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The Internet loves hating on "the friend zone," because the Internet sees friendship as the highest form of torture a horrible woman can impose on a sweet and infallible man, because the Internet is 14 and a stupid piece of shit.

I'm not here to explain that "being in the friend zone" says less about the person who "put" you there than it does about the skewed way you view relationships (although, yes, someone should teach you that at some point). I am here to tell you that you're focusing so much energy on avoiding the friend zone that you're missing the REAL threats ...

5
The "No One I'm Interested in Is Attracted to Me" Zone

Everyone finishes the occasional date feeling like there wasn't any connection, but when you're in this zone, you finish every interaction like this. You have such high demands for similarity that anything short of a carbon copy of you is going to be deemed alien and distant by your crazy-ass brain, and you'll force them away from you with a defensive pre-emptive rejection. Because the truth is, your brain has tricked you into thinking that people who are attracted to you aren't worth your time.

Winston Rowntree

It's counterintuitive, because "high standards" is a good thing in most contexts, like choosing what wood to build your house out of or what gas to put in your car, but human beings aren't made of wood or gasoline or anything else you can buy, so if your "standards" are anything other than "Does this person make me really happy and horny a lot?" then you're unnecessarily narrowing your options and missing out on some killer sex. It's not that no one is happy being alone, and it's not that you should just "take whatever you can get." But if you find yourself scanning prospective mating partners for flaws rather than just enjoying their company, your whole approach to other humans could probably do with some revisions.

Pop culture has given us an insane and unrealistic perception of what human relationships are, and the most insane recent example has got to be from How I Met Your Mother, when the German character Klaus tells Ted that Lebenslanger Schicksalschatz (or "love," because the joke is that German words are long) "isn't something that develops over time. It is something that happens instantaneously," which is the most psychotic relationship advice that hasn't been banned from Kickstarter.

Love doesn't work like facial recognition software or Ikea furniture, because it's a feeling, and when you're used to being lonely, even the best kind of companionship in the world can be scary.

4
The "I Always Need to Be in a Relationship" Zone

If the description in that last entry sounds like it could've been written by a space alien, that may be because for you, getting into a relationship has never been that hard. You know all the tricks: If you're shy, there's beer. If you don't like beer, there's OKCupid, where you can organize your life's stats like a D&D character. And if you're a fundamentally uninteresting person, you can take people to karaoke bars. For you, the hard part of a relationship isn't getting someone to like you or want to spend the night naked -- for you, the hard part is being OK when that's not happening.

Winston Rowntree

No one likes loneliness, because if they do they don't call it loneliness, they call it "me time." But for some people it's not just a bummer, it's a paralyzing fear. Not having someone to call who has to answer means that you might have to spend a few nights alone, getting to know yourself and your own thoughts and, holy shit, what if you suck?

For every girl out there who's too afraid to smile back at the cute guy at the opposite end of the bar, there's a girl who'd rather spend her night humping a total stranger than wake up by herself. The one that sounds like less of a problem to you can probably give you a pretty big hint as to which category you need to work on.

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3
The "We've Been Doing This Forever, We May as Well Stick With It" Zone

The original draft of The Last House on the Left featured the father of the hero, Dr. John Collingwood, murdering a serial killer with a scalpel. His strategy was to hit him in a thousand small places, until the killer would finally die from a thousand tiny cuts. Wes Craven eventually replaced it with a chainsaw because a) chainsaws are awesome, and b) he didn't want his movie to be a metaphor for a common relationship problem.

Winston Rowntree

Breakups aren't always big, covered in serrated metal teeth, and explosively violent -- some are long and slow and end with both parties collapsing exhausted by both lack of restful sleep and blood loss. When you aren't naturally confrontational and you get into a relationship with someone who is just as used to making small concessions as you, it's easy to just get along without actually being happy. For years. You find yourself thinking, "Sure, we don't like much of the same stuff, and we like to spend our free time differently, and we don't agree on anything, but we're rarely actually fighting (if you're not swearing or throwing stuff, it isn't fighting), so maybe this is as good as it gets."

The dirty trick at the core of this issue is that you'll be forced to break up for what feel like selfish reasons ("I need to see what else is out there"; "There has to be more to relationships than this"; "I really wanna get stoned and watch Dredd at 2 p.m. on a Sunday in my underwear") even though it's really what's best for everyone.

2
The "Staying in Contact Forever" Zone

This might be a new zone, invented in the past decade or so, which makes it all the more terrifying: the "staying in contact" zone, which has been made all the worse by Facebook, Twitter, cellphones, and the rest of the secretly evil marvels of technology.

Winston Rowntree

But to understand this zone of the future, we, paradoxically, must first look backward, into the zones of the past. So come with me, Internet friends, on a journey to the time of Dracula.

When Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) went to Dracula's castle, he left behind the beautiful Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), but they stayed in contact with letters. But letters take time to travel, so this relationship was tempered with patience and love, and then Harker boned a bunch of vampire babes in Dracula (Gary Oldman)'s basement (careful with that link, there are boobs). These days, that relationship could never have happened that way because Mina would've texted Jonathan "goodnight, sweetheart!" right before that girl ... bit his dick off, or whatever the hell it is she's doing. And then he would've felt embarrassed and called the whole thing off.

When you're in a fucked up relationship, the hardest part is pulling yourself out, or never texting that person again when you're drunk or just lonely. But with modern social media, that's gotten even harder. It's not enough to simply stop calling them; you have to unfriend them on Facebook (a proactive step), and even then you're going to see them in your feed if you have any mutual friends, and your cellphone might autocorrect weird words to their name, or you may have interactions on something called Snapchat, because what the hell is that. Oh, it's a social media app with a constantly changing TOS and interface, just like every other social media app. Keeping up with the latest trends on the Internet isn't just about keeping in touch with your friends -- it's about not keeping in touch with them, too. And sometimes that's a whole lot harder.

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1
The "I Don't Want to Ruin the Friendship" Zone

Surprise, bitches! This is what the actual friend zone is! Also sorry for saying "bitches," I know using that term like that is sexist. I just really like the comedic shock value of the phrase "Surprise, bitches!" Do you think it would work as a T-shirt? I'm getting off topic.

If you've ever been in "the friend zone," remember that you weren't put there by anyone but yourself, and for evidence you need look no further than the episode of Friends that popularized the term (according to Wikipedia).

Ross wants to sleep with Rachel, and Rachel doesn't know, and Ross is trying to work up the courage to tell her, and Friends lasted 10 seasons on that joke. You might be thinking that Rachel is a bitch for forcing Ross into that situation by not just sleeping with him, if you're the kind of sociopath who thinks that women are responsible for every problem that befalls a man. The real problem there is that Ross doesn't respect himself enough to act on his feelings and doesn't respect Rachel enough to be honest. He's kind of a dick, because secretly wanting to fuck someone but not telling anyone because you want to manipulate them into fucking you without being honest about your intentions means that you're kind of a dick.

Winston Rowntree

Friendship and romance are different. You can't trade one for the other. If you're in love with one of your friends, then you've already ruined the friendship through the simple involuntary act of wanting to fuck them. If you wanna wait it out and try to be friends again, do that. If you wanna act on it, do that. If you wanna sit on the sidelines and try to puppeteer a person into sleeping with you without letting them know that's what you're trying to do, then you're only technically not a rapist. And I wouldn't put that on a T-shirt, either.


JF Sargent is reporting live from the most dangerous zones in the world. Mock his other obvious shortcomings on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

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