My Chinese-American fiancé and I were friends and dance partners for a long time before we got romantically involved. We spent a ton of time together at airports and hotels, not to mention the dance floor. We got to know each other very well.
There are tremendous benefits to being friends (without benefits!) before dating. You know if your friend is a cheater, an addict, or a guy with a lot of different girlfriends you never see more than once. These behaviors don’t just show up six months into a relationship. If you think the friend turned boyfriend was awesome before and just became evil because you began dating, start eyeing your neighbors. Because you’re the clueless random acquaintance on the 6 o’clock news, that invariably protests, “But he was such a nice guy!” after the police find body parts in Mr. Nice Guy’s freezer.
For everyone with an ounce of observational skills, however, having a friend turned boyfriend is a bonus. All the little unknowns you agonize over when you first date a guy are no longer unknown. Like “Why isn’t he texting back?!” Another woman might have figured Andy wasn’t into her when he didn’t answer calls or texts for hours, or even days. But I already knew the man turns in his phone at the door in his Top Secret Place of Employment. I also knew he subconsciously hates the phone/leash and “forgets” to turn it back on when he leaves the Top Secret Place of Employment. It makes me nuts, but I know it’s not personal.
Andy’s family didn’t do much celebrating, so I know he’s not big on gifts for birthdays or holidays. (Well, not yet. I Have Plans.)
I already knew the man drove like a maniac, and thus I did not automatically assume he had rage issues or a death wish the first time we went on a date.
For his part, Andy already knew I had a phobia of marriage. He knew I had a temper. And he knew I was ambivalent about kids. So he took none of those issues personally.
But there’s a flip side to having been good friends first. Especially when you spend so much time together. Once, I caught him eyeing a hot young thing on a flight to San Francisco. I laughed, nudged him, and teased, “So? So? What would you rate her?”
Andy was a tough critic, once he stopped turning red. “An 8. Maybe an 8.5.”
“Really?” I turned back around and checked her out. “Huh. I guess. Wait. What am I?”
Andy tilted his head to the side and assessed. “A 7.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?! I am SO a 9!”
Andy tried to change the subject. I changed it back, haranguing him the entire flight about how his grading scale was all messed up, how he’d clearly dinged me because I didn’t wear make-up, and how he would have graded me higher if I wore more revealing clothes. When he wasn’t laughing at me, Andy tried to talk about the weather. (He’s since told me that he’s had delayed flights to Hawaii that seemed shorter. He also swears that since my boyfriend at the time was a friend of his, I was firmly in the “friend” box, which colored my score. This is, of course, bullshit. But at least he made an effort.)
Some people learn from their mistakes right away. And then there’s Andy. One night, after social dancing, he got all googly-eyed over another hot young thing. “She’s just so, so beautiful!”
We were still just dance partners and friends, but I remembered how he only rated me a 7. I generously gave Andy a chance to redeem himself. “Hey, what about me? Do I rate beautiful?”
He pursed his lips and did another critical assessment. “You’re pretty.”
Damned with faint praise once more! I could not believe any guy could be so honest. So STUPIDLY honest. But it was a refreshing change from guys who’ll say anything and everything and mean none of it. Perhaps his stubborn resistance against any pressure to say the easy, obvious compliment was one of the things that made me respect him. Maybe that and hitting the hot tub with shirtless Andy helped me finally ditch my miserable relationship with Ethan. (Or it could have been the fact that Ethan only wanted to sit home and play video games.)
When Andy and I finally went out of our first real date, I spent hours on my hair. Yeah, literally hours – my hair dryer broke in the middle of styling and I had to run out and buy a new one. I put on makeup, wore heels, and dressed in the perfect little black miniskirt.
Shock, desire, and appreciation chased each other across Andy’s face when I opened the door. He breathed, “You look beautiful.”
“No,” I reminded him. “‘PRETTY.’”