Half-Hearted: Why It’s Probably Time To Start Dating Your Mates
The Debrief: Studies show that the longer you know someone, the more attractive you’re likely to find them. Time to un-friendzone that special someone?
I’m thirteen years old and I’m sat in a dark classroom, fiddling with my Sum 41 t-shirt. It’s rainy and dark outside. The wind is having to compete with the clumsy old projector on which I, and twenty of my peers, are watching Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet in total silence.
Romeo (Leonardo) is maddeningly pushing through the throng of dressed-up, drugged-up party goers, having just spied the resplendent Juliet (a barely nubile Clare Danes) in her feathered angel wings and snowy dress. Juliet stands at the top of the staircase and turns to look back over her shoulder, time stops, she locks eyes with Romeo, a heavenly gift in chain mail at the foot of the bannister- he stares back. I realise I’m not breathing. I turn around and look at my best friend Raph who has stuffed her GAP hoodie into her mouth to smother her uncontrollable sobs. ‘Oh. My. God’ I think. ‘This is love. Love is, at first sight, across a crowded room. At a fancy dress ball. With Leonardo Di Caprio.’ I zip up my fluffy Miffy pencil case. ‘I won’t settle for less’ I pledge to myself.
Now, almost fifteen years later I still like to think love at first sight exists. I think I felt it once…with a stranger on the tube, but I can’t be sure. Maybe I’ve watched Sliding Doors one too many times, maybe I need to step away from the TV but I’m sure that this whole LAFS thing must exist- it just happens to have eluded me- like abs, or a painter boyfriend, a book deal and a Scottish best mate- it joins the other missed opportunities on my bitter little ‘not for me’ list.
I will tell you about the stuff on my ‘happens to me all the time’ list for free though so put your money away:
Male friends decide they want to give ‘us’ a go, before I subsequently friend zone them, aching nothing but regret, cracker dust in my bed and cystitis twelve months later. In that order. I have friend zoned more eligible men than I have been dumped by total dicks (that’s a lot).
WATCH: A History of Tinder
This happens because of the large rushing river which divides what I think I want from a relationship and what, in reality, I need. I’ve sat and stared at future me, on the opposite side of the river bank and, squinting, been able to make out my future partner at her side. He changes. Sometimes he’s dark, with rings around his eyes, dressed in a hoodie and Reebok classics, he’s an *insert creative job here*. Sometimes he’s slim and blonde and smiley and he’s wearing a shirt. What he always is, is a stranger. Someone I’m yet to meet. My mythical future nesting buddy. I think this is why I’m still, after five years, ‘between relationships’.
My best friend Claire very often tells me that my future husband is in my phonebook. This always throws me. Could he really be chilling between ‘guy with cool hat’ and ‘posh boy house party’? Is it that guy that used to follow me around the stock room when I worked as a Sales Assistant? I hope not, but I’m willing to be open minded. A study from some clever people in Texas, who were definitely wearing Stetsons when they did their research, wants to suggest that we should be dating our mates. That in fact, the key to true happiness is taking your best mates jeans off. They asked 167 people in relationships how long they’d known each other prior to boning, and they discovered 40% of them had been friends first. They also asked students at the beginning of the school term to rate their mates and they discovered that on the whole, people warmed to people the longer time they spent together socially. This is hardly rocket science, sometimes the answers are staring us [me] in the face.
This is particularly pertinent to me, because I’m currently dating a friend, and it feels so vastly different from any romancing I’ve done. Firstly, it was all so easy. After we slept together for the first time I had no qualms about walking around his room naked, borrowing his clothes and asking him where we would be getting food. Usually, I’d roll myself up like a pig in a blanket with the duvet before cat walking out into the bathroom in invisible heels and emerging again like a Stars In Their Eyes contestant from the shower. I’d then breezily order an Uber while having a panic attack on the way home that would involve calling twelve people. Minimum.
In fact, it was so easy it totally knocked me for six. What I found most disorientating was the lack of nerves, the absence of angst and the overwhelming sense of calm. At first, I took this to mean I had no real feelings for him. I didn’t get butterflies when my his name flashed up on my phone. I happily arrived to meet him for dinner looking like crap. Affection was a little weird at first too, in all honesty. When we first started hooking up- not totally wasted- it was odd to taste my friend’s tongue in my mouth. I still can’t hold hands in public and I worry what our mutual friends might think of any PDA between us- so I avoid it. Nonsense- but you try suddenly smooching your mate that you’ve known for four years. You need to rewire your brain and you have to put in a little leg work too. All those first date nerves and getting to know each other time doesn’t exist- so you have to fill it out with thinking about you guys as an ‘item’ which is odd, but something I’d highly recommend. Of course, we’re onions, we’re layered and we make people cry, and your friend-turned-partner will have more to them than you’ll have been privy to before, you suddenly find an extra layer of feeling has been added to your existing relationship.
A few things that I’ve discovered to be immensely beneficial about being friends first:
Your mutual Burn Book
Inevitably you’ll end up talking about all your mutual friends. This can be highly LOL because you will discover intel about people that you otherwise wouldn’t have had disclosed to your good self.
You're probably friends with his ex, which means being envious of some weird cypher on Instagram onto which you can project your wildest dreams, thankfully, doesn’t apply to you.
You know each other’s dirt
To some extent they’re going to know your less favourable behaviour traits; who you’ve hooked up with in the past, that thing you do with your eyes when you’re bored and what you look like after you’ve been at the gym with flu. So, if they’re still interested and vis-versa you have pretty solid grounds for being into each other.
You’ll probs like the same music
Bonus. Car journeys are going to be lit.
Trust comes as a given
Boring housekeeping bits here but the old T-word is very essential and you’re ensured a certain amount of respect when entering into a relationship with someone who already cares for you.
I spoke to my friend Jessy who swears that the whole ‘friend of a friend’ method is very overrated and that in fact it’s best ‘just to go for the jugular’ and date someone you’re actually friends with. I’m not sold, I still forget this guy I’m dating hasn't come round to borrow some sugar and is actually at my house to have dinner and sex.
‘I understand that people get weirded out when friends in the same friendship group start just having sex’ Jessy laughs ‘because it’s weird, and what you’re doing is potentially making everyone’s Facebook event for their next Birthday party super awks if you stop boning. But it’s always worked for me, we’ve always reverted back to friends if it’s broken down.’ I’m amazed that she’s managed to slip in and out of romantic/platonic statuses with guys, seamlessly. ‘Ok, there have been a few hiccups. But it’s worth it.’ I ask her what the pay off is. ‘I think it’s the most anti-app stance you can take, and I was sick to death of apps. Dating someone who actually knows you, who’s not a stranger or a time-waster, but someone who to some degree already knows you and enjoys your company is just my preference.’
I can’t help but feel like at the end of our conversation that Jessy’s point rings truer than ever. I’ve had mixed experiences on apps, and while I wouldn’t totally write them off, I don’t use them any more. I find most of my friends don’t either. They felt like games at first. Then they became something else- digital shopping aisles, devoid of life or emotion, they became hook-ups for people who were both lonely on a Sunday night and third-dimensions where we all behaved in ways we would never dream of behaving IRL amongst our friends. They stopped being fun or useful for lots of my friends. As we step away from our iPhones and seek more meaningful relationships I can understand why, for many, in these particularly anxious times, the immediate friendship circle would make most sense.
I suppose, without even realising it, I needed looking after and it just so happened that one of my friend’s fancied the task. Will it ruin our friendship? Cast a dark shadow over the friendship group at large? Will I ever let him hold my hand or make it official? I suppose there’s no point in thinking of it like that. For now- pray for the poor guy, would ya?
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