Is It Better To Be Friends Before Lovers?

Name: MerdeilleuxChainsaw
Comment: Friends first?

I’ve taken two different approaches to dating -
The first, where things are very casual, little to no expectations.  We get to know each other over a longer period of time and then decide to date.  (Typical for real world/friend of friends)
The second is approach the first meeting/date with an expectation of continue to date or end it there (this is typical for online)

The former is preferable, but rarer and takes more time.

The latter (so far unsuccessful) seems to rush everything (like a choose your own adventure book – some maybe too young for that reference) but it seems like at the end of every date there is a question: “Continue? Y/N?”

Is it possible to meld the two?  I feel the pace of the online world doesn’t allow for #1 to take place…
Age: 38
City: Toronto
State: Ontario


Judging by your username, I’m going to assume that you’re someone who prefers to develop a friendship with someone first, and then see if it can progress into something romantic.

I’ll be honest and say that when I read profiles that state that the man is looking for friends and maybe more, or looking to become friends with someone before they date, I pass them by. It’s not friending, it’s dating. If you want friends, go make friends.

There’s something off to me about people who wish to take this approach to online and offline dating.  It’s very special snowflakey to me. It suggests an ambivalence or fear of rejection and intimacy. That’s baggage I don’t wish to deal with. I think someone is setting themselves up for a lot of frustration is they hope to meet other people willing to go this route. Someone would have to be really invested in a person to move at this sort of snail’s pace.

As I’ve said many times now, dating has become a fast and intensified process. There really isn’t much room for baby steps anymore. Either you want to date or you don’t. Seeking friends first, to me, says, “I’m not ready to handle a relationship or engage in the things involved with having a romantic partnership.” It also makes me think those people are just looking for attention or an ego stroke.

Saying that you want to be friends first sounds acceptable and reasonable. When a guy says it, women often think it’s really sweet and cool that he’s not all about the sex. When a woman says it, a lot of men assume that she’s just looking for free meals with no sexual reciprocation. The only guys who would be interested in this kind of arrangement would be men with few options.

I’m not really sure that the friends first set-up is all that plausible now.

What do you guys think?

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32 Responses to “Is It Better To Be Friends Before Lovers?”

  1. Speed Says:

    I read “friends first” (and for some reason there are a ton of these on as “Unless you’re Ryan Gosling or Will Smith, I’m going to immediately Friendzone you, and you can plead your case as to why you should be promoted to getting between the sheets.

    “All this, while you wine, dine and entertain me over a period of weeks and months without so much as kiss. At the end of this period, I’m either going to shake you off or permanently confirm your friendzone status, since you humiliated and emasculated yourself by accepting my conditions in the first place.”

    So, no, I don’t recommend any guy message a woman with “friends first” or “just looking for friends and maybe more” in her profile.

    Okay, thumbs down! Boo! Speed! Boo!

    • Selena Says:

      I’m having a hard time with the scenario of wine, dine, entertaining someone over a period of weeks and months(!) without so much as a kiss. Why would someone do this for so long if they knew they wanted a romantic/sexual relationship?

      I see the “friends first” disclaimer as something people might use to make it clear they are not in casual mode. Not unlike using the phrase “I’m not looking for something serious right now.” Two different things, but socially acceptable ways people employ to let others know where they are at dating, sex-wise.

      No thumbs down, Boo! Speed! from me here, but if I don’t want to kiss a guy goodnight…jeez…I’m not going to want to out with him a second time. Let alone weeks and months.

    • Howard Says:

      Speed, I know I aint as fast as you, but much truth in what you say. The big city of NYC has too many opportunities; no need to invest that much of a wing and a prayer. If my ancestors lived in a village of fifty people and was able to meet the woman of their dreams from that village or one of maybe four other villages of similar size, that says a lot. It says that I have numerous women who can make me happy, living in a metropolis of ten million people. The number would be at least 50,000 women given similar odds as my ancestors. I am not going to assume that one woman is that special a snowflake.

      The world has changed. We no longer ride buggies. Women are no longer just for breeding. We are no longer serfs forced to produce crops where the Lord of the manor will take half at harvest. The word is “opportunities” That’s what we have a lot of. I plan on using mine.

      I have lived long enough to see the girls with this friend first requirement typically trample over the guys who played into that, and end up sleeping with the mysterious stranger.

