Could You Be In A Romantic Friendship With Someone? 10 Signs That Say So

Love and Romance | | , Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Updated On: March 22, 2024
romantic friendship

Finding myself in a romantic friendship was like stumbling upon uncharted emotional territory, a blend of companionship and subtle romance that defied traditional labels. It all began with a level of emotional intimacy that surpassed typical friendships; we found ourselves sharing thoughts and feelings in a way that hinted at something more profound.

These feelings were confusing, to say the least, because the notion that friends and romance don’t mix has been so deeply ingrained in our minds. However, an interesting 2021 research helped shift my perspective. As part of this research, university students and adults we asked to describe the behaviors they associated with friendship and those they linked with romantic love. They ended up with nearly identical descriptions for both.

The researchers also found that two-thirds of romantic couples start as friends. But what if we find ourselves outside the friendship romance binary? What if our most fulfilling love lies somewhere in between friendship and romance? What if our idea of commitment is not one centered on romantic love, but rooted firmly in friendship? Well, that’s where the line between friendship and romance blurs, and we head into the territory of romantic friendships. Let’s take a closer look at what such a loving friendship entails.

What Is Romantic Friendship?

What is a romantic friendship? And can you be romantic with a friend? It is a relationship between two people who are more than friends, but less than lovers, whose emotional intimacy, deep love, and sense of commitment equal that of traditional romantic partners/spouses, sans the sexual acts.

The term romantic friendship dates back to a time when men and women formed intense, even exclusive, same-sex relationships. Some even gave heterosexual marriage and traditional romantic relationships the boot to settle down with their closest friend, sharing their home, table, and even purse — without any apparent self-consciousness. These were largely non-sexual relationships, but lack of sexual intimacy is not a defining factor of an intimate friendship.

Such arrangements are well-documented in Renaissance literature on male friendships and had their heyday in nineteenth-century to early twentieth-century America in the form of Boston marriages. Boston marriages involved single and financially independent women who were far more than housemates; they were intimate friends. They often made a life-long commitment to each other and harbored a deep love for one another. And they formed such same-sex relationships without alienating public opinion or upending societal norms.

Related Reading:  11 Types Of Taboo Relationships You Should Know About

More than friends, less than lovers

Going by contemporary accounts, similar relationships, and practical arrangements are gaining traction in modern times. Romantic friends, not necessarily from the same sex, are buying homes and adopting or raising children with each other. Some are living with their much-married friends as a family unit. Others are ditching romantic relationships to choose a dear friend as their primary life partner. Some are making it official by exchanging vows of everlasting love and getting hitched.

In an article in the Telegraph, author Tracy Emerson, who has lived in a Boston marriage with her friend Susie for over two decades now, has described their intimate friendship meaning “more than friends, less than lovers” as one of emotional but not sexual intimacy. According to her, though they have kept their bank accounts separate, the day-to-day interactions in their female romantic friendship resemble some aspects of a typical marriage and some of an open and polyamorous relationship. As you can see, these intimate friendships are layered and complex. But as long as they make sense of the people in them, there is no reason why the idea of romance in friendship cannot flourish.

Related Reading: Platonic Relationships – Rare Or Real Love?

Romantic Friendship Vs Platonic Love

So how can you tell if you are friends and lovers? Just friends, not lovers? Are you moving from friends to lovers? Lovers but not friends? Lovers on the way to becoming friends? Friendship love vs romantic love, which description fits? Romantic attraction vs friendship, which would you choose to build your life around? What if you reject the friendship romance binary altogether? Where are you then? How do you know you have a platonic relationship vs romantic relationship or something in between? And can you be romantic with a friend? Yes, blending the lines of friends and romance can give way to many a confusing question.

Well, here’s the thing about relationships: they can be incredibly hard to define, and it’s almost impossible to have a “real meaning”. This is because we are all unique and so are the ways in which we connect with one another. No neat little label can quite capture what two people feel for each other and defining relationship boundaries is pretty much like drawing lines on sand. While there are no hard lines, there are degrees of separation. Here are some that separate these romantic friendships from platonic ones:

Romantic FriendshipPlatonic Love
4. You trust each other, you value each other and are closer than two peas in a pod, but you would not describe your friend as your primary life partner.
1. You are definitely more than friends, but there is no romance or pressure of dating. They are your non-romantic soulmate and you have a non-sexual relationship with them.
2. More often than not, your relationship takes priority over other relationships, including romantic ones. And your romantic partners know it.2. You may value your bond over other relationships or mutual friends, but you would probably not prioritize it over love or marriage.
3. You think of each other as family. In fact, you may choose to partner up for life and live as one.3. You may spend a lot of time together, call each other family even, but you probably would not spend your entire lives as one.
4. Romantic friends share deep love and feelings of commitment, almost like partners in a marriage. In fact, they think of each other as their significant other and are a couple in many ways.4. You trust each other, you value each other, and are closer than two peas in a pod, but you would not describe your friend as your primary life partner.
5. When there is romance in friendship, you tend to make major life decisions together, you may move continents to be together, or you may even buy homes or adopt kids together.5. You may seek them out for advice on major stuff, but you’d probably not plan your lives around each other to such a degree.

