When Harry first met Sally, he asserted men and women could not be friends because the “sex part always gets in the way”.
But new research suggests roughly two-thirds of couples start out as friends and maintain a platonic relationship for long periods before sparking a romance.
Danu Anthony Stinson, an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Victoria, Canada, and her co-authors investigated the experience of nearly 1,900 university students and crowdsourced adults (including 677 who were married or in a common law partnership), all of whom were asked whether they were friends with their current romantic partner before they became romantically involved.
Most participants (68%) reported that their current or most recent romantic relationship began as a friendship. The rate of friends-first initiation was even higher among 20-somethings, with 85% of such couples saying their romance began as a friendship.
How does a platonic relationship turn romantic and what really is the distinction between friends and lovers is a question that is still being unpicked, Stinson said.
Some participants described holding hands, family introductions, going on trips together, cuddling by the fire, and even having sex, as friendship. Others categorised those exact behaviours as romantic.
In the study, roughly 300 university students were also asked how long their “friends phase” lasted and whether they preferred to be friends before taking things in a romantic direction. On average, the “friends first” initiators were friends for nearly 22 months before the relationship turned romantic and almost half of the total sample thought that friends-first initiation was the best way to start a new romantic relationship, versus the other options presented such as meeting at a party or online, the researchers wrote in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.