Ask Dr Nerdlove: Why Do I Keep Getting Friend-Zoned?

Ask Dr. Nerdlove: Why Do I Keep Getting Friend-Zoned?

Welcome to Ask Dr Nerdlove, the only dating advice column that knows how to get every ending in the dating sim of your life. This week, we have a common problem: What do you do when you keep getting the Let's Just Be Friends speech from the women you want to date? Do women really mean it? And if they do, why do they ditch you when they start dating someone else?

Plus: How to spice up a dreary sex-life, and an update from a reader about his dating problems...

Hey Doc NerdLove,

I've got something of a problem that's tangentially about dating, and I figured I would see if you could help.

So me:

30, single, male; 5'10", 180 lbs, not amazing shape but not terrible shape either. Not the best looking guy in the world, but not the worst either. Personality wise I'm introverted by nature, but I am friendly and outgoing when I leave the house; I'm pretty funny, optimistic and smart but get described as offbeat a lot too. This is all to say that while I would definitely not say I kill it with women, it's not like talking to them is a terrifying or alien ordeal; usually it goes pretty well and both parties end up pretty much unscathed.


Throughout my twenties I have found myself in a cycle that I really want to end.

1. I meet a girl.

2. I realise I'm into the girl, and the girl seems into me as well. They usually tend to be the ones who seek me out after our initial meeting.

3. I ask the girl out, and they say "Oh no, I just want to be friends".

4. I say "OK".

5. Over the next couple of months, we are friends, and usually become really close. I'm usually told a lot of things like "I feel like I can tell you things I've never told anyone before" and "I'm so happy I have you around."

6. The girl meets her next boyfriend.

7. The girl, without saying anything to me, pretty much ceases all communication with me.

8. I am really hurt at the loss of my friend.

I hate this cycle. It's the worst, because I feel like I'm getting dumped, without any of the fun of dating; and over the past 10 years it's probably happened about 7-8 times, and I can feel it's starting to affect the way I feel about women in a pretty negative way.

I'm finding that I hold back from them more and more, and don't really trust them as friends. I know when you start seeing someone new, things can get busy and your other friendships can get prioritised less; but this is not so much as "Hey we don't hang out so much anymore" but rather "Oh you don't care if we're part of each other's lives at all." I've never experienced this level of being shut out with my guy friends; they may come out less, but they still talk to me.

Rationally, I know that this must be some subtype of people's personalities, and that there's got to be some sort of way to see red flags associated with them so I can avoid investing so much in the friendship.

Emotionally, it seems like women are selfish jerks who simply want to use my good nature as a crutch while they find the guy they really want. Clearly this is not a healthy perspective to have.

So I've got two questions for you:

One, do you have any advice for warning signs or maybe things I can work on about myself so that maybe I can stop finding myself in this situation with ladies I let in emotionally?

Two, sometimes (usually when the guy is gone), the girl tries to reform the friendship, and so far I haven't done well with that situation either.

When I tried to call them out on what's happened, I get called a jerk and there's no real resolution or progress made. When I tried to "be cool" about it, and act like it didn't hurt me that much, the cycle simply repeated itself.

Do you have any advice on how to handle that type of situation?

Mr. Red

So a patient comes to me and says "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." So I say to him "So stop doing that."

(Remember: Doctor NerdLove is not really a doctor.)

This may sound a little dismissive but if you're doing the same thing over and over again and it's continually getting you hurt, then it may well be time to try something else. If you're ending up in the same place over and over again, the thing you have to recognise is that sometimes the only common denominator is you.

So how do we change the equation? Well, let's break it down a little.

The first thing we need to do is examine the initiating behaviour: you getting the dreaded Let's Just Be Friends speech from women you're interested in. If you're hearing LJBF frequently then odds are that the problem is either in how you're presenting yourself or in your approach.

When you hear LJBF, what you're hearing is that she just doesn't find you sexually attractive - there's no "spark", no burst of chemistry. The thing about chemistry is that it's not binary - it's not "there" or "never going to be there" - chemistry is something that you create.

Now the trick is that there is two types of chemistry: physical (or sexual) chemistry and emotional chemistry. The problem is that you need to maintain a balance between the two. Too much physical chemistry without any emotional connection and you've got someone who's turned on but may not necessarily like you enough to do something with that arousal. Too much emotional chemistry and you end up with a platonic BFF. You sound like you've got the emotional chemistry down pat - women feel close to you and tell you their deepest secrets - but you've got zero physical chemistry.