Related Reading: Platonic Crush — Meaning, Signs, And What To Do

Can there be a romantic friendship between a man and a woman?

When Harry met Sally, he was quite emphatic: a man and a woman cannot be friends since “the sex part always gets in the way”. Studies have since shown that people believe platonic friendship between a man and woman is very much possible (though to be fair they’ve also found that many people secretly hope their friendship would turn into something more). So, what about romantic friendship then? Can there be friendship love between a man and a woman?

When a platonic relationship between a man and woman doesn’t quite escape the lens of Eros in our modern times, it’s not a stretch to say that a romantic friendship between a man and woman would be quite tricky to navigate. Especially, if there are romantic partners or spouses in the mix. It is highly doubtful that a romantic partner would accept not being your priority. That’s not to say that a romantic friendship between a man and woman is well-nigh impossible. After all, when it comes to relationships there’s no one-size-fits-all template. And who says there needs to be one?

romantic friendship between a man and woman
Romantic friendships often have a deeper emotional connection than romantic relationships

Could You Be In A Romantic Friendship With Someone? 10 Signs That Say So

They say there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts. So what kind are you harboring in your heart? Modern love has tangled up romantic love and other types of love so tightly that it is often hard to tell them apart. Amid all our collective confusion about love, how do we know what kind of love we are feeling toward a friend? How do we figure out whether the bond we share is platonic, romantic, or that of romantic friendship meaning something in between? Well, here are 7 romantic friendship signs that show you could be in such a relationship:

1. You are truly, madly, deeply in love

A participant in one study on non-sexual passionate friendships — intimate but non-sexual relationships between friends, if you will — describes meeting her friend thus: “…if there was love at first sight, then, that was what it was when I saw [her]. And it wasn’t anything sexual, it was just sort of like, I have to know this girl, and it was such an attraction from me toward her.”

Though they eventually drifted apart, the participant had deep and uncommonly intense romantic feelings of love for her friend. She even described their parting as a “breakup”. Another described her friendship love as “almost like dating somebody”.

Feelings of fierce and passionate love, even in the absence of sexual attraction, are the hallmark of a romantic friendship. Only here, there is a sense of ownership/belongingness, safety, validation, and unconditional love and acceptance, which lies outside the narrower confines of regular friendships and the trappings of romance. In other words, friends and romance can and do mix.

There is a deep desire to know each other, be with each other, and share your daily ups and downs, which does not necessarily need to be cemented with physical intimacy or demonstrate the sexual aspects common to traditional romantic relationships. This is perhaps what gives these friendships their romantic feel.

Related Reading: Platonic Soulmate: What Is It And 11 Signs You’ve Found Yours

2. You struggle to describe your bond

The term romantic friendship slowly shed much of its innocence as the twentieth century progressed, with sexologists, Sigmund Freud among them, increasingly declaring same-sex intimacy and same-sex relationships as perverse and highly undesirable. They even heaped new terms on romantic friends, such as “lesbian”, “gay”, “morbid”, and “diseased,” or as historian Lillian Faderman notes in Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present, “twilight lovers”, the maladjusted who dwelled “midway between the sexes”.

This left people hesitant about expressing love for friends, especially those of the same sex. Over the years, with the flux of modern times and modern love, some of the more negative labels have fallen off and some new ones have been tacked on: best soul friend, my person, ride or die, non-sexual relationships, committed friendships, intimate friendships, companionate friendships, friendship love — and yet, romantic friends still struggle to find a language that would make their bond clear to outsiders.

To borrow the words of Oprah Winfrey, whose close friendship with Gayle King has invited much scrutiny over the years: “How can you be this close without it being sexual? How can you explain a level of intimacy where someone always loves you, always respects you, always admires you?… There isn’t a label, there isn’t a definition of what this is supposed to be.”

Related Reading: No-Labels Relationship: Does A Relationship Without Labels Work?

3. Your lives center around each other

Romantic friends take the terms emotional intimacy and emotionally invested to a whole new level. They are deeply attuned to each other’s wants and whims, finish off each other’s sentences, and seem completely preoccupied with each other. This becomes the foundation on which an intimate friendship is built. As the participant of a study relates: “So I think that our husbands see that our connection is the primary connection and I think that they kind of feel peripheral.”