      Sex is an important part of glue that holds a long term relationship together. Women certainly have to be comfortable before doing it, but it’s pretty stupid to wait an extraordinarily long time to test those waters. What, if you are not sexually compatible? You would have wasted time that could have been spent on someone more sexually compatible. And women are way more picky when it comes to this than men. So it always puzzles me when women show up with this friends firsts nonsense.

      The real issue here is lack of trust in one’s own judgement. So there is a tendency to hedge a bit and imagine that a long wait period will yield a defect in the potential guy’s character or personality. There is a defense mechanism that imagines, if a guy invests that much, then it forces him to be resolute.

      What really happens, is that only the guys with fewer options play into this. The strongest and best men do not play along. You end up with a weakling, a guy who is not very desirable to many women. That is why most women, with the friends first requirement, do end up sleeping with the mysterious stranger rather than the poor sap she has been stringing along for months.

      • C Says:

        Great point about the folks from small villages finding love. How is it that a tiny handful from each gender were happy to couple up when they had very limited options but we sift through hundreds of online profiles, walk past thousands of strangers on the street and just say “meh”, “meh”, “meh”… Funny that the more options we have in the anonimous singles market, the harder it is to find a satisfying relationship even as the social barriers to entering such a relationship have virtually completely fallen away. Interesting phenomenon….

        “What, if you are not sexually compatible? You would have wasted time that could have been spent on someone more sexually compatible. And women are way more picky when it comes to this than men. So it always puzzles me when women show up with this friends firsts nonsense”

        While it might be harder for women to find a satisfying sexual relationship, I think most of us have tried to make a relationship work with a guy who was TERRIBLE in bed at some point because we liked him so much. I was shocked that in some cases even women who describe themselves as very sexual have tried to make things work with a guy who was bad.

        I certainly cant speak for all women, but from the women I know it seems that while we are harder to satisfy sexually, they are less concerned with the quality of the sex then they are with the quality of the guy and their attraction level to him. I promise that Frank Sinatra or Steve Jobs could have been AWFUL in the sack and women would still have been lining up to marry them.

        • Howard Says:

          And that is why women have been so unhappy later on from those choices. If a man is not sexually compatible with you, there are going to be major problems a few years into the relationship. Many women like to convince themselves that they can somehow get things to work. They do get it to work, through suppressing their sexual satisfaction.

          Men get involved in similar situations, simply because a woman looks amazing. Later on they generally end up cheating on her with some woman that may not look as good, but amazing in the sack.

          No matter what we do, things are going to get a little stale and boring, years down the road. So imagine starting out with little sexual compatibility, and things getting worse.

          • C Says:

            You might be right. My LTRs last a couple of years so I couldnt say what matters 10 years into a marriage. That said, I think women in general are less motivated by sex then men. Social studies seem to indicate that women tend to cheat to get their emotional fix while men will cheat to get their sexual fix.

            But dont we all have to settle to some degree? I’m talking about awful sex. I once broke off a nearly 2 year long relationship with an otherwise lovely guy because the sexual incompatibility was just awful. But what about the average situation? From my experience, most guys are “meh” in bed. Not awful, just “meh”. I would think the same goes for most women.

  2. C Says:

    great subject. i agree. Ive done a lot of online dating over the years and starting out dating and transitioning to friendship is not a problem. starting out friends and transitioning to dating online is not possible that i know of. when i see a guy say ‘friends first’, i assume he means frineds with benefits first and then maybe maybe it will become something. i pass too.

    theres nothing wrong with friends first. i recently dated a couple of male friends who id known for years and one of them is now my boyfriend. but, i met both through work. if you want friends first and you want to meet the guys online, i suggest meetups.

  3. DrivingMeNutes Says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the OP’s premise – i.e. that dating friends-of-friends is drawn out, while online dating is quick. My experience is the opposite.

    Most of the time that I’ve starting dating someone that I already knew or met through a friend, everything tends to be quick. In my experience there’s no drawn out “decision” to start dating after a friendship- you just kind of hook up at the first opportunity.

    Online dating is the opposite, for me at least. A much more formalized and deliberate experience, where people tend to be more cautious and slow, rather than less. Given that, I agree that anyone in the online medium that seems especially cautious, or wants to add tedious steps to the process, raises red flags for me. That’s just not fun. And, I don’t even want to be friends with someone who isn’t fun.

    • C Says:

      I think the OP meant that the process of meeting a friend of a friend at a party, becoming friends with them and then deciding mutually to start dating is a more drawn out process then online dating. I agree with that. It usually takes at least a couple of months to befriend someone.

      From my experience, dating friends is still pretty formal. We still went on dates and there was still a vetting period to see if we actually work as a couple. I think the pace of a relationship is pretty unique to the couple.

