Escape the “Friend Zone” by Breaking this Big Barrier to Romance

Escape the “Friend Zone” by Breaking this Big Barrier to Romance

Escape "friend zone" & break the touch barrier


One of my favorite cooking show of all time was Good Eats, starring Alton Brown.  What I loved about Good Eats was that Alton not only taught me recipes, he also delved into the science behind the recipes.  Now I can sear a steak while geeking-out about the Mallaird Reaction.

When I started Hitchcraft, I wanted to be the Alton Brown of dating.  Not only did I want to give advice to singles looking for love, I also wanted teach people the fascinating science behind the advice.  So, I hit the books and stumbled upon Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.


First, let me apologize to you:  I am really really sorry that I am going to tell you what love is.  It feels a little like a magician revealing the secret behind his trick.  You may think that love is magical, mystical and miraculous — a feeling that words can’t explain — and in a few seconds you’ll know that it is none of those things.  (But it does feel great to be in love!)

So here is the secret behind the most powerful human emotion…

Two people are in love when they share three things:

  • Intimacy – emotional and intellectual bonds
  • Passion – sexual attraction
  • Commitment – the decision to stay together and plan for the long term

Sounds clinical, doesn’t it?  I warned you!  But it is important to know.


Since we are talking about a triangular theory today, let’s continue with the math theme for another moment.  I just told you that love is a combination of intimacypassion and commitment.  Well, it turns out that every human relationship can be defined in terms of those feelings.  For example:

  • Intimacy alone = Friendship
  • Passion alone = Infatuation or friends-with-benefits
  • Intimacy + Passion – Commitment = Romantic Love (such as that experienced during an affair)
  • Intimacy + Commitment – Passion = Your best friends

Feel free to explore all the permutations.  (Feel free not to explore them, too.)

Why do I bore you with math?  Because it leads to my next point, which may be one of the most important ones we every discuss.


Let’s start with this question:  What is the difference between a friend and a lover?

Here is the answer:  The difference between a friend and a lover is touch.  Romantic touch.

For many people with neurodiverse diagnoses, touch can be scary.  I hear it most from men on the autism spectrum who worry that they will violate their potential partners by touching them too soon.  As a result, many of them avoid touch altogether and get stuck in the “friend zone.”

A”friend zone” is what develops when you are attracted to a potential partner and create an emotional connection with him or her, but your potential partner sees you as a platonic friend.

The best way to avoid the “friend zone” is to break the touch barrier when you and your potential partner start feeling attracted to each other.  The longer you wait, the more likely the “friend zone” is to develop and the harder it is to escape.  

You may be saying, “I was taught to respect people’s space.  In fact, you taught me to respect people’s space.”  True!  When you first meet your potential partner, I expect you to stand in his or her social space.  As you grow more comfortable, you should be getting closer until you break the touch barrier.  How else is your potential partner going to know that you’re romantically interested in him or her?


There are a million ways to do anything.  I suggest breaking the touch barrier by touching your potential partner lightly, subtly and casually, then reading your potential partner’s body language response. 

What do I mean by touching your potential partner lightly, subtly and casually?  Some examples…

  • As you’re walking side-by-side, brush the back of your hand against your potential partner’s hand
  • As you’re standing and talking, touch your potential partner’s outer elbow or upper arm to emphasize a point
  • As you’re sitting in the same direction, lightly and quickly lay your hand on your potential partner’s lower back

Now you have to read your potential partner’s reaction.

  • When you brush your potential partner’s hand with your own, does he or she enjoy it or recoil?
  • When you lightly touch your potential partner’s arm, does he or she withdraw it or smile?
  • When you lightly touch your potential partner’s back, does he or she lean towards you or away from you?

If your potential partner responded positively to your touch, then you can slowly escalate the touch to stronger and longer touches.  Work your way up to holding hands.  That’s a big one!

If your potential partner responded neutrally or negatively to your escalated touch, then proceed with caution.  Consider trying again later, after your potential partner has had more time to get comfortable with you.

How have you broken the touch barrier?  Did it work for you?  Let’s create a list of touch barrier breaking tips in the Comments, below.  In the Comments, I’ll even give you one of my absolute favorite touch barrier breaking techniques.


Many people with developmental disabilities — especially people on the autism spectrum — are touch sensitive.  For example, some of my friends on the spectrum don’t like to be hugged.  Once I even touched a workshop participant’s arm and watched him recoil.  (I felt horrible!)

What do you do if you’re touch sensitive?

The answer, of course, is very personal.  Only you know what kind of touch makes you comfortable and what kind gets you agitated.  Your sensitivity is something you have to communicate to your potential partner early on.  He or she can’t read your mind, and may not be great at reading your bodily reaction.

What do you do if your potential partner is touch sensitive?

Hopefully he or she let you know beforehand.  If not, you’re going to have to read his or her cues.  The easiest cue to see is recoil.  If your potential partner pulls away from you, chances are he or she isn’t very happy with what’s you’re doing.  If you keep trying to break the touch barrier and you keep getting rebuffed, you may ultimately need to ask your potential partner whether he or she is touch sensitive.

How do you deal with touch sensitivity?  Share your knowledge and expertise in the Comments, below.  


The people who are experts in breaking the touch barrier and in dealing with touch sensitivity don’t have PhDs.  They don’t wear suits or lab coats.  The real experts are people who deal with these issues in their own lives.  Some of them are your friends.

Bring your friends into our Village.  Forward this email to them and share it on your social networks.  Facebook Twitter Google+ LinkedIn StumbleUpon  It’s always great having real experts around!


  • People who are in love share intimacypassion and commitment
  • Breaking the touch barrier is an important way to stay out of the “friend zone”
  • Share your tips for breaking the touch barrier in the Comments, below
  • Sometimes breaking the touch barrier is tricky because one or both of you have touch sensitivity
  • Talking about touch sensitivity can help you avoid uncomfortable situations and break the touch barrier in a way that is pleasurable for both of you
  • Share your knowledge about touch sensitivity in the Comments, below
Jeremy Hamburgh
Jeremy Hamburgh
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  1. Jeremy Hamburgh says:

    Here is the setup for my favorite touch barrier breaking technique:
    1) You are on a date, perhaps for an hour or so
    2) During that hour, you have a deep conversation
    3) You look for indications that your potential partner is attracted to you (we’ll get to that)
    4) As the date is ending and you start walking to the car/train/bus, do this:
    *If you’re a guy, take your partner’s arm and put it on yours, as if you’re walking into a fancy party
    *If you’re a woman, hook your arm into your partner’s arm
    5) Here is the crucial step! Now that you are linked arm to arm, slide your arm down into the hand-holding position.

    Now you’re holding hands!

  2. The closest I’ve ever got to being touched by someone else apart from a hug or kiss from a family member was back at school when I was 15 yrs old when the school tart put her hands between my legs. Come to think of it now and I think she done it for a laugh.I was living in fear back then from being in the wrong place at the wrong time ie the changing room at sport lesson, there was a high probably of being punched or spat at.


  1. […] last week, for example, my client on the autism spectrum broke the touch barrier by holding hands with a neurotypical potential partner and the date started falling apart from […]

  2. […] Have you broken the touch barrier? […]

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