Bishop Jeremy Taylor beautifully said, “Love is friendship set on fire”. Here are 7 reasons I think you should consider dating a friend.
I love that quote, you know. We had it read out on our wedding day and I use it to describe our marriage and the marriages of others all the time. It resounds with the view of the Song of Songs and pretty much every love song since then about the flame-like quality of love, burning brightly because it has caught light of the enduring branches of friendship.
It seems like one of the most common statements people make in the search for love is that they want to marry their best friend. This is a fasciniating statement to continually hear, especially when the same people then go off and do anything but date their friends. They go to clubs, they go online, they go to speed dating or social media groups and swipe in all the directions on their phones.
Words saying one thing, but life saying you actually want tall dark and handsome stranger to come sweep you off your feet. Or whatever the female equivalent of tall dark and handsome is. I guess the same term could also apply depending on what you’re into and how many Victorian era novels you enjoy or old world adjectives you apply to women.
And I’ve looked before at the pros and cons of both approaches in the past, or more specifically, wanting to be friends first. And with Valentines season nearby at the time of writing, I have been reminded of really how much more success I’ve seen in those who have dated friends rather than trying to turn an already romantic partner into the friend they want.
And I get it. The Friend Zone. It can be awkward changing the rules of a well established relationship. And what happens to the friendship afterwards if he or she say no, and what if they do say yes and then it doesn’t work out?
Love is a risk each way, and I have become more and more convinced that the risk is much lower when you date someone who is already in your life.
Here are 7 reasons I think you should consider dating a friend.
#1: Friendship is the ideal foundation for long lasting love
Mark and Grace Driscoll in the book Real Marriage, as well as John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute talk a lot about friendship being the foundation of every successful marriage they researched. I love one of their metaphors in considering a relationship is like a cake. If it’s all foundation, most people won’t really enjoy it, and if it’s all icing, you’ll make everyone sick.
They say that friendship is the foundation of the cake, with all the wonderful romantic parts being the icing. To have a great cake you’ll want both, but you need to have mostly foundation for it to be balanced and not make yourself or the other person, or both of you, absolutely sick.
It was a video from John Gottman that got me thinking on this topic again recently where he talks about married couples who have the greatest sex lives only having two things in common based on their research – they schedule intimacy, and they’re great friends. There’s a lot of further research available via a number of their resources, but so many others I know out there sound this bell.
I’ve also found this to be true in my own dating and married and parenting life and in the lives of my married friends. Friendship is the foundation of forever, and its importance and pursuit never leaves your relationship. The minute it does, the relationship dies.
Point is, if you’re already friends, you’ve already got the foundation in place ready to build something more.
#2: You already have common interests
I haven’t been able to find a single person to attribute this to, but I hear it from multiple sources and people – it’s that the big things are just lots of small things put together when it comes to relationships. That’s true of the good things and also of the bad things. As the Song puts it, it’s the little foxes that can spoil the garden.
One of the big dividers for couples that seems to do more damage than people give it credit for is a lack of common interest. Sure, at the start of the relationship, she came to your sports game and you watched her romantic movie, or vice versa. But now a few months or years in and the couples don’t spend downtime together any more. One doesn’t like board games, one doesn’t like those movies, one doesn’t like adventures, one doesn’t like road trips, one doesn’t like those restaurants or going out or staying in or reading or writing or whatever.
And neither person will compromise and learn to appreciate any of the above because they dislike that interest more than they love the person.
Good news is if you’re already friends, you already have common interests of a sort. There’s something common enough about you at least that you’ll go to the same movies, the same events, the same parties, the same faith groups, the same extracurricular or sporting functions, whatever it may be.
It’s a serious head start. Common ground has to be found and built in marriage. Fortunately as a friend you’ve already started doing both.
#3: You already have common direction
Think about what you’re looking for when considering the world of dating. It’s a life partner, right? A partner for life.