This is hardly surprising considering that romantic friends devote a huge chunk of their energy and attention to each other. Yet, by becoming each other’s center of gravity, they become a haven or a safety net from which they can explore other friendships, and romantic relationships, or even experiment with and stretch the possibilities of what love looks like.

Romantic friends may even enter into other unconventional relationship dynamics, such as ethical non-monogamy, a type of non-monogamous relationship where they may pursue multiple sexual/romantic partnerships all at once, but with one caveat: all their partners know about each other.

What makes all this possible? Their committed friendship since they can always “look over their shoulder and know their friend is there for them,” say Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, the authors of Big Friendship, who sought couples therapy at one point to save their friendship.

romantic friendships
Romantic friends stretch the possibilities of what love looks like.

4. You show an immense level of care for each other

They are your 3 a.m. phone call, your 5 a.m. airport ride, and your anytime pick-me-up. They are the ones you can count on to drop everything and run to you should you need it. They are your chosen family. The ones you choose to rely on completely. Your shock absorbers for when things go wrong. Such a loving friendship can become one’s biggest source of sense and support.

In a society where friendships are considered secondary in the hierarchy of relationships, romantic friends are proof of how people outside the traditional family — your friends — can slip into key roles of confidants, cohabitants, co-parents, and even caregivers. They challenge traditional notions of the role friends can play in our lives. This is one of the biggest romantic friendship signs.

5. Distance does not change your connection

Another thing that’s unique about romantic friendships: though you are less than lovers, your feelings don’t seem to dissipate with time or distance, as one would see with other traditional relationships. You know you can count on your romantic friend, even if you live miles apart and hardly ever get a chance to talk as much as you would like. But when you do pick up the phone, back you go, picking up right where you left off.

That being said, romantic friends can’t bear to be apart and tend to make every effort to stay close. Any separation, or the thought of it, can even trigger high levels of distress, or anxiety, in such friends, say researchers.

Related Reading: Separation Anxiety In Relationships – What Is It And How To Cope?

6. You aren’t afraid to show how you feel

While they may fall short of a full-blown romantic relationship, especially in the sexual aspects, these friendships still have a lot going on. Butterflies and skipped heartbeats, candlelights and flowers, sweet nothings and starry eyes, holding hands, and simmering romantic feelings and hushed sighs — you can expect to feel all this and more with a romantic friend. What’s more: romantic friends aren’t shy about wearing their hearts on their sleeves. So if you are in a romantic friendship meaning your friend is your top priority, you most definitely won’t hesitate to show your friend you love them.

Passionate expressions of love and even physical affection like holding hands are quite the norm in such loving friendships, especially between people of the same sex. They may hold hands, stroke, kiss, and cuddle. They may even get jealous or possessive. What is extraordinary here is the degree of affection they shower on each other, which is why their romantic friendships transform into “full-blown attachments” even without sex, say researchers.

7. Your connection is often mistaken to be romantic

When there is an element of romance in friendship, you aren’t afraid to shout your love from the rooftops. You weave your lives around each other. Call each other over for a cuddle. You are utterly and hopelessly engrossed with each other. Your connection is exclusive. It doesn’t change with distance or dim with time. The thought of separation puts you in a royal funk. Is it that surprising then that people think you are romantically involved?

Related Reading: 20 Signs You Are Ready To Be In An Exclusive Relationship

8. There is a hint of jealousy when other people are around

You may notice feelings of protectiveness and a tinge of jealousy when your friend is involved with someone else romantically. These emotions might indicate that there is an element of romance in friendship. You feel a strong urge to safeguard your friend’s well-being. Their happiness and security become significant priorities for you, going beyond the typical concern one might have for a friend.

You might find yourself stepping in to offer support or guidance in situations where you perceive a potential threat or challenge. And while you may not want to admit it, there might be moments where you feel a pang of jealousy when your friend shows interest in someone else romantically, even if the two of you are in a strictly non-sexual romantic relationship.

This jealousy you’re dealing with isn’t possessiveness, but rather an emotional response that hints at a deeper connection. Seeing them involved with someone else may trigger a realization of your romantic feelings and the significance of your bond. What is a romantic friendship without a little drama?

9. You start to have common plans for the future

Another one of the obvious romantic friendship signs is that you find yourselves making future plans together, whether it’s traveling, living in the same place, or pursuing mutual goals. The conversations extend beyond typical friend talk and hint at a shared vision for the future. Planning future travel together is a common theme. Whether it’s a dream vacation or a more practical discussion about exploring new places, the idea of experiencing life’s adventures together is a recurring topic.

