monogamy up. The idea of relationships for a season that would inevitably end made absolutely no sense to me. I bought into purity culture messaging that that was just training my heart to get accustomed to falling out of love. My parents divorced when I was a high school freshman and my dad was quickly with another woman (in a relationship possibly begun as an affair) and I interpreted this as the result of my dad being fickle in his ability to love and so I was terrified of falling out of love or ever not loving 100%. So I went through years trying to commit to any romantic feelings like they must be for life.

So on the motive scale from “100% interested in casual sex” to “100% interest in a committed relationship”, I approached dating 100% looking for a relationship. Of course not nearly all Friend-Zoned Nice Guys are like me in this regard but nonetheless my more extreme former mindset can help me highlight in purer form the same basic logical structure of their thinking.

And the thinking goes like this. The Friend-Zoned Nice Guys are not old school sexists. They don’t see women as only good for keeping house and producing and rearing babies. They are not interested in just using women for sex with no respect for them as people. The issue is that they think that proving you’re interested in a woman as a person and not just as a conquest means having a distinctly unsexualized relationship first. It means taking sex off the table. In my mind back then, I saw it as wholly shallow and reductionistic to go after a woman based only on physical attraction and superficial acquaintance with her. If I didn’t first become her friend and get to know her without any sexual or romantic motives forefronted, but instead let those feelings develop with the friendship, then that would be the virtuous and true way to fall in love.

As far as I saw things, asking a girl out when you barely knew her was the objectifying route. Because, in my mind, asking a girl out when you barely know her is basically saying, “I’m interested in you for the least meaningful thing about you: your physical appearance.” To me, in those days, that is what I would imagine women would be insulted by. That’s what I thought was beneath me as a young man who yearned for a soulmate who I could connect with on a profound intellectual, emotional, and values-based level. To me the only person you could even think of dating with pure motives was someone that you first were friends with and first established you genuinely had a rapport and commonalities with. Anything else was mere looks-based vanity.

I want to point out two things. My mindset was really really wrong. And my subsequent behavior was disastrous too and so there were good reasons that I never landed dates with this mindset. But what my mindset distinctly wasn’t was objectifying or sexually reductionistic towards women. It wasn’t old school traditionalist sexism motivating me. It was a deep longing for a partner who I could connect to as a person and a deeply moralistic rejection of merely looks-based dating as objectifying and shallow. And even the majority of Friend-Zoned Nice Guys, who aren’t like I was and who do want sexual relationships, are also thinking that they’re being morally right and honoring women as people by thinking of romance as something that should grow out of friendship and then only when the relationship has been proven to be true in this way should it ideally be consummated with sex. They want to earn love with their moral virtues, with their genuine friendship, and with their woman-honoring priorities that put knowing women as people over trying to just bed them. To accuse all these men of being objectifiers who don’t see women as people but feel simply entitled to sex as a “reward” for friendship is really unfair to the extent that (if they are anything like I was) they have these sorts of implicit values, which are moralistic, egalitarian, and hostile to physical shallowness at their core.

It’s simplistic to imagine them thinking in such crudely mechanical transactional and entitled terms as saying “if I put in the coins of friendship then I am owed sex”. Their problem is that they believe a number of myths. They believe in that myth that apparently some critics do: that friendship and romantic love are just the same thing at their core. Whereas some who critique the Friend-Zoned Nice Guys as only interested in adding sex to the existing friendship (as though that’s all that would be added by becoming a romantic relationship), Friend-Zoned Nice Guys themselves think that the natural course of a deep friendship between a man and a woman is simply true romantic love. In fact, in their minds, it’s the purest and most morally guaranteed and deserved kind of romantic love for being so chaste and high-minded in its origins. It builds a relationship from supposedly the sturdiest stuff, interest in another person that’s not just lust but that is strong despite lack of sexual satisfaction. Romantic feelings and sexual passion can wax and wane. But they believe that if a friendship independent of this is established first, they will have built a romance on a rock that can endure despite such fluctuations.

And this just isn’t the case. Romantic love and friendship are quite distinguishable phenomena. There are good reasons that people talk about having “chemistry” with someone or not. It seems to me like it’s something people either simply have or don’t have in most cases. And friendship chemistry is different than romantic chemistry, and both can be different than sexual chemistry. Some people just spark in the right ways. The reasons are intangible and the chemistry cannot be simply willed into existence. Having either of the kinds of chemistry does not guarantee the others. Just because you sexually click with someone doesn’t mean you’re fit for romance or friendship. Just because you click as friends doesn’t mean you’ll ever click romantically or sexually.

