We Need More IRL Friends to Lovers

1123 Words • Love/Romance • 05/16/2024

A romantic trope that I think has been getting an increasing amount of attention as of late is friends to lovers. This trope is widely loved for a variety of reasons, but I think the main reason is because of the rise of “cozy romance”. Friends to lovers showcases intimacy between two people really well and oftentimes the relationships grow in a slower and more sustainable way. The central idea of being comfortable with this person but being able to experience new things with them and see them in a new light is really appealing to people, myself included. There are plenty of examples of this trope happening in real life, but I think that a lot of these stories kind of gloss over the question of whether or not these people were really friends beforehand.

I think many women in particular will know what I’m talking about because a common experience for women is for them to have a male friend (or “friend”) confess their feelings for them seemingly out of the blue. For some men, these feelings may have blossomed over time, or that they are mistaking friendly intimacy for romantic attraction. For other men, they were always simply playing the “long game”. That they wanted to get their foot in the door so-to-speak at first by being friends and then hoping and praying that they would someday be able to “take it to the next level”. Lots of the women I have talked about remark about feeling betrayed by the somewhat duplicitous nature of these men or just about the general sense of loss of a friend.

I don’t mean to say that developing feelings for your friend is unethical, but I do think that the intentions at the outset of the relationship are very important. If the person is only friends with the other person in order to gain their affection then I think that this obfuscation of intention is lying by omission. In not being upfront with their romantic interest and leading them to believe that they are simply pursuing friendship, they are purposefully undermining the other person’s impression of reality. On the other hand, if you find the person somewhat attractive (or not at all) at the start but just genuinely want to enjoy their presence as a friend and feelings just so happen to blossom later on, I don’t think that anyone is harmed.

Practically speaking, I think that something is lost when you rule out dating friends or people that you were friends with first. Being friends with someone is an effective way of getting to know someone over time in order to develop emotional intimacy. The closest strategy to dating friends that I can think of would be to have an extended courting period. During this time you would hopefully be able to get a good idea of who a person is and how they act over a long period of time. Seeing someone in multiple seasons of their life and in a variety of situations allows for the possibility of someone’s flaws coming to light and for real vulnerability to occur so that you may be more informed in your partnership decision making.

Anecdotally speaking, I feel as if the extended courting period is not as widely practiced in current times. I think that courting and dating have collapsed into the same concept, thus shrinking a romantic relationship’s timeline. People are quick to begin dating exclusively with someone and get to know them afterward. I think that people get in their head about the relationship escalator and want to be able to “lock someone down” via dating out of a scarcity mindset. With the concept of an extended courting period off the table, your only real option is to make snap judgements on the first couple of impressions of someone and then decide to permanently sort them into a friend or lover. I think that this is kind of wild and a disservice to yourself and other people where there isn’t a lot of grace given. Dating apps/the Information Age in general has kind of worsened this problem because there are so many options now that it sometimes doesn’t make economical sense to invest in one person to see where it goes when it can be cheaper to try to find someone else that comes in at a higher baseline for you.

I think that friends to lovers is the ideal scenario because you have already established a connection which gives you the space to have a more open and honest dialogue about why/why not you should not transition into a romantic relationship. In some ways this friendship first and then choosing intentionally to transition into dating looks like the extended courting period that I mentioned earlier. While I do agree that there are some similarities, I want to make it clear that they are different because of the intended outcomes (goals). For the extended courting period you are explicitly judging long term partnership potential, whereas in a friendship you are simply getting to know the other person better and enjoying your time together.

I would imagine that most people are somewhat hesitant toward the idea of friends to lovers in practice because of two factors: the possibility of loss/change in relationship and the occasional difficulty of differentiating platonic and romantic feelings. For the former point, it is most important to note that change is inevitable and I am of the belief that if it changes the relationship and makes it weird, then maybe you weren’t strong enough friends in the first place. You can talk about it, address it, but not actually enter into a romantic relationship and still remain friends. Most just may lack the emotional maturity to handle this kind of rejection.

For the latter point, it is a bit more complicated only because each person is different in how they feel platonic and romantic attraction. I will be the first to admit that I am not entirely qualified to talk about this because I am someone who denies both the theoretical (conceptual) and phenomenological (emotional) platonic-romantic distinction. I think that the entire matter of this distinction is social and additionally depends on your own conception of love (as I partly argue here), but for most Western societies, it would be do I want to spend the rest of my life building something with this person (living together, starting a family, and other norms of romance)? If at the end of day you still can’t tell the difference between platonic and romantic feelings, I would question the notion of it mattering at all, and whether or not such a distinction actually exists for you (like me!).

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