You may also find yourselves discussing the possibility of living in the same place or creating a shared space. These conversations go beyond the typical considerations of roommates or friends living nearby and delve into a more intertwined and intentional deep connection that is typically hard to find in non-sexual relationships.

Related Reading: Queerplatonic Relationship- What Is It And 15 Signs You Are In One

10. Your social circles begin to merge

In a romantic friendship, there is a noticeable merging of social circles, indicating a blending of lives that goes beyond conventional friendships. You and your friend intentionally include each other in social gatherings and events with your respective friend groups. It’s not just about attending events together; there’s a conscious effort to introduce your friend to your circle and vice versa.

Both of you seamlessly integrate into each other’s social circles. Your friends recognize the significance of your relationship, and your friend becomes a familiar face in your group, and you in theirs. This integration goes beyond the occasional introduction; it signifies an acknowledgment of your bond by those around you.

More than friends

Benefits Of A Romantic Friendship

So, what are the benefits of friendship love vs romantic love? In this exploration, we’ll delve into the benefits of these unconventional attachments, examining why they have become noteworthy.

1. Deeper emotional connection

Such loving friendships often entail a heightened level of emotional intimacy that extends far beyond what is expected in regular friendships. Individuals share more profound aspects of their thoughts and feelings, fostering a deep connection.

2. Enhanced support system

A romantic friend can serve as a robust support system, offering empathy and understanding during both good and challenging times. This type of connection goes beyond casual companionship, providing a unique form of emotional support.

3. Pressure-free dynamics

Unlike traditional romantic relationships, these friendships typically involve less societal and temporal pressure. The focus is on enjoying companionship without the stress of conforming to conventional relationship expectations since it is a non-sexual romantic relationship.

4. Perks of friendship and romance rolled into one

The allure of a romantic connection is combined with the perks of a solid friendship. Shared experiences, inside jokes, and mutual enjoyment are complemented by subtle romantic aspects, such as holding hands or a simple peck on the cheek.

Related Reading: Platonic Cuddling: Meaning, Positions, And Benefits

5. Understanding without judgment

In these kinds of loving friendships, there is an inherent understanding that requires minimal explanation. This mutual comprehension fosters a secure environment where individuals can express themselves authentically without fear of judgment.

6. Flexible boundaries

These friendships often offer adaptable boundaries, allowing individuals to navigate the physical and emotional dimensions of the relationship at a pace that suits both parties. Flexibility is a key element in shaping and enjoying this unique connection.

To sum it up, romantic friendships blend the positive aspects of friendship with a touch of romance, resulting in a distinctive and evolving connection. If you’re contemplating exploring this type of relationship, these benefits might provide some insights into what you can expect.

Is A Romantic Friendship Sustainable?

The proponents of romantic love would have us believe that there is something inevitable about love and marriage when it comes to romantic attraction vs friendship. About finding the one person who is our best friend, lover, cheerleader, emotional support system, the person we turn to in sickness and in times of struggle. In short, the one person who is our ‘everything.’ But here’s the problem.

“If you prioritize only your romantic relationships, who is going to hold your hand through a breakup? Relying on your spouse to be your everything will definitely undo your marriage. No one human can meet your every single emotional need. If you only prioritize your kids, what happens when they’re grown and living far away, wrapped up in their own lives? Or if you only prioritize work? Wow, that’s too sad to even contemplate,” say Sow and Friedman in Big Friendship.

These kinds of friendships take this pressure off, and in doing so, they allow people to open up their hearts to what love can be, rather than what it should be. They allow people to step over the shambles of modern-day romance, transactional relationships, sexual politics, and fragmented families to redefine models of marriage and family and reimagine networks of care beyond them.

Are these friendships sustainable? Depends. Many romantic friends spend decades together, with their bond surviving the rough and tumble of real life. Others end up going their separate ways or even rekindling their friendship love after an estrangement. And others move from friends to lovers. Long-lasting or not, they show that sometimes, love is best understood as an excess of friendship. Aristotle would agree.

Key Pointers

  • Romantic friendships involve intense emotional intimacy and commitment
  • Unlike full-blown romantic love, they may or may not involve physical intimacy
  • Romantic friends prioritize their bond over other relationships
  • They may even partner up for life and live together
  • They may make major life decisions together
  • Ultimately, they show deep, long-lasting love can take many forms

Essentially, romantic friendships prove that intense friendships can be as fulfilling as romantic or spousal love, replace it even. They hold up a mirror to another kind of abiding love—the kind that puts friendship, not romantic love, at the center.

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