Evolution and the Friend Zone

 How I discovered a quirk of evolution that explains the Friend Zone and other weird things that come up in dating. 

The Friend Zone

The Friend Zone

The first time I experienced the “Friend Zone” was in my first year of university. Her name was Iylana and she had bright green eyes and high cheekbones, and moved with this waify Russian elegance that drove me crazy. We sat next to one another in our first year political science class every Monday, and afterwards we would go for lunch or coffee and talk about whatever was on our minds.


She was still dating her highschool boyfriend, a guy who had dropped out in grade 11, and was working construction and selling pot on the side. She would complain about him regularly, and I would listen, attentively, as a nice guy would. We had things in common, she laughed at my jokes, and she would tell me I was “cute” on a regular basis.


Sometime after thanksgiving, we were sitting at the Second Cup Cafe on campus when I got the news I had been waiting for: she had broken up with her boyfriend. It was time for me to make my move.


“Now that you’re single, we should go on a date”, I said, only slightly awkwardly.


“Oh Chris. I really like you, but we’re just friends.” she said, and gave me a patronizing pat on the head.


I was confused.


So what, I thought to myself. After all, isn’t the best kind of relationship one where you’re friends first? Why wouldn’t she want to date her friend, as long as there was some attraction? I had met her boyfriend, and later I met the guys she dated, and it’s not like these guys were in a different league than I was – they were pretty plain dudes. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was trapped in the friend-zone  and they were not, and somehow that made them more datable than I was.


What is the Friend Zone?


The friend zone is a phenomena that guys everywhere have experienced. Most Love Systems students know it well. Usually it works like this: you meet a girl, you appear to have good chemistry and a lot in common. There may even be some sexual tension at the beginning. But for some reason or another, a romantic relationship doesn’t happen early on, and you become friends. Then, maybe weeks or months down the road, you try to make a move and turn things from a friend relationship to a romantic one, but it doesn’t work. You are stuck in the friend zone.


The thing that bugged me with the friend zone though is that is doesn’t really make sense. It would be one thing if women put guys in the friend zone when the guys don’t meet their standards, but the friend zone doesn’t really work that way. I’ve known guys who were rich, successful, confident and everything, yet they were put in the friend zone by women who were dating guys who were beneath them in apparently every way.


Now, there are definitely guys who are in the friend zone because they simply don’t measure up. Guys like this guy, this guy, and this guy aren’t just in the friend zone, they’re fools who will have a hard time getting anyone to like or respect them until they learn a little bit about how the world works.


But the friend zone isn’t just a “consolation prize” for guys who aren’t cool or attractive enough to be boyfriend material. Guys who might actually be attractive enough to be a boyfriend or a lover wind up being disqualified when they fall into the friend zone. There are plenty of good-looking, otherwise smooth guys who are stuck in the friend zone.


How could it be that becoming friends with a woman actually reduces your chances of starting a relationship with her? I decided to look into why, and I found some interesting evolutionary theories that would explain why this might be the case.


The Sexy Son Hypothesis: The Evolutionary Theory Behind the Friend Zone


The sexy son hypothesis is an evolutionary theory that Richard Dawkins describes in his book The Selfish Gene:

In a society where males compete with each other to be chosen as he-men by females, one of the best things a mother can do for her genes is to make a son who will turn out in his turn to be an attractive he-man. If she can ensure that her son is one of the fortunate few males who wins most of the copulations in the society when he grows up, she will have an enormous number of grandchildren. The result of this is that one of the most desirable qualities a male can have in the eyes of a female is, quite simply, sexual attractiveness itself. – Richard Dawkins

Now, Richard Dawkins is writing with the presumption is that sexual attractiveness is a physical characteristic. But sexual attractiveness in humans is both physical and behavioural. Women are not just attracted to guys who are good looking, they are also attracted to men who are confident, bold, passionate and assertive, amongst other things. These qualities are significantly more important than looks when it comes to generating attraction in women. I know this because I hang out with a lot of confident, bold, passionate and assertive guys who get a lot of women despite being pretty plain looking (the Love Systems team), and I know a lot of good looking guys who have little to no game.

So, if we assume that a) at significant portion of sexual success and attractiveness is behavioural ( “game” works), and b) a significant portion of this behaviour is heritable, then the Sexy Son Effect starts to apply to “game” as well.

