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Just Friends? Not Anymore!

You love your friends! They’re funny, smart, and they get you, right? So what happens when you suddenly realise you might love one of them? “Some of the best relationships start as friendships, so if you think there is more, it might be a risk you want to take,” says relationship expert Gary Stollman, Ph.D. “But remember once that line is crossed, your friendship will never be the same…for better or for worse.” Before you proceed, take this advice from people who transformed their friendships.

1. “Hanging with another couple helped us connect”
“Nancy and I were friends and co-workers for about a year before crossing the line. One Friday evening, our mutual married friends John and Donna invited us to dinner. Nancy left her car in the car park at work and rode with me. After a great meal and drinks, our hosts started dancing to an Anne Murray album so Nancy and I followed suit dancing very close when on came the lyrics, ‘Could I have this dance for the rest of my life...to be your partner in bed every night.’ I felt Nancy just melting into my arms. Wow, talk about butterflies! The evening ended and I drove her back to her car, leaning over to give her our usual peck-and-part kiss, only this time our lips locked for about five long seconds. We were both like ‘What's going on?’ Nancy jumped out of my car, and we both headed to our own separate homes. But that was the moment things changed between us. However, we didn’t actually sleep together until a while later. When we did, it was spectacularly passionate. We just had our 10th wedding anniversary.”
—Bill, 46

Love lesson: Having a “play date” can lead to the real thing.
Interested in shifting from friendship to courtship? Try hanging out with a couple. Another twosome could set the stage for you pairing off in a more romantic way. “Most people are influenced by their surroundings, and environment can play an important part in creating romantic interest,” says Dr. Stollman. “If you've ever gone out with a couple who are in love, just being around these two lovebirds can serve as a catalyst or suggest to your friend that there might be more than just friendship in the mix for the two of you.” Plus, when you go out with another couple — even if you’re just friends — it becomes a de facto double date. By being thrown into togetherness, you might just find yourselves fancying the idea of pairing off.

2. “Distance made our hearts grow (way) fonder”
“I first spotted my boyfriend at a party thrown by mutual friends. Apparently he noticed me, too, and we ended up talking for hours, very quickly becoming friends ourselves. Within two weeks we were meeting up for coffee. Both of us were single, but I was moving to New York in just under a month so we just platonically enjoyed that short time we had together. Then I moved to New York City, which could have been the end of the story, but we stayed in touch for two years via email. When I was about to return to London, he wrote something along the lines of ‘Maybe I can talk you into a date when you get back.’ To be honest, I'd developed a crush on him through our email correspondence. So after getting his email, I bought him a gift—some chocolate kisses, which were my way of saying, ‘Yes, I'd love you to take me out.’ I returned to London a few weeks later and gave him his present. In return for my chocolate kisses, he planted a big sexy smooch on my lips. It was a very natural progression from friendship to falling in love. We just moved into our own place together.”
—Erica, 26, London, U.K.

Love lesson: Separation can help you suss out your true feelings.
If you see your friend face-to-face all the time, it can be harder to realise that your match is right in front of you. Time apart may give you the chance to notice how much you care about each other. Plus, separation — and the inevitable email relationship — gives you time to connect on an emotional and intellectual, rather than physical, level. “Through being cyber pals for all that time, we learned to laugh together, and trust each other,” recalls Erica, “which proved to be the perfect foundation for a harmonious, lasting relationship.”

3. “We talked it out”
“Justine was my best friend from college. We both majored in theatre (she’s a costume designer and I am a director). During school, when I would finish rehearsals I would go down to the costume shop and we would talk about our days, our families, what we wanted to do after college. I felt as comfortable with Justine as I had with anyone in my life. I don't know why, but it just didn’t occur to us that we should date. Then two years out of college, a group of us got together at a friend's apartment for New Year's Eve. As the evening wore on, I found Justine sitting next to me and everyone else at the party went away, at least in my mind. As we talked, the intimacy was overwhelming. But before jumping into a relationship, we actually talked seriously about it. Not just about how it would affect our friendship, but more like, ‘I'm thinking about making this change in my life, are you interested in that?’ Eventually we went back to my apartment. Changing our relationship to a physical one seemed very natural and led to a solid nearly two-year relationship, before jobs in different directions caused us to break up. We remained really close friends, though, and in an interesting twist, I later introduced Justine to one of my best friends. They are now married with two kids. So did dating a friend work out for me? Yes, it taught me what I want in a romantic relationship — friendship and deep intimacy.”
—Paul, 36

