The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Plato’s allegory guides individuals through the world of friend-zoning

4 min read
By JACOB ATKINSON It is very difficult to find a man who has not heard some rendition of the phrase, “Oh, you're such a good friend!” from a woman that he was interested in.

The Blue & Gray Press / Izzy Briones


It is very difficult to find a man who has not heard some rendition of the phrase, “Oh, you’re such a good friend!” from a woman that he was interested in. Quite often, people refer to the use of these phrases as being “friend-zoned.” In other words, you have romantic feelings for someone but they only want to be friends. Personally, I have been on the hopeful romantic side of this equation more times than I would like to admit, but it has given me a unique insight into the widely used expression, “friend-zoned.”

Over the last few years I have immersed myself in the world of philosophy, and through this I found the intersection of philosophy and the friend-zone.

When choosing classes for my senior year of high school I immediately signed up for a course that caught my eye, “The World of Ideas,” or as others began to call it, “The Basics of Philosophy.” Throughout the course, we covered philosophical topics such as logic, ethics and truth.

When studying truth, we delved into Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave.” After reading it a few times and researching it on YouTube and Google, I realized that being in the friend- zone is eerily similar to Plato’s allegory, and here is why.

Plato’s allegory begins with the description of a group of subjects that are shackled to the floor of a dark cave. They are focused on the wall that is in front of them and they know nothing but the shadows that occasionally appear. To the subjects, these shadows are truth, knowledge and existence. This is the first step in the cave and where we can begin drawing connections to our friend-zone allegory. In the first stage our subject, let’s call him John, is very close friends with a girl, let’s call her Jane. John has been hoping for weeks now that Jane feels the same way he does, but he fails to realize that she only sees him as a friend. It is easy to see that both Plato’s subjects and John are vulnerable to a blissful ignorance that is preventing them from seeing the truth.

The second step of both allegories is spurred from outside influences. In the cave, one of the subjects is given reason to question where the shadows are coming from and searches for the source. He finds that the shadows are being made by someone behind them and his entire perception of the world is changed. Much like in Plato’s allegory, John is going about his day quite happily when all of a sudden, his friends stop him and try to convince him that Jane does not feel the same way. He shrugs off their warnings as if they are ludicrous, but he then starts to consider how she really feels. I believe that the second step in both allegories represents a cognitive evolution that causes both subjects to question their original beliefs.

The search for the truth is our third step, and the exit from Plato’s cave. The subject discovers the puppeteer that makes the shadows and his ignorance is shattered. He begins to question, and search for the truth. Finding the exit to the cave is the key to enlightenment, and the lone subject eventually finds his way out. Enlightenment was not far away for John either as he began a similar search for truth. He started by paying more attention to Jane’s mannerisms around him, and he waits for any indicators of being friend-zoned.

After an awkward side hug and being called a “great friend” several times in one evening, John realized his friends were right. This realization changed the way he perceived the friendship and ultimately it unveiled her true feelings. It occurred to me when reading about the third step in Plato’s allegory that the discovery of truth can entirely change your perspective, much like in a personal relationship.

The final step of Plato’s allegory and John’s story go hand in hand as they return to their previous situations. Plato’s subject returns to the cave to either explain to the other subjects that there is an entirely new world just outside, or because he could not handle the truth of the outside world. Mimicking the subject, John ultimately returns to Jane either to let her know that she should be more clear when it comes to her feelings, or because he would rather be ignorant to the truth and continue hoping that she may one day take him out of the friend-zone.

12 thoughts on “Plato’s allegory guides individuals through the world of friend-zoning

  1. I always respond to the accusations of being friend-zoned with “why are you girfriend-zoning me?” The fact is, neither gender owes the other a romantic relationship just for being nice. “Friend-zoned” is just a term used for the butthurt.

  2. How on earth did the editorial staff let this through? The bar’s never been very high but this is scraping the bottom of the barrel, unless it’s meant to deliberately stir up controversy, given the recent, shall we call them, troubles, at UMW (e.g., Title IV suit, Grace Mann murder, etc.).