  4. Nicole Says:

    I agree that a “friends first” approach is unlikely to work on a dating site… It’s not why most people are there, and you’ll have a very limited audience.

    But in my (admittedly limited) experience, you can develop a friendship WHILE you’re dating someone. Especially if you look at dating as a fun activity, instead of an interview process. It doesn’t have to be a series of happy hours and dinners – suggest the sort of activities you’d want to do with a friend. You don’t need to be in full on, eyelash batting flirt mode all the time, it’s ok to just relax and be yourself.

    If there’s physical attraction but no sense of a developing friendship, I’m going to bail after a couple of dates. If there’s no spark but we get along great, maybe I have a new friend. If there’s chemistry AND I love hanging out with the guy… The last thing I would want is to wait weeks or months before seeing where it goes!

  5. AnnieNonymous Says:

    It sounds like this person is a few years behind on figuring out how to reconcile the norms of offline dating with the new rules of online dating. Yes, it’s incredibly common to meet someone through a big group of friends-of-friends and eventually start dating that person. Where the OP is incorrect is in assuming that you and the other person were ever friends first. If either one of you ever had an inkling of sexual attraction to the other one, it wasn’t a pure friendship. There are those times where lifelong friends and up dating, but again, usually one of those people has been pining away for a long time. The OP is in utter denial if she thinks that any variation of the “friends first” scenario has anything to do with actual platonic friendship.

    The OP is doing something that I despise in both genders: going through the motions of trying to date when she isn’t actually interested in finding a relationship. You’re wasting people’s time by acting like you want a relationship when you really just want to hang out.

    • Matt Says:

      Totally agree. I met too many women like that. Ever since I started dropping those dead-enders and chose to spend time instead with women who show real interest, my results have gotten much better!

  6. Matt Says:

    Dating may be fast and furious in NYC, but singles in T.O. are flakey, ambivalent and wishy washy about dating.

    • LostSailor Says:

      All the more important to not get sidetracked into a “friends-first” scenario that can string out getting to know someone for months or more to little or no end.

  7. Steve From the City Next Door Says:

    I believe the friends first thing only works where there is something else keeping you meeting. Things like work or friends’ parties or perhaps other activities (e.g. church, hobby based clubs). In these cases I think one might slowly get to know someone over time but then I think the dating will still be fairly sudden. A moment where someone decides I would like to date the other. The politics of the group might then draw it too.

    I don’t see friends first working where one is going out of their way. I mean you meet someone from, then do you stop meeting people while you do this friends thing for a few months? If you keep meeting people, how many? You could get into situations like “Sally seems good and still has potential now after two months, however, Jane has more potential but less certainty since I have only been friends with her one month. Do I drop Jane because Sally has shown more certainty? Maybe I should drop Sally because Jane has more potential but could turn out to be a less desirable. And what Mary that just matched me with? Her profile looks really good too!”

  8. BostonRobin Says:

    The “friends first” label sounds to me like the person either isn’t ready to date at all, or maybe just wants to control the pace, possibly to a ridiculous degree. So if the other person maybe gets too huggy or even kissy (gasp!), Mr./Ms. Friends-first gets to become quite indignant in a way they would not have been able to under ordinary dating circumstances.

    I believe it’s mostly about control though, and the expectation that you can control the outcome by saying what you want before you even meet the person. It creates an emergency escape, so you can always ditch someone for “rushing” you. Part of being a special snowflake is looking for things to be offended at.

    Being friends first and then having it lead to more is something that happens organically, not in an online dating context. Has this ever worked out for anyone who met someone online under these conditions? Really, I’d love to hear about it, how two people met online with the understanding that they would be friends for a few weeks or months, then ended up falling in love, etc.

    • C Says:

      I disagree with the assumptions you are making. She wants to get to know people before deciding to date them like people used to do way back when before the internet when most people met at work, at school or at dances. Theres nothing maliscious about it.

      I know a guy who feels the same way. He has a really easy time getting lots of girls. He also doesnt like to multi-date. He said that typically, women he date tend to quickly decide that he is “the one” and when he has to tell them he doesnt feel the same way, theres a lot of hurt feelings and drama. As a result, he prefers to meet women through friends and take a few weeks to get to know them before asking them out to ensure he could actually see a future with them.

