Forget Islamic terror, an economic collapse or a rogue meteor strike. The real threat to the future stability of the United States is our falling birth rate, or at least that’s the somewhat tongue-in-cheek theory put forward by Hans Fiene at The Federalist earlier this week. All talk of “demographic tsunamis” aside, this is absolutely a matter of concern going forward and Hans has identified what he feels is the biggest weakness in the American baby-making ecosystem. There are simply too many guys being put in the friend zone by women.

It’s quite simple. We tear down the Friend Zone.

Every year, countless young men find themselves trapped in the Friend Zone, a prison where women place any man they deem worthy of their time but not their hearts, men they’d love to have dinner with but, for whatever reason, don’t want to kiss goodnight.

Being caught in the Friend Zone is an inarguable drag on fertility rates, as a man who spends several years pledging his heart to a woman who will never have his children is also a man who most likely won’t procreate with anyone else during that time of incarceration.

Unless you spent most of your life either in a convent or on a farm you know that this is more than some fanciful theory taken from situation comedies. The friend zone is absolutely a real thing and it’s not new. I fell victim to it myself back in the 70s and early 80s on more than one occasion and there’s no question that it’s been going on far longer than that. (Probably as long as we’ve had relatively secure, permanent societies.)

Hans has the math absolutely right inasmuch as a guy stuck in the friend zone for years isn’t going to be getting married and cranking out any babies to resupply the population. But I think I’ll take issue, at least in part, with a couple of his baseline assumptions. Here’s one:

For the Friend Zone to be destroyed, women must accept the following truths: you don’t have any guy friends and, in fact, you can’t have any guy friends.

That’s also intended as humor – at least in part, or so I hope – and in some rare circumstances it can be proven to be absolutely wrong. My two longest surviving friendships, each going back at least a quarter of a century, are with women. Of course, one of them is a lesbian, which makes me question whether such a friendship really applies to this question. The other is a woman who has only known me from the time when my now wife and I were already seriously dating and on a clear path toward getting engaged. She remains a dear love of both my wife and myself to this day. My friend was also in a relationship of her own when we met. So in both of these circumstances, there was really never any thought of an option to become something more and eventually produce children.

But that’s the exception to the rule for most of us. I have known girls I wanted to date and who were clearly available to do so if they wished but had no interest in me in that way. Hans defines these friends as, “someone you deliberately choose to spend one-on-one time with.” And in that case he’s right. Here’s his take on that phenomenon, in which he humorously but still accurately describes “friendship” in terms of the free market economy.

Imagine that friendship is a good that people acquire in exchange for the currency of their time. The average man lives in a competitive friendship market where some forms of friendship appeal to him more than others and therefore get his business. What then, is the average man looking for in a friend? By and large, something along these lines:

1. Someone who shares his interest in activities such as watching movies where things explode, playing video games where things explode, or putting fireworks in things so they’ll explode. Bonus points if you enjoy yelling at football players through the television set and laughing at noxious flatulence.
2. Someone who won’t pressure him to open up beyond his comfort level if his girlfriend breaks up with him,he loses his job, or his mom gets eaten by a yeti.
3. Someone who cherishes the man tradition of showing affection through insults and general jackassery.

If you either are a man or know any significant number of them you recognize the kind of friendship he’s talking about. Those are guy friends. His buddies. His shovel crew. And not to rain on your parade, ladies, but for the most part in normal life… that ain’t you.

Hans goes on to explain that in the “friendship market” of society, women generally can’t compete in the supply chain with guys for the most part. There’s really only one commodity you have to offer which puts you light years ahead of your male competition in fighting for customers and that’s something which eventually leads to marriage and producing babies.

So why do girls still put guys in the friend zone and is there any market based solution to end this practice? Hans seems to feel that the solution is to simply appeal to women to stop doing this for the good of the country; “tear down the Friend Zone and set free every man trapped within its confines.”

I could get behind this idea except for the fact that it requires a belief that women are largely both doing this intentionally and aware that they are doing it, or at least can be made aware. Is that a valid assumption? There’s a nasty little part of my brain left over from my twenties which instinctively thinks that is must be, at least in some cases. After all, if you’re a girl who’s not in a relationship, it can be awfully handy to have a “friend” around who might be good with tools, able to change a tire, capable of lifting and carrying heavy things or is just willing to walk back to the car with you after dinner when you realize that new restaurant you were dying to try turned out to be in a pretty sketchy neighborhood. And if you never made him any promises and he’s willing to do these things anyway, what’s the harm?

But I think there’s far more women who just believe that their guy friends really just want to be friends, even if they are secretly in the category which Hans describes so well. They’re unwilling or unable to bring up the subject and just keep on thinking, “pay my dues in the Friend Zone and one day she’ll promote me to boyfriend.” The solution, similar to what Hans suggests so eloquently and humorously (you really need to read the entire essay) is found in honest communication. If you’re a guy in the friend zone you need to tell the girl that you’re in this for something more serious and would like to move forward. Don’t worry about rejection because if she says no then you were never going to get there. Set yourself free.

And if you happen to be a girl who has roped one ore more single, straight men into your orbit, it’s time to clear the decks. Ask the question, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, and make the ground rules clear. “I’m just worried that you might have feelings which you’re not telling me about and I’m not prepared to return. I see you as a friend and our friendship is wonderful, but we’re never going to be moving on to a long term, physical relationship. I just don’t see you that way. Are you okay with that?

And if they say yes, figure out a way to double check. They’re probably lying, both to you and to themselves.