If I were to guess, I would say that you play things a little too safe; you build emotional connections and find commonalities but you give absolutely no indication that you may like her for her mind but you want her for her arse. So you need to be willing to inject a little sexuality into your flirting, a willingness to tease, and to touch (the right way).

In short: you want to act like a lover, not a friend. Yes, you're going to be risking rejection. It's better to take the rejection and move on to somebody who wants what you have to offer than to end up in a "friendship" that you're treating as a boobie-prize.

Which, incidentally, is part of the problem with what's going on after you've been given the LJBF speech.

The reason why you keep getting the brush-off from these women once they find a guy is that up until that point, you're serving to fulfil their need for emotional intimacy. There are people who will use platonic friends for the intimacy they want from a romantic partner. And believe me, this is not a "girl" thing - guys do this to their platonic female friends all the damn time.

(Side note: I rarely hear about this in platonic queer relationships, hence the heteronormativity. Still, the plural of anecdote isn't "data", so grains of salt, etc.)

The friend is essentially serving as Emergency Substitute Relationship, essentially a back-up partner until someone more "suitable" (read: that they want to fuck) comes around. When they do, the platonic friend gets ditched until they're needed again.

Now, what do you do about this?

Well, ideally, you ID and avoid these people in advance and avoid getting overly emotionally invested in the first place. Since this seems to happen to you so often, you are going to want to start looking inward - if you're repeating a pattern, then it has a lot more to do with your mindset than women's in general. Examine what exactly it is about these women that you like and then ask yourself why you're attracted to them.

The next step is to simply not invest so quickly and maintain some boundaries. People who are looking for emotional intimacy pacifiers tend to get very close, very quickly - they want that deep connection until they can get emotional and sexual intimacy. It's also worth noting that this tends to be a very one-sided relationship - you'll find that they're more interested in your meeting their needs and less so than in their meeting yours. At the time, it can feel amazing that they're trusting you and opening up to you and there's this impulse to want to be the guy who listens and comforts his friends, but if they're spending more time unloading to you than they are listening when you talk, then that's a warning sign. Yeah, it may feel like you're soulmates and it feels great, but you frequently find yourself shouldering a lot of their emotional needs and that's not fair to you - especially when they ditch you.

You're allowed to keep a certain amount of space and set limits, even with your friends. You don't need to be at their beck and call or give them all your time. Set some boundaries and do things on your terms, too.

Those boundaries are also important after they ditch you and try to re-engage with you when they're single again. Most of the time I'd say it's not worth striking the friendship back up again, but if it's what you want then you need to be willing to stand up for yourself. Be willing to tell them that you don't appreciate the way they disappeared on you and have now come back like nothing has changed. Someone who likes and respects you will recognise that they have been acting like an arsehole, apologise, and adjust their ways. Someone who doesn't is just trading on your willingness to be a doormat and the best thing you can do is refuse to play along. If they're not willing to acknowledge or respect your feelings on the matter, then it's time to just walk away.

Good luck.


May I call you Doc? I have a question of utmost importance. How do I have mindblowing sex with my girlfriend/soon to be fiancee without overstepping my bounds. I really don't want to be stuck in a single-position sex life for eternity and really want to spice things up in the bedroom. Missionary is very rarely exciting. It is frankly it is starting to get to her and myself. I am just absolutely terrified that I am going to do something wrong and she is going to explode on me about it. It didn't use to be this way either! We used to have sex fairly regularly, but lately everything has been stale. I am afraid to make a move, fool around and bluntly just get the job done.


Lust For Life

Communicate, communicate, communicate. And also: communicate.

Seriously, LFL, if you're in a relationship with someone - especially if you're planning on getting engaged, you need to be able to actually have a conversation with your partner about your needs. So if the sex is starting to get stale and you want it to change, you have to use your words.

Talking about what you'd like to do beforehand is almost always a better option than just springing it on your partner with no warning. That's a very good way to find out you've just stomped all over a personal boundary or tried a move that's going to put her on the Nope Train to Fuck This Shitville.

I realise that it feels like sex is something that should be spontaneous and talking or planning it out feels like the antithesis of sexy or that it's somehow not as "genuine" but honestly: if you want to change things up or incorporate something new in the bedroom - whether it's just a new position or being tied to the bedposts and flogged like the naughty boy you are - then you want to talk about it before you're in the middle of things.

Now this doesn't mean that you necessarily have to treat this like an emergency intervention where you both sit on the couch and dissect everything that's been going on. If the two of you have gotten stuck in a sex-rut, then suggest that you'd like to try something different.