It works like this: Imagine that there was a gene (or more likely, several genes) for “game”. Not only would it be advantageous for guys to have this gene, but more importantly, it would be advantageous for women to be attracted to guys who have this gene. Both the male genes for “game” and the female genes for “attracted to game” would wind up spreading within a population.

On the contrary, if we imagine a hypothetical “no game” gene, it would be advantageous for women to identify and avoid these guys, at least as reproductive partners. After all, hooking up with a guy who has a “no game” gene would lead you to have sons that have no game, and therefore significantly fewer grandchildren – even if the “no game” guy is otherwise an excellent mate choice.

The result is a sort of feedback effect in which game doesn’t just help you to EXPLOIT the attraction you already have, but it actually magnifies attraction. And to the contrary, having bad game, being hesitant and not being in touch with your sexuality doesn’t just prevent you from taking advantage of the attraction you have, but it actually destroys attraction, permanently. To quote the wikipedia article on the subject:

The theory will function regardless of the physical or behavioral trait a female chooses, as long as it is heritable, because it is possessing the trait that makes males attractive, and not the qualities of the trait in itself.

So, confidence, boldness and sexual competence are attractive in themselves – even coming from a guy who might not be considered sexy otherwise.


How does this relate to the friend zone then? 


Some guys fall into the friend zone simply because they don’t have what it takes to generate attraction with a particular woman. But more often, guys fall into the friend zone because they screwed up in the courtship process, and are getting weeded out by the Sexy Son Effect.  When you don’t take the first (or at least second) good opportunity to make a move on a woman, suddenly the Sexy Son Effect starts working against you. The result winds up looking a lot like the “Friendship Ladder Theory” (a popular friend zone analogy from a few years ago), in which women have two “ladders” they rank guys on – one for friends, and one for potential lovers.


The Ladder Friendzone Theory

The Ladder Theory of the Friendzone

The guys on the friendship ladder have the Sexy Son Effect working against them, the guys on the  “real” ladder have the Sexy Son Effect working in their favor – because they demonstrated sexual confidence and competence, while the guys on the friendship ladder did not. And the recursive power of evolution explains why it’s nearly impossible to move from the friendship ladder to the “real” one.


What this means.


The sexy son hypothesis explains a bunch of seemingly strange stuff that happens sexually that otherwise wouldn’t make sense. For example, these are all things I and other Love Systems instructors have observed over many years of experience that make sense only if you understand the sexy son hypothesis.


  1. If you almost seal the deal with a woman, but don’t make it happen, you rarely get another chance. (The One Kick at the Can Rule)
  2. Even confident, assertive women prefer to be passive and receptive the courtship process.
  3. The man almost always has to make the first move.
  4. Women often seem to make things intentionally difficult, even when they like you (Shit tests, etc)
  5. Escalation, boldness and making a move can actually CREATE attraction.
  6. Not making a move when a woman shows interest in you destroys attraction. (Don’t drop the ball!)
  7. You usually have about 3 dates or 10 hours (max) to turn things sexual with a woman, after that you’re going to hear “lets just be friends” nine times out of ten. (the 10 hour rule)

Attraction in women is fickle and harsh – they can love you one minute and the next minute they’re leaving and not even giving you their phone number. It seems irrational, until you understand the sexy son hypothesis, and that they are really selecting guys not just for their personal qualities, but for their skill at navigating and understanding female sexuality itself.


How do you avoid the FriendZone?


First, if you are stuck in the friend zone, my honest advice to you is to MOVE ON. You actually have a better chance of dating another girl of the same calibre that you didn’t drop the ball with in the first place. There is nothing more emotionally draining, confidence destroying and pathetic than a guy who is hopelessly in love with a female friend that isn’t into him. If you must, make a bold move and risk “ruining” the friendship. Otherwise, just walk away. Maybe you can be friends later when you’re over her, but you simply can’t be friends with someone you love unless they love you back. It’s soul-crushing.


The best strategy for dealing with the friend zone is to not get into it in the first place. That means you need to start showing interest in a woman and leading the interaction at the first good opportunity. Usually, this is when you first meet, but sometimes, such as when you work together, or if one of you is in a relationship, you can start moving things forward later. With Iylana from the opening paragraph, I probably should have started making a move as soon as I knew she was unhappy in her relationship, rather than waiting for months until they broke up. But learning game, making a move early and acting confidently is the secret to avoiding the Friend Zone in the future.