What the Friend-Zoned Nice Guys need to learn is that you simply can’t force or earn romantic chemistry. I don’t think most of these guys are just in it for the sex. Even for the most ill-adept guys there are easier ways to pursue sex than investing tons of time and emotional energy into a single woman and getting your heart devesated. They’re probably in this for something real. They probably really want a connection with a woman. They probably really expect the universe to reward them doing things the right and chaste way, like they see in all the movies. They think that any deep man/woman friendship is a caterpillar just waiting to turn into the butterfly of romantic love. And so they wind up disillusioned when the women they genuinely have feelings for don’t appreciate their character merits or value their rapport and reliable relationship in a romantic way.

So at this point we come to the actual entitlement issue. It’s not that they feel entitled to sex—it’s much deeper and less superficial than that and these men deserve the respect of having that acknowledged. What they really feel entitled to is love. And should they?

Now at this point, a lot of people just scold Friend-Zoned Nice Guys and tell them they’re not entitled to love or sex just for being a good person. And this is where I think we can do better. All of us, men and women alike, should demand the world where love and sex do accrue to those who are good people with good motives. We should be concerned to create that world insofar as it’s in our power. And we shouldn’t trivialize anyone’s deepest yearnings for romantic and sexual connection and validation. We shouldn’t demonize them and tell them they’re not entitled to sex or love. We shouldn’t minimize the legitimacy of their pain in being rejected. Nor should we dismiss their disillusionment when they have done what they were conditioned to believe was the most honorable thing to acquire love and sex and found themselves failures, all while perceiving those who did what they were taught (by both traditionalists and feminists) not to do succeeding at finding love and sex. Their disillusionment is because they were sold a bill of goods. We should show them some compassion, acknowledge they were ripped off and that that they were sent down dead ends. We should actively seek to include such men in discussions with women about how we all can do better about setting up better general messages about dating, love, romance, and friendship so that we are all served better and don’t wind up in these situations.

Some women reading this are scoffing at me right now, “That’s what the world needs, more attention to men’s needs! You can’t raise a single issue about women being mistreated and demonized without the conversation turning back to ‘what about the men’?” I think that’s a backwards attitude. What have learned from feminism is not only that men’s success, needs, interests, wants, and desires have been disproportionately favored and prioritized over women’s but that they’ve been prioritized often in the wrong ways and in ways that hurt both men and women. So, no, I don’t think “men’s needs already get enough attention”. They need more of the constructive, feminism-informed, attention that would make it so it’s easier for men to get their needs met in ways that aren’t at the expense of women. If we want men to treat women better, it starts with helping us men find our best selves, and that means appealing to our best selves. It doesn’t mean telling us that we’re entitled objectifying misogynists when we’re hurting because we cannot find romantic love and we’re trying really hard to be moral. It doesn’t mean reinforcing sexist myths that all we want is sex and dismissing our yearnings for intimate connection and love. It means validating what’s good in our desires and our motives and just talking about how to get there in a way that doesn’t involve misguided backlashes against women. The key here is for men and our critics to get out of the zero sum game/war of the sexes politics and understand that what is truly good for men is what’s truly good for women.

Friend-Zoned Nice Guys aren’t inherently “anti-women”, “anti-feminist”, or anti-egalitarian (at least not any more than any other kinds of guys are and, in all likelihood, probably on average they’re less anti-egalitarian). They may be seduced to anti-feminism if they buy the bill of goods PUAs are selling which says they need to reject their “feminization” and emotional vulnerability and become the alpha males that women allegedly really want. But at their starting point they’re trying to do basically feminist things like approach women as people worthy of genuine friendship and not just as sex objects. They’re trying to earn love through being nurturing, supportive men. I think feminists need to work with this, rather than demonize these guys as “really in it for the sex” just because they get bitter and confused and hurt when being the men that feminists say they want is not working. It’s not feminism’s fault it’s not working. It’s not women’s faults it’s not working. But these men still are hurting and need help from feminists to make it work rather than to be demonized because they’re complaining.

9 Tips For Staying Out of the Friend Zone and Finding Happiness Instead 

So here is what I would tell the Friend-Zoned Nice Guys suffering right now instead:

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1. Your desires for love and sex are good and your frustrations at not having these things don’t make you merely entitled objectifiers of women. You’re not pathological creeps or unlovable simply for loving women who do not happen to love you back. You’ve had it drummed into your head that you can earn love just by proving yourself to be a good guy and treating a woman like gold. You can’t. Don’t set up your expectations like that. While, yes, we should have a society where people love and admire others for their good character and for being good friends–and, yes, such good people deserve romantic love and sex if they want these things–no particular person owes you romantic or sexual love.

