Friends First is a Good Dating Strategy

“Attraction is less about the first glance,” writes dating coach Ashley Kelsch

By Ashley Kelsch
Ashley Kelsch: Friends First Dating Column

Ashley Kelsch is Austin’s top certified, professional dating and relationship coach and former owner of Teddies for Betty’s, the lingerie boutique on 2nd Street that she ran for a decade. She offers one-on-one life-coaching programs to help clients acknowledge and understand limiting beliefs, to set boundaries and to learn how to change mindsets so they can get what they want in their romantic lives and feel empowered. Ashley helps men and women of all ages, single and married. She has a weekly podcast called Modern Renegades, and you can follow her on Instagram @AshleyMKelsch.

Have you ever found yourself falling for someone who has you in the “friend zone?” I’ve been thinking about this since a buddy of mine shared his experience of loving a woman who – in his words – had “no idea” about his feelings and how he navigated emotional terrain to verbalize them to her.

She ended up telling him she wanted to remain friends, and he was devastated. So much so that he told her he couldn’t talk to her. I found this surprising. If he loves this woman so much, why not find a way to be friends with her and continue to experience her on all the other levels available to him?

Why would someone limit a relationship to romance – or nothing at all – if he or she truly enjoys this person? Why can’t you keep someone as a friend forever? In my mind, you risk losing a person in your life once you start dating. Few people tend to remain friends when the romantic relationship ends.

When we think about dating, we are encouraged to find a soul mate, a best friend we can spend our lives with. It’s interesting that this aspect of a relationship seems to be temporarily put on the back burner when we look for someone we are attracted to.

There’s more to attraction than meets the eye. What motivates us at the start of a potential partnership – and influences attraction when it comes to dating – is the sum of information the brain collects at a rate we barely comprehend. From mannerisms to how someone is dressed, face structure, what they do for a living and who they know and associate with, the decision to date someone can be made before we consciously think about it.

Also, early on in the search for love an emphasis tends to be placed on sexual compatibility. Am I attracted to him? Does she turn me on? Do I find them sexy? This is the case for a lot of people but not everyone. No judgment. I’ve spent my years here which has led me to where I am today. Sex is good, but connecting with someone who you can enjoy in all the other areas of your life and possibly forever? I see endless value here. 

As for finding love after you’ve developed a friendship? This is another level.

I’ve come to appreciate the depth and nuance offered through friendship, especially the polarity that comes from male friendships, more than I do the finding out if we are a good fit romantically or sexually. Finding long lasting friendships that stand the test of time can be just as rare as finding “the one” and yet, we tend to take them for granted.

As a society we limit our language around friendships. Chemistry, intimacy, connection, communication, boundaries – these all seem to be reserved for romantic relationships, but if you apply their base meanings to other chosen connections in your life – your friends – it’s what you’re experiencing and practicing.

I remember a time in my early dating years, while out with a group of friends, I met a guy who was a friend of friends. He was a really good guy and always down for a fun hang. We slowly began to develop a friendship as we spent more time as a group which led us to hanging out separately, as well. It never occurred to me that this man might be interested in me.

This is possibly due to the fact that I wasn’t attracted to him, so during our time together with the group or otherwise I was just being me. As a friend. Which is weird to admit because you’d like to think I was “just being me” when dating, but there’s this weird thing that comes over my brain when I’m interested in someone and I can’t seem to “just be cool.”

I’ll save that for another column.

Sometime later when we were all out together, one of our mutual friends mentioned that he was interested in me. I was more than shocked; I felt fooled, like I was being dated without being asked or having a say in it. I thought that it was inappropriate and rude that he didn’t speak his intentions about our time spent together and stopped talking to him altogether. 

I believe the technical term is “ghosting.”

Afterwards I thought long and hard about our time together and questioned if I had missed something. I saw no signs that indicated this person had any interest in me. But then I remembered a conversation we had about how he doesn’t date per se, but instead spends time getting to know people, develops a friendship and then decides if he’s interested in pursuing something more. The entire episode did not sit well with me as I had all these thoughts and beliefs about how people should date.

Years later, he and I crossed paths and resumed a friendship, but in the back of my mind I had all this information. Was it going to happen again? Would he try and make a move while we were paddle boarding? My mind wouldn’t stop until finally I spoke up when the opportunity seemed right and communicated that I valued our friendship and that it wouldn’t be more.

He was totally fine with that. He enjoyed me as a person which means more to me than enjoying me in the bedroom.

It took me a long time, maybe some growing up and maturing to do to see how his approach of getting to know someone before asking them out is not shady or some form of trickery. I’ve since adopted the idea of getting to know someone as much as I can before consciously deciding if I want to pursue something with them sexually or romantically. I’m more turned on now by the idea of being seen and knowing someone deeply before having sex than I am by the thrill of a one-night stand or a casual encounter. Building connection along with a mutual understanding of trust and respect is hot.

Attraction is less about the first glance and a story I’ve created about someone that fits my idea of what I’m looking for and more about who the person is, how we connect and if we align. If sparks start to fly and there is potential for the friendship to evolve romantically or sexually, I’m certainly intrigued. Regardless, I’ve found a friend that will last a lifetime.


Read More From the Music + Film Issue | March 2021


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