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Two-Thirds of Couples Started Out as Friends, Study Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that a little over two-thirds of people were friends with their partner before things turned romantic.
  • This dynamic was more common for people under 30 or who identified as LGBTQ+.
  • Relationship experts credit friendship as an important part of building trust and open communication with a partner.

It may be one of the most popular tropes in storytelling: Good friends grow together and rely on each other, all the while showing little signs of romantic tension. Then one day, what the audience knows hits them: they should be together. While the friends-to-lovers plot often looks too good to be true, it turns out lots of people are out there living it.

A recent study from the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science looked into how common it is for romantic partners to start as friends. Of the 1900 participants involved, 68.2% reported that they had initially been friends before things turned romantic with their partner. The number was stable across genders. However, 84% of people in their twenties and 85% who identified as LGBTQ+ reported that their relationship began as a friendship.

Some participants admitted to becoming friends with their partner (or vice versa) in hopes of starting a romantic relationship. However, for 70.3% of people, the romantic attraction grew after getting to know each other as friends.

“For many, the ideal romantic relationship is a friendship with additional components that may include romantic and sexual elements,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the owner and founder of Take Root Therapy. “Being friends first offers us the opportunity to develop trust, to understand each other’s values, to share interests, and to be intimate in how we share and relate to one another."

Shontel Cargill, LMFT

When two friends discover they desire to take the next step, they know who they are taking that risk with, which is someone they love, trust, and truly understands who they are.

— Shontel Cargill, LMFT

Not only is this turn of events common, but many people hope for it. Friends-first was the number one choice (47.4%) for participants when asked the best way to meet a romantic partner. The following two best options, through mutual friends or at school, tied at 18.1%.

There are a few considerable advantages to being friends first. For starters, you get to know each other without the pressure of impressing a potential partner. “Friendships create an opportunity for both individuals to be open, honest, and truly get to know each other, without judgment or pressure of being ‘the perfect significant other.’ When two friends discover they desire to take the next step, they know who they are taking that risk with, which is someone they love, trust, and truly understands who they are,” says Shontel Cargill, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Thriveworks in Cumming, GA.

Being friends first also gives you the opportunity to see how a person supports you and responds to conflict. As Cargill explains, healthy friendships often involve open communication, conflict resolution, forgiveness, and reconciling differences. Experiencing these points creates a strong foundation when the relationship turns romantic. It also provides the relationship with substance and demonstrates what interests and values you have in common. Instead of spending your first dates asking each other how many siblings you have and where you grew up, the conversation can dive deeper and build on what you learned as friends.

It also stands as a reminder that you have a supporter in your corner. “I have evaluated individuals of all ages who have relayed that the quality of their friendship with their partner has directly encouraged them to persevere in regards to their personal and professional goals,” says Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a Johns Hopkins-trained adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, California's largest outpatient mental health organization. 

The Importance of Friendship In Relationships

Just because a relationship turns romantic, that doesn’t mean the friendship you and your partner had is suddenly gone. Instead, it becomes another part of your overall dynamic, bonding you together. “Friendship is showing up for one another, sharing different parts of ourselves, and enjoying each other's company, amongst many other things. These are all important in romantic relationships, too,” says Lurie.

Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT

Being friends first offers us the opportunity to develop trust, to understand each other’s values, to share interests, and to be intimate in how we share and relate to one another.

— Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT

Your previous friendship can also help amp up the new, intimate experiences you share. According to Magavi, her patients that married or dated their friends report a heightened emotional bond and improved romantic and sexual experiences. “Love can release neurochemicals in the brain that amplify sensory stimuli, which can heighten orgasms,” she says. “[People] relay that they laugh more, dance more and have some of the best orgasms of their life thanks to their friend turned lover.”

What This Means For You

Whether you were platonic first or went straight into dating, friendship is an important part of a romantic relationship. "It is important to have a friendship bond with your partner in addition to the romantic one because there are so many foundational components to a friendship that are needed to help sustain your romantic relationship," says Cargill.


Also, if there's a friend you've grown feelings for, try respectfully expressing it to them. Who knows what will happen? It worked for so many others.

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  1. Stinson DA, Cameron JJ, Hoplock LB. The Friends-to-Lovers Pathway to Romance: Prevalent, Preferred, and Overlooked by Science. Social Psychological and Personality Science. July 2021:194855062110269. doi:10.1177/19485506211026992