Welcome to Megan Barton-Hanson’s new VICE UK column, covering all things to do with sex, relationships and self-love during one of the strangest eras of the 21st century. Read the previous column here.
Let me just say right off the bat that I don’t have a good track record with breakups! I’m quite a jealous person, so once I’ve crossed the line with someone I find it hard to come back from that when things don’t work out. One night stands I’m usually alright, but if it was more than that I tend to struggle. And, let’s be honest, even the chillest person in the world would find it difficult to end up in a ‘let’s just be mates’ situation and have to sit around while the other person tells the whole friendship circle about how they’re getting on with their new partner.
But that’s not to say that dating a friend is completely off the cards. You can’t choose who you fall for, famously. So if you do find yourself catching feelings for a friend, here are some tips on how to navigate things:
SET SOME GROUND RULES
I’ve had experiences in the past of liking someone more than they liked me, and I know how painful that can be. It can ruin the whole friendship. So rule number one would be to lay your cards on the table as soon as possible. I’m quite an awkward person and I do find it hard to really vocalise how I feel. I think when you’ve been hurt in the past, you don’t want to be the person to say ‘I’m catching feelings’, but you need to get over your ego, put that to one side and be honest.
Whether you want to progress and be more than friends and have a sexual relationship, or you just want to have casual sex and still be seeing other people, just say it. Even if you did want to see how things went but you’ve also got other people on the side, just say that so everyone knows where they stand. It is going to be awkward, at the end of the day, but at least it’s off your chest and there’ll be no blurred lines. Then at least if it doesn’t work out on a sexual level you’ll have an easier job of keeping the friendship intact. Once you both say exactly what you want, it can’t go wrong.
TRY TO DATE OUTSIDE YOUR IMMEDIATE FRIENDSHIP GROUP
I’m lucky because I’ve got a lot of different friends from different friendship circles, but I can imagine that for people in a big friendship group it might feel a little bit awkward to catch feelings for one of them – especially if it does turn a bit sour at the end. As a rule of thumb I feel like dating outside an immediate friendship group would be the most logical thing, but sometimes when you know that you shouldn’t do something, or there’s someone that you shouldn’t like and they’re ‘off limits’, it makes you fancy them more, doesn’t it? When I worked at a strip club I was told ‘you shouldn't date a member of staff’, and of course I made a bee-line straight for the doorman.
START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON
If you’re both on the same page and want to try and start dating each other exclusively, you don’t want to miss out on the honeymoon period! That means: cute dinners, making the effort and getting dressed up. Make sure you take yourself away from the group and do things together, just the you of two. It can be tempting to carry on as normal, but really make the effort to go out of the way and date how you would if you’d met on an app.
RESIST THE URGE TO LABEL THINGS
Obviously be upfront and honest between yourselves, but you don’t need to address the whole friendship group and announce that you’re progressing things. If you date a friend you have to take it slowly and not rush in and say ‘we’re in a relationship’, because break-ups can be hard. Just keep things between the two of you until it’s in a good place. Then you also get the added fun of sneaking around at the beginning, which, if you ask me, is the best part!
IF IT ALL GOES TITS UP, REMEMBER WHY YOU WERE FRIENDS IN THE FIRST PLACE
I haven’t got a good track record with break-ups. Take me and Demi Sims, for example. We’re not really in a friendship ‘group’, but we’re in the same industry and we’re going to see each other at events, and I think I ended that relationship quite badly. We were on Celebs Go Dating together, and I ended it over text. Since then I’ve apologised and we’re good now, but I think when you start out as friends it’s easier to stay friends. You’ve got those memories together, you’ve got that respect, and you know that person deeper. When you start off on a dating app or it’s a sexual thing from day one, there’s not much to salvage if the sex goes downhill or the trust is gone. You lose the foundation of the whole relationship. I usually end up feeling like if it hasn’t worked out in a relationship capacity then it’s best to leave it, or it’ll just feel awkward when either of us gets with someone else. If you’ve had that friendship previously, though, you know that you got on and you enjoyed each other's company not even on a sexual level – so it makes you want to put the effort in and salvage it.
KEEP YOUR INNER CHAOS IN CHECK
There’s this guy I met on Hinge back in the day. It wasn’t like a proper relationship, we saw each other very casually, and I think I said to him that I liked him but he wasn’t ready because he’d just come out of a long-term thing. But since then we’ve stayed in touch and hung out occasionally. We don’t really have the same group of friends, which helps, but when he’ll tell me things like ‘I’m seeing this new girl, she’s from Amsterdam…’ there’s still a part of me that’s like ‘Oh really?’ and it makes me have that ‘Megan From Love Island’ vibe, where I’m like ‘Can I get him back if I want?’
A part of you still wants to have that bit of power where you’re like ‘OK fine, we’re just friends, but I still need to be the person that they fancy the most!’
A lot of the time people get scared to vocalise how they feel because they don’t want to ruin the friendship, but you’ve got to think, like, the worst case scenario is that you stay friends. I think it would be worse almost if you had these pent up feelings, and the other person felt the same but was also scared, and then they moved on with someone else because you were both in the same boat.
I think you just need to be brave. If it turns out they don’t feel the same way then it might be awkward for a while, maybe a week, but then you’ll go back to being friends and at least you’ll have put it out there. There’s nothing worse in life than regret, so don’t be afraid to be upfront and honest – otherwise you’ll be left with that feeling of ‘if only I said something’.