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Friends Turn Into Lovers More Often Than People Think

How individuals start a relationship is an often overlooked area of research

By Mark Travers, Ph.D.

A new study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science suggests that romances, where partners start as friends rather than strangers or acquaintances, are more likely to be the rule than the exception in romantic relationships—and that this fact has been overlooked by decades of research in relationship science.

“There is more than one pathway to romance, but relationship science does not reflect this reality,” say the authors of the study, led by Danu Stinson of the University of Victoria in Canada.

Our research reveals that relationship initiation studies published in popular journals and cited in popular textbooks overwhelmingly focus on a romance that sparks between strangers and largely overlooks romance that develops between friends. This limited focus might be justified if friends first initiation was rare or undesirable, but our research reveals the opposite

To be exact, the researchers estimated that 68 percent of romantic relationships start from friendship. This is based on self-report data from seven separate studies in which 1,897 people were asked to respond to the following question:

“What was your relationship with your partner before you became romantically involved?” (a) friends; (b) a friend of a friend; (c) acquaintances; (d) worked together; (e) had never met before (strangers); (f) other.

However, the researchers also found that approximately 80 percent of published research focused on the “dating an acquaintance or stranger” pathway to romance. Additionally, only a small fraction of studies explored the “friends-first” romantic pathway.

“This means that the field of close relationships has only a partial understanding of how romantic relationships actually begin,” stated the researchers.

To better understand the dynamics of the friends-to-lovers pathway to romance, the scientists asked research participants to evaluate some of the qualities of their friends-first romantic relationships. They found that the friends-to-lovers pathway was overwhelmingly rated as the best way to initiate a romance—better than meeting through mutual friends, better than meeting at school or college, and better than meeting at work. Interestingly, people viewed romances initiated online or on a blind date as two of the worst ways to start a romance.

Ways to Initiate a Romance, Ranked From Best To Worst (Stinson et al., 2021)

1. A friendship turning romantic

2.Through mutual friends

3.At school/university/college

4.At a social gathering or party

5.At a place of worship/religious community

6. Through work

7. Through family connections

8. At a bar or social club

9. In an online community/social media

10. Through an online dating service

11.On a blind date


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