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The pros and cons of going from pals to partners

M.J. Santos   |   Fri, 26 Aug 2022

A few weeks ago, I came across an article in The Atlantic that encourages singles – particularly those who aren't finding success through dating apps – to try dating a friend.

It’s a suggestion that feels simultaneously banal and bold, right? On the one hand ... duh. Dating someone you already know well could be awesome. But on the other, couldn’t this be a recipe for the hottest of hot messes?

Furthermore – and this is a legit question versus a softball set-up to sell you on Couple – are using dating apps and dating friends mutually exclusive?

Before I dive into the latter question, let’s explore the “date a friend” premise. As I see it, there are two main pros and two main cons to consider when contemplating taking the plunge.

Pro 1: Dating a friend means basic compatibility is a given

The great thing about taking a leap of love with a friend is that you can fast-forward through many of the get-to-know-ya stages, which, while often exciting, can also be some of the most excruciating parts of dating.

Dating a friend means you likely won’t run into too many initial surprises or early dealbreakers … the basics have been established, outer layers have been exposed, and there’s no need (or ability) to fake the fundamentals. You know your partner; you like them; they like you; and you’ve already discovered shared interests, experiences, and beliefs.

In short, sometimes it’s refreshing to go straight to the main course and forego the appetizers. (Though let’s be fair. Apps – ahem – can be dang good, no?)

Woman giving girlfriend a piggyback ride

Pro 2: Friends build from a solid foundation

In addition to basic compatibility, when you date a friend, chances are decent that the relationship waters have been tested a time or two already. Either you’ve had to face conflict together or you’ve had the opportunity to see how each of you manages conflict individually.

This is invaluable knowledge. Far too many fledgling couples won’t go the distance because when times get tough, they’ll discover they have completely incompatible coping mechanisms.

Another potential foundational perk is a shared social network. Perhaps you already have relationships with each other’s friends and family members, which provides a flourishing “village” to rely upon and takes a good deal of pressure off of you should the relationship become serious. (Because, come on … is there anything more intimidating than meeting a new partner’s BFFs or parents?!)

Con 1: Going from buds to the bedroom can be … weird?

Depending on how long you and your new partner were in the friend zone (and how mutually bought-in you are on the experiment), transitioning to a sexual relationship could be majorly awkward.

I’d hazard a guess that many of us try to mentally compartmentalize relationships by completely shutting down any sexual attraction we feel toward friends. I mean, friends are friends. We aren’t “allowed” to fantasize about seeing them naked or doing dirty things to each other, right?

So when the relationship dynamic changes and suddenly we get the green light to get busy, our brains may have a tough time making sense of the switch.

The good news is that unless a roll in the hay makes you realize your feelings toward your friend are more “sibling vibe” than spicy, that initial awkwardness should fade pretty quickly. In the meantime, do your best to avoid overthinking it.

Con 2: What if you don’t find love AND you lose a friend?

I think the headline speaks for itself here. The inherent risk you assume in taking a friendship to the next level is by far the most quoted argument one hears against the pursuit.

And it’s a fair point. If you feel a strong enough connection that the will-we-won’t-we scenario has presented itself, you and your pal probs mean enough to each other that the loss of friendship would be felt sincerely.

But on the other hand, not exploring a mutual attraction could have you missing out on an absolutely epic experience.

Bottom line, the risk-reward analysis is a complicated one, and you and your potential plus-one will have to do some real soul-searching together before deciding whether to take the plunge.

Overall, and based only on (my limited) anecdotal research, it does stand to reason that relationships that spring from friendships are well worth the risk of the relationship taking a nose-dive. At the end of the day, if you aren’t friends with your significant other, what the hell are you doing together?


So … should you ditch online dating?

Though the Couple editorial team could never claim to be free of bias when it comes to this question, I personally and truthfully don’t think we’re talking about an either/or situation here.

If you’re striking out on dating apps again and again, then yeah … maybe it’s time to reevaluate your dating strategy altogether. Taking a break from apps and/or acting on a friend-crush could be part of that process.

But I also think there are sites like Couple (Bumble is another that comes to mind) that allow you to look for friends and not just romantic or sexual partners. Perhaps pursuing platonic connections will fulfill you in unexpected ways that ultimately open up avenues you wouldn’t have explored otherwise.

And even if none of your new cronies become your crush, connecting with a new crew is a reward in itself.


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