The Truth About Getting Out Of The Friend Zone + How To Go From Friends To Romance
Wanting to be with someone who sees you as a friend can be a disappointing and sometimes agonizing experience. The good news is that people go from being friends to lovers all the time, and many long-term relationships have started from a solid friendship first. However, it's also important not to pressure people or play games with their feelings in your attempt to "get out of the friend zone."
Let's discuss the best ways to approach this tricky situation.
What is the "friend zone"?
The "friend zone" is a term some people use to describe a situation where one person is physically or romantically attracted to someone who sees them as a friend. Typically, the friend has made their interest known and gotten a rejection, with the object of their affection making it clear they want to remain friends.
Notably, the term "friend zone" has been heavily criticized over the years because of the way it discourages friendly behavior (particularly between men and women), encourages pushing back against people's boundaries, and implies that romantic attention or sexual access can be earned, owed, or teased out of someone. In general, it's important to avoid language (or behavior) that faults people for saying no or treats someone's "no" as negotiable. (That's why you'll see us mostly avoiding the term "friend zone" throughout this article.)
That isn't to say that some people won't sometimes change their minds about a friend and decide they're open to romance with them when they previously weren't. However, how you—as the friend—approach this situation is key to ensuring the relationship (whatever form it takes) feels good for both people.
12 signs they see you as a friend:
- They talk to you about their other romantic interests and dates.
- They seek advice or support from you about their other romantic relationships.
- They don't reciprocate or "play ball" when you try to flirt with them.
- They only hang out with you in group settings.
- They rarely touch you physically, or the way they touch you is similar to how they touch their other friends.
- They generally treat you similarly to how they treat their other friends.
- They dress up when they're trying to impress but dress very casually around you.
- They talk about unsexy topics with you (e.g., pooping, period cramps, etc.)
- They ask for random, annoying, or highly practical favors from you.
- They refer to you as their friend or say you're "like a brother/sister to me."
- They don't try to initiate any flirting, romantic plans, or situations that could lead to romance.
- They actively subvert, end, or avoid any one-on-one situations with you where romance could potentially transpire.
While the above are signs that someone sees you as a friend, remember that people are different and have different ways of interacting with their friends and romantic interests. Some people flirt with their friends just for fun even though they wouldn't want anything more. Some people will happily talk to their crushes about the big shit they took this morning. Some people might see you as a friend and have a crush on you simultaneously, so their behavior might be a mix of both friendly interactions and flirty interactions. (Here's our full guide on how to know if someone likes you.)
If you're truly unsure where this person stands, make a move and see if it's reciprocated—or just ask them directly and let them tell it to you straight.
How to go from just friends to something more:
Get comfortable with rejection.
Getting comfortable with rejection is key to dating in general, and in this case, it'll help you explore your options with this friend of yours without desperation or all-or-nothing thinking. When you can approach the situation with a cooler head, you'll be less prone to making missteps that hurt (and actually push away) the object of your affection.
It can be hard to grok when you're deep in the depths of your desire, but try to remember that even if this person ultimately decides they have zero interest in pursuing something with you, it isn't the end of the world. There are other people out there who are going to be excited to hold your hand and/or jump your bones, without you needing to painstakingly draw it out of them. You're also going to feel this way again about someone else, promise. (Just going to leave this list of the best dating apps on the market right here, in case you need a reminder of all the attractive people out in the universe.)
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Make a move.
First things first: Have you actually made your interest in this person known? If you haven't tried a little flirtatious volley yet, start there to gauge the temperature. Sometimes a playful touch on the arm, a suggestive comment over drinks, or a little sensual eye contact is all you need to convey your interest—and get some in return.
Pay attention to how they receive your gesture: Are they flirting back, or do they seem uncomfortable and standoffish? If they're playing ball and are signaling attraction, you can continue upping the ante by making bolder moves (pro tip: "I really want to kiss you right now" and "I really want to take you out sometime" are classics for a reason). If they're trying to sidestep your advances, back off—don't make them uncomfortable by pushing it when they're clearly putting up the stop sign.
