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When friendship turns to love… In praise of dating your best mate

There’s something super romantic-sounding about love at first sight, isn’t there? Your eyes meeting across a crowded room, knowing immediately that they’re the one for you. Or, if you don’t fall in love in that VERY instant, at least embarking on a whirlwind romance that sees you smitten within days, if not hours. It sometimes seems like only love of the fast, breathless, thunderbolt variety is deemed really, properly proper.

Well sorry, but we’re calling bulls**t.

There’s another way to fall. And it isn’t glamorous. But it can be totally awesome. The cosy pyjamas of the relationship world, if you will. We’re talking about when your buddy becomes your bae.

There are tons of benefits to being friends first, but let’s start with this lightning bolt: you probably actually like each other. We know: duh, right? But don’t try and tell us you’ve never considered going out with someone just because it’d look good. (“They’re in the year above and in a band for chrissake. I can totally put up with narcissism and a terrible sense of humour!”) But friends first = you’re probs dating a genuinely good human.

And even better, your attraction’s probably based on more than looks (although wanting to smooch them constantly is great, too). Maybe you’ve got tonnes in common, they make you laugh, or you admire their gaming skills. Whatever it is, things will probs be funner for longer because your feelings are more than just butterflies in your pants. Ruth, a magazine designer, has been with her boyf for four years, but they were friends for a year and a half first. “We had a mutual love of design and I found I could bounce ideas off him and really admired his way of thinking. His creative side was a big part of why I fell for him, and it feels nice to have some substance beneath the fancying. After all, looks fade eventually!”

And who’da thunk it, that whole admiration thing works both ways. So yep, if you’re dating your friend, they probably actually like you, too. The real you.

“We all have a ‘false me’ and a ‘real me’,” says Emma Gleadhill, a speaker and coach who helps young people manage their relationships. “In some social situations we choose to keep the ‘real me’ more hidden. But you shouldn’t have to do that with your partner. It takes so much emotional energy to keep being ‘the girlfriend’ instead of just being yourself. You should be able to tell your partner that you’d rather stay in and be ‘boring’ tonight, or you should feel comfortable even when you’re not looking your best. There should be an inner confidence that they accept the real you.”

There’s also the big T. And no we’re not talking about the fact you both love tacos. Or T-Swift. (Although surely they’ve got to be two of the best Ts, right?). “I guess the biggest thing was the trust between us,” says Ruth. “At the time, we were both involved with other people and so we really were just friends. But it was nice to have somebody to confide in who was outside of things. We’d meet for coffees, and over time we came to really trust each other. That meant that when we were single and got together, things seemed natural because we already had that foundation.”

As well as being a generally awesome ingredient in a relationship, trust is also super handy when it comes to funtimes of the sexy persuasion. “It’s easy to get swept along with things you’re not comfortable with because you want to keep the other person happy,” says Emma. “But it’s so important not to do that – to remember that you have power and control over your own body. Hopefully, if you’ve built up trust as friends, it’ll be easy to be honest with each other about what you do and don’t want.”

And when real life makes you want to kill each other / cry on each other / run away… fear not! Turns out there are skills you’ve already practised as friends that help you boss it as a couple, too. “Things like negotiation, discussion, collaboration and being supportive,” says Emma. “If you get those things right, you should end up with a relationship where you understand and complement each other, rather than where one person always leads and the other follows.”

We also reckon you’re more likely to try fun new things with friends-turned-heart-flutterers. No one wants to royally SUCK at rock climbing with some hottie they’ve only just met and haven’t sussed out yet. But the person who’s already seen you fall on your face ice skating, or forget your lines in the school play? That feels weirdly fine. Especially since they lay on the ice with you while you both died laughing.

But best of all, they can help you push yourself to new heights of awesomeness. “When we were friends,” says Ruth, “my other half would show me his design work and I’d say, ‘why don’t you try this instead?’ He’d do the same for me. It wasn’t about impressing each other. It was about challenging each other to think differently, and pushing each other’s limits. If I’d just started dating someone I think I’d have felt put out to be questioned like that. But with a friend, it was ok. We made each other want to be the best we could be. And we still do.”

#Relationshipgoals, right? So, if you’ve been having ‘Feelings with a capital F’ for a mate, but think you should be wait for some fateful earthquake with a gorgeous stranger, stop waiting. That cosy pyjama love could be one of the best of your life.

@LucindaEverett

Emma Gleadhill runs workshops in schools helping young people to handle their relationships.

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