How To Get Out Of The ‘Friend Zone’ Without Making Things Weird

two female friends walking through the city
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Falling for a friend might sound ideal for plenty of people. Who wouldn’t want to wake up each morning to someone with whom you’ve already shared dozens of inside jokes and memories? But in reality, there are often some roadblocks in the journey from friends to lovers. For example, maybe your buddy doesn’t necessarily see you in the same light... at least, at first.

The “friend zone” is a pretty controversial concept. Some fear it, while others refute its very existence. But whether you believe in the zone or not, getting stuck there—a.k.a. realizing you have feelings for a friend who sees you as that and nothing more—is rarely fun.

If you find yourself getting heart eyes for a pal after a few months of shared laughs and deep chats, it’s important to know that you’re not wrong for how you feel. That said, there isn’t a guarantee the other person will want your platonic connection to become romantic. But friendships can evolve over time, too, says Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, a licensed relationship therapist and author of MAN*ifesting: A Step-By-Step Guide to Attracting the Love That's Meant for You. “If you feel that the one you love is not ready to leave the friend zone, it doesn't mean they will never be ready or willing to have a romantic relationship.”

Stuck in the friend zone right now, and wondering what to do next? Worried about your crush ending with you feeling crushed? Ahead, relationship experts explain how to know you’re in the friend zone—and share the best ways to get out.

Meet the Experts: Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, is a licensed relationship therapist and author of MAN*ifesting: A Step-By-Step Guide to Attracting the Love That's Meant for You. Morgan Anderson, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist, relationship coach, and author of Love Magnet. Sarah Schewitz, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and founder of Couples Learn in California.

What is the friend zone?

Have you found yourself feeling butterflies around a friend, but you’re not sure whether they share your affection? Maybe you flirt with them every time you go out with a group, but you can’t tell if they’re picking up on the vibes? If you know how you feel but aren’t sure where your pal stands, it’s likely that you’re in the friend zone.

“The friend zone is essentially a way to label a relationship that removes romantic intent. It makes it clear that one or both parties are not interested in pursuing a romantic relationship,” says Morgan Anderson, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, relationship coach, and author of Love Magnet. “The friend zone does exist, and many people experience rejection and pain when [they’re in it], if they were hoping for a romantic connection.” But, take heart: It isn’t the end of the world—and you don’t have to be stuck there forever.

What are some signs I'm in the friend zone?

It can be harder to gauge whether your friend may have feelings for you if the friendship is new or they’re more reserved when sharing personal things. That said, there are some telltale signs that you’re in the friend zone, experts say.

1. They emphasize the platonic nature of your connection.

If your crush regularly points out your role as their friend, it’s likely you’re in the friend zone. This can manifest in the form of “friendship language,” or monikers including “buddy,” “pal,” “bro,” or even “friend,” says Bronstein. This is especially the case if they use these words “in response to compliments or expressions of affection from you,” she adds.

2. You often hang out in group settings.

You might be in the friend zone if you’re finding it difficult to plan one-on-one hangouts with your crush, says Anderson. Are they always bringing along another person when you grab drinks together, or do they typically suggest inviting the group chat when you ask them to see a movie together? This may be a surefire indicator of the friend zone.

3. Flirting isn’t mutual.

Whether your friend is oblivious to your efforts or they’re intentionally trying to redirect the conversation, Bronstein notes that the friend zone usually involves one-sided flirting. This sign might be hard to read at first—after all, people can have different flirting styles—but it will likely become obvious over time if your flirty comments or banter are consistently unmatched.

4. They talk about their love life with you.

If your crush regularly vents to you about their bad dates or frustrations with dating apps, or if they often gush about their own crushes, they probably see you as *just* their friend. Anderson notes that an openness about their dating prospects likely means they don’t share your vision for a romantic future—otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be as forthcoming about their latest hookup or Tinder match.

5. They play matchmaker.

You’re probably in the friend zone if “they try to set you up with someone else, which is a clear signal they only see you as a friend,” Bronstein says. Think about it this way: If they felt you may be a romantic match for them, would they really encourage you to see other people?

How do I get out of the friend zone?

If you've already made your feelings known and your friend doesn't feel the same way, it's important to respect their position—after all, you don't want to force a relationship with someone who might not reciprocate your feelings. But if you haven't yet tested the waters, it’s not impossible for a platonic connection to grow into a romantic one. In fact, sometimes catching feelings for a friend can start the best kind of relationship because you already have a solid foundation of mutual trust and appreciation.

Itching to get out of the friend zone and light that spark? Here’s what experts recommend:

1. Value your friendship first.

Approaching a friend about your romantic feelings can catch them off guard or even send them into a panic about the future of your friendship, especially if they don’t feel the same way. So, make it clear that you value their place in your life above all, whether they also want to date you or not, says Sarah Schewitz, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and founder of Couples Learn in California.

“If it’s true, let your friend know that you want to continue the friendship with them whether or not they are interested in becoming more than just friends,” she says. “Let them know you can put your feelings aside and continue an authentic friendship but you would really like to explore being more than friends.”

2. Consider how your friendship could be impacted right now.

Sharing your feelings with a friend requires a fair amount of bravery (hence why it seems so romantic in fictional contexts), but it will benefit both you and your connection to think before you act. Can your friendship bounce back if your attraction isn’t reciprocated?