Love lesson: Good communication sets you up for success.
Jumping into new relationship territory? Chatting about your hopes ahead of time may give you a better chance of making the friends-to-lovers transition. “I highly suggest that prior to getting into an intimate situation with a friend, you talk about what the expectations are,” says Dr. Stollman. “Take the leap and say, ‘I notice we’re crossing the line here…what are your thoughts? Do you think we’ll still be friends tomorrow?’” If you’re too swept up in sudden passion to chat, have The Talk the next day.

4. “I blurted out how I felt”
“We had known each other for 10 years (I’d dated a friend of hers in the past), but we’d never really spent much time together. However, once she moved we started spending more time together and became terrific friends. I realised I was developing very strong feelings for her. After a few weeks of playful come-ons, she came over to my place one night—ostensibly just to hang. However, I couldn’t keep it in anymore so I told her point blank how I felt. She was hesitant, but not put off, so I made a move, and we quickly fell into bed and had an amazing night. The next day, I knew I really wanted to continue in this direction and the ice having been broken, she was willing, too.”
—David, 48

Love lesson: Testing the waters is a smart gear-shifting tactic.
Being brave and revealing your feelings is bold, for sure. But if you can do it, you’ll be cutting to the chase, which can spare you a lot of wondering and waiting. However, for the slightly less forward types out there, floating little hints to see if your friend might feel the same way may accomplish the same goal. “A lot of people don’t want to hear ‘no,’ and a good way to take a risk while buffering potential rejection is to present the idea as a light joke,” says Dr. Stollman. “You can usually sense if there might be interest by their reaction.” Or, try testing the idea of being more than pals by dropping potential future scenarios into the conversation in a general way. You might say, “Do you think we’ll look like that couple when we’re 80?” If your friend’s reaction is not quite what you desired, you can always add, “Oh, please…I was joking” to save face and your friendship. “It’s a safe way to make a suggestion without putting yourself totally on the line,” notes Dr. Stollman.

5. “We just went for it!”
“We met in Hawaii in 2001 through mutual friends. We connected immediately but were both seeing other people at the time—our significant others were spending the holiday with their families at home. We spent the vacation hanging out as friends, but I knew there was something there. The last night of the trip we exchanged email addresses because we were both headed back to college for another semester. However, we kept in touch on the phone. We talked about everything from school, family, sports, relationships etc. Eventually we both ended our other relationships and he decided to visit me at college. But we were still acting like friends (neither of us had yet admitted our growing feelings to the other person). Finally one night we were on the sofa when I couldn't stand it anymore, and I just started kissing him. We stopped and I said, ‘Well, I guess we aren't friends anymore!’ That night we finally cemented the romance that had begun months before in Maui..”
—Paula, 26

Love Lesson: Sometimes someone just needs to make a move already!
A kiss can be worth a thousand words and if you’re thinking that your friendship might be more, well, moving into a lip lock is one way to find out. Too shy? Then try other less obvious physical cues like grabbing your friend’s hand during a scary movie, linking arms as you walk down the street or even throwing in a subtle brush of the forearm. “Let your intentions be known in a way that lets the other person know without a doubt how you’re feeling,” says Dr. Stollman. “You may not get the response back you desired but at least you will have found out.” In other words, you can stop torturing yourself with what if thoughts. And who knows…maybe you’ll be one of those lucky couples who did actually find a best friend and lover all rolled up in one.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Redbook, Women’s Health, Maxim and Match.com. She has been tempted to cross the line with friends before but always chickened out!

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