Well, I wonder how many friends in your life you’re already partnered in life with? Already changing the world together, already building community or fun or joy or even just silliness and fun. People who you already know what they stand for and who they want to be, or at least you can easily find out without any romantic pressure to taint their truthful answer.
Plus, you already enjoy spending time with them to whatever extent. It depends on what more you could be after.
One of my pastors growing up told us that as we were living our lives, we should look around us and see who’s keeping up. It’s been beautiful to see how many people did just that and people partnering off as they’ve gone ahead on life’s journey. The Hebrew term used to describe the relationship in the first marriage is ezer kenegdo – the help meet.
One of the best things about friends is that they help you achieve what you need to in life, as you also help them. A marriage partner is just someone who does that even more exclusively than your other friends, which is why a friend is also a great starting point. Hence, another reason you should consider dating a friend.
#4: Adding romance to friendship seems easier than adding friendship to romance
A study by the University of Victoria in Canada as referenced by Forbes across about 1900 people found that 70% of relationships started and continued successfully by being friends first. The same study showed that only 18% of relationships that did go friends first also had romantic intent from the beginning.
In other words, it’s actually the majority of the success case that finds ease in adding romance to something that’s already established.
Of course, there’s an elephant in the room that we need to talk about – The Friend Zone. The oft inescapable void of unrequitted love where attempts to promote the relationship into another realm are often meant with unreturned feelings or efforts. And here’s the thing – I think this is a perfectly normal thing. I mean, for every friend you may have been rejected by, think about how many friends you yourself have rejected when they’ve come to you all of a sudden wanting to change the rules of your relationship.
I think it’s very normal or could almost be expected for some sort of romantic interest to generate out of the natural course of any long lived friendship. It’s not always both ways though so one of the true keys is respecting people’s feelings and being mature and respectful to each other in the process.
There are definite challenges to moving someone into that next realm, for sure. I think the real trick is that people don’t often actually want what they have. Hence the mysterious stranger, or at least the idea of one, often wins in people’s minds. But such an attitude is not going to carry a marriage either as whether you date a friend or a stranger, eventually you’re going to need to learn how to appreciate someone for the long haul and to continually discover the greatness in the heart of the other.
Perhaps more on the topic of wanting what you have or could have another time 😉
And yet as difficult as those challenges are, the stats tell us the opposite is actually more difficult. I’m sure getting a date with a stranger is easier, but building something lifelong is where the real trick is. Stats on things like ghosting, date rape, even instances of trafficking and abuse are all more likely when you don’t have the protection and accountability of friendship.
It seems to be like building the house backwards, and then struggling with all the things that were missed along the usual construction cycle.
I want to say that it’s definitely not impossible or implausible or even wrong to add friendship to romance – I know several people who met at a party or on a date or on an app and now they’ve been together longer than most, and they’ve all excellently prioritised the building of their friendship as a part of their formative dating relationship.
But I would say they’re in the minority of people who’ve been able to do it well, and I think the struggle a lot of people have is that everyone wants to be like them, when in reality it’s actually the rarer case for the stars to collide than it is for you to slowly kindle and fan the flame of love into a roaring inferno.
You already value them. You already get along. You already spend time with them. You already have a level of protection from being tripped up by a stranger with limited known factors. Lots of the ingredients you need are already present.
#5: You get a more accurate picture than you do romantically
This one is a bit more of a scary one but a really solid reason wh I think friendship is such an important thing to have before you go into full romance mode.
I think it was best captured by the poignancy of Bishop TD Jakes in the book Before You Do, where he asks – “Did you end up with a beast? Did you date him long enough to find out?”. He puts forward that you need to see people in the seasons before you decide to strap your life to them.
Friendship is absoultely perfect for this. Think about how real and raw and honest a view you get of someone when you hang out regularly with no romantic pressure. There’s no protective filter or desire to overwhelmingly impress you in a love-y way, so you get to see it all. How they treat you, how they treat others, how they speak of people when they are and aren’t around, how they are at restaurants or with their drink or habits.
