While the majority of films and television shows depict romance between two strangers, a new study suggests that couples in real life are much more likely to begin as friends.
According to the new study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, two-thirds of romantic relationships start out platonically.
Researchers frequently overlook this initiation of romance by friends. The authors discovered that nearly 75% of previous studies on how relationships begin focused on the spark of romance between strangers. Only 8% is devoted to the romance that develops between friends over time.
“While many people would confidently assert that they understand why and how people choose partners, form couples, and fall in love, our research indicates that this is not the case,” lead author Danu Anthony Stinson, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria in Canada, said. “While we may have a good grasp on how strangers become attracted to one another and begin dating, this is not how the majority of relationships begin.”
The researchers analysed data from nearly 1,900 university students and crowdsourced adults and discovered that 68% of respondents stated that their current or most recent romantic relationship began as a friendship.
While there was little variation by gender, education level, or ethnic group, the rate of friends-first initiation was even higher among 20-somethings and LGBTQ+ communities, with 85 percent of such couples beginning as friends.
“Friends-first initiators” were friends for one to two years prior to initiating a romantic relationship among university students. The researchers noted that the overwhelming majority of these participants indicated that they entered their friendships with no romantic intentions or attraction. Additionally, Stinson noted that the average length of pre-romance friendships indicates that the couples were likely genuine platonic friends prior to developing feelings for one another.
Nearly half of students indicated that beginning as friends was their preferred method of developing a romantic relationship, far outpacing other options such as meeting at a party or online.
Given the prevalence of platonic relationships, Stinson would like to see additional research on this type of relationship initiation. Additionally, she hopes that this research will encourage people to reconsider their preconceived notions of love and friendship. According to Stinson, we are frequently taught that romance and friendship are two distinct types of relationships that develop in distinct ways and serve distinct needs.
“Our research indicates that the lines between friendship and romance are becoming increasingly blurred,” Stinson explained, “which forces us to reconsider our assumptions about what constitutes a good friendship, as well as a good romantic relationship.”
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