I met my partner on Tinder. I hate online dating, but I resigned myself to it at the beginning of the pandemic because, well, what’s a they to do? Frankly, I was about to delete the infernal app, but he swooped in like some kind of queer Romeo just in the nick of time and now we’re strategizing about how to spend the rest of our lives being gay and fighting injustice together. We thought our case was the norm now, since word around the big gay campfire is that most queer couples — and a lot of straight ones — meet on apps now. But it turns out that’s not entirely true. According to a new study, most couples actually start out as friends.
The new study research, which was published yesterday in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, looked at data gathered from over 1,900 Canadian university students and polled adults about their romantic relationships. What researchers found was that ⅔ of couples were platonic friends before they fell in love — i.e. they did not meet on Hinge and immediately start boning. Amongst folks in their 20s and queer people, the rate was even higher. Apparently, 85% of queer couples started out as friends. And while the bulk of this research was done in Canada, dating culture in America and Canada is similar, so this feels revealing across the board.
Among college-aged participants, the study found that most were friends for between one and two years before things got romantic, and participants also reported that they didn’t secretly initiate a relationship with their person with the intention of dating them. In other words, it’s not that long-drawn out secret crush situations are the norm, it’s just that the romantic partners most people choose seem to be people they already know, according to the study conducted at the University of Manitoba and the University of Victoria in Canada.
Clearly, these findings not only go against all the rom-com meet-cutes we’ve been fed our whole lives, it also goes against a lot of the most widely publicized research about romance. I have read — and probably personally penned — a dozen laments about how most couples meet online these days. What gives? Why would journalists and researchers alike spread the online dating gospel if it wasn’t the case?
There may be some romantic bias at play here. These Canadian researchers also looked at previous studies on how romantic couples meet and found that 75% of those studies centered around couples that were created in some sparky moment with a stranger. Only 8% of the studies they looked at focused on the friend-to-partner pipeline. Basically, it’s possible that science and the media haven’t reported that most couples are friends first because we simply overlooked the possibility. Guilty as charged.
"There are a lot of people who would feel very confident saying that we know why and how people choose partners and become a couple and fall in love, but our research suggests that is not the case," lead author Danu Anthony Stinson, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, told Eurekalert. "We might have a good understanding of how strangers become attracted to each other and start dating, but that's simply not how most relationships begin." In other words, we love the idea of meet-cutes and love-at-first-swipe so much that we just haven’t bothered to dig into how people actually form romantic bonds.
"Our research suggests that the lines between friendship and romance are blurry and I think that forces us to rethink our assumptions about what makes a good friendship but also what makes a good romantic relationship,” Stinson told Eurekalert. So, then, that friend you hand your phone to to cull through your app matches may not just be a trusted confidant, they may also be the match you’re actually looking for. As usual, more reasons to put our phones down and keep our eyes on our real lives.