It is the well-worn conceit of films and novels alike: strangers meet across a crowded room and romantic sparks fly.
But a study has found the reality is perhaps a little more mundane – the majority of couples start out as friends.
Researchers from Canada analysed data from nearly 1,900 university students and crowdsourced adults.
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They found 68 per cent reported their current or most recent romantic relationship began as a friendship.
There was little variation across gender, level of education, or ethnic groups, but the rate of friends-first initiation was even higher among 20-somethings and within LGBTQ+ communities, with 85 per cent of such couples beginning as friendships.
Danu Anthony Stinson, lead author and psychology professor at the University of Victoria, Canada said: “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.
“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 the study, among the university students, the friends-first participants were friends for one-to-two years before beginning a romantic relationship. The vast majority of these did not enter the friendship with romantic intentions or attraction.
Nearly half of the students reported that starting out as friends was their preferred way of developing a romantic relationship, and was far more popular than other options presented, such as meeting at a party or online.
Given the prevalence of romantic relationships that begin platonically, Professor Stinson would like to see further studies examining this kind of relationship initiation.
She also hopes this research, which is published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, will push people to revisit their preconceived notions about love and friendship.
She adds: “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.”