As soon as a date is involved with someone they’re interested in, watch even the ugliest or smelliest of people suddenly brush up dressed to the nines and smelling better than they ever have.
I have learned there is no true defence against a good liar, and even if you’re friends with someone for a long time, sometimes the pressures of love and romance will reveal a side of them that they never revealed or had exposed during their time of friendship. So it’s not completely fool proof I’m afraid.
But I have to say that you dodge a lot more bullets being friends first than you do adding friendship later. I would have to say the vast majority of the cases I’m aware of where someone has been devastated occur when there was no time for friendship in the relationship at any stage.
#6: Friendship will keep you when romance won’t
Being candid, I know there are certain things we’ve faced in our marriage that we haven’t endured romantically. Things that are too difficult to talk about as husband and wife or as lovers or as those romantically involved with each other.
But as friends? Of course, I can help my friend through it. And she can help me. And many times it’s been our friendship that has been the undergirding strength when all the romance in the world isn’t bright or bold enough to conquer the larger challenges of life.
One of my favourite passages from the Song of Songs is where the Shulamite says of her husband – “This is my lover and this is my friend”. It’s this union of romance and friendship that give marriage its greatest strength.
#7: A lifestyle of friendship means all your relationships are happier
The last thing I think that’s worth calling out is that not only do I think you should date a friend, but you should have a lifestyle of building friendships.
I think as people get older and make less and less effort on the friendship front, there is an extremely high level of pressure placed on this person you’re looking to be your life partner because you’re not just looking for a life partner, but in asbence of other friendships in your life, you’re looking for a person who emotionally compensate for this gaping hole in your life.
As Esther Perel points out in Mating in Captivity, people already put excessive demands and expectations on their life partner. If you have no friends coming into your life to balance your needs out, it’s going to all fall on this one person to answer every single need in your life.
No wonder people “don’t feel anything” on their first date. What a mountain to try to climb to be someone’s everything. And no wonder it’s so hard to find anyone who you think is good enough for you, when they have to compensate for the lack of other support in your life.
But when we are whole and balanced people – cemented in faith and strengthened in regular community, our neediness isn’t so extreme and we find we can give the breathing room to any potential suitor that they need to show us who they really are.
Plus when you do end up with someone and enter the marriage season and as life continues, not only do you as individuals have additional support, but you as a couple do as well. You’re living with all the lights turned on so everyone can live in safety and strength.
Overall, I think you should consider dating a friend. I’m not trying to say that dating a friend means you’ll never run into any problems or that it won’t work out. But I think being friends first is such a powerful tool to have a healthy and progressive relationship, built from the ground up.
So much advice out there talks about having sex somewhere between the first and the ninth date, or moving in after a month or so, or meeting people in environments predisposed to shallow conversation or engagement. And then we wonder why our relationships suffer longterm because they’re missing the concrete foundation that would hold the whole house together.
Maybe the person you’re going to end up with is someone somewhere out there, distant, waiting for the fated meeting.
Or perhaps it’s someone who’s already in your life and has been there for a long time. Someone you already get along with, have fun with, talk and share life with. Someone you already have an element of life partnership with, have great conversation with, and who you already build something with.
Maybe marital happiness isn’t some intangible thing with some unknown person out there. Maybe it’s waiting for you to look around and realise you already know a lot of great people. I wonder how many people in your life already tick the boxes for your job description of a life partner?
And perhaps you’re in a relationship or marriage and you’re really struggling. Instead of just throwing more sex at it or more romantic adventures, try putting the roots down deeper. Build the fun, pursue the other, work at the friendship. All of us, including me, need to continually work on having an ever developing friendship with our spouse as we journey the seasons of life together.
And ps. if you do consider asking a friend out, be sure not to be a jerk or a creep about it.
How about you? Do you think you should date a friend, or should we keep everyone in the Friend Zone forever?