Good luck.

About Chris Shepherd

Chris Shepherd is a dating coach operating out of Montreal. He is a founder of Love Systems, the world's largest dating coaching company for men. He likes Led Zeppelin, greek philosophy and Hemingway, and hates bad dates, mediocrity and douchebags. He recommends the book Magic Bullets for men who want to improve their success with women.


  1. This article kicks ass!

  2. I completely agree. Another good point to take from this is that even if you are only moderately skilled or mediocre at best in the art of seduction you can effectively self-simulate a Sexy Son effect by reducing the quantity of consecutive interactions with the love interest of your choice precisely because the cognitive mechanism responsible for detecting “game” in the environment of our evolutionary adaptedness probably required relatively constant social monitoring on behalf of said female. In the modern world, it is virtually impossible for the same girl to continuously and tacitly track your in vivo social profile, which means you can actually signal alpha male qualities merely by reducing the amount of time you spend with any one female love interest because her cognition will fail to comprehend the difference between your lack of visual presence and the “game” you’re supposedly laying on other women she supposedly knows exist but whose identities she can’t actually verify.

  3. In sum, always be aloof. Don’t invest too heavily.

  4. I got friendzoned in grad school in much the same way: cute girl, great chemistry, long-distance mystery boyfriend. With hindsight, I realize she gave me plenty of openings, but I was too much of a niceguy to make a move on a girl with a “serious” boyfriend, and of course I didn’t want to ruin our friendship. There’s no guarantee that she would have gone along with it if I’d made a move, but I should have tried, and I definitely shouldn’t have worried about “ruining” our friendship—it was already ruined.

  5. How is someone beneath another person?

  6. The optimal strategy for a woman is to mate with the sexiest male (best quality genes) while at the same time allowing for second and third-tier mates (victims of the friend zone) to provide resources for her and her “sexy son” whilst concealing the true paternity of the child being reared. Let the friend-providors linger and fawn her with gifts and adoration while the secret lover impregnates her and continues his blood line. The friendzone literally means you’re an evolutionary failure. Get the hell out of it. More often than not a female friend will freak out and miss you far more than you will her should you decide to cut the tie. Test the waters. Let her primitive cognition fool herself into thinking youre actually the best mating option by playing hide and seek for a while.

  7. Can someone please explain to me how the “One Kick at the Can” rule fits in to the sexy son hypothesis? Why does “almost” sleeping with a woman essentially ruin your chances for another shot?

    • Basically, the idea is that if you turn down or blow it with women who want to hook up with you, even temporarily, you are practicing a really bad evolutionary strategy. So the sexy son effect would cause women to be less attracted to you.

  8. A Feminist says:

    I do love to play devil’s advocate, so I couldn’t help myself from commenting. Let me caveat that I find evolutionary biology fascinating, and I acknowledge the value in being aware of biological tendencies. But, does every relationship have to be reduced to that level? If we are a combination of evolutionary biology and social conditioning, what makes evolutionary biology “valid” and social conditioning not? Do biological urges really form a valid basis to justify every nuance of human behavior? Or do we say at some point that we are more than an animal following its biological urges, and that the evolutionary biology argument is simply being deployed as a crutch?

    For example, wouldn’t every push for “political correctness” be considered biologically invalid? You may say biological imperatives have no political agenda (political as defined in modern days) and therefore political correctness is moot, and i would agree with you. But can’t you attribute all the “-ism’s” in the world to evolutionary strength and the desire to ally oneself with the strongest tribe/mate, and to spurn the evolutionarily “weak”? So, sexism, racism, homophobia (ok that’s not an -ism) can also be attributed to evolutionary biology. Does this mean all the participants in the feminist movement, civil rights movement, glbt rights movement are evolutionary freaks (or at least weaklings)? In that case, i’m proud to be a freak (or a weakling).

    I realize this may be unpopular, and I may also be exaggerating your use of evolutionary biology. But call me naive, I would like to think that my ambitions exceed the desire to be a receptacle for the “strongest mate’s” seed. Of course, this argument may hold more truth for certain cross-sections of society (to use a stereotype, the club girls looking for a free drink, or better yet, a rich husband, and the men who capitalize on those girls’ desires).