    Mr. Atkinson, what exactly gives you such a self-proclaimed “unique insight” into being “friend-zoned,” other than being put in such a position? Sorry (not sorry), but that’s not very unique. Nor is your mis-application of Plato’s allegory. Nor, unfortunately, is the way you end your poor analogy, requiring the object (and I’m sure that “John certainly sees “Jane” as nothing more than an object, otherwise he wouldn’t bemoan the “friendzone”) of his “affections” (or more like unwanted, uncomfortable attention) to “be more clear about her feelings.” Perhaps “Jane” should have spelled it out for you, Jacob, or is it “John?” There’s nothing unique about your experience, your poor understanding of philosophy, your painfully obvious sense of entitlement, nor your eschewing of personal responsibility.

  3. maybe jane is is ‘friendzoning’ john because his creepy, unwanted affection scares her. men are offended by friendzoning because they felt like they’ve been mislead. women ‘friendzone’ men because unwanted affection is terrified and women are more concerned about being murdered by some emotionally unintelligent loser than offending some dude over unwanted affection from him.

  4. Unfortunately, this reads like a high school essay that was recycled into an article that gives no insight into Plato’s metaphysics or “the friend zone” (…whatever the hell that is).
    Might wanna take PHIL 100 (Individual and Community) with Dr. Ambuel, dude. After that, you’ll reread what you just wrote and understand why I violently cringed.

  5. Following a tumultuous year shaken by controversies and tragedies, why would the editorial staff of The Blue & Gray allow this article to be published? The concept of the “friend zone” exists exclusively in misogyny and rape culture. I would suggest that the author of this piece – as well as those on staff who supported its inclusion in the paper – attend UMW’s series of civility forums and meet with Dr. Leah Cox, who is spearheading them.

  6. Um, your article not only gives a poor summary of the Allegory of the Cave, but also misleads readers about its overarching idea. While you’re not 100% wrong in taking the aspects of truth and ignorance and applying it to the realization of a kind of knowledge, it sounds like you just took a superficial reading of the epistemological interpretation of the allegory while completely ignoring the ontological implications from which the allegory proceeds, and applying such an interpretation to a frankly sophomoric subject. If you read Plato’s Symposium, you would have a much better appreciation and understanding of what a “platonic” relationship truly means, and you’d see that being “friend-zoned”, from a philosophical perspective, is far from being a bad thing.

  7. Wow. Equating enlightenment (the Good) as a negative experience would have Plato turning in his grave! And “she should be more clear when it comes to her feelings”? As if “John” had no agency whatsoever? The idea that a romantic interest is somehow 100% responsible for one’s feelings is about as realistic as being able to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village on food service wages. It’s 2015 and the real world, not a 90s sitcom.

  8. I have to echo the sentiments of the three alumni who posted above. Jacob, you might also enjoy Dr. Ambuel’s course on Ancient Greek Philosophy.

    There’s no crime in a freshman being confused about philosophy and interpersonal etiquette; that’s why you’re in college to begin with. But the editorial team at the BGP should have had the good sense not to publish this.

  9. I find it odd that no one has commented on Atkinson’s line: “When studying truth, we delved into Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave.” After reading it a few times and researching it on YouTube and Google…” YouTube and Google are not generally considered the first places to go to for research in the Humanities. Perhaps someone might point Mr. Atkinson in the direction of the library.

  10. I think what you call “the friend zone” exists for both men and women. People keep using entitlement and “expectation” to associate this article with rape culture or misogyny. I think you could easily replace expectation with hope. It’s not a crime to hope that a friend you are attracted to feels the same way about you.

    A huge reason I think men complain about it more is because men are expected to make the first move, which is even more difficult if the situation is ambiguous. And being bummed out if those feelings aren’t reciprocated isn’t “creepy” or weird- it’s human. It doesn’t mean you see the person as an object, it just means you have to get over the rejection – which isn’t easy for men nor for women.

    I don’t like the concept of the friendzone, at least how we view it today. I’d like to believe that if I was romantically interested in a friend, I would never blame someone for leading me on or treating me badly – but it would still probably be a hurtful experience that I would have to get over. To pretend that it doesn’t exist though – I don’t think that’s the right approach. Just my opinion though, and I respect if someone doesn’t agree with me at all.

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