It’s Friday night, and you’re about to go where the people are. Downtown, house party, whatever. There will be members of the opposite sex. Harrowing.
You arrive in your best attempt at looking good without seeming like you’re trying — standard procedure for any social situation. You start by addressing any friends or acquaintances in the room. It’s the safe, polite course of action, but it doesn’t last. Eventually, conversations end, people get bored or thirsty and they walk away.
You now have to branch out and meet new people. Some of these new people will be women. Part of you wants them to be women. This part is often below the belt.
The other parts of you, such as the part behind the eyes, is terrified by this prospect. Women can equate to awkwardness and rejection. The part thumping in your chest agrees with the part behind your eyes and shows you by being loud, violent and chock full of adrenaline. Regardless, the time has come to acknowledge the presence of females.
If you’re lucky, they were part of a conversation with a mutual friend, and you already have that social common ground. If you’re even luckier, they’ll approach you. We call that the jackpot — it’s a rare thing. You’re probably going to have to make the move yourself. That is not a comforting thought, but every guy has to do it.
So you’re finally in a conversation with a woman, whatever trials you had to undergo. Congratulations, but you aren’t done. This is your first impression. This is who you are to this person. If you screw up, that is probably who you will always be to her. The stakes are high: you don’t want to be an asshole and she doesn’t want to talk to one.
You make eye contact to establish that both of you are real people. You make a couple jokes and come off as sufficiently charming. You each have a couple drinks — not too much — to keep the night fun.
There’s only one problem: you’re just another guy. How do you distinguish yourself as the guy to get her phone number, or even the guy to wake up beside tomorrow morning? You’re left with one option: you have to express interest.
Cue inner monologue. What if she’s not interested? She may just be looking for a friend tonight. Would it be rude to assume she wants sex? You certainly don’t want to come off as another jerk who’s only interested in her body. You’re better than that. The drama of fear and indecision continues on and on into nothing. Keep talking, keep having a good time and go home alone. If you don’t make a move, you don’t make an ass of yourself.
It’s no simple fear of rejection that sends men home without a female. The neuroses go far deeper than that. There are those of us who feel trapped in a hurricane of social pressures and counter-pressures. Countless social forces, even those as trite and seemingly innocuous as romantic comedies, have been occupied with identifying the scumbags of the male sex for over a decade now. The only problem is now, men are made to feel that basic sexual attraction is a shallow, shameful thing because it’s often the defining feature of the archetypal lowest of the low. It creates the impression that it is no longer an acceptable basis for action.
Or, at least, that’s how it appears. The volatile mix of potential widespread disapproval and standard post-pubescent neuroses has ingrained this crippled theory of interaction into the minds of self-aware men. It’s just so easy to talk yourself out of making yourself vulnerable and hitting on someone that any reason will do, and there are always ample reasons.
I would love to wrap this tale up with a bow and a happy ending, as it would be much more comforting to find a silver lining amongst the hurricane of indecision. But it wouldn’t be the truth.
This paralytic thought process is there. It is the new, sinister incarnation of that most theoretical social construct: the friend zone.
But it’s not women who imprison men in this empty void. It’s fear.
— Monty Lucco is a sophomore from Woodstock majoring in English