The key is in how you present things. You don't want to lead off like you're admitting you have cancer - that's going to encourage her to see things negatively. Similarly, you don't necessarily want to present it in a "hmm, what do you think of this?" sort of way - because our culture is so sex-negative, there's an impulse to treat anything out of the ordinary (which may simply be something as unremarkable as fucking from behind rather than missionary this time) with a reflexive "no", even if they'd consider it otherwise.

This is how you phrase it: "You know, I've been thinking about doing $USSEX_ACT with you and it really turns me on. I'd love to try this with you…" It's short, simple and emphasises that this is something you want rather than an idle curiosity. Plus, talking about things you'd like to do to each other while you're making out is incredibly hot.

Don't be ashamed of wanting better sex in your relationship. Sexual compatibility and sexual satisfaction is critical to a long-lasting, happy relationship.

And just as an aside? If you're literally terrified to bring things up to your girlfriend, then it's seriously time to rethink the relationship.

Good luck.

Regular readers of my column may remember Phantom Zone Phil, who was having his doubts about the identity of his online-only girlfriend. Since I advised him that he was likely being catfished, he's gone on to confront his Internet paramour and… well, I'll let Phill tell you the rest.


I don't know if you like updates, but I got a fun one. The person I described in my original advice request (who was REALLY mad about your column btw) just told me that they are actually a 30 year old heterosexual male living in Paris. They said that they just enjoyed my company and "playing games" with me, which is why they pretended to be a woman in love/lust with me for like a month.

I've done a lot of research on narcissistic personality disorder and sociopathy since meeting them, and I've learned a lot.

Thanks again for the advice!

Phantom Zone Phil

Good to hear that you got some answers, Phil. It always seems to be the antithesis of romance, but sometimes the best practice is "trust… but verify."

Ever dealt with the LJBF speech? Have some tips on how to reignite a dull relationship? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments section, and we'll see you in two weeks with more of your questions!

Illustration: Tara Jacoby

Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.

Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.


    You're friendzoned because you are a friend, or a mere acquaintance at most. Not everyone has to give you their time.

      To put it another way, he basically friendzoned himself because he wasn't upfront with his intentions. Its not cool to pretend to be a friend when actually you want romance - be upfront and you'll find out pretty quickly if there's a chance of this thing!

        Completely agree. I've been there and done that before and hate that I wasn't upfront with my feelings. For the younger men(and women too) it's hard to know your own feelings so hesitation is understandable, but you need to learn and move on.

        One thing I wish I knew as a teen was if being honest with your feelings scares your crush away, they weren't going to end well with you anyway, no matter how "smooth" you are.

        Sometimes you don't develop feelings for someone until after you've been friends for a while though.

          I hear this can happen, but I'd reckon it'd be pretty rare... definitely shouldn't be the rule, or else something's gone wrong with your snap judgement of physical attraction. In my experience, you wanna jump into bed with someone (obstacles like 'existing relationships' notwithstanding), you probably have a pretty good idea about your evaluation of their bangability in the first minute or two. (If not within seconds.)

          Last edited 31/10/14 4:26 pm

        Read the question a little closer. He is upfront, when he asks said girl on a date. He seems to be content enough to be a good friend, but even that is lost when the girl meets another guy. He hates that he becomes close to this person, only for them to ditch even the casual relationship at the sign of another guy. It does suck, that I can attest. The advice was quite good. Don't get emotionally invested in someone if you suspect they'll behave this way.

    From what I can tell from the guys at the bus stop what you need to do is call her a frigid bitch lesbian..........I'm not sure how that works but it seems to be their go to plan of action.

      Or call her a dumb slut. That'll charm the hell out of her!

      But seriously, no woman owes you anything, so eff this friendzone bollocks.

        Exactly, if you feel wronged have the heart to tell your friend how you feel. If you don't like how they respond then you two aren't friends.

    I really can connect with the first one here - I was in the exact same boat from ages 16-23

    But then I found the right one so all I can say is persistence and keep an open mind concentrate on other things and just self development and eventually you will meet the right one :)

    You want to build a house. You find a great location but the foundation is all sand and you can't change it. You decide to build one anyway. You're upset that it eventually comes tumbling down.

    Ways to stop this cycle: Stop investing in women who are not interested. Work out. Dress better. Lower your standards. Profit.

