There is a lyric by Neon Trees from their hit song “Sleeping with a Friend.” “Why mess up a good thing, baby? It’s a risk to even fall in love.” The risk of, in my case, dating a friend, is not to be understated. Although it is the stuff of movies – childhood friends look at each other one day and realize their feelings have moved from platonic to so much more – the real life adaptation looks slightly different. Or, at least it did for me.
To find a member of the opposite sex who you can spend time with, lacking agenda or sexual tension, is rare. Some may even argue the concept doesn’t exist. As we all know, Billy Crystal is a firm believer that men and women cannot be friends without sex getting involved. But I really thought I’d found it. My friend and I could spend hours together, talking about nothing, getting work done at Starbucks, grocery shopping, encouraging one another in the pursuit of our biggest dreams. It was effortless, safe, and best of all, unassuming.
The day we decided to translate this ease into a dating relationship changed everything. Although the time we spent together was largely spent the same way – talking about nothing, getting work done at Starbucks, cheering each other on in the pursuit of our dreams – suddenly it wasn’t so easy. There were expectations, an unfamiliar nervousness, and something to lose. Lines were blurred. I already loved him as my friend, so when would it be right to say “I Love You”? What if cheering on his dreams meant pushing him to take his dream job across the country? Neon Trees had it right – agreeing to take our friendship to “the next level” was definitely a risk.
The change in dynamic was hard for both of us. As a result, the relationship ended soon after it began, in a quick and careless manner. Although we fought hard to make it work, at a certain point, we lost sight of what we were fighting for. The pain was palpable. When that pain subsided, here is what I learned.
Dating changes everything, even if nothing changes.
We were doing the same things together, we were the same two people, we conversed and joked around the same way. The difference was the new context. Sure, there was a physical element to it, but now, I had something to lose. As a friend, I could arrive to meet him with no makeup, thoughtless to what I said or how it was received. As a girlfriend, I was more careful, terrified to lose him.
Chemistry is tricky.
You can mistake chemistry for something else entirely. Maybe it was just the excitement of something new, or even platonic affection on a high. But when I looked into his blue-greenish sparkling eyes, and he was looking back in mine, I wanted it to feel like fireworks so badly I may have imagined them there. That connection we all dream of finding can disguise itself. Chemistry certainly cannot be forced, but perhaps just imagined, when we really want it there.
I didn’t just lose my significant other, I lost my friend.
The risk of dating a friend is that the loss seems to double. You lose what you had during the relationship, and you lose what you had before it. Qualities he brought out in me, the way he made me laugh, the things that only he would do with me – these were facets of the friendship as well as the relationship, and I was losing both.
I have also heard the lyric, “Love is friendship set on fire.” Maybe this is true, but I can tell you this – it won’t be an easy transition. There are parts of ourselves we keep secret, and they seem to be revealed when we think we have found someone we can really trust. But the love I had and still have for my friend looked differently; it was more loyal, more ardent. This is a dangerous thing to take advantage of, and lose. I don’t regret the risk I took when I dated my friend, and I hope someday we can get back the friendship that has since been lost. So, my advice is to tread carefully. Why mess up a good thing, baby?