Read the room.
In some cases, it may not actually be appropriate for you to suddenly make a move without a conversation first. This might be true in cases where you've been friends for a long time or have only ever known each other in a strictly nonromantic and nonsexual context. If you suspect that revealing your romantic interest may be a total shock or even potentially distressing to this person, or you know they'll need time to think before deciding if they want to pursue things with you, don't just jump in with a kiss or a bold gesture—it could set that person off in a way that's not good for either of you.
Make your feelings known.
Sometimes the right move is simply telling your friend that you have feelings for them directly and seeing how they react. This is especially a good approach if you two are good friends or have been friends for a long time. At some point when the two of you are alone and able to really talk (i.e., probably not when either of you is under the influence of any substances or going through a stressful situation), sit this person down for a heart-to-heart and let them into how you've been feeling.
While confessions naturally feel a little dramatic, try your best to keep it light as opposed to making the moment feel intense and pressurized. Let them know that they can take their time to think about it. Here are some potential ways to say it:
- "This might be weird because it's us, but…would you ever be interested in going out with me sometime?"
- "I've really been wanting to ask you out. Would you be open to that?"
- "This might be a lot, but I really want to tell you this: I've been having feelings for you lately, and I've been wondering if you might feel the same."
- "Can I tell you something? I think I might like you as more than a friend. I think you're X / I love Y about you, and I think we could be a really amazing couple. What do you think?"
- A helpful add-on to any of the above: "No is an OK answer! No pressure, and I'm down to keep being friends if that's what you prefer. But I had to ask because it's been on my mind for a while."
Avoid pressure or badgering.
If at first you don't succeed, do not try, try, try again.
If your friend tells you they aren't interested in you, respect their answer. Avoid pressuring them to change their mind or making them feel guilty for not reciprocating your feelings. There's always a chance they could change their mind, but it needs to come from them authentically—not as a result of you wearing them down. Constantly making efforts to push romance can make them uncomfortable or, worse, feeling the need to cut you out completely—the opposite of what you ultimately want.
Prioritize their comfort, well-being, and agency. Not only because that's what a healthy relationship is all about but also because people notice when other people care about and respect their boundaries. It makes them feel safer around you and more likely to want to connect with you in the future.
Release your expectations.
After rejection from a friend you're interested in, it's important to reframe your mindset around them. They may change their mind with time, or they might not—and it's important to make peace with both outcomes. If you can release the need to actualize your attraction in a specific way, you can continue to enjoy the company of this person exactly as is. You don't need to stop liking them, and you don't even need to give up hope that it could happen someday. You just need to remove the pressure and the ulterior motives so you can both focus on enjoying what you have.
Be a true friend to this person, without strings attached. As they spend more time sharing experiences with you and developing rapport with you, they may realize they're becoming open to something romantic with you. The key is to keep the door open while also being content even if nothing ever comes of it.
Remember: Being someone's friend is not actually a demotion or a bad thing— it's actually an invitation for closeness, just of a different type. It indicates that someone actually likes you as a person and wants to keep you in their life, as opposed to romantic or sexual partners which can often be fleeting. While that can feel hard to appreciate when you are craving a different kind of relationship with them, it's important to keep that perspective.
Don't play games.
There's a lot of bad internet advice out there telling people in this position to start playing coy, withholding affection, being a little less nice or a little more dismissive, or other childish mind games. Don't buy into it. These are all essentially manipulation tactics, many of them mired in objectifying your crush and turning them into a prize to be won rather than a human being worthy of agency and care. Rise above it—not only because it's mean-spirited and can lead to toxic relationship dynamics but also because most people these days are much more attracted to authenticity, maturity, and a kind heart than they are to archaic and harmful tropes about "the chase."
Flirt where appropriate.
Now, none of this is to say that you can't be a little playful or even a little flirty with your friend, in some cases even after rejection. Some friends have a dynamic between them where a little flirting or openness about ongoing attraction (even if one-sided) can still be cute and entertaining.
