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Updated: Jul 5, 2023

You have a friend you care deeply about. She’s the one who makes you laugh, who gets you. You are the person she turns to when a relationship goes south. The last time she was sipping your wine and sobbing while laying her head on your shoulder, an urge to lift her into your arms and carry her to your bed overcame you. Now you can’t get that scene out of your mind. But how do you break out of the category of a friend and move to a lover? Will you lose her? Is the risk of sharing your true feelings worth it?

A University of Texas study revealed that, on average, successful couples knew each other for four months before becoming romantically involved and 40% of long-term relationships began in friendship. All those couples made the leap.

Disneyish versions of a prince in shining armor brainwashed many of us into holding unrealistic expectations about courtship. Is love at first sight common? Is the typical pathway of lust, attraction, attachment the only way to success?

Romantic love is influenced by hormones released in the brain, and yet positive relationships have a lot to do with compatibility. The hypothalamus produces sex hormones when you are attracted to someone. We often call the resulting experience a spark. You feel alive. Your life has become a beautiful fairytale. This is a process designed to propagate our species. But these same hormones can trigger irrational behaviors like jealousy and rage. The lust phase is not typically known as a time when we view the object of our desires realistically.

When you are attracted to someone, your brain also releases dopamine and norepinephrine. But is attraction enough to carry you through the trials of a long-term relationship? These are the same hormones that are released when we crave something that is an addiction.

The bonding hormones of oxytocin and vasopressin are involved in long-term attachments, and family and friend interactions. The brain influences our behavior by releasing these hormones that help us take relationships from lust to attachment. This is the way our species survives.

Can friends rewire this process and develop a romantic connection? Can you move from attachment back to lust and is that necessary or even healthy? This is an age-old question. But studies have shown that many of the best relationships take this route. And by first knowing the person you are becoming involved with, you often by-pass a let-down after quickly diving into something.

How do you shift from friends to lovers? Putting someone on the spot by blurting out “I want to take this to the next level. Do you?” can be shocking, end a friendship, or be humiliating. You can start by taking a subtler approach.

People engaged in a lustful dance is akin to animals seeking a mate. Male humpback whales cluster in groups and sing to attract females. Some penguins bring shiny rock gifts to the females they desire. Humans portray their own mating rituals. You can test where your friend and a potential partner are by signaling that you want more. For example, you could run your fingers down their arm and linger there. Do they shirk and move away or do they touch you back? Tilt your head and look them straight in the eye with a smile, glance away, then look back again. Gauge how they react. Or kiss them on their cheek and see how they respond. Simple tactics like this can help you determine if they are toying with similar thoughts.

However, at some point, you have to communicate your feelings. No one can read your mind, and often they won’t understand your signals. You don’t have to know that you are in love, you can simply relay that you would like to give romance a whirl.

Being friends first is a powerful way to begin a relationship. Genuine love stems from compatibility, consideration, respect, commitment, and dedication. Life is short, so if you want to move beyond friendship with someone, I encourage you to take the leap!

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