'I Love You Like A Brother' — Why Women & Girls Create Boundaries To Protect Themselves From Guy Friends

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Brotherzone
Self

You’ve heard of the friendzone in all its male-entitlement glory, but now there's a new term: Brotherzone. 

The brotherzone and its precursor, the friendzone, are phenomena that men have come to scorn, but there is a reason women need these “zones” and — spoiler alert — it’s not because they just love rejecting their male friends. 

Boundaries are necessary for all relationships, romantic and platonic, but for women with male friends, boundaries are almost a means of survival. 

In a world where men cross the line and place women in uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous, situations on a daily basis, it's perfectly justifiable for women and girls to find ways to keep some of their male friends from pursuing them romantically or sexually.

What is the brotherzone? 

Urban Dictionary describes the brotherzone as, “Similar to the friend zone, but much, much worse.” Because, of course, the only thing worse than a woman considering you a friend is a woman considering you close enough to be her family. 

When guys use terms like this, they aren't intended to be positive — or even neutral.

The terms “friendzone” and “brotherzone” are born from the minds of men who wanted a romantic or physical relationship with their female friends and were met with disappointment when these girls and women don't feel the same way back.

The truth is, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to pursue the feelings you have for your female friends. Nor is there any shame in being a little hurt if it doesn’t work out. 

However, where we go wrong is when we create an entire vocabulary around being rejected by women.

The term “brotherzone” shames women for exercising their right to say “no.” 

The term carries expectations about what women owe men and assumes that women should only be so happy that their male friends are showering them with this unwanted attention. 

By implying that being friends with a woman is somehow “worse” than her accepting your advances, brotherzone and friendzone also render women unworthy of friendship. For men, it's the ultimate insult, but imagine how this feels for women who realize their male friends were only ever looking for sex? 

Polls have shown most Americans are wary of friendship with the opposite sex, with nearly two-thirds of people saying that we should take “extra caution” around opposing genders. 

This kind of thinking, and the condemnation of the “brotherzone,” is antithetical to the importance of friendship, which are no less important when they’re not romantic. 

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Men friendzone women too, but they'll often still sleep with them. 

Most male friends I’ve had have tried to explain this to me — and expected me to be flattered by it: “Guys and girls can be friends but he’ll still want to sleep with her.” 

Surveys have shown that men, regardless of their relationship status, are much more likely to entertain sexual feelings toward their female friends than the other way around. 

The ideology advanced by those who criticize the brotherzone and actively seek out sexual connections with female friends is that men are more opportunistic when it comes to dating and sex. Give them the chance and they just won’t be able to say “no.” 

It’s the kind of logic that makes women responsible for creating boundaries while men seek out strategies to duck and dive them. 

We spoke to Caithlin, a dater in her 20s who has found herself on the dispensing end of the brotherzone when navigating friendships and relationships with male peers. She says the term was never meant as an insult. 

“For me, personally, I tend to place boundaries between myself and new people I've just met. When it comes to male friends, the most obvious way I know I can do it is by treating them like my brothers.”

It makes sense. Tell your male friends you love them like a brother and you’re not only establishing a clear line in your friendship, you’re also showing them love. So, why is this kind of sentiment framed as an insult, by some? 

In a patriarchal Western culture that still values dominant masculinity, heterosexual relationships often involve men chasing women and attempting to renegotiate the friendship rather than the other way around. 

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Stop making women feel bad for wanting male friends. 

Of course, for the sake of the “not all men” brigade, it should be clarified that there are plenty of guys out there who will happily take their place in the brotherzone. Caithlin has had a mixed experience with her male friendships.  

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“I've met some guys who establish friendship with the purpose of wanting to go out and there are those who genuinely want to be friends.”

She tells us about one of most memorable times a male friend pushed back against her calling them her “bro.” This friend would later become her boyfriend. 

“When I first used the term on my now ex, he wasn't thrilled about it because he definitely was aiming for something more than just friendship,” she says. 

This reaction is somewhat understandable, no one wants to be shut down by their crush. And in Caithlin’s case, this friendship was able to naturally develop into a romantic relationship when given the space and time to do so. 

But framing this as a relationship-ending insult is disrespectful to those who just want their male friends to be close to them without any other expectations. 

It also puts women in uncomfortable situations where they feel responsible for preserving their male friend’s pride, even at the expense of their own feelings.

“It honestly makes me feel a little guilty because I haven't developed the attraction to them or feel the same way,” Caithlin tells us. She speaks for many women who are made to feel shamed by this culture of condemning healthy male-female friendships. 

“I know that I owe them no reciprocation and it's not my responsibility, but I can't help but feel guilty, sometimes.”

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.