Friend, Friend with Benefits or Romance?
Some things in life just refuse to be put into boxes, and being confused about where to place someone along the friend OR potential mate scale is a dilemma that most men and women face at some point in their lives. This is particularly true if a friendship turns into a “friends with benefits” situation.
Part of the problem is that friendship and romance are cut partly from the same cloth; they both involve attraction and there’s no denying that we are attracted both to our friends and our love interests. So what is the difference? How can you tell if this is a more than friends situation?
Romance has a spark
It is difficult to say for sure whether the transformation from platonic attraction to romantic attraction is a change in intensity, quality or both. But looking beyond the box of chocs you gave her on her birthday or your hand-in-hand walk along the river one thing should seem clear: romantic impulse is ultimately rooted in sexual interest or, at the very least, the desire for passionate attachment. With romance, there is a ‘spark’ in everything associated with the person of interest.
It takes two to tango
Of course, even if you are clear about your romantic intentions, there is no guarantee that your feelings are reciprocated and the situation can be even more complicated if your ‘friend’ is also unsure about their feelings towards you. Relationships of all kinds are largely communicated non-verbally and it takes a certain amount of emotional intelligence to decode the meaning of the signals passing between two people.
Some clues can be gathered by the rules you play by when spending time together.
The rules of the game
Do you both talk to each other openly about your feelings for other people? In general, friends have little inhibition about discussing details of their romantic interests and experiences with one another. In fact, one of the key duties of a friend is to be a confidante in matters of the heart.
If neither of you ever bring up the subject, it is an indicator that feelings may run deeper than pure friendship. If you hold back because of your romantic interest in your friend, but they openly discuss their love life with you it may be a sign that the attraction is one way – at least for now. If you feel the sting of jealousy when hearing about your friend’s love life it is an unmistakeable sign that you have romantic intentions.
In fact, friends tend to be more honest with each other period. A romantic relationship involves not only desire but of wanting to be seen as desirable. This usually involves hiding away any unpalatable character traits and covering up physical deficiencies, while showing off all that is attractive and appealing. This is all too often incompatible with honesty.
Balancing liking and wanting
Recognizing this dilemma over friendship and romance, Litt, Khan and Shiv (2010) set up an experiment whereby one group were given a present while the other was denied the present at first and had to earn it. They found that those who were given the present appreciated it more than those who had to fight for it, but were less motivated about it. The other group experienced more motivation to win the present but were more likely to give it away afterwards.
The researchers applied the same thinking to relationships and concluded that people who were likeable and readily available were often not experienced as desirable. On the other hand, those who were aloof and unkind were more likely to be desired but less likely to be actually ‘liked’.
More than Friends Summary
A great book to consider is The Truth About Love, Dating and Just Being Friends by Chad Eastham. At times humorous but always direct, this book may help provide more insight into your unique situation. And of course, it always helps to speak with a relationship counselor to help put things in perspective.
Could all close relationships ultimately be based on a delicate interplay between friendship and romantic desire, never truly fitting in one box or the other?
Perhaps the only real answer is the one that feels right to you?