Turn your frustration into asking more structural and global questions instead of irrationally just creating counter-productive hostilities towards women as a whole class of people. How do good people successfully get the love they deserve already? Do you know any good people who found someone who appreciated them? Find out how that actually happened. What innovative ways can we change our norms so all people, regardless of their social awkwardness, have better shots of finding genuine love more readily? And, in your own life, what are the best positions you can put yourself in to find the kind of person who would naturally appreciate you in your own idiosyncratic particularity?

2. Understand that the women who have rejected you are not to blame. Nobody can ever be blamed for just not feeling romantic chemistry. And no amount of begging or pleading is ever going to make those feelings materialize. They can’t be bargained for. And it’s a crappy thing to do to accuse someone of having character flaws for simply not feeling it for you. I have been there, over and over and over again. Unrequited love is excruciating. But just because you’re in pain doesn’t mean anyone’s to blame. And we need to learn to stop our emotions from leaping from being hurt (which we’re all entitled to feel) to imputing to those who happen to hurt us the willful desires to harm us. We have to repeat in the mirror a million times that just because we were hurt by not being loved the way we yearned for doesn’t mean the women we loved had any intention or moral failing or lack of self-understanding that led them to hurt us. They just didn’t feel it and just because we’re in pain doesn’t mean anyone is to blame. End of story.

3. Stop putting women on pedestals. I understand the temptation to think that by idealizing women and romanticizing how you’ll treat them like princesses you’re doing the right thing and rejecting treating them like sex objects. Been there, brother. The problem is that it’s an overcorrection in the other extreme. It puts too much pressure on women (or anyone) to be idealized like that. By spending your friendships with women building them up in your mind to be super beings you set yourself up to be disappointed and resentful when they wind up being only human. Especially when, in their mere humanity, they just don’t happen to respond to your virtues as you imagine such a moral super being should. Women being people means women are just people. The less you fall into hastily romanticizing everything about a particular woman or about women in general, the more you will be able to see them for who they are and calibrate more realistic expectations in your relationships with them as distinct individuals.

4. Stop treating women as all psychologically the same. Women are all individual people. There is no secret code to uncracking “the” mind of all women. They don’t all want the same things and they don’t all need the same things. And trying to strategize relating to them like it’s a game is not the path to the authentic relationship you ostensibly want. And it doesn’t matter if hundreds or thousands of women don’t find you to be their cup of tea, or even treat you badly, they don’t represent all women. There are always more women out there and they have the full spectacular range of human personalities just like men do.

I’ve been epically horribly mistreated by a couple of women I’ve been romantically involved with. And yes, that hurt. Excruciatingly. I wound up taking quite a few years away from dating at one point in order to recover. I just lost all motivation to date and in all likelihood it was because my heart just couldn’t risk suffering like that again very quickly. But that doesn’t mean I’ve ever gone back into dating assuming the next woman will be just like the women who hurt me. Sure if they actually act like those women, that makes sense to respond to the warning signs! But if they don’t act like those other women, there’s no need at all to expect them to be like those other women. They’re not all robots from the same manufacturer. They’re individuals. And just like in all other interactions in life you treat each person as an individual with a distinct personality and calibrate your expectations based on their specific personality, your focus with women should be no different. Who is this woman? What does she want? What is her character like? Trying to figure out “Women” is counter-productive to paying attention to the specific women you deal with and it’s certainly the wrong way to move on openheartedly from the women who simply weren’t right for you.

5. Stop falling in love when it’s not mutual. If you find a woman attractive, see if she’ll spend time with you. Drop hints she can take or leave that you have some interest in her and don’t get emotionally invested until she reciprocates those indications. After college I stopped suffering from gut wrenching unrequited loves by following this simple rule. I have just enjoyed flirting with women, going on dates, being friends with them, having casual sex with them if they wanted, etc. And in the context of just getting to know women with no expectations from them, I have picked up on hints when they’ve liked me and been able to decide whether I was romantically interested or not. After roughly a dozen gruelingly heart wrenching unrequited loves from ages 11 years old until 21, I’ve nearly thoroughly avoided them from 21 until almost 37 now. My only heartbreaks since have been from failed relationships and a case where a woman gave the signals, I developed feelings in response, and then she quickly went cold. Other than that, I’ve not let my heart get attached ahead of what’s been reasonable.