Being upfront that your feelings are still there can also let them know that they can come back around to the idea of dating you whenever they're ready. Again, just make sure to read the room—if they don't respond well to your overtures, ease off. Pressure is not sexy.
What is sexy? Confidence. You can convey your interest in someone without being desperate for them to return the feelings; you can get rejected and still keep your head held high. If your friend is ever going to change their mind about dating you, it'll likely come from seeing you continuing to thrive, being your same ol' fun and goofy self, pursuing other people, and genuinely supporting them as a friend without self-deprecation or self-serving motives.
And in case it needs reminding: Someone's lack of romantic interest in you doesn't mean you're not a desirable person or partner. It just means you weren't the right fit for this specific person at this specific time in their life, and that's OK.
Expand your circle.
Hang out with a new group of friends, start dating other people, and lean into your hobbies and passions. By expanding your circle and focusing on other parts of your life, you'll find yourself more able to feel more authentically content about remaining friends with your crush for the time being. That breathing room will relieve the pressure on your friend, and seeing you thriving can actually help them start to see you in a new light. A person living a full and exciting life is always attractive, after all.
Take space from the friendship if necessary.
Sometimes, remaining friends with someone who you have strong feelings for is just too hard for you or too uncomfortable for them. It's also important not to pretend to be someone's friend just because you're hoping one day they'll change their mind. Nobody needs a fake friend, and it can actually be really devastating to learn that a close friend has only been nice to you all this time because they were trying to get something out of you. If you're unable to release your expectations for more, and you can't see yourself caring about this person even if nothing ever happens between you, then it may be time to end the friendship or take a break from it.
You may be able to come back to a friendship (or something more intimate) again in the future, once the heightened emotions have cooled. Reconnecting after time apart can help you two start fresh and gives the other person the opportunity to see you in a new, potentially more intriguing light.
Let them come to you.
As much as you might want to hack your way into being more than friends, at the end of the day, remember that only they can decide whether they're going to change their mind about you. You can make your feelings known, but from there, they'll need to come around to the idea of dating you on their own. The best way to increase those odds, ironically, is giving them space while continuing to be friendly toward them and living your own best life. Let them come to you if that's what they ultimately decide they want to do.
Can you ever go from the friend zone into a relationship?
It's possible to go from being friends into something more if both people are romantically interested in each other and open to giving it a try. Lots of married couples started as friends before they realized they had feelings for each other. However, it's important to respect the other person's boundaries and give them space if they decide they're not interested. They may very well change their minds with time, but it needs to come from them authentically.
Should you end the friendship after being friend zoned?
You should only remain in the friendship if you genuinely care about this person and intend to be a true friend to them, without ulterior motives or expectations for more. If you're only going through the motions of being their friend because you're hoping you can get something out of them later (romance or sex), then that's not a true friendship—and you should end it. It's unfair and harmful to let the other person develop trust in you as a friend, only to find out your friendship is conditional, self-serving, or likely to be rescinded if you don't eventually get what you want.
How do I change her mind about just being friends?
Some people change their minds about being "just" friends with someone after developing comfort, ease, and rapport with them over time, or once they see their friend in a new light because of a new setting, new dynamic, or learning of the friend’s romantic feelings. However, it's important not to use pressure, deception, or furtive tactics to try to manipulate someone's feelings or change someone's mind about you. Honor the trust she's giving you as her friend, and back out of the situation if you can't. At the end of the day, you can't force somebody to be romantically interested in you, and it's important to respect her boundaries and right to say no.
It's disappointing to hear the person you're interested in tell you they just want to be friends, i.e., getting friend-zoned. It's up to you whether you want to continue being friends or move on, depending on how much you feel able to be a true friend to them. People do change their minds all the time, and it's always possible that someone who wasn't interested in you before will become interested in you later. You'll just need to give them a little breathing room and let them decide for themselves. In the meantime, continue being a cool and kind person—both because it's attractive and because it's the healthy thing to do.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter