“Friends First” Profiles - What’s The Deal?

Should you date someone who prefers to keep the relationship platonic at first…or is it a waste of time? One woman explains why she thinks it’s worth a try.

By Debra Kent

hen I found Thomas’ profile, I thought I must be dreaming: Here was everything I was looking for in 250 words. He loved animals, camping, kids. He shared my politics, faith, and deep and abiding affection for Thai food. Great smile, thick curly hair, broad shoulders, strong arms. I couldn’t wait to email him—that is, until I got to the very last line of his profile: “I’m only looking for friendship right now.”

Huh? What was that supposed to mean? I was eager to jump into romance and this guy wanted, what, a pen pal? A golfing buddy? Or was he just gun-shy? There was only one way to find out, so I emailed him.

Why he didn’t want a relationship…yet
It turned out Thomas was still raw from splitting with his wife. He wanted to get back into circulation but didn’t feel ready for the real thing. Over the course of many emails, I realized that we were a good fit. He realized it, too, and quickly sent this disclaimer: “I
“I’m only looking for friendship right now.” What was that supposed to mean?
can feel myself starting to have feelings for you. And I want to meet you soon. But I was serious when I said I was only looking for friendship right now.”

In truth, this was exactly what I needed, too. I was still fresh from the demise of my marriage and my therapist, who knows I’m hopelessly romantic and quick to commit, had urged me to strive for platonic relationships, at least for a while. “Fine with me,” I wrote back. “So, buddy, where would you like to meet?”

An hour later I was sitting in Starbucks with my new friend, sharing stories and laughing and, to my pleasant surprise, not caring at all that I hadn’t spent hours on my clothes, hair and makeup in preparation for my big date. After all, we were friends-only. This would be a come-as-you-are experience.

The finer points of “friends first”
In the weeks that followed, Thomas and I were truly friends. We rode his motorcycle around the lake, went to the movies, ate in restaurants and on blankets by the creek. We shared our darkest emotions, our vulnerabilities and fears. I knew about his bouts with depression, he knew why my marriage failed. Meanwhile, the chemistry between us simmered and roiled in a most delicious way. There’s something intensely sexy about pent-up desire in a presumably platonic relationship. Think: When Harry Met Sally. The hard part is restraining yourself, but that’s part of the fun. After two months as friends I began to see Thomas as someone I could fall in love with, possibly even marry—and I could sense he felt the same way about me.

But very soon after that, I noticed a drop in our email activity. There was no more daily check in. I’d call and he was slow to call back. What was going on?

The reality check
Finally, over what would be our last lunch at Noodle Village, he told me that he and his wife had reconciled. He also admitted that he had begun to develop an attraction and affection for me, but he felt obligated to make his marriage work.

I should have been happy for him—I was, after all, his friend. But my heart ached when I heard his news. He asked if I wanted to remain friends. I did not. It was then that I
There’s something intensely sexy about pent-up desire in a platonic relationship. Think: When Harry Met Sally.
admitted to myself, and to Thomas, that the whole business of being platonic friends was a pretext, a ruse. I could never be just friends because, well, I liked him too much. And as much as I reminded myself that I was a big girl and knew what I was getting myself into, it still hurt. I cried. I hated myself for contacting Thomas in the first place. I was angry at him for the emotional intimacy he shared. I felt misled, even though I’d known exactly what I was getting myself into.

Why “friends first” is fine with me
Today, you’d think I’d be wary of anyone advertising the need to start as friends. But over time as I’ve gained more perspective on my time with Thomas, I’ve come to realize that, in spite of the risks and potential for heartache, there are still real advantages to building a friendship before plunging into romance. For starters, my “dates” with Thomas were more relaxed and, ultimately, a lot more enjoyable since I had no driving need to dazzle him. I liked the fact that I could be my unfiltered, uncensored self; I could show up looking scruffy, laugh to the point of snorting, admit my deepest insecurities and it was OK because we were friends. With Thomas, there was no pressure to be perfectly groomed, gorgeously attired and endlessly witty. Likewise, I saw him at his most uncensored self.

In short, I’m not discouraged. In fact, I’m even more optimistic now that I see some of the surprising advantages to the friends-first approach, and have gone so far as to revise my own profile to include my new preference for starting as pals. I realize now that it doesn’t mean the end of romance but, quite possibly, the start of something wonderful.

Writer Debra Kent is the author of the Diary of V book series.
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