  9. Ken Besig Says:

    I remain friendly with several women that I had intense fairly long term sexual relationships with so I know that it is possible to remain friends after having been lovers, but I have never personally experienced friendship with woman developing into an intimate sexual relationship. Thus I take the advice given here by Moxie as being as true now as it was thirty years ago, “It’s not friending, it’s dating. If you want friends, go make friends.” I dated women with the hope of a sexual relationship developing, I made friends with women I wanted for friends.

  10. fuzzilla Says:

    My last go ’round on OKCupid, I did say I was looking for new friends in addition to possibly a serious relationship should all the stars align (I dunno, something like that). I really would be open to making new friends since I recently moved to a new town, but I started seeing someone I’m really excited about, so I just disabled my profile altogether. Were I to make friends through OKC, it would be through failed dates that I broke down for parts (“eh, no spark but he’s pretty funny, we should go grab a beer some time”). Don’t want to send mixed messages, so I’ll focus on Meetup or school to meet new people.

    As for the OP, wouldn’t taking it slow be a meld of the “friends first”/”date now” dichotomy she perceives? She should ask herself why she prefers that and then use her words to communicate where she’s at and what she wants to whoever she’s dating – or yeah, maybe introspection will root out that she’s just really not so keen on dating at all.

    • Nicole Says:

      I think there’s a difference between being open to dating OR making friends, vs wanting every potential date to put in the time as a platonic friend first.

      And yes to the “just friends” being mostly a result of trying to date. I still hang out with one guy from OKC who wasn’t a match for me, but is a great cycling buddy.

      “She should ask herself why she prefers that …”
      I obviously don’t know the OPs situation, but to me it sounds like she thinks most guys are only looking for sex, and she wants her “dates” to prove that they’re not like this. Think if we’re honest, we’ve all felt that way sometimes, but setting up this kind of hurdle is not the answer. Seems like a guaranteed way to land yourself the desperate guys who have no other options.

  11. D. Says:

    There’s a few different ways one could interpret “friends first,” but within the context of an online dating site, it usually isn’t all that positive.

    when I see “friends first” in an online profile, I think that this is a person who is emotionally timid and “scared of getting hurt” — and therefore not open to relationships in a way that will ACTUALLY lead to a relationship. They may say to themselves that they want a relationship, but they aren’t actually ready for or capable of having one because they’re more guarded and therefore need someone to put in a LOT of time on the front end. This may also suggest that they’ve swung radically in the opposite direction in the past and rushed into things, only to end up burnt (surprise!), so “friends first” is sort of an intellectual exercise for them to hold back, rather than be open to a more even-keeled natural progression in dating. They may also be forcing themselves to date when they’re profoundly ambivalent about it.

    I want no part of any of that, so when I always skipped over profiles like that.

    In the offline context, it’s a bit more flexible. You can end up as “friends first” because you’re both engaged in some common activity and that’s how you meet. As you get to know the person, you become more attracted to them, and then decide to go out. Ok, fine and dandy. The environment may not be geared towards coupling up, either, but could still lead to that. I’m thinking about classes, or volunteer activities, etc. But even then, I’d figure within a relatively short period of time, someone will ask someone else to get a drink or something, and a kiss will be exchanged, at which point you’re moving past friends (or getting told “let’s just be friends”).

    Still, I tend to think that people who want to be “friends first” really aren’t comfortable with the risk of getting hurt which is inherent to dating and relationships. If you can’t accept that risk and do it anyway, it’s probably not gonna work.

  12. CoolDude Says:

    I don’t buy into “Friends first” at all. I’ve met married couples who would claim they started as “friends first” which to me always translates to “The guy had the hots for me and I continued to blow him off until I finally noticed him or he was really persistent.”

    We’re adults now. We don’t have the luxury of going to class with the same person week in and week out and getting to casually know them through friends until we finally develop a spark. Sure, that scenario happens once in a while (i.e. if you date a friend of a friend) but, for the most part, we’re going into most relationships blind. I (and I assume a few others) live in NYC where you have to make time to see someone. I don’t have time to get to know someone be “friends first” at age 30. If I’m physically attracted to a woman I will want to a) sleep with b) date her c) both. Flame away but man/woman who say they want to be “Friends first” = red flag.

    • C Says:

      People still work together, live in neighborhoods where they frequent the same starbucks/train stop. People still belong to a gym, to a church, they attend various groups.

      People who marry someone they met online are still in the minority. Last I read, more marriages still result from meeting someone at work then any other way.

      • CoolDude Says:

        That’s totally fair about people belonging to various groups and, in those instances, I believe a “friends first” idea can be developed. For example, many people belong to a kickball league (ha, so Portlandia) and I’m sure semi-friendly relationships that develop and can lead to romantic ones.

