Friends First

by Erin Lawless


I’d just finished running through the story-line of my new novel with a colleague.

“Okay, so it’s another ‘friends first’ thing then?” she summarised, wrong-footing me somewhat. My first novel, The Best Thing I Never Had, followed the romantic entanglements of a group of friends through their university years and beyond. My upcoming novel, Somewhere Only We Know, flips between the narratives of two unlikely friends, Nadia and Alex, as they slowly become something more.

It hadn’t occurred to me, but maybe I am secret champion of a world where you fall in love with your best friend! “It’s not surprising I suppose,” continued said colleague, “considering how you met your husband.”

The whole concept of ‘friends first’ is quite a Marmite one. People who have never encountered it don’t even believe it exists, desperate romantics who think that if you’re not sick with butterflies and fighting the urge to rip one another’s clothes off within the first few hours of acquaintance it won’t ever be “true love”.

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I have a very good friend who keeps on not having second dates with perfectly nice, perfectly good-looking men, purely because she didn’t feel an immediate spark upon sitting down across from them. “But it might DEVELOP,” I howl at her, “you can’t always rely on love at first sight.”

To me, it just seems wasteful. But then again, I personally have never had a sexual partner who I wasn’t matey with first. And as my colleague pointed out, my now husband was once one of my very best friends (for a short time, before the inevitable happened!). My experience of falling in love with my best friend was one of the main triggers for the writing of my debut novel, The Best Thing I Never Had.

“Well, I mean, being in love… At the end of the day, it’s finding a best friend who you sleep with, right?”
After a few seconds to absorb this, Harriet burst out laughing.
“And you just called me unromantic! Jesus!”
“No, think about it!” Adam pressed. “When you strip it down, that’s basically what it is. A friend you love and the benefits of sex!”
The Best Thing I Never Had (Harper Impulse, 2013)

It might seem safer, going for it with someone you already know – to some it might even seem the boring option. But ‘friends into lovers’ has its own troubles. The fear of rejection is heightened. You need to be so sure that what you’re feeling is real – you’re not just confused or lonely or bored with your life.

You have so much more to lose if things go south – the friendship itself, as well as making things awkward with any mutual mates. Things tend to get much more serious, much faster. But therein lies the story, the appeal – so it’s hardly surprising I seem to come back to it time and time again.

And after all, it worked for Monica and Chandler.

Erin Lawless is the author of The Best Thing I Never Had. She is very keen on history and lives in England. Her latest novel, Somewhere Only We Know, is out next month.

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