A few years ago, I went on a boring brunch date that ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. I met a guy I’ll call Kevin at a Mexican restaurant in the West Village of Manhattan. We ate mediocre huevos rancheros, chatted about what it was like to have moved to New York City in our 30s and then shook hands. A few months later, I bumped into him at an alumni softball game, where he said: “I’ve met a bunch of awesome women lately. There’s nothing romantic with any of them. But I’m new to the city and need friends. Do you want to join us for drinks at this fun dive bar I know?”
I was touched by his courage for admitting that none of those dates had panned out. I was also impressed with his foresight for recognizing a great social opportunity. I soon met two of his former matches, and the four of us formed a tight-knit social group. We met for weekly drinking nights, wine-tasting dinners, trivia contests, and summer movies in Bryant Park. We set up Kevin with our friends, played wing-woman for him at bars, gave him dating advice and consoled him when an eventual girlfriend broke his heart. As for me, I got a packed schedule and a bunch of besties.
Few people like to hear, “I don’t want to date you, but we can be friends.” It sounds like a lousy consolation prize – as if she’s insincerely offering up friendship because she feels guilty about not wanting to kiss you. But if you take the rejection out if it, you’ll realize that a windfall of new friends can be one of the best payoffs of online dating.
That is the case for a site, such as eHarmony, that aims to match you based on several factors of compatibility. It’s not surprising that you’ll likely meet a lot of people with whom you have a similar sense of humor, appetite for adventure, or love of baseball. In some ways, it’s an ideal arrangement. You can share season tickets and get the benefits of companionship without having to worry about where this relationship is going. (It’s going to the baseball stadium!)
Of course, it’s possible to enjoy all kinds of chemistry with the opposite sex – not only romantic attraction. Online dating pals can add a lot of richness to your life, especially if you’ve just gone through a breakup or divorce and need to build back up your social circle. In fact, over the years I’ve been to three weddings for former dates that became dear friends. Your new buds might even help you find love.
Here’s how to play the friend zone:
1) Make sure neither of you has romantic feelings.
Don’t suggest being buddies with matches, if you think they’re attracted to you and hoping for more. Not only will those friendships never develop, it’s kind of mean. Besides, it’s no fun for you to have to constantly worry about giving them the “wrong idea.” You might have to wait a few months or until one of you is dating someone else.
2) Don’t suggest being friends unless you really mean it.
That means treating each other like real friends would by keeping in touch and meeting up now and then. A good strategy is to connect quickly on social media. Although it’s wise to wait to befriend a potential sweetie, liking each other’s posts or sharing interesting articles is a great way to stay on his or her radar.
Take the lead and suggest doing activities that friends do, such as going for a hike or attending a music festival. Also invite them to friends’ parties or group outings. By tapping into each other’s networks, you’ll make more social connections and increase your chances of meeting someone special.
3) Be open to the possibility that your relationship could change.
Yes, it sounds like a rom-com. But there’s always the possibility that getting to know someone in a more relaxed way over time can create seeds of attraction. Hoping someone will fall for you can’t be your motive for being friends. For now, just enjoy the chance to hang out with someone fun.
How have you made the transition from match to pal?
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.