Most couples start out as friends, study finds

Friendships that blossom into romance are the preferred method of starting a relationship, say researchers

Kate Ng
Tuesday 13 July 2021 13:25 BST
<p>Most couples start out as friendships, research shows</p>

Most couples start out as friendships, research shows

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Starting a whirlwind romance after you clap eyes across a room may only be the stuff of movies, as new research suggests that most couples begin their relationships as platonic friends before they start to date.

Of the nearly 1,900 university students and adults who took part in the study, two-thirds reported that their romantic partnerships began as friendships.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada, found that examples of how people get together in relationship science overwhelmingly focus on strangers striking up a romance, despite this being a less likely pathway to love.

Most participants in the study (68 per cent) reported that their current or most recent relationships were first friendships, regardless of gender, age, education levels or ethnic groups.

Young people in their 20s and people from LGBTQ+ communities had higher rates of friends-first relationship initiation, with 85 per cent of couples in these groups saying they were friends before lovers.

Starting out as friends was the most popular preferred option, with almost half of participants (47 per cent) saying this was the best way to start a new romantic relationship, compared to other options presented such as meeting at a party or online.

The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, also revealed that the average length of time people remained friends before taking their relationship further was nearly 22 months.

Danu Anthony Stinson, psychology professor and lead author of the study, said: “There are a lot of people who would feel very confident that we know why and how people choose partners and become a couple and fall in love, but our research suggests that is not the case.

“We might have a good understanding of how strangers become attracted to each other and start dating, but that’s simply not how most relationships begin.”

The researchers pointed out that the field’s “neglect of friends-first initiation” could be caused by implicit bias.

“For example, despite convincing evidence that passion-based intimacy can arise from friendship-based intimacy among same-gender friends, it may not have occurred to researchers that such a thing could also happen in platonic friendships between heterosexual men and women,” wrote the authors of the study.

“Moreover, if people assume that men and women cannot be platonic friends because sexual attraction inevitably gets in the way, and if researchers assume that everyone desires and prioritises romantic relationships over friendships and single hood, it may be difficult to conceive of the possibility that heterosexual men and women might might maintain a platonic friendship for months or even years… before romantic feelings start to blossom.”

The authors said more research that takes these biases into account and overcomes “heterosexist” assumptions are needed to develop “a science of relationship initiation that truly reflects the full diversity of human experience”.

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