Let me state clearly at the start that: 1) no one has a right to another person’s romantic affection; and, 2) there is a valid feminist critique of the concept of friendzone, in that it is largely a product of men’s sense of entitlement to women’s affection. But these realities also serve as a convenient veil for the very real sociological effects of inequality on a relationship level. To put it simply, there is no randomness to who gets “friendzoned” the most, it is based on what/who is valued the most in our society and what/who is not.
This is not about the specifics of any particular interaction, this is about who in our society gets to have the possibility of romantic intimacy and to what level (how many options are available). I think it is more useful **not** to think of the “friendzone” as a phenomenon of interactions, an unfortunate side-effect of our human desires; but rather to think of it as a **social location**, one from which the formation of a romantic relationship is extremely difficult if not impossible. And this concept of the friendzone as a social location can come in handy as a tool for analyzing oppression and privilege.
It becomes even more interesting and illuminating toward the contours of oppression and privilege in our society when you throw in the friends-with-benefit zone, which, trust me, sucks worse than the friendzone. In the case of the friends-with-benefits zone there is sexual attraction, but the desire for a romantic relationship is absent in one member of the dyad. More pronounced cases of physical desirability in the absence of emotional and social intimacy are the one-night stand, and the longer-term version of this I like to call “benefits-without-friends.” In all of these cases, who is considered sexually desirable deviates from who is considered desirable as a romantic partner in very specific and sociologically informative ways. For instance, trans women (and let’s get real, provided penis not sold separately) are an object of desire to a significant percentage of cis men but are rarely considered desirable as romantic partners by these same guys. Could it be that cis men who are sexually but not romantically attracted to trans women feel that way because (often subconsciously) they don’t want to get infected with the stigma, oppression and marginalization faced by trans women? Can you think of a better explanation (on a sociological, not a snowflake level)?