On Second Thought, Love at First Sight Not So Common
Most romantic partners start out as just friends, new research suggests
When I first saw her walk in late to the conference’s opening-night mixer, my brain went all fuzzy, I struggled to breathe properly, and I couldn’t concentrate on conversations with the dozens of other people I was being introduced to in the hotel lobby. A few minutes later, perchance, we stood back-to-back, inches apart. The rush of electricity was deafening. The hair on my arms rose. I later learned the current ran in both directions. Now, 24 years later, my wife and I have no doubt that love at first sight is a real thing.
But it doesn’t seem to work that way for most people, new research suggests.
Most studies on how relationships begin focus on those that are ignited by a romantic spark, a review of existing research reveals. Curious if that represented the full spectrum of what should be studied, the researchers analyzed data on 1,897 people from the United States and Canada who had been asked in seven unrelated research projects about how their romantic relationships had begun.
Two-thirds of these people — 68% — said things started out platonically.
“We might have a good understanding of how strangers become attracted to each other and start dating, but that’s simply not how most relationships begin,” says the study’s lead author, Danu Anthony Stinson, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria in Canada.
The findings were similar across gender, ethnic groups and education level, Stinson and her colleagues report in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. But platonic beginnings were the most common for 20-somethings and LGBTQ+ communities.
Among college students, which were well represented in the data, romance kicked in after one to two years of friendship, in most cases, and most of them said they did not enter into the friendship with romantic intentions. (Worth noting here that self-reporting on such matters may not always be entirely reliable, ahem.)
The findings raise questions about the common wisdom that romance and friendship involve entirely different sorts of relationships with differing needs, Stinson says.
“Our research suggests that the lines between friendship and romance are blurry,” she says. “And I think that forces us to rethink our assumptions about what makes a good friendship but also what makes a good romantic relationship.”
Alas, the study doesn’t offer any concrete answers to those enduring mysteries.