Best friends are hard to come by. These are people in your life who you’ve grown to trust, value, and love, likely for years. But what happens when that last L-word, love, turns into another: lust? Is having sex with your best friend actually a good idea?
According to Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT, starting something romantic with a friend could be your best idea yet. “I know that people are always afraid to do that, but from my perspective—I’ve been a marriage therapist for over 30 years—the couples who start with a solid basis of friendship are in a really good position to last.”
Compared to people who meet as strangers, Cocharo says couples who start as friends—especially best friends—have a much better foundation. People who just get attracted to someone they see across the room have a lot of pheromones, Cocharo says. “Sometimes in that chemical cocktail, we’ll get attracted to someone and start a relationship and when those hormones start wearing off, we find that there’s absolutely no foundation to build a relationship on.” But if you already have the emotional relationship in place (hello, friendship!) and then start to get intimate, you’ve got a much better shot at creating a healthy and happy future.
So how do I tell my friend I’m interested in them?
Ideally, Cocharo says the conversation would come before you actually decide to have sex with the person. She recommends saying something like, “Listen, can we sit down and talk about something important?” Then, “Sometimes I feel like there’s potential in our friendship to be romantic, and I’m wondering if that ever crosses your mind…”
This approach puts you in a less vulnerable position (phew): You’re not telling them you’re in love with them or want to marry them. You’re just gauging their interest.
Of course, sometimes the sex happens first (especially if there’s alc involved). In that case, Cocharo says that you should still have a “what was this conversation?” afterward. It might be uncomfortable in the beginning, but it’s the best time to make sure that you two are on the same page when it comes to whether or not the sex meant something more than sex.
What if my friend doesn’t see me the way I see them?
That’s okay. “Real friendships can endure,” Cocharo says. If you have this conversation before or after the sex and find out that the feelings aren’t mutual, don’t be too hard on yourself. “This is not about me. I’m not being rejected. It’s just not a good fit for the other person,” Cocharo recommends telling yourself.
Just know that you might have to set some new boundaries in your friendship. Maybe don’t stay over their house after falling asleep during movie night. If you have actual romantic feelings for them, not just sexual ones, you might even have to take a break from the friendship.
Just be honest and say, “We’re friends, we will always be friends, but I’m taking the next few months away from you to calm down my own feelings, attractions, and attachment to you. And then we can pick up where we left off as friends.” As Cocharo says, “if it’s really a good friendship, it can tolerate that.”
I need proof. Any real stories?
Of course! Here are a few happy endings, sad endings, and somewhere in between…
- “He and I were best friends all throughout high school. We hooked up in college and started dating. He’s still my best friend and we’re getting married this summer!” –Katie D. , 26
- “We’d been really close friends for about two years but never had any interest in each other. He was in a relationship, and I was helplessly in love with a guy who was not interested in me (or in women, for that matter). Eventually, he got dumped and I’d just gotten in a fight with my mom and didn’t want to say at my house. So I decided to go to a party with him and stay over at his dorm. When we went back to his place, he blew up and air mattress for me but I stubbornly jumped on his bed and we started joking and playing around. Eventually we kissed and kissed again and again…. It was completely unexpected. Then he told me he loved me and that his life changed when he met me. The next day, we talked it out and said we’d hold off on dating because he was fresh out of a relationship. But that didn’t work. We made it official a month later and have been together ever since!” —Lindsey M., 24
- “We met at work and instantly vibed. Years went by, and we became great friends. But all throughout our friendship, we’d both been in relationships. Eventually, both of us broke up with our S.O.’s, and he came to a party I was throwing where someone else from work told him I was single. He started expressing his feelings to me after that, telling me he’s liked me since the day we met and I knew I felt the same way. Later one night when we were hanging out, he made the first move and we ended up hooking up. I was initially terrified to start dating my best friend, but now months later, I’m happy I took the chance because now he’s my lifetime partner. I’m in love with my best friend.”—Karla G., 26
- “I thought this guy I worked with in college was super cute, but he was in a five-year long-distance relationship with his high school sweetheart, so he was completely off-limits. We would often hang out in big groups with our coworkers and eventually formed a tight friendship that way. Later that year ,when we all returned from winter break, I learned that he had broken up with his girlfriend while he was home. They had just drifted apart over the past few years of college, and he knew he didn’t see a future with her. I definitely felt for him (five years is a looong time), but I’d be lying if I said a tiny part of me didn’t wonder if we might be a good match.”So we continued to hang out as friends while he got through his breakup, but our fun nights out in a group eventually turned into deep, late-night, one-on-one talks about anything and everything. Then one fateful night, we were hanging out at a picnic table outside my apartment after one too many drinks when it happened: We kissed…and then went inside for more. Not gonna lie, it was one of the hottest nights of my life. The morning after, there was definitely some initial panic about what would happen if our coworkers and friends found out—but that also didn’t stop us from continuing to hook up in secret for months. We got married eight years later—and he’s still my BFF.” —Chelsey L., 30
The somewhere in between:
- “We grew up a block from each other in elementary school, and our moms were friends in church. I’d known him for most of my life. But it wasn’t until high school that I saw him as anything more than a friend. One day after school, we were hanging out and he kissed me. We ended up having sex and started dating shortly after. We dated all throughout high school, but in college we broke up after being accepted to different schools. Turns, out a relationship wasn’t in the cards for us. He’s married with two kids now, and I’m a single mom with a beautiful daughter. We don’t talk as much as we used to. But we’ve never missed a birthday!” —Cindy H., 3
Sometimes friendship precedes a relationship, and sometimes a relationship precedes friendship…
- “A few years ago, when I was in a toxic relationship, I was reunited with my college bestie-slash-roommate. One night, we were drinking and playing Mario Kart. I decided to hookup with him, and the next day, I called my then boyfriend to breakup. My roomie and I decided that there wasn’t enough of a romantic connection between us, but we’re still good friends. Every time I see him, I want to thank him for that night. Because had we not hooked up, I never would have dumped my toxic boyfriend and met the amazing man I’m dating now.” —Lisa L., 25
- “He and I always had that kind of relationship. We both knew it was going to happen. And two weeks after our high school graduation, it did. We’d been friends for six years. And one night, my other friend decided to throw a party. He came and we hooked up even though he had a girlfriend at the time, which made the conversation afterwards…awkward. We decided not to date but managed to salvage our friendship. He even visited me when I first moved to New York after school. And I saw him a few weeks ago at our high school reunion. I have deep love for him in my heart, but we’re not as close and we used to be…and that’s okay. I still root for him.” —Aleah M., 24
There are none! (None that people wanted to share, anyway.) Maybe Cocharo’s theory is true, after all….
Ultimately, the decision to have sex with your best friend is completely up to the two of you and you both have to decide if it’s worth the risk. If you’re friendship is strong enough, as it was for many of these women, it’ll survive. Good luck!