I don’t put any more stock in a woman than she gives me good warrant to believe it is rational to invest. No matter how much I like a woman as a person, enjoy my rapport with her, or (even) like having sex with her, I keep her emotionally at arms length until I get clear signals that she really wants something else. And how can you tell those signals? She’ll send them. And she’ll usually make them clearer and clearer in increments if it takes you an especially long time to see them. And the one time that I really came close to a devastating crush and knew I couldn’t be friends with a particular woman because I was falling way too fast for her and she was not reciprocating, I just stayed away from even a friendship with her. It was unrealistic and not worth the heartache. Unrequited love is not your friend. If a relationship is real and is going to happen, it will happen when the chemistry is mutual. If you don’t trust yourself to only feel the chemistry when it’s mutual (as I don’t) then do as I have done and just flirt and casually date and be friends with women and temper your emotions so they synch with what the women are indicating to you is realistic.

6. Understand that romantic love is, for most people, a sexual kind of love, rather than simply friendship with the reward of sex, and that that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that romantic love is really all about sex, but it means that for most people the sexual component plays a constitutive role in how it works. For various good reasons there is a lot of anxiety that people not use each other for sex. And we all know that physical attraction is the most superficial level of attraction and the most on the end of the scale that involves objectifying people (and objectifying women in particular, given our culture’s attitudes). So I get the temptation to think chaste friendship love is inherently more virtuous than sexual love. And sex can sometimes emotionally bond you to someone who is wrong for you. So, it’s tempting to think that it’s just smarter to make sure you really like someone without having sex or romance with them before deciding to go down that road and risk marrying someone you’re actually incompatible with. My hunch though is that it can be an overcorrection to sterilize your relationship with a potential partner by completely desexualizing it too. I think it’s possible that some relationships that might have had a spark under different circumstances smother the potential for that by framing it as friendship too long.

And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, when you do have feelings for someone and yet you’re not consummating them physically or even with a chaste romance, you can wind up making your feelings that much more intense from frustration and fantasy and idealization. So, yes, you can have sex and bond too quickly. But on the flip side you can also be hyped up on frustration that a friendship isn’t turning romantic or that a romance isn’t turning sexual and start confusing your intense desire for a relationship or for sex into an overestimation of the rightness of the person you want. Sometimes through sex you can dispel a haze of misleading horniness that keeps you from seeing the other person realistically. I have often called sex the “truth serum” since sometimes after sex with someone I find that my interest in them really does dissipate and other times I find that it only intensifies. It’s not the whole truth–you can sexually attach to someone you’re not really compatible with and have inadequate rapport with for a long term relationship–but it’s a helpful part of figuring out what you really get from this other person. Sex is not the reward for being good, in the early stages of a relationship it’s partly an experiment through which you get to know and assess someone as a potential long term partner.

For these reasons, it’s simply best to accept that each relationship has its own organic pace. And that means sometimes you will feel the chemistry and rush several paces physically and emotionally very quickly. And just because it’s partly “infatuation” and “superficial” attraction does not mean that it can’t also be something that involves enduring chemistry, rapport, compatibility, and friendship too. And some other relationships will start as flirty friendships for a few months before the stars align and things start to happen. There’s nothing more or less virtuous about the one way rather than the other. And just because people take romantic shots on people because something about them is viscerally attractive in first impressions doesn’t mean that those people are superficial and only attracted to looks or assertiveness. It just means that there are some people our brains quickly assess as carrying themselves or speaking or dressing themselves, etc., in ways that might indicate some good things about who they are.

And, yes, it’s comforting to know off the bat that we find them physically appealing since (for most of us) sex is ideally an integral part of how romantic love would be eventually expressed, enjoyed, and cultivated. Knowing you hit it off with someone in terms of basic attractiveness of manner and appearance is as good a reason as anyone to at least give someone a shot with something as non-committal as a date. There’s nothing shallow about any of that. Dates are non-committal. And the “verdicts” on where you stand with someone come way more quickly when you actually go on dates, with all the explicit connotations that you’re considering each other as romantic prospects involved, than if you try to have a friendship first. If you’re romantically interested already you should either be seeing if they want to date already. If they don’t, it’s better to know that sooner rather than later when your heart is over-committed and it’s harder to let go. Dating allows this sort of hastened assessment and really can spare a ton of unnecessary pain.

7. Focus on cultivating yourself to be an excellent person above all things. Everyone (from PUAs to feminists and everyone in between) will tell you (rightly) that people are attracted to confidence. Even more than that, they’re attracted to excellence. And developing personal excellence will also make you confident. And it will usually put you into environments in which you will perform excellently and attract admirers to your excellence. This isn’t a straight line, unfortunately. It is possible to be excellent but hidden from view. But in my experience, the less I have focused on looking for women and the more I have focused on developing my projects, cultivating my abilities, and working on my personal character, the more women have come looking for me. Remarkably, I’m fatter than I’ve ever been and I’m in a precarious financial position for someone at my age, and yet it doesn’t matter–more good, smart, attractive women have taken a proactive interest in me of late than ever before.

