Whether or not you believe that men and women can be platonic friends, it can’t be denied that many successful relationships start out as friendships.
Some well-known examples include Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Madam Kwa Geok Choo. The former pair were pen pals as teenagers, while Mr and Mrs Lee were schoolmates at Raffles College.
But turning a friendship into a romantic relationship can be tricky. For some, it is a natural progression since you and your pal are already comfortable with each other.
On the other hand, what if a romantic attachment complicates an already-satisfying platonic relationship?
And what happens when one party develops romantic feelings while the other wishes to remain just friends? Here are some tips for taking your friendship to the next level — and how to cope if the other party doesn’t feel the same way.
How do you know if your romantic feelings for your friend is the Real Thing?
First, you need to figure out if the feelings you’re developing are the Real Thing or just a crush borne out of proximity and convenience.
Kloudiia Tay, a certified matchmaker from the Matchmaking Institute in New York and author of The 69 Love Notes: Secrets to a Loving and Lasting Relationship, recommends taking time to reflect on your friend’s role in your life and his or her emotional significance before making any moves. “When you know that you truly care for this person beyond what you’d feel for a regular friend, that should tell you that this person has begun to occupy an important space in your heart,” she says.
Besides feelings, you should also take into consideration whether you and your pal make suitable partners. Kloudiia says that you should think about what you want out of a relationship with your friend and assess whether he or she has the same values as you before taking the next step.
“You and your friend may get along well but you need to know if he or she is on the same page as you when it comes to romantic relationships,” adds Kloudiia. “Knowing his or her life goals or even lifestyle choices beforehand will allow you to suss out whether you can sustain a successful romantic relationship.”
How do you know that your friend has romantic feelings for you?
Suzenne Zheng, an image consultant and personal coach, says that it’s the little things that matter. She suggests looking out for positive body language. “He or she may sit or stand a little closer than usual, and is always on the lookout to make you comfortable. He or she may also be more attentive and considerate; for example, bringing you water when you cough,” she adds.
Kloudiia adds that if a friend is asking you to hang out more often than usual, sends you text messages or calls you every day, it may mean that he or she has romantic feelings for you. “You can also look out for other clues. For example, when he or she keeps close to you and talks mostly to you when you are out in a group,” she says.
Of course, these are just clues and you can never be certain based on these alone. The only way to find out is to ask him or her, and this brings us to the next point.
How should you make your move?
When it comes to bringing up the subject of romance, Kloudiia says that there is no one way to do it, nor are there any rules on what not to do. “Whether you choose to hint at pursuing a romantic relationship, or go for a full confession of your feelings, the goal is to be honest. Regardless of how it turns out, tell the person that your friendship is something you value first and foremost.”
One way to test the waters is by asking hypothetical questions, such as “Do you think friends make good partners?” or “Do you think friendship is one of the key components of a relationship?” From the response, you should be able to assess whether your friend is open to crossing over to the “romantic zone”. These questions can also lead the conversation into the actual sharing of your feelings if you feel comfortable to do so.
As for what to avoid when making your move, Suzenne says that there are instances where you should not bring up the subject. “For example, if your friend just broke up with someone, don’t bring up the possibility of a relationship with him or her. You may think it’s a great opportunity to seize the moment but it will only come off as insincere and insensitive.”
How to make the transition from friends to partners?
If you and your friend have decided to grow the friendship into a relationship, keep in mind that being a couple may be different from being friends. Many people have certain expectations of what they want in a partner.
“Don’t expect your friend to change just because he or she is in a relationship with you,” Kloudiia says. “For example, the woman may now expect the guy to shell prawns for her, when she wouldn’t have before. Or the guy might start laying down restrictions on how the woman should dress now that she’s his girlfriend.”
Managing these different expectations involves learning how to communicate effectively. “Open and honest communication is critical to letting each other know how and what you feel, what you’re looking for in each other and how to achieve that,” adds Kloudiia. “For example, if you and your partner don’t see eye-to-eye on how he or she manages their finances, sit down and engage in open communication. Don’t start criticising.”
Also note that your established friendship may be so comfortable that the relationship may feel the same. Amplify the romance and define your newfound status as a boyfriend or girlfriend by making the effort to dress up when you go on dates.
At the same time, small physical gestures such as gazing into each other’s eyes, using terms of endearment and holding hands can further underline the fact that you are now a couple.
What if your friend does not have romantic feelings for you?
In the event that your feelings are unrequited, you can still salvage the friendship. “If your good friend confesses his or her feelings to you, make sure you do not embarrass the confessor,” says Kloudiia.
You can use humour to diffuse the matter. Suzenne suggests saying something like “‘Were you practising a pick-up line on me?’”
If you are embarrassed, you could always spend some time apart. Kloudiia says that you don’t have to cut the other party off completely. “After the incident, take a few days to cool off. Then send him or her a message or a short email to say ‘hi’. “You don’t have to meet up if you feel uncomfortable but a quick hello will show your friend that you still value the friendship, and that you will not sever all contact because of what happened.”
Kloudiia says, “Some people may have to bow out from the friendship altogether in order to get over the episode and move on, while others would rather keep the friendship. If you decide to remain as friends, it may be hard to behave as naturally as before, however as time passes your interactions will return to normal. Eventually the disappointment will pass.”
This article was first published on DUET magazine.