Friendships that turn to romance

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Singer/songwriter Samantha Murphy has a fabulous song At the Laundromat" ♫ that describes a woman spending her rent money on new boots, new hair cut and color, all for the purpose of going out and finding a new guy—only then, she meets HIM over a pile of dirty clothes, yep, at the Laundromat.

“No makeup on, don’t even think my hair was combed, and it’s love, it’s love, it’s love!
” she sings in the catchy refrain.

Recently, as I’ve listened to my friend Amanda* describe her string of first and second (and very rarely third) dates with men she’s meeting mostly online on big dating sites, I’ve been thinking about how many of the more recent couples I have talked with have built their relationships out of friendships that unexpectedly turned into something more.

My friends Amira and Jacob, for example, worked together ten years ago, but never saw one another as anything but colleagues. Every so often, after each of them had moved on from the consulting firm, they got together for coffee. But finally, one night two years ago, what had been feeling like a get together between two old friends turned into what felt like a date. ”We were walking through the city, and it had gotten really late,” recalls Amira, who was raised Muslim, “ I looked at Jacob and realized I wanted to put my head on his shoulder. He put his arm around me, and we both realized something had changed.”

Jacob, an observant Jew, felt the same way. “Amira had grown up since I’d last seen her,” he recalls (he’s ten years older), “She had a seriousness about her and a depth that I felt very connected with. I needed to see where this could evolve.” After two years of dating, complicated by a cross-country move, the two turned into a committed, co-habitating couple, and, last month, decided to get married in the fall.

“I was definitely looking for someone, “ Amira says. “But I didn’t see Jacob as someone I could date—or love—until that night we got together. That was when I realized our friendship could be a lot more.”

“Did you think it would get as serious as it has?” I asked.

“No, not really,” Amira told me. “He was a great guy, but we were so different, I didn’t think it would work out. An then, it did.”

Listening to Amira, I thought about my own relationship with A, and how, almost two years ago and between boyfriends, I’d invited him over for dinner, as a friend. Even though I didn’t think he’d make good boyfriend material for me, I liked him, and felt we should get together before I got all caught up in dating (again).

Yet when A came over, and we started to talk, I had a wonderful time; sometime before the end of that night, I knew he’d touched my heart. Only, like Amira, I didn’t really think we were going to become serious with one other; at the beginning of it all, it seemed like what we wanted in a long term partner was NOT what we saw in each other.

“I thought you were amazing, and you got everything I said, right away,” A recalls, “But you were in a corporate job and I was political; I didn’t know about the activism in your earlier life, or that social change was part of your values.”

“And I didn’t think we’d really have as much in common as we do,” I said. “But you were my friend and I liked you.”

Like Jacob with Amira, A was dubious about where our dating might lead, but because we got along so well, he decided to see what could happen. “There was a moment, perhaps 7 months in, when I started feeling like things were going to work out,” A says. “It was when you said some things that showed you really got me, and you cared about my being happy.”

Are there signs that someone you consider a friend is better off as—or will someday become—partner material? Or is this one of those random things that sometimes flower and take hold, surprisingly enough?

In my case, there was the fact that while I didn’t consider A a boyfriend prospect, something about who he was totally touched my heart (not to mention I responded to his humor, kindness and smarts). For A, it was my intelligence and my bossy New York directness that caught his attention, and my deepening interest in activism and social change that helped hold it (his attention, that is.)

I think for both of us the fact we were friends—and didn’t think we’d turn into life partners—helped decrease the pressure to make things work out. In truth, we both secretly assumed they wouldn’t. A thought I’d get annoyed with his flaws and dump him, I thought he’d drift off to someone younger and more political. And yet, there was this good bond between us—and then somehow, it flipped--and we were falling in love.

My friend Amira describes something similar about falling in love with Jacob. Raised Muslim, she’d always been observant as a matter of habit, but the men she met through her family and culture, didn’t really click. Jacob, who was older, from a totally different faith and background, was fun to talk to, but not someone she’d ever considered—until that night when they stayed out late in the rain and friendship turned to something deeper, a bit more spicy (okay, way more spicy.)

In both cases, Amira and I agree, part of what hastened the ties with these men formerly known as friends was a recognition we share attitudes and values. A understood my ambition and my drive and had no small dose of it himself; I was drawn to his change the world politics and his determination to use his skills to make change happen. For Amira, Jacob shared a deep spirituality she hadn’t know they’d shared, and an appetite to experience life that fit her need to grown beyond her current world. For Jacob, Amira was someone with a fresh perspective, who met his intensity and his insights right where he was—and wasn’t put off a bit.

How do you know if you’re in a friendship that could go deeper? And if the timing’s right to make it happen? (In truth, THAT is the more important question.) Some good signs:

  • You’re both ready to take a risk and shift your friendship and you’re able to talk about it. Together.
  • You accept that dating might not work out and have a recovery plan, if possible. (This one you can keep to yourself.)
  • X seems way more interesting to you than the other people available and you want to invest time in getting more connected.
  • You’re building on the friendship you have, but somehow it feels like you are unwrapping a marvelous new confection in the process.

Have you married/dated/ fallen in love with a friend? What happened?

And what it made work—or didn’t? Share in the comments below.

Sex & Relationship posts around the blogosphere to note:

Content Dynasty, Jennifer Van Grove: Bad Form
“And in case you didn’t know, booty calls are bad form if a. you’ve never gotten booty before or b. it’s been more than 3 months since the last booty was had. Life moves quickly, and single people move on. Now you know (though I’m pretty sure you didn’t need me to tell you that).”

Feeling Flirty: 30 things a woman should have and know(by Pamela Redmond Satran)
By 30, you should have:

  • One old boyfriend you can imagine going back to and one who reminds you of how far you’ve come.
  • A past juicy enough that you’re looking forward to retelling it in your old age.
  • One friend who always makes you laugh and one who lets you cry.
  • A set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill and a black lace bra.
  • Something ridiculously expensive that you bought for yourself, just because you deserve it.
  • The belief that you deserve it.

Susan sez: There is TONS more in this great post.

Journey from BreakUp: Bedroom Blues
“Lon and I see each other for a couple of weeks, and during this time several things become clear. He is an amazing person and makes a great friend, he is HORRIBLE in bed. My initial response to the later realization was that it had to be MY fault. I mean, my ex-husband... well... he had issues, what with only being able to orgasm while standing up, masturbating, hand on my boob. Now, my FIRST sexual encounter after that is miserable, and sorely disappointing after doing such fabulous kissing. HOW CAN THIS BE?!”

Mistress M:
All the Reasons Why
“Its like the shortest of all visits, and the simplest of all good byes remind me just how much I truly love this man. And when I am not sleeping next to him, how desperately I desire to be in his arms.”

*(Names and some details have been changed in this essay to protect people’s privacy)

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