Question: How do I know if I’m in an avoidant friend zone or if they want to start as friends with the intention of getting back together down the road?
First of all I like that your site is friendly to being friends with an ex. I’ve read many of your articles and watched your videos and hope that you can help me figure out my situation with an avoidant ex. My fearful avoidant ex who leans dismissive avoidant wants to be friends. A month ago, I reached out and he responded right away. After a few exchanges I told him I wanted us to get back together. He said he wasn’t ready for a relationship but was open to seeing where things go. I was okay with that as I want to take things slow too. I’ve worked hard to be less anxious and feel that I can handle things moving at a slow pace.
We text 2-3 times a week, sometimes I reach and sometimes he reaches out. In the beginning he was fully engaged and flirtatious with me which I admit feels good. We’ve met once (I asked), there was no awkwardness or anything but there was also no touching, hugging, or kissing. I felt like he was making extra effort to avoid physical contact but there was definitely chemistry there with eye contact, smiling etc.
The last couple of weeks, he’s been reaching out less and is less flirtatious. I’ve asked a couple of times to meet but he’s says, “I’ll get back to you” but never follows up. I’m trying to not get anxious and self-sabotage. My question to you is, how do I know if my avoidant ex wants to start as friends which I’m okay with or if I’ve been friendzoned, which I’m absolutely not okay with. Thank you, Yangki.
Yangki’s Answer: It’s sometimes hard to tell if you’ve been friendzoned by an avoidant ex or if an avoidant ex wants to start as friends first and see where things go. This is because:
- Some avoidants reach out so many months later when you expect them to have moved on and be over you. This can be confusing.
- Most dismissive avoidants are friends with many of their exes but never get back together with any of them.
- Avoidants tend to be closer to their friends than romantic relationship partners. It’s hard to tell if the closeness you feel with an avoidant ex is a friend-connection or a romantic connection.
- Avoidants flirt with an ex they have no intentions of going back to. To them it’s “harmless” because there is no real intimacy or commitment. They can flirt hard one day and disappear the next and not feel anything.
That said, there are differences that I’ve observed between an avoidant ex who wants to start as friends and see where things go, and an avoidant only sees you as a friend. Here I’ll focus on the 5 things you say your fearful avoidant ex leaning dismissive does that make you question whether you’re in an avoidant friend zone or if this is an avoidant ex’s way of starting as friends and see where things go.
1. Level of engagement and consistency
An avoidant ex will distance from time to time, the difference between an avoidant friend zone and starting as friends is that an avoidant who wants to start as friends reaches out more often and consistently. If they don’t hear from you after a period of time (established pattern), they’ll reach out. An avoidant who’s only interested in being friends will always wait for you to reach out; and if you don’t reach out, they’ll let you go.
And when you’re in an avoidant friend zone, you will feel like they’re just being polite and not interested in engaging you in conversation. An avoidant who wants to start as friends engages more – text messages are longer, they respond quickly and actually show interest in what’s going on with you and in your life.
This is why I encourage my clients to look for patterns and not just isolated behaviour to predict if an avoidant will re-engage. It’s also why I’m available to my clients 24/5 to help stabilize their anxiety, so they don’t freak out and self-sabotage when an avoidant pulls away or distances temporarily.
2. Meet you in person (and hang out)
An avoidant who is starting as friends, taking things slow or open to seeing where things go will:
- Want to meet/see you in person – and not just text, chat on phone or video call.
- Make an effort to hang out with you often – they may hangout with you alone, bring someone along or want to hang out in group settings (whatever is comfortable and feels safe for them).
This is why I gently push my clients to ask to meet up with an avoidant ex (in a safe and non-threatening way); and not waste months “safe-texting” and trying not to “put pressure” or with breadcrumb phone calls that go nowhere.
If an avoidant is not interested in meeting up, they’re likely only interested in being text-buddies or have already friendzoned you.
3. Depth of interest
When a friend talks about new things happening in their lives, many of us show interest and ask questions. The interest is more like “I’m happy for you”. When an avoidant ex is interested in you as more than a friend, they’ll ask questions that make you wonder why they seem so interested. For example, they’ll ask you for more information, ask you for photos, ask to be part of whatever is new in your life or offer to help or do something for you.
Offering to help is particularly significant because dismissive avoidants in general express their affection through “acts of service” rather than verbal affection. Sometimes when you’re so focused on an avoidant distancing behaviours you miss how they’re trying to show you they care about you.
4) Non-verbal affection
This is a tricky one because of an avoidant attachment style’s general tendency to not desire physical affection or engage in public displays of affection. This is further complicated by an avoidant’s culture or religion. Add into the mix the fact that avoidants are more likely to engage in sexting than actually be physically intimate.
My experience over the years is that an avoidant who sees a relationship in the future will not push for sex – or introduce sex into the mix. They want to make sure their feelings don’t get mixed up; or send you the ‘wrong’ message.
If an avoidant is just having fun and not emotionally invested, they’ll draw you towards conversations that are “sexual” in nature because they don’t want to emotionally expose themselves.
5) Flirting, playful teasing and sexting
One of the ways exes of all attachment styles show that they want to be more than “just friends” is through flirting and playful teasing with a sexual undertone. Playfully teasing with sexual undertones creates sexual tension. Sexual tension is a social phenomenon that occurs when two individuals interact and one or both feel sexual desire, but the consummation is postponed or never happens (Wikipedia).
Many avoidant exes can be comfortable with interactions with sexual undertones (sexual tension) than individuals with an anxious attachment because avoidants are comfortable with postponing a sexual encounter for as long as possible, and don’t really mind if it never happens.
An avoidant who wants to start as friends and take things slow will flirt, sex-text and playfully tease you, but also invest emotional energy in the interaction. An avoidant who has you in the friendzone may playfully tease you, flirt or sex-text you but also make a point of reminding you that you’re just friends. Interactions with sexual undertones and sexting with an ex is more common with fearful avoidant exes than dismissive avoidants who find casual sex and “friends with benefits” more convenient.
6) Avoidant says they want to be friends
In my experience, dismissive avoidants are more likely to say they want to be friends and also more likely to friend zone you. This is because dismissive avoidants tend to be more direct and matter-of-fact; sometimes in ways that feel callous, insensitive and cold-hearted. They’ll tell you friends is all they can be and let you decide to take it or leave it. This doesn’t mean they’ll not want to get back together later, it just means with a dismissive avoidant it’s harder to know if you are starting as friends first or if you are in dismissive avoidant friend zone.
With a fearful avoidant ex, the lines between starting as friends and a fearful avoidant friend zone are blurred. One reason is that fearful avoidants themselves don’t know if they want you back as a romantic partner or if they just want to be friends. The second reason is fearful avoidants don’t trust their own instincts. They second guess how they feel and second guess how others feel about them. The third reason is fearful avoidants never learned what to expect from someone who loves them – this is why they want love and connection but fear it too. The result is they’ll pretend to go with whatever they think you want.
I hope this helps somehow answer how you know if you are in an avoidant friend zone or if an avoidant wants to start as friends and see what happens.