Most of us are willing to search high and low for "the one," or the person we're destined to spend the rest of our lives with. For some people, however, all of those years of looking for a partner might result in the realization that "the one" was right there all along—potentially even someone we once considered as nothing more than a friend. While this doesn't always (or usually) work out like it does in a Hollywood movie, it is quite possible for two old friends to fall in love. "Relationships are not linear and they do change—just because you might be platonic friends at one stage does not mean love and attraction won't grow," explains Nikki Goldstein, Ph.D., relationship expert and author. "We all change and we change what we want and how we see people." Timing is a big factor as well.
What's Dr. Nikki says it's important to keep an open mind and not limit relationships and situations according to what you think they should be. You may realize that someone you previously thought of only as a friend would be an ideal romantic match. The first thing you should do, if you haven't already, is to stop and truly think about what you're looking for in a romantic relationship. Does your friend possess these qualities? Remember that you can't hope to change someone once you start dating. Little things like the way he or she dresses might be changeable, but not stark personality traits, so make sure you're a big fan of the way he or she handles situations and, most of all, treats you in good times and in bad. Next, if it hasn't happened naturally, you'll want to shift the way you see them. "Maybe you have a friend you are considering taking things to the next level with, but you have only ever seen them as just a friend," explains Dr. Nikki. "For a period of time, maybe even a day, go about your activities with them but just for experimental sakes, see them as a romantic partner." Tune into how it feels for you—easy and natural or awkward?
It's also important that you get a feel for what he or she is looking for when it comes to romance. If you haven't already discussed such topics, ask him or her about their non-negotiable "must haves" in a relationship. "What have they learned from past relationships that might help them in a future relationship with someone? Are they open to finding love in this season of their life?" asks relationship coach Matt Morgan. "As you explore their romantic terrain it's important that you come across as genuinely curious instead of in an interrogating nature, with questions that allow them to speak openly, as close-ended questions that result in 'yes or no' answers can come across feeling too pushy."
Next is the hard part: telling your friend how you feel, a move that Michele Moore, licensed professional counselor, certified coach, and relationship expert at Marriage Mojo, says requires honesty, humility, and probably some nerve-wracking moments as you explore whether or not your "friend" may share the same desire. She suggests going to coffee, a park, or somewhere else where you can have an extended, uninterrupted conversation. "Start with something like, 'I really value our friendship and don't want to make you uncomfortable, but I also want to be honest and tell you that I've started to have feelings for you that go a step beyond that. I'm wondering if you feel the same or are happy with things the way they are,' and then allow your friend to share, keeping in mind that you've sprung this on them unannounced and it may come as something of a shock," she says. "Give them time to process what you've said and, if they need to delay a response, give them permission to take whatever time they need." While in the best case scenario, your friend feels the spark that you feel and they only need a second to reciprocate their feelings for you too, it might feel like you dropped a bomb on them, warns Morgan. "Regardless of where your friend is at on the spectrum, give them time to process their own feelings for you. Invite them to take the time they need process," he says. "Don't expect an answer immediately. But ask them to truly think about it and even talk more later together."
If your friend has not rejected you after processing the news, Morgan suggests asking him or her on a date. "Choose a date idea that feels natural in your friendship, yet upping your game in the romance department," he says. "Switch things up by holding her hand, hugging and, most importantly, before the date ends, kiss." If you don't, he warns that it will send mixed signals that you're trying to date, but nothing has actually changed. Pay close attention to how you feel after the two of you kiss. Is there chemistry? Magic? Or nothing at all?
In the happy event that you both agree you'd like to try taking your relationship to the next level, that's great—just don't jump in with both feet. "Once you decide to take the plunge, it may be tempting to move quickly, but some couples find that moving from friendship to more—as comfortable as you are as friends—an be uncomfortable and awkward," advises Moore. "Start slowly and work your way up to a full-scale romantic coupling and it will be more likely to 'stick.'"