Two core values I embrace as a heartbreak/finding-love coach are transparency and authenticity.
I do believe friendship before love is key, but I admit that this isn’t exactly how my personal hell-and-back love-life journey unfolded.
It started 12 years ago, at 28 years old, when a platonic friendship turned into my first adult love that ultimately led to my first excruciating heartbreak.
I then moved on to ANOTHER friend. Even though my spidey senses said, “Run from him as a lover,” I let myself fall for his grandiose words and gestures, only to hit what I now call my rock-bottom heartbreak, at 30 years old.
Cut to 38 years old, when I called in the man of my dreams.
We met online, started out as lovers right away, and it’s safe to say it’s been pure bliss, despite some normal new-relationship growth bumps along the way, over the past year and a half.
So why write an article proposing friends before lovers, if that’s NOT how my own love-life journey unfolded?
Because the truth is, I was completely unconscious and blind when I dated the two friends, AND, I was the furthest from being a true friend to MYSELF at the time.
I hated my body, was frustrated with where I was at in my career, and always had a stressful story around money.
So naturally, I looked to men to validate me, and I’m very thankful now that they never did, as it was an invitation to truly befriend myself first, before I could call in a romantic partnership that also entailed a solid friendship.
Even though it started out with sparks and fireworks with the now love of my life, I still very intentionally treated him like a friend in our conversations, while newly getting to know each other.
Here’s what that looked like for me. If you can relate, then odds are you’re on the track to shifting from the friend zone to lovers.
Editor’s note: Although this article uses male pronouns, the advice applies to all sexual orientations and gender identities.
1. Neither of us was shy about discussing past relationships on the first date.
It didn’t look like “Hi, nice to meet you, let me tell you about my horrible ex.” It came up organically, and I was genuinely curious to know him as a whole person, including his relationship history, as it gave me insight into the type of relationship he might now be looking for. It also felt freeing to share my own story (even though he Googled it!) and take ownership of who I am, what brought me to where I was by the time I met him, and what I was looking for. This felt like the beginning of having a deeper understanding of each other, without placing some expectation that we were going to run off into the sunset together.
2. I unapologetically owned who I was, despite some lingering insecurities.
I’m a life coach. He’s a lawyer. Because of my own awareness that life coaches don’t need a higher education, I’ve admittedly felt insecure about what people with grad degrees think about life coaches. I love what I do and am so proud of what I’ve created in my business, but that insecure thought did come up, but I didn’t let it stop me from talking about it proudly. After all, a true friend, and for sure, MY partner, was going to greatly respect my work and ask genuine, curious questions if he wasn’t familiar, which is exactly what he did.
3. I shared a vulnerable story about when I wasn’t my best, right away.
I didn’t plan to share it with him, but it came up organically and I decided, “F it! This will give him great insight into my self-admitted flaws!” And I loved his response: he put his arm around me and said, “You know you gotta let this go, right?!” A true friend in the making, right from the beginning.
4. We stayed committed to our independent lives while getting to know each other.
We lived 80 miles apart when we first started dating. Our time together was scheduled around his kids and our intense work schedules, so there wasn’t an immense amount of contact in between the weekends we’d see each other. Little lovely check-ins most days and an occasional call when we could find a time that worked, but for the most part, we were living full, separate lives while apart. The space felt similar to that of a newly budding friendship of naturally getting to know each other, without incessantly texting and spending every waking minute together. This really helped me breathe, slow down, and get coached through the intense feelings I was innately feeling for him right off the bat, while staying committed and present to the already amazing life I had cultivated without him.
5. I continued to swipe on other people, even though my heart and bones immediately knew this man was super special.
This was so hard, as I tend to be a monogamous soul once my heart is already sold, no matter how early. But I was committed to not committing to him until we spent a significant amount of time getting to know each other and figuring out if we were both on the same page about an exclusive relationship.
Let’s face it.
Sometimes sparks fly and the romance takes off way before a solid friendship is established, but using these five suggestions above will help you feel out who you’re dating for the whole human they are—not just the lover.
And if you’ve already been friends with him and now it’s unexpectedly turning in a romantic direction, don’t assume it’s safe, like I did (TWICE!), just because of the friendship first.
Who someone is as a friend is very different from who he might be in an intimate partnership. Get clear on his idea of what an ideal relationship looks like, and proceed slowly and carefully before jumping to assume this is a match made in heaven.
There are no guarantees either way, but you could end up saving yourself a lot of time and heartache when you enter with a cautiously open heart.
Claire Byrne is a heartbreak/finding-love coach, and the host of her podcast, Stop Wanting Him Back & Find Someone Better. Click here for more information on her group program.
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