By Shawn Mynar
Editor’s Note: We’ve been studying relationships for the last four decades, but we still have so much to learn. Through the individual stories and experiences shared in Real Relationships, we aim to paint a more realistic picture of love in the world today. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and are not necessarily based on research conducted by The Gottman Institute.
It wasn’t love-at-first-sight. In fact, it took five years for me to recognize my feelings for her. Kristin and I started out as friends, “gal pals” bonding over a shared passion for health and fitness. We had friend dates cooking up the latest superfoods together, going on hikes, researching the best supplements, and eventually both becoming certified nutritionists.
As the years progressed, we got even closer. Both of us went through similar health issues and relied on each other to vent and get support from someone who actually understood. We communicated daily and rarely went more than a few days without seeing each other. She had become my best friend.
It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve, five years into our friendship, that something sparked in me when I glanced over at Kristin that night. We were out with a group of friends, celebrating the fresh start that comes with a new year, and had a blast, as usual. When I got home, I found myself replaying the evening with her and feeling like there was a different kind of connection forming, beyond best friendship.
This brought up so much confusion for me. First of all, I’m not supposed to feel this way about my gay best friend. And secondly, she’s…a woman. Being in a same-sex relationship was new territory and something I hadn’t considered. I’d never felt this kind of attraction to a woman before. Could this be?
My newfound attraction to Kristin led me down a path of self-exploration. While I still felt adamant that I couldn’t fall in love with her, my best friend, I opened up to the idea of looking for love in both sexes, instead of confining myself to men, which I had done up until then.
While this opened up a whole new dating pool for me, I still couldn’t seem to get past my growing feelings for Kristin, as much as I tried to stop it. I was so scared to make things awkward between us, or even worse, ruin the friendship. I was in denial.
One day, months later, after a fun weekend spent together, I decided I had to say something. I experienced an intense knowing that it was all going to work out and we would create a beautiful life together. I needed her to know this too, no matter what the outcome. I wanted to tell her about how special our bond was, and that it was something well beyond friendship. I wanted her to see this really special, beautiful relationship growing between us. I wanted her to give us a chance. But, most importantly, I wanted to tell her that, even though I’m saying I want more with her, I would do whatever it took to preserve our friendship and keep that as the most important consideration.
I knew, without a doubt, that she would be scared. (A huge perk of dating your best friend—already knowing exactly how they’ll respond.) She would be hesitant for fear of ruining our friendship and creating irreversible change. She wouldn’t believe that I was serious and not just going through an “experimental” phase. Which meant my approach needed to be gentle, reassuring, and committed.
Thank goodness for text messages, because, while I am the type of person that makes things happen once I get an idea, I’m also terrible with confrontation and awkwardness. A simple text laced with humor would be the way to deliver this life-changing message.
I spent several days trying to come up with the perfect message. And then, it took everything in me to press that send button. Staring at it for hours, opening and closing the app. Hovering my finger over the button and not being able to push send.
We now call it, “The Text That Changed Everything.” And it truly was. After several long talks considering all the angles, we decided to experiment with evolving our friendship into more. It wasn’t easy, it certainly wasn’t smooth, but we wouldn’t change a thing. We both acknowledged that this would be a process, that it may stir up uncomfortable or unfamiliar emotions at times, and an open mind would be required. Without a solid commitment to doing the work, it would be far too easy to fall back into the comfort of friend-zone without giving our experiment a fair chance. Instead, we agreed to approach it with an open mind, guided by intuition, rather than fear or ego. It took a lot of effort to rewire five years of friendship, but we succeeded. Here’s how we did it:
Constant, open communication
Kicking off our experiment with a straightforward text message set the stage for how we would continue to communicate throughout the transition. It was important to create a judgment-free space where we could each voice—and validate—our feelings and concerns along the way.
Setting clear expectations from the get-go and being open and honest helped reinforce trust. We talked—and listened—a lot. It was a rollercoaster of mixed feelings and fear contrasted with hope and excitement. Being able to express the good and the bad openly with each other every step of the way made us feel safe and more confident to stay the course.
The biggest challenge by far was cultivating a romantic vibe between us. As besties, it was typical for us to hang out in sweatpants or yoga tights, hair in a bun, sans bras or makeup. Comfortable but not exactly romantic! To combat this habit, we implemented designated “date mode” times where we made an effort to get dressed in “real” clothes, do our hair and makeup and essentially treat the occasion as if we were going out with a stranger. We took turns every other week coming up with date ideas and formally asking each other out (including a calendar invite). A huge perk to already knowing the person you are dating is that it’s almost a sure bet that they’ll love your date idea. These structured times were a critical step in shifting our mindset from friends to dating couple. And yes, it was extremely awkward at first.
We embraced the awkwardness
We knew it would be there, but it still caught us by surprise. As besties, we supported each other through life struggles, health challenges, dating frustrations, and crushing breakups. We shared an intimate knowledge of each other’s personal lives yet there was still a side to each of us that was completely unfamiliar. Getting to know the romantic side of one another was, well, different. Imagine a long-time friend where the boundaries of physical contact never crossed beyond hello and goodbye hugs. Now imagine holding their hand, attempting to cuddle, or kissing them for the first time. It felt unnatural. The most effective relief came from acknowledging the elephant in the room and laughing about it. Shifting our dynamic required some patience, persistence, and humor, but, as time progressed, the awkwardness subsided, and we found ourselves sliding into a romantic mindset with more ease.
We opted for privacy
As excited as we were about our potential new love, we didn’t tell anyone right away. We share similar friend groups and didn’t want any outside voices or influence swaying our experiment. We decided it would be best to keep it private until we felt more confident in the outcome. Having this little secret also added an extra layer of fun and excitement while we were dating. And it turns out, once we felt comfortable sharing the news with our friends and family, no one was all that surprised!
We prioritized friendship
We made an important agreement right from the start—to prioritize the health of our friendship above all. It is the foundation of our relationship, romantic or otherwise; without it we have nothing. If at any time either of us felt like the friendship was becoming compromised, we would call off the experiment and do whatever it took to restore our friendship. This provided a sense of security for us both to continue on.
Now, over a year after “The Text That Changed Everything,” we are a more-than-friends lesbian couple living together, building a business together, and creating a wonderful life together. We took a chance, made it through the transition alive, and both agree that it was the best thing we’ve ever taken a chance on.
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