friend zone

[ frend-zohn ]
/ ˈfrɛnd ˈzoʊn /
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noun Slang.
a friendship in which one person, typically male, is romantically or sexually attracted to the other, but the attraction is not mutual: He's obviously in love with her but she keeps him in the friend zone.
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Origin of friend zone

First recorded in 1990–95

Other definitions for friend zone (2 of 2)

[ frend-zohn ]
/ ˈfrɛndˌzoʊn /

verb (used with object), friend-zoned, friend-zon·ing.
Slang. to put (someone) in the friend zone: He wonders why he's always getting friend-zoned by women he likes.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does friend-zone mean?

The friend-zone is a figure of speech for what happens when one person wants to take things to the next level romantically but the other person just wants to be friends.

Where does friend-zone come from?

We can thank the hit 1990s sitcom Friends for popularizing the phrase friend-zone. In a November 1994 episode from Season 1 of the show, the character Joey tells his friend Ross, who is in love with their mutual friend Rachel, he’s “mayor of the zone”: “Never gonna happen … You and Rachel … You waited too long to make your move, and now you’re in the friend zone.”

That’s to say Ross desperately wants to be involved with his friend Rachel, but Rachel only sees him as a friend—the plight of the friend-zone.

A similar use of friend-zone on a 2001 episode of the sitcom Scrubs, which imagined a literal friend-zone after a kiss from the character J.D. is rejected from his close friend Eliot. The friend-zone is crowded with Eliot’s other unrequited loves.

By the 2010s, friend-zone was a well-established trope in popular culture. Between 2011–13, MTV even ran a reality show called FriendZone, following poor souls trying to get romantically involved with their friends.

While often treated as a joke in media or a mild complaint in real relationships, the friend-zone also became the topic of some controversy in the later 2010s, with some feminist writers arguing that the concept of the friend-zone is sexist, shaming women for hurting men’s feelings because they don’t want to have sex with a guy who feels it is owed to him because he is kind.

These criticisms coincided with use of friend-zone in male corners of the internet, with sexist groups like incels (involuntary celibates) blaming women for friend-zoning them in favor of a hotter guy.

How is friend-zone used in real life?

If rejected, one is said to be in the friend-zone or friend-zoned. If rejecting, one is said to friend-zone another, though it’s usually the rejected person who’s using the term. While often used of heterosexuals, friend-zone isn’t exclusive to any type of romantic relationships.

The concept is the subject of many humorous observations, and the phrase gets casually used for romantic rejections between two people.

But, others do take it more seriously. So-called pick-up artists advise men on how to avoid the friend-zone while feminists call them out for sexual entitlement (thinking they get sex in exchange for being a nice guy).

More examples of friend-zone:

“So while we don’t know why Wise’s kiss was awkwardly rejected (maybe one of them was sick or perhaps she’s strictly against PDA), he wasn’t trying to break through the friend zone on the thrill of his Byron Nelson victory.”
—Andrew Joseph, USA Today, May, 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use friend zone in a sentence