“The biggest thing to consider is whether you think the friendship can survive an awkward conversation if you confess your feelings and your friend does not feel the same way,” says Schewitz. If the answer is no, you should consider whether you value your friendship with them more than your need to get those feelings off your chest.

3. Think about the future, too.

Say they are down to try a romantic relationship. (Nice!) This is great news, but keep in mind that no matter how long you have been friends, trying to step out of the friend zone has the potential to alter your relationship with someone permanently, says Schewitz. You should think about how your friendship might change—or whether it can even continue—if you both give a romantic connection a shot and things don’t work out. If your chemistry doesn’t translate into a dating vibe, consider the potential that things might feel awkward if you try and step back into a platonic friendship.

4. Start slowly.

Although your excitement about your crush can be overwhelming (and generally isn’t a bad thing), Anderson suggests taking “baby steps” when it comes to sharing how you feel with your friend. Rather than sweeping romantic gestures or bombarding them with a love confession, you can test the waters by throwing in a flirty comment here and there.

Been there, done that? Another way to showcase your interest is by catering to their love language in small ways. For example, you can playfully ask if they dressed up “for you” the next time they look nice during a hangout (words of affirmation), or surprise them with their favorite coffee when you meet up next (gift-giving).

5. Point out the benefits of a romantic relationship.

Even before you spill the beans, you can start planting seeds about a potential relationship with your friend. Share—subtly or directly—the reasons you feel like you both would make a good romantic match, suggests Schewitz. “Explain to them why [you feel this way]. Do you have a lot in common? Are you comfortable discussing hard topics with each other? Do you have similar values?”

While you can also do this (or mention some of those seeds you've planted) in a more formal way while divulging your feelings, it doesn't hurt to passively throw in those observations over time and gauge the other person's reaction. Sometimes, mentioning the pros of taking your friendship to the next level can bring more awareness to things your friend may not have given much thought to before.

6. Mind their boundaries.

It goes without saying that consent is key, and you should always consider your friend’s comfort level and needs. Taking a major risk, like uninitiated physical touch or an overtly suggestive comment, can backfire quickly.

“Respecting the other person's feelings and boundaries is essential if you find yourself in the friend zone,” Bronstein explains. “Clear and honest communication can help both parties understand and navigate the relationship better, whether it remains platonic or has the potential to develop into something more.”

7. Approach the concept gently.

Opening up a dialogue about your feelings and showing vulnerability can go a long way. Making sure your friend feels safe and welcome to share whatever they’re feeling—whether it's aligned or at odds with what you expressed—is critical, too. “You can start off by saying something like: ‘I know we both value honesty, and because I care about you, I want to be honest with you. While we have a great friendship, I've found myself curious about building a romantic connection with you. Have you ever thought about it?’ Anderson says.

8. Find the right time.

If your friend is complaining to you about their ex reaching back out or if you’re chilling together at a group movie night, you may want to hold off on trying to get out of the friend zone. Choosing the right moment to start the conversation about your feelings for them is key, Bronstein says: “Find a good time to have this conversation where you both have privacy and enough time to discuss your feelings without being rushed.”

This can also be a clear way to show your friend that you aren’t trying to rush into transitioning your relationship, and that you’ve considered them and their comfort before starting the conversation, she adds. It’s important to note, however, that if your friend is already in a relationship or if they’re going through a difficult time and you know it wouldn’t be fair to spring your feelings on them, it’s best to hold off.

9....but make sure to speak up before it’s too late.

As long as you think they're in the mindset to have the convo—and they aren't hung up on someone else—it’s wise to address your feelings as soon as you feel prepared to. This can save you from regret or resentment down the line, says Bronstein.

“Be honest and direct. Own your truth, honor your voice, and share your feelings,” she says. “You never want to look back and wish you would've said something. Even if it's not the desired outcome, at least you know you tried.”

10. Don’t pressure them.

At the end of the day, you still want to be a good friend. “Avoid giving them an ultimatum between romance or ending the friendship,” Bronstein says. “This is unfair, and can damage the potential relationship and the existing friendship.”

Once again, consent is key, and respecting your friend should be the first priority. Even if you feel strongly that you would make a great couple, the decision isn’t entirely up to you. Putting pressure on them or being pushy is never okay, and making your friend feel comfortable, heard, and validated can go a long way.

What do I do if I have unrequited feelings for a friend?

Sharing your heart with a friend you’re attracted to takes courage, and you deserve to feel proud that you took the leap regardless of the outcome. Even if they don’t feel the same way about you, you can still feel at least a little relief knowing that you spoke your truth and didn’t bottle it up.

Unrequited feelings for a friend don’t have to mean that the friendship is over, either. While Anderson recommends taking a slight step back from the friendship if you feel like you need time to heal from the rejection, she also points out that "rejection is redirection," meaning it can lead to something even better down the line. So, taking time for self-care and putting your energy toward attracting the relationship you want can help.

Above all, the most important thing to keep in mind when a friend doesn’t reciprocate your feelings is that it doesn’t define who you are—and it doesn’t mean you’re any less of an amazing person. “Remember that just because someone isn’t attracted to you romantically, it doesn’t mean you are unattractive or unlovable,” Schewitz says. “One person‘s opinion does not define you or your worth. If this is not your person, that’s because there’s someone else out there who is even better suited for you.”

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