If you’re on the prowl for your next romantic partner, consider your friend group: A new study finds that most couples begin as friends.
This is news. Both laypeople and academics have long believed that people meet and then fall in love, a notion long supported by the plot lines of sitcoms and romantic comedies, in which two characters meet cute and persevere to fall into bed. But this is typically not the case: There’s a “friend” stage before the fireworks.
Isn’t that calming?
The researchers analyzed data from 1,897 participants (1,013 adults in the U.S. and Canada, 884 psychology students), all of whom had participated in lab studies over the prior 18 years. Two thirds reported that their current or most recent relationship began as a friendship. That rate jumped up to 85% among 20-somethings and LGBTQ+ participants.
“Our research suggests that the lines between friendship and romance are blurry,” says lead author Danu Anthony Stinson, a professor of psychology at the University of Victoria in Canada, “and I think that forces us to rethink our assumptions about what makes a good friendship but also what makes a good romantic relationship.”
University students averaged friendships of one to two years before becoming romantic, with nearly all reporting that they did not enter the friendships with romantic intentions; the students reported that friendship is their much-preferred method of beginning romantic relationships, far beyond other options such as online dating or meeting at a party. The researchers note that the one- to two-year time period supports participants’ claims that their relationships began as 100% platonic.
Scholars commonly overlook this friend-to-lover path. The researchers analyzed previous research and found that only 8% of studies on romantic initiation looked at romances that develops between friends over time. Seventy-four percent of those studies focused on the romantic spark between strangers. “We have a good understanding of how strangers become attracted to each other and start dating, but that’s simply not how most relationships begin,” Stinson added.
Caveats: Most participants were educated Westerners, and some of the data was gathered before the recent mainstreaming of online dating. The research is published this week in Social Psychological and Personality Science.