Education The friends who become lovers Sophie and Simon Holland: A recipe for disaster - or a long and happy marriage? By Jenny Tucker It was at her boss's wedding that Sophie Holland decided, with stone-cold certainty, that she wanted to be next down the aisle. The man earmarked for the occasion? Simon, one of her closest friends for the previous three years. We'd stayed overnight at his parents' house, and I woke up and thought, "I am going to ask him to marry me. She'd found this affable, gentle man appealing as a shoulder to cry on when her succession of thrilling but chaotic relationships dissolved.
He'd even sit with her in the pub and have a couple of warm-up drinks while she waited for a new date to arrive. She described him to other friends as 'not very exciting'. But then something changed. Sophie says it happened quickly. It was like an epiphany. The reality is that when friends become lovers the shift in their emotions is usually gradual.
In fact, it's so subtle they don't even notice it's happening until the moment a kindly hug becomes loaded with intention. Mo Kurimbokus, a relationship counsellor, says, 'Think of it like foreplay.
All the time you're being friends, you're learning about each other. Subconsciously you're deciding whether you can take it further, from a friendship on to a more emotional and sexual level. In a poll conducted for the women's website handbag.
But, when probed further, one third said they secretly lusted after their male friends. It seems that physical attraction is often a by-product of a cemented companionship. Yet not every close friendship will develop into the kind of romance that would give Danielle Steele a run for her money. The chemistry just isn't there.
In the business, we call it "couple fit". Each of us has a psychological make-up that has been moulded by life's influences and experiences, and most of the time we're not even aware of it. We unconsciously sum up this blueprint in another person, and if there is a "fit" we make an emotional connection. Because long-standing friends have had plenty of time to develop this bond, they already know they have plenty in common.
Their judgement tends to be more reliable. It's difficult for me to define why it switched focus that day of the wedding, but, looking back, I think Simon was starting to get under my skin.
I'd go on dates with other men and find myself thinking about him, and once I joked that we should get together. I suppose I was testing the water to judge his reaction. Deep down I knew he already liked me when I made my move.
We were sitting on the bed in his parents' spare room when he kissed me for the first time. If I'm honest it felt so familiar, and it wasn't a fire-in-the-stomach thing, but it made me very happy. All day I couldn't stop thinking what an amazing person this quiet man had become. I'm not the sort of bloke who takes the lead, so I sat back while she went on various dates with other men. Secretly I hoped there might be a future for us, so when she proposed I couldn't have been happier — or more gobsmacked.
A kink in events tends to play a part. Perhaps Sophie had tired of flitting through relationships and wanted someone more dependable? Women in their thirties, who may be thinking about having children, may suddenly be more inclined to see the appeal of a devoted friend. And often a crisis highlights the strengths of a person and renders them compatible which is why some widows marry lifelong comrades because they've provided support in the depths of sadness.
As we live in a time when many relationships seem doomed to end in a dosi-do of partner swapping, few of us hold out much hope of ever celebrating a golden wedding anniversary. That's why trust is key to the transition from friends to lovers.
After all, if trust is established, you'll be more likely to believe your relationship has a chance of longevity. The happiness in one country compared with another can be largely explained by six key factors… [the first]: If they feel they are in it together and can trust each other to be supportive, that is extremely appealing.
Also, as you move into middle age, you start to consider the question, "Do I want to get old with you? Fourteen years ago she moved from England to the Italian riviera with her family and boyfriend. The couple married in , and had a son, now 10, and twins, now five. When the twins were just two weeks old Natasha discovered her husband was having an affair.
I don't know what made me think it, but I asked him if there were condoms in there. He couldn't look me in the eye. I had a year of mourning after he left. I didn't see anyone, I didn't go anywhere. I'd been with my husband since I was 18 and he was my perfect everything. I couldn't believe he would betray me. She started hanging out with groups of friends, and even had a couple of brief relationships.
Then nearly two years ago she met Marco, 44, when he came to her English classes as a student. I was faintly attracted to him but, physically, he really wasn't my usual type. After a couple of months he started socialising with me and my other friends, and he sometimes came to my house with my boyfriend at the time.
We became good friends, and through the English lessons I learnt a lot about him and we often talked about my marriage. I loved the fact that he rarely judged me and was always so caring. I suppose, looking back, that was his appeal. I'd had my fun flings after the divorce, and I was starting to want something more. Last Christmas, after more than a year of platonic friendship, Natasha and Marco went for a drink alone.
They met for only an hour, but Natasha says she felt distinctly different towards him that evening. I knew then we'd crossed the line. I have my children to consider, and I've been hurt so badly. I'm not keen for that to happen again. The counsellor Mo Kurimbokus says, 'However close you are as friends, you never really know someone until you become more intimate. You need to be sure this is the way forward for you, and, if so, then negotiate the ground rules because the boundaries have changed.
Whereas before, as friends, you could flirt with whoever you fancied, now you might not be able to flaunt that option. Remember, if you split up as lovers you will probably lose your friend, too.
I'd been with my wife nearly 30 years and it was a messy break-up. Alice was always in the background, listening to my problems and taking my midnight phone calls without complaint. Then suddenly it clicked that she fancied me.
I suppose I was flattered and we started going out with each other. It lasted a couple of months, but I was never as into it as her. I was still devastated about my failed marriage, plus I found the sex with Alice disappointing.
I felt I knew her too well, and I soon got bored. When we broke up she went mad, telling me I'd deceived her. I rarely see her now, just occasionally around town, but she's always offhand. I've felt very sad and guilty about the whole thing. I wish I'd never got into it. Even if a couple stay together they can find that sex isn't quite the grand passion they imagined.
Because you're friends first, there might not be too many surprises, and so sex can be convenient and comfortable rather than wildly exciting — we all know that initial thrill you tend to feel when you first meet someone, and long-standing friends can miss out on that. Every couple is different, though. Other people report a thriving sex life which has been built on knowing someone incredibly well first. Ray Pahl says, 'Friendship is often the basis for a deeper kind of love, one that tends to be more long-term.
If it all adds up, then you've got a real fighting chance. Simon is my best friend. I am absolutely certain of him in every way. And that is the most wonderful feeling.