Roz and Harvey on “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Jenna and Matt of “13 Going On 30.” “Friends’” Chandler Bing and Monica Geller. On screen, two best friends falling in love feels inevitable. Who else is going to love these characters for their flaws and imperfections like their bestie?
But in real life — when you can’t go to a commercial break if things get messy — deciphering whether a friendship is just a friendship or something else can be a little more complicated. “It’s important to be friends with someone you’re dating,” says Philadelphia-based psychologist and marriage and family therapist Taryn Marie Stejskal Ph.D., LMFT. “But that doesn’t mean a really close friend is someone you should be dating or would even have a successful romantic relationship with.” In other words, friendship alone is not a basis for a relationship.
Ultimately, whether a duo should be more than friends comes down to whether feelings of romantic, sexual, and physical attraction, and compatibility exist, says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. But because the shift from friends to more than that generally happens slowly, “discerning whether the friendship [has] evolved beyond friendship can be tough,” she adds. These seven signs, however, point to yes.
1. You’re attracted to them.
“The biggest difference between an intimate friendship and a romantic, sexual relationship is the existence of physical attraction,” says Stejskal. That physical attraction can have been there from day one or have evolved over time.
Taylor B., 25, who’s been dating one of her best friends from college for the last two years, falls into the second camp. “It literally never occurred to me to view Chad* as attractive for the first four years we were friends. And then one night we went out just the two of us and suddenly I was like, I think he’s kinda hot.”
As a general rule, Stejskal suggests making sure the physical attraction has staying power before acting on it, especially if it’s a new development. “Turn inward and ask yourself where those feelings are coming from,” says Stejskal. When we’re down in the dumps, we’re more likely to feel attracted to people who show us kindness or keep us company. So, if you’re feeling blah, you probably want to hang tight until you’re in a better place.
2. There’s palpable sexual tension.
If your friend walks in the room and you get a tingle between your legs or bubbling in your stomach, likely, there’s some unresolved sexual tension brewing — at least on your side. But before you address or act on it, look for indicators it’s mutual. Do they hold your gaze? Giggle during sex scenes you watch together? Have you ever caught them looking at your lips? “That’s shared sexual tension,” says relationship therapist Megan Harrison LMFT, founder of Couples Candy. “Other people might remark on how in love, into each other, or intense the sexual energy between the two of you is when the sexual tension is mutual.”
If you suspect both of you are experiencing the same thing, communicate about it honestly. You might say, “I’m a little nervous to bring this up, but I’ve been feeling this growing sexual tension between us lately. I’m wondering if it is just me, or…”
3. You’re touchy with each other (and only each other).
Do you and your best friend stand close together when you talk? Is there a lot of arm grazing? Do you hold hands or link arms while walking? “Lots of touching and positioning your bodies to be in close proximity with one another are indicators of attraction,” says Harrison.
But before jumping to conclusions, consider how physical your friend is with their other friends. “For some people, [it’s] commonplace and doesn’t mean anything,” she says. “[For others,] soft touches and gentle hugs can definitely indicate [being] romantically inclined.”
4. They’re becoming part of your family.
“It’s normal to want a friend to meet and spend time with your family,” says Manly. But the way it feels when they do and your family’s reaction to your friend can indicate whether you’re more than pals.
“You also need to ask yourself why you want them to meet your family,” says Manly. Is it because some part of you thinks you’ll eventually be together or because you want your parents’ approval before dating this person? Or is it some other, completely platonic reason, like you wanted company on the car ride there?
“Once I knew my family liked her, it felt like there was no reason not to at least try,” says Molly R., 27, who dated her best friend for a year-and-a-half. “Even though we broke up, I still think we made the right decision in exploring it.”
5. There’s a shift in how you talk to each other.
Specifically, a shift towards the sentimental. “If you’ve noticed that you’ve begun to tell you friend how much they mean to you or that they’re starting to do the same, it could be a sign feelings are developing,” says Stejskal. For example: “I’m always going to be there for you,” “I love spending time with you,” or “you’re the most important person in my life.”
“These kind of affectionate sentiments are a way to explore going deeper and to hint at wanting to be more than friends, without actually saying it,” Stejskal adds.
6. You act like you’re dating.
Is how much time you spend together getting in each other’s way going on dates? Do you feel like you’re already “basically dating?”
If you realize it’s as simple as preferring to hang out with them over a date because well, they’re awesome, that’s fine — so long as you’re both on the same page. But if you suspect these actions are stemming from romantic feelings, it’s time to be vulnerable and talk about it. “Don’t be afraid to speak up and be clear, open, and honest,” says Harrison. “If you’re best friends and talk all the time, the foundation for good communication is already there.”
7. You’ve already hooked up.
If you and your friend have, at least once, made out or gone home together after karaoke night or a mutual pal’s wedding — and you enjoyed it — it could indicate that you want to be more than friends. “But you can’t know what their experience of that was, what it meant to them, or whether or not they want it to happen again (and in what contexts) without talking to them,” says Stejskal.
“My best friend-turned-girlfriend and I had an unspoken ‘wedding only’ rule where we would only hook up at weddings,” says Jesse P., 30. After 10 weddings, they ultimately realized they liked having sex as much as they liked being best friends and decided to date. They’ve now been together for two years.
Of course, a hookup isn’t always a sign that feelings are brewing. If kissing your friend was an overall meh experience, trust that. A random, slightly-intoxicated hookup with her best friend was exactly the convincing Morgan B., 24, needed to stay just friends. “As soon as we hooked up, [the sexual tension] was gone. It was almost like we needed to get it out of the way so that we could keep on being friends,” she says.
Either way, make a point to talk about the hookup in the light of day. Under-communication doesn’t do relationships — romantic or otherwise — any favors.
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.