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Gray Zones vs. Friend Zones

Photo by Luke Haubenstock (CC ’20)

Let me start of by saying that I personally, like all the fuck boys out there, hate the “friend zone”. I think it’s a candy-coated way of saying, “he’s (or she) is just not that into you”, and like any good realist, I am very anti-candy coated.

That being said, I don’t think the phenomenon can be simply ignored in the world of modern relationships. In fact, its contested definition and ambiguous nature remind me very much of an emerging field in IR: “gray zone conflicts”.

The Foreign Policy Research Institute defines gray zone conflicts as, “activity that is coercive and aggressive in nature, but that is deliberately designed to remain below the threshold of conventional military conflict and open interstate war.[*]

But Jamie, what does this have to do with the friend zone? Oh, let me tell you.

As a frequent resident of the undefined relationship zone, AND being a self-proclaimed aggressive flirt, I can safely say relationships today, especially in college, are 50 shades of gray (innuendo intended).

Let me paint a picture:

Two people, who are not very close friends, but are acquaintances, begin talking more and more. Suddenly, one person (B) starts to think “Hey I want to take this relationship to the next level” or “Damn, I never realized how sexy person A was before”. So, person B begins to escalate their actions, touching person A seductively on the shoulder, laughing at their jokes, etc.

Then, Person A and B get drunk together at a party, and kiss (maybe once or twice), but later on Person A tells Person B that they should just be friends. Person B tries to keep their cool, despite wanting more, and in attempts of salvaging the romance, stays Person A’s good friend. As the friendship continues to develop, Person B still has underlying hopes of making something happen with A. B dresses well, sends flirty snaps, talks about other love interests, and continues to test just how far it can push A into either:

  1. Entering into some sort of romance with B
  2. Completely ceasing all flirtation and romance and being the most boring of friends.

This essentially lasts until B gets over A or recognizes that it will never be, and that’s okay.

In this scenario, B is essentially forcing A into a gray zone conflict. Its neither romance nor friendship, but a blurry in-between area where feelings are a whirlpool of friendship and passion, just as a gray zone is neither war nor peace, but a conflict between the two.

Foreign Policy suggests fighting gray zone conflicts using unconventional warfare, such as Special Operation Forces. I however, have no suggestion for the non-military world. I can simply offer my condolences and best wishes to Person B, and hope one day a better relationship guru than I can figure this phenomenon out [*].

“Sex and the City… and Deterrence” runs alternate Fridays. To contact the writer or submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

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