    I've been on the receiving end of the LJBF myself (yes, girls get it too), and for me I had to cut ties completely at that point. I've never known if it's one of those "just me" things or not, but if there's someone in my life that I'm attracted to I'm completely fixated on them to the exclusion of anyone else, even though I know they only want to be friends. Getting them out of my life completely seemed to be the only way I could let myself move on and find someone else. I really don't think there's anything wrong with replying to the LJBF speech with "Okay no worries but I'm really looking for something deeper than friendship so I'll just keep moving, thanks anyway."

    nice guys come last simple as that, nice guys get nothing simple as that. Be nice to a girl to get her talking to you, once you realise she is actually paying attention then slowly start to throw in the sexual innuendo and then proceed to bend her over the back seat of your car. simple as that;. then once you had lots of sex and hang out and realise she is not the one, MOVE ON and repeat. simple as that. man up, simple as that. if a girl wanted a guy that acts like a teenager or acts very girly and not man like at all, then she will find a girl to be with no some guy in his 30s that never grew up. girls want a MAN not a boy. its ok to be a geek or a gamer but ffs MAN UP and do it. you have balls between your legs for a reason, use em. go read fifty shades of grey and you will know what women want. they want it just as bad as you and they see that they are NOT going to get that from a man in his 30s that acts like a boy. they want a man to do them, not their little brother.

    Last edited 31/10/14 1:09 pm

    Thanks for the advice on the first one. In basically the same situation with a girl atm.

    Best advice I've yet seen about the friendzone.

    Dude's got to change his behaviour. There's so many folks out there ready to leap down your throat to guilt you about cutting off ties with someone who offers friendship by way of rejecting your romantic advances. They get upset that someone might consider friendship to be some kind of 'consolation prize'.

    But sex and love are important. Water's great, but you can't live on it alone - you need food. Similarly, you can't live on friendship alone, and if you've already got plenty of friends, it's OK to decide you don't want to maintain anymore. If you 'make friends with' every person who rejects your attempts at romance, the odds are decent you'll have so many friends that you won't actually be able to maintain any meaningful relationship with ANY of them. That's a disservice to you AND your friends. Your real life friendships do not need to mimic your facebook friend count.

    You gotta be willing to accept that sometimes a person isn't going to be in your life - and doesn't need to be in your life. It's a big old world, with more valuable things to experience in it than any one person ever can, or ever will. And that's OK.

    If 'yet another' romantic prospect shoots you down but offers friendship, I recommend saying, "I'm flattered, but I'm sorry, I just don't think of you that way." Smile, joke, don't be nasty about it. Just go out and look some more. Over and over again. Seek love and don't be ashamed of it. We need it just as much as we need solid friendships.

      Yeah I agree. I really think people are better off just going their separate ways after a rejection rather than actually trying to be friends. The dynamic isn’t going to change no matter how the two interact with one another. Also people are funny, so often it happens that someone isn’t interested in someone until that person demonstrates they aren’t interested in them.

      It makes me recall when a girl “tried” to friendzone me once. We were chatting and we made plans to meet up at the end of the week. Later, she tells me she’s looking forward to seeing some guy and how great looking he is etc., The conversation went something like this:
      Me: Uh, why are you telling me this?
      Her: Because we’re friends
      Me: No we’re not. I don’t really know you.
      Her: Well we are getting to know each other. Look, I’m not looking to settle down with anyone
      Me: Me neither but I have enough friends as it is. If we meet up I’m not saying we’re a couple but we’re definitely not “just friends”. So do you still want to meet up?
      Her: Okay
      Terrible relationship btw, lol. It was definitely fun while it lasted though.

        Yeah, one time I used that line I suggested, I did apparently spark renewed interest.
        Like you: Fun while it lasted, but it definitely didn't last.

        Edit: And I didn't mention the result before either, because it really wasn't the point of saying it. I think it's a terrible idea for someone to see that kind of anecdote and maybe to try and pin hopes on last-ditch changes of heart like that, or anything else. It's much more important to let the chips fall where they may, and be honest about pretty much everything - including your goals, motivations, and romantic interest.

        Last edited 31/10/14 4:12 pm

          Fickle people can be a lot of work and you constantly have to be on your toes to play the whole game.
          I really stopped liking myself towards the end of it so stopped it.

    You forgot to mention (or possibly are just a more polite and nicer guy than me) the guys these women DO invariably 'friend-zone' you for are usually macho arsehole alpha males. Used to happen to me too.

    Don't worry - eventually you'll meet 'the one' and that rubbish will end. You'll fall in love and get married. And have two kids. And realise what a crock marriage and relationships are half the time. But that's a story for another day ;)

    Last edited 31/10/14 4:15 pm

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