    That being said, I think the PUA scene has a lot of validity, particularly in training men to action. But does it really need to evoke evolutionary biology as the be-all-and-end-all argument to justify every social interaction? Is it underestimating the risks (and consequences) of oversimplifying and making us less accountable for our behaviors? Simply put, coaching is great, in the same way that career services at a university is great. There’s a different success rate in applying to one job and going to that interview in my pj’s, vs sending my resume to 50 companies, interviewing at 20, and prepping well for those interviews. It’s a numbers game, and it’s simply a matter of quality of execution.

  9. Feminist,

    I think there is definitely a risk of taking evolutionary psychology way too seriously and vastly oversimplifying things, or just engaging in keyboard-jockey evo-psych speculation.

    But, in the end, if you’re going to give people advice on dating, you need to have a model for how human beings tick. And for me, evolutionary psychology is one of the best models out there for explaining attraction and sex. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t take into consideration the differences between individuals, but if I’m going to be giving advice on the internet to thousands of people at a time, you need to generalize.

    There’s the risk of falling into the naturalistic fallacy – that is, presuming that because something is natural or an evolved trait, it’s therefore “good” or acceptable, or conversely, that stuff that is unnatural is “bad”.

    The reality is that human nature has its good side and it’s bad side, and we have to chose what side we want to cultivate and let guide us. But in order to make that choice properly, we need to understand more about our nature, and evo-psych can help with that.

  10. The Friend Zone is like the Scholar’s checkmate in chess…It happens to the unexperienced players.

  11. Thanks for the reply, Chris.

    I’m still not 100% clear. Let me see if I understand–what you are saying is that, through their feminine intuition, women can “sniff out” a man’s reproductive strategy. Early on in an interaction, women may use this intuition to screen out the guys with a “lame” or “creepy” strategy; later, they may screen out the guys who don’t have the skill or the experience to take the relationship sexual. If a man’s strategy happens to be of the latter type, one that is not effective in “closing the deal” on a sexual relationship so to speak, she may lose attraction for him as dictated by the “sexy son” hypothesis. That is, her evolutionary, reptilian brain takes over because biological imperatives dictate that reproduction with said man may result in the production of sons who also will lack an effective reproduction strategy. Does that seem right?

    • Yep, that’s more or less what I’m saying.

      Basically, I’m taking a bunch of stuff I’ve observed (the friend zone, escalation is attractive, and the one kick at the can rule), and hypothesizing that they’re caused by the sexy son effect.

  12. Hey TM, by the way, I wasn’t able to comment on your blog in months. I somewhat notice a work around but not sure if it works. Let me know if this comment and my other had posted or not.

  13. I got this comment. Didn’t see the other one.

  14. @TM- Thinking about it now, is it possible that you can enable the plugin which will give commenters the option to tick a box to receive comment notification? Try to enable it plz so we can get e-mail notification of follow-up comments.

  15. Mike Roer says:

    This is a great article, I’d also like to add that getting out of the friend zone means never getting into it in the first place. this starts with confidence and a little arrogance. If you’re not good looking, then the key is knowing you want to overcome your shyness or whatever to get it. I had a lot of trouble in this arena. All girls I liked were friends. There is a lot of BS out there, online, in the real world. books, podcasts, whatever. bits and pieces might work, but I’ve found Ross Jeffries stuff to be the best stuff out there. He’s a lot different and since stumbling on his videos I’m excited to keep learning. check him out http://bit.ly/109pdL on youtube

  16. Great article, Chris! Just as all your other articles!
    I have had at least 2 failures with highly desirable girls, like you with Lylana. For example, i was waiting 3 years for one beautiful girs (who liked me very much) to break up with with his cheating boyfriend, i never said i word to her implying that she should break up with him. I was even hiding from her that he was cheating her. At the end, you know what happened? She found out that he was cheating on her, got mad on me because i was hiding that from her … and soon got married to him!
    I have learned a lot from that devastating experience. Life is a bitch, we could have been married now and i believe we would be successful couple (now, 20 years later she still likes me … although we very rarely meet). Don’t get me wrong, i got over her long time ago, i moved on and believe me i don’t regret , because i am still “on the market” and enjoy changing girls (not that frequently as you, not even close :-)) and she’s in the boring marriage while her husband still cheating on her.
    I was 20-something at that time and i did not have a clue about the Game.

    Keep up great work. I am becoming your true fan!


  1. […] When you don't strike while the iron is hot, you usually find yourself in the friend zone. I explain it here: Evolutionary Theory and the Origin of the Friend Zone […]

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