Yes, Staying Friends with Someone You’ve Dated Is Possible, and Here’s How

These four principles will help you protect your friendships and make dating more fun.
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These four principles will help you protect your friendships and make dating more fun.

A few years ago, I attended the wedding of two dear friends of mine. Their wedding was nothing short of a joyful and magical affair, as weddings typically are, but something remarkable stood out at this wedding. Among the hundreds of family and friends present were some former boyfriends and girlfriends of the bride and groom. These former exes were not only in attendance, but they had remained good friends with the couple and were all too glad to celebrate their friends’ marriage.

There is a myth—an urban legend really—among many dating individuals today that goes like this: If I date him (or her) and it doesn’t work out, it will be awkward in our social scene. Dating could ruin our friendship.

This myth has caused havoc in the dating scene. It has paralyzed men from asking certain women out. It’s kept women from showing interest or saying yes to certain men asking them on a date. And dare I say, its perhaps delayed or even prevented some “happily ever afters.”

My friends’ wedding, and the attendance of their exes, proves this myth to be just that. Their friendships told a different story: we don’t have to be afraid that love and dating tried and failed will end bitterly.

It was a lesson many of the other guests took note of. But if you're currently among the majority of people who feel a failed romance necessarily means a failed friendship as well, you might not know how easy it can be to keep things cool. As I’ve gone through my own years of dating, these are the principles that have kept my social circles relatively drama free and my dating life active.

01. A date is just a date.

It’s just drinks (or lunch or dinner)! When you go into it with that type of attitude, a date becomes less about what you have to lose and more about what you have to gain. And really, there is lot to be gained in dating.

Dating can give you an opportunity to converse and do activities with the member of the other half of the human race—someone who sees things differently than you. It can teach you how to be open to opinions you may not have considered before. It offers opportunities to learn more about ourselves—what makes you nervous, what makes you laugh, what excites you and disappoints you, and to learn more about how you relate to other people.

When we see dating as simply an opportunity to get to know a person who intrigues you and to learn more about yourself, we tend to place less pressure on the situation. If it doesn’t work out, all is not lost—there is almost always something good to be gained!

02. Incompatibility isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Sometimes you know after a few dates that a person isn’t for you, and sometimes it takes months of dating. Sometimes relationships don’t work out because of personality differences. Sometimes you’re at different places in life, or you want different things for the future. Or the mysterious “it” factor of attraction just isn’t there.

Of course, it’s disappointing when a dating relationship doesn’t work out, but it doesn’t make you less of a catch for someone else. Just because you have irreconcilable personality differences, doesn’t make either of your personalities bad. Similarly, just because you want different things from life, doesn’t mean the other person's goals are bad. Speaking from experience, just because a particular man isn’t for you doesn’t mean he’s not for someone—maybe even someone you know!

Having this outlook on compatibility can help significantly in being able to date and remain friends if the dating doesn’t work out.

03. Don’t get too close too fast.

Physical attraction is important and is not to be understated, but it’s important to remember what the physical side of romance means in dating for many reasons.

For one thing, getting physical too soon could mean potentially dragging out a relationship that never should have been. In casual dating, if enough basic character and personality traits haven’t been determined, an intimacy built on physical closeness can cloud important logical decision-making steps. Our bodies are wired to associate physical closeness with emotional closeness. Holding hands, hugging, and even lying next to a man can release oxytocin in women—the hormone associated with bonding. Every kiss is not a promise, but it helps if the focus earlier on is on intellectual and emotional intimacy.

This dynamic between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy also means you will be leaving the relationship with that much more baggage; and this makes staying friends with your former date or boyfriend that much more complicated. Being physical is an intimate thing and your ex's new girlfriend is not going to be thrilled about having you around if she knows that something more has been shared. Not only that, being friends with someone you are physically attracted to is hard enough without having memories of the physical relationship you once shared.

If you remember to let emotional intimacy and friendship precede the physical stuff, moving on when it’s not right will be so much easier and friendship after the date will certainly be possible.

04. Common courtesy goes a long way.

Whether you’ve gone on two dates or have been dating for six months, when ending a dating relationship, it’s best to be honest, up front, and kind. Nobody likes to be left hanging or wondering what led to the relationship ending.

We operate in a dating scene where “ghosting” is all too common. Women and men alike have been on the end of dating situation where a lack of a call back has left them hanging and uncertain for days. This is no way to make friends.

There is nothing more awkward than showing up at a social event to see that date you never got back to. Do you say something? Do you let it be and hope they don’t say something? It’s better to avoid such awkwardness entirely by being polite and direct in the dating process. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you, but I think we’re best as friends.” If your date has the same courtesy as you, it won’t be awkward in social settings, and friendship is much more likely to develop.

We all are looking for the same basic thing in dating—someone to love and spend our lives with. By committing to build more friendships and less enemies in the dating scene, I think both women and men would feel less pressure on dates and have a lot more fun.

Photo Credit: Erynn Christine Photography