Should You Try to Escape the Friend Zone?

Last week I tried to provide a bit of dating advice through an exploration of the half your age plus seven rule. This week, I'd like to continue on this theme by analyzing what you should do if you find yourself trapped in the friend zone.

For those of you not hip to the lingo, the friend zone is a sort of platonic purgatory people find themselves in when they have unrequited feelings for a close friend. It is a commonly held belief that one winds up in the friend zone by waiting too long to make a move, and though the friend zone is typically thought of as a place where men wind up, women can easily find themselves there too. Here's a link to Joey explaining the concept to Ross on an episode of Friends (sorry, embedding for the video has been disabled). For a satirical look at the zone, you may want to read this article from The Onion.

Suppose you find yourself trapped in the friend zone, and want to make a break for it by confessing your true feelings to your heart's desire. This is a risky proposition - if your feelings are not reciprocated, odds are good the friendship will suffer a blow, perhaps an irreparable one. It would be nice if you had some statistics to look over, so that you could get a sense of how frequently such a proclamation of love is successful. But how might one come across such figures?

One place to look is one of MTV's latest dating shows, the aptly named Friendzone. The show takes pairs of friends in which one pines for the other, and documents a confession of true feelings and the ramifications of such a confession. The confession is always made in a public place, and closes with the confessor asking his or her friend out on a date at their current location. Each episode of this show covers two couples and two confessions, so with MTV's commercial interruptions, each storyline takes about 10 minutes.

Here's the title card for the show.

After fast forwarding my way through many of these episodes (though I must admit, I watched many of them as well), I have collected data on 75 pairs of friends, which I would now like to share with you. Of course, because we must always take the word "reality" in "reality television" with several grains of salt, this data is undoubtedly biased. With this caveat in mind, I thought it would be fun to poke around and see what we could find.

Here's the summary: of the 75 pairs of friends, males were the ones to confess romantic feelings in 38 of them, while females accounted for the other 37. I wouldn't read too much into this though, as I imagine the show probably tries to balance the sexes. In other words, I wouldn't look to this show to address the question of whether men or women are more likely to get trapped in the friend zone. Once they try to make an escape, though, we can look at the results of this show to see whether or not one sex is more successful than another.

Of the 38 men who confessed their love and asked for a date, 25 received a yes, for a success rate of about 65.8%. For women, the numbers are a little better: 30 out of 37 received a yes, for a success rate of around 81.1%. This difference seems large, but because of the relatively small sample sizes, it's not actually statistically significant for any reasonable confidence interval (you can verify this quickly using an online calculator, if you like). Conclusion: if you're a guy confessing your feelings, it's possible that the deck is stacked against you slightly.

One can also flip the script a bit, and ask about the sex of the person being asked, rather than the sex of the person doing the asking. These questions are not equivalent, since occasionally the show features same-sex pairs of friends. In this case, 39 women were asked on a date, of whom 27 accepted, while 36 men were asked on a date, of whom 28 accepted. Again, the differences are noticeable, though not quite significant. Here's a chart illustrating these four cases.

Click to embiggen!

Of course, this is only part of the story. What if your friend says yes to the date, but only because you put him on the spot, or he feels bad saying no? Nobody wants to hear a yes out of pity. Thankfully, since the show follows the pair on the date if it occurs, we can see how many of these dates are actually pity dates. We can also investigate whether one sex is more likely to say "yes" out of pity than another, though again, it is difficult to draw statistically significant conclusions.

For the guys: of the 25 who received a "yes" to the date, 7 of them discovered on the date that their friend was not interested in pursuing a relationship. This means that the number of successful relationships formed from the confession drops from 25 out of 38 to 18 out of 38, or around 47.4%. For the ladies, 8 of the 30 dates turned out to be pity dates, bringing the success rate down to 22 out of 37 from 30 out of 37. Here's a modified chart, where date acceptance has been replaced by relationship acceptance.

Click to embiggen!

As before, we see men who do the asking fare slightly worse than women, though the difference is once again not statistically significant.

I should note that occasionally, if the date is successful, the show will do a follow-up on the couple one month afterwards. Sometimes this changes the results - usually the couple is still together, but sometimes they are not. Conversely, in one instance a man was rejected during the date, but one month later the couple had reconciled. Such situations will alter the data here, but since the follow-up only happens occasionally, I have ignored their effects here.

As to whether or not one sex is more likely to accept a date out of pity, the results are once again statistically insignificant. To get more reliable results, one would need to watch many more episodes. Frankly, I don't think I'm prepared to keep investing in this show, but I would invite you to take on the challenge if you feel so inclined.

Should you try to escape the friend zone? Of the 75 couples discussed here, 55 went on dates, and 40 began a relationship on the show. This gives a success rate of over 50%. Of course, in the long term the picture is murkier. The moral here, I suppose, is that one should rarely look to reality shows for dating advice.

Psst ... did you know I have a brand new website full of interactive stories? You can check it out here!

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