        However, when you’re going on a first “date” with someone, I don’t really see how someone can say “let’s be friends first” unless it’s just a kind way to reject someone.

  13. jane Says:

    I really dont think its something you can plan to happen one way or the other. If you have attraction and chemistry right off the bat, its going to be really difficult to put the brakes on and try to stay platonic. One or both of you will get frustrated and/or upset when the other person dates someone else. I think the best things happen organically, so when you feel attracted to someone – follow that feeling and see what happens, whether its your first meeting or you’ve known them for years.

    • D. Says:

      That’s not necessarily true in all cases — the bit about “If you have chemistry it’s hard to put the brakes on,” I mean.

      I think the problem is that people assume “put the brakes on” = “date other people and/or don’t have sex.” Realistically, it should at the very least also include “Enjoy yourself, but do so with the understanding that the bottom could drop out at any moment, so keep all the good times in perspective.”

      • C Says:

        I love your advise. It always offers a complete and well articulated interesting perspective.

        In principal I agree with what you are saying but it assumes that everyone can “live in the moment”. Unfortunately, it just doesnt come naturally to everyone to peceive or experience their lives in this way. For some folks, its like saying, “Why worry about disappointmen? Just go on job interviews and enjoy the process.” Umh….hmmmm…

        • D. Says:

          Thanks! I only offer advice based on my own experiences. I don’t claim to be a perfect font of wisdom or anything. From my experiences, the process of dating became a hell of a lot more enjoyable — and I enjoyed more success at it — when I was less concerned with the ultimate outcome and more just enjoyed the process itself.

          That isn’t always sustainable over the long term, but that’s kind of the ideal headspace that I was able to find. I was at my most relaxed, and most open to a relationship when I wasn’t actively pursuing it, if that makes sense. That said, I recognize that getting into that mindset can be extremely difficult and I’ve struggled with it myself at times.

  14. msM. Says:

    “Seeking friendship” is too confusing for online dating, and frankly, unfair to the other parties. I hope you don’t expect anyone to pay for your dates if all you are after is friendships…Most women that avoid having sex initially, do so because they’re afraid of “getting hurt”. Well, “getting hurt” can happen when you put yourself out there, but good things can happen too…I’d say if you are planning for that, then let the men know right away. It’s unfair to lead people on. Also, people’s lives are very busy and most already have friends, that is not the real reason they online dating.

  15. LostSailor Says:

    Is It Better To Be Friends Before Lovers?


  16. LostSailor Says:

    Okay, seriously.

    I’m assuming the OP is a woman, it’s hard to tell.

    But Moxie is absolutely right about what saying “I want to be friends before sex” means when heard by women and men. When men say it, it’s either clueless or manipulative. When women say it, it’s either uninterested, manipulative, wounded or all three. And for both men and women, it, as many commenter pointed out, may mean someone who is either not confident in themselves, scared of getting hurt, shy, inexperienced, or a host of other not really attractive traits.

    In the case of a woman who prefers being “friends” first, I usually see someone who has been burned in the past, has made poor choices, and who no longer trusts their judgment or intuition. Not attractive prospects. When a man prefers this route, I see a guy who is inexperienced, unrealistic, and not very confident. Again, not attractive prospects.

    That’s not to say that friends-first can’t happen, but, as the OP points out, is quite rare. My experience has been that dating that has evolved into genuine friendship, either in a relationship or afterward, began with sex very early on. But rarely the opposite. As I’ve mentioned before, even the ex-wife and I started with first-date sex and have remained friends post-divorce.

    But to get back to the OP: I feel the pace of the online world doesn’t allow for #1 to take place.

    It sounds to me that the OP simply isn’t comfortable with getting intimate with someone he/she isn’t “friends” with first. That sounds like a recipe for dating disaster.

    To quote Yoda: That is the path to the Dark Side. The Friend Zone leads to non-attraction. Non-attraction leads to frustration. Frustration leads to suffering.

    I’m sure that was in one of the movies somewhere…

  17. noquay Says:

    Friends are who you meet IRL. Yep, I was friends with the man who I eventually married for years, we were in the same progressive circles and were seeing other people. Friends works best IRL; maybe theyll evolve into something else, maybe not. In this community, because I have very different values from most here, I keep friends and dating separate. On line is faster paced and frankly I have neither the time (about a 4-5 month window every year where dating is even possible here) nor do I wish to drive 100s of miles to cater to the ambivalent.

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