There are plenty of good women out there who really do appreciate virtuous men for their virtues and who really want what they say when they talk about wanting a man who is respectful and caring and kind. If you really focus on those virtues and not on picking out in advance which woman you are determined to get to appreciate them, in time you should have pretty good odds of finding love.

8. Accept that you are only looking for one  close romantic and sexual partner at a time. Or if you’re polyamorous you’re still just looking for a relative few at a time. This means that you don’t have to connect with everyone. It’s okay that you’re not connecting with countless people with that elusive combination of explosive sexual, romantic, and friendship chemistry. The number you need to connect with to eventually wind up deeply satisfied is really small! If marriage is what you want you’re probably just looking for one person, right? So, don’t try to become what everyone wants or advertise yourself as what you think women want. Just figure out who you’re most comfortable being and find someone who digs you like that. Don’t try to change so everyone will like you (which is impossible and will leave you dissatisfied). Be defiantly, idiosyncratically, and (most of all) excellently you, the best possible version of you. And if you’re lucky, some day someone who drives you wild will look at you and say “Finally! The weirdo I’ve been looking for my whole life!” 

9. And even if you do all of the above and are unlucky in love, as some of the best of us truly are, at least you will be your best self and connected as possible to other people who you like and who mirror your virtues at your best and who make for great friends. You will have the room in your life for more rich friendships than those intensely in one central relationship often wind up having. You’ll likely have more passion and energy available to fuel more personal projects. You can learn the joy of being someone who looks for what opportunities he has and who lightly moves on to the next one when each particular one doesn’t pan out. You can learn how to stop investing all your hopes in any one person or life situation saving you. You can end the cycle of disappointment, resentment, and counter-productive bitternesses that comes with investing your heart and your expectations in what is not guaranteed to you. In love, and then in all of life, you can constantly turn your head away from looking backward with frustration and self pity, to constantly looking forward with an eye for what possibilities still lay before you — if only you pay attention to what you can control and what you can try to have, rather than what you can’t control or can’t have.

It is absolutely possible to have a meaningful life without a romantic partner or without anything else you might myopically convince yourself is the be-all/end-all of existence. I’ve lived a good number of years happily single (barely looking if at all) and rather investing in numerous friends and looking proactively for enriching opportunities in other areas of my life wherever I could find them. Those have without a doubt usually been among the happiest and most fulfilled years of my life.

It’s okay to be single, even in perpetuity, if you don’t find one of the possible people truly right for you. It’s far better than the soul-sucking alienation of being with the wrong person.

Your Thoughts?

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The last section of this post illustrated the kind of advice I give as a philosophical advisor. To book a one hour appointment for one-on-one advice from me about your own philosophical, non-mental-health, problems related to these issues or any others, write me at camelswithhammers@gmail.com with “Philosophical Practice” in the subject line. All sessions are confidential.

I am an American Philosophical Practitioners Association certified philosophical practitioner and I have a PhD in Philosophy from Fordham University. To learn more about what philosophical practice is and what the APPA standards of practice are, read here. To keep up with all installments in the “Philosophical Advice” series of posts keep tabs on this page.

If you have a practical problem you would like me to answer on the blog, write with the subject line “Philosophical Advice”. If I feel comfortable advising you in my “Philosophical Advice” column, and I can get to it, I will answer it here on the blog. All identities of those writing in for advice are kept strictly confidential. I use pseudonyms for all the letter writers when reprinting their letters, responding to them on the blog, and discussing them generally. If you would like face to face sessions, I conduct them online using Skype or Google Hangout. Philosophical practitioners are not bound by state certification requirements and restrictions, so you and I can meet online, no matter where you are in the world. For information or to make an appointment please contact me at camelswithhammers@gmail and put “Philosophical Practice” in the subject line. All sessions are confidential.

As a philosophical practitioner I help people reason through their beliefs, values, priorities, identities, emotions, ethical dilemmas, life decisions, existential quandaries, religious or post-religious struggles, love relationships, interpersonal conflicts, search for meaning and purpose, and struggles in any other areas of life in which some conceptual clarification, logical consistency, theoretical sensitivity, and emotional intelligence can be helpful. I do not treat mental illness. I simply help people reason more clearly, consistently, ethically, and proactively about their lives.

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