When it comes to relationships, it’s either someone you don’t know, or someone you do. Here are 6 pros and cons of wanting to be friends first.
In movies in general, there is an extreme bias towards the tall dark handsome stranger, or the bubbly new girl who sweeps you off your feet. You know, she’s going through a hard time, he’s giving up on dating and love, then all of a sudden, in through the doors walks this perfect equation that answers every concern. Attractive but distant, unknown yet mysterious, this magical stranger is the answer to all the hopes and dreams of the person involved.
I guess then it makes sense why in life we may prefer the idea of putting all our dating hopes on a stranger. When they come blowing through the door, then “we’ll know”. And maybe we will.
When it comes to dating, there are two main approaches. One – you start with romantic interest straight away, either through a blind date, a romantic evening after a few conversations, or meeting someone on a whim at an already romantic venue.
The other is the idea of “wanting to be friends first”. You know, wanting to slowly build something, taking your time, having a solid foundation of friendship to fall back on.
And the idea of falling in love with a complete stranger – the pros and cons of that write itself.
But I thought I’d take some time examining the advantages and disadvantages of the second approach. It’s the one I’ve used most frequently as well as the one most people in my life have adopted, but it comes with its own rewards and setbacks. Let’s have a look at wanting to be friends first.
Pro #1: You’re already friends
They say that love is friendship on fire. How great is it then that you’re already friends.
If you get into a fight, you already know you can handle a disagreement well. If you want to do something, you already know you can enjoy that person’s company. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll have something to fall back onto… maybe. It is possible. If it’s a birthday, you already know what the person likes. If it’s a hard time, you already know how to support them through it.
There’s less to figure out because the enjoyment, mutual interest and past experiences are already there. It’s not something you’re having to develop at the same time the romantic flair is there.
Con #1: We don’t want what we can have
Let’s be real – we all know what’s immediately obvious with the problem with being friends first. You’ve taken months to get close to this person, maybe even years, now all of a sudden someone is changing the rules and throwing the romantic card on the table.
But you’ve already taken it off the table.
There are many different branches of research into why people don’t want what they can have. We’ve all heard “treat em mean, keep em keen” – the idea is that if you give too much of yourself, a person realizes they can have you, and so you become less attractive, so you withhold yourself and act distant in order to bring the interest back. I even remember a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode talking about this once, where Aunt Vivian says “Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest” to her daughter Hilary when she’s fraught about her love life.
And this is probably the most common set up when someone throws the romantic card on the table. One person thinks it’s a fantastic idea, the other person is like “ewww with you?”.
Sometimes that’s because we already got to know the person well enough to know there are things that are issues. But many a time we’ve written it off before it has a chance to begin. Your friend already knows full well what sort of person you are and what sort of relationship they’re signing up for if they kick it off with you… or at least they think they do.
Pro #2: The pressure isn’t there
It’s a freeing feeling getting to know someone without a romantic agenda or an ulterior motive. Granted, the person may be trying to get to know you because they think there’s more potential than that, but at least the pace is nice, and you may never know that, which means you and the other person may be less likely to get hurt during the “getting to know you” phase.
You don’t have to worry about what you’re going to wear to the group dinner, you can share your honest opinion at that function, you can watch whatever movie is on and both have a laugh without it being a reflection of your love potential.
This is the main reason people will choose this option – they don’t like the pressure of something being more than it is right now.
Con #2: You may lose or change the friendship if it doesn’t work out
“What if I lose my best friend?”.
“I don’t want to risk our friendship because it means too much to me”.
There is a huge risk that you will once the romance card has been played. If you were close enough that realistically a love relationship would’ve made sense or could’ve been a possibility, and the answer is a no, the only way forward is backwards.
Because what you’ve told this person, or been told, is that there is no interest to be more than the status quo. The issue is that the status quo may be quite close and it may have been closer because one person has been more interested than the other. It can’t stay the same if the interest isn’t there, for the sake of the heart of the one who is wanting to change the rules.
Hey, it doesn’t always happen where the friendship is lost. I’ve had plenty of scenarios where it hasn’t been, but there have been a few where it has been. I have also seen this end rather devastatingly where large groups of people are involved. Either way, if the answer is a no, it likely won’t be the same anymore.
Pro #3: It’s safer
A lot of signs may point to the idea of a stranger being an easier option, but it’s not necessarily the safest one.
Because we don’t really know a new person, there are much larger risks with being romantic straight away. People talk about sex on the first date – you don’t know this person, their sexual history, their tendencies, whether or not your wallet will still be there in the morning. People talk about putting it all out there from the start – you don’t know if this person will value your heart, will listen to you, isn’t already tuning 40 other girls on the side.
If I’m your friend, then I get to see how you are with everyone, not just me. I get to learn more about who you are and what makes you tick. I get to find out things about you that you won’t include in your dating persona.
Plus, in our crazy world, there are some real dangerous people out there. If you have to be a friend first, then there’s a larger chance that a psychopath isn’t going to be able to have the opportunity to stalk you or hurt you.
Con #3: You might not escape the friendzone
Well, isn’t this really the problem? You might be “just friends” forever.
You can’t control the heart of another person. Many of us can be quite set in our ways. I’ve been in lots of conversations where a person has said “I don’t know any good guys” or “I don’t know any good girls”… in front of other guys or girls! What does this mean? It means “I have given up on everyone I know”.
Which is the unfortunate truth many a time. People have lots of friends and get used to them being friends. Once someone has been a friend for a certain period of time, there is a tendency to think, well hey, this is all we have, this is all we’re ever going to have, and I’ve been okay having what we have for a long time.
And even if you do all you can to convince someone otherwise, they may never promote you and see you as a worthwhile option.
Which makes me wonder sometimes if we really prefer wanting to be friends first.
One older couple I know always asks people, “who of your friends would you date?”. Many people go “eww none of them”. Then they’ll say, “Well it’s either one of your friends or a stranger you don’t know yet, so maybe you don’t really want to be friends first”.
Self awareness is a powerful thing. I always find asking myself, “Do I really believe this?” to be a worthwhile exercise. In every area, but especially in this one.
And hey, some people do make it out, and on the 37th attempt, she says yes, or he gives it a go. But other times it doesn’t work like that.
As they say, one of the hardest things in life is working out whether you should try harder, or walk away.
All in all, love and dating will always involve some sort of risk and some sort of measuring up process. In truth, any form can end in happiness or heartbreak.
How about you? Would you prefer to date someone you’re already friends with? Or would you prefer someone you don’t know?