When friends become lovers

Ever fancied a long-time friend but thought sex would spoil things? It's becoming more common, especially at our age, for pals to marry. Fiona Webster reports

When Angela Lowdon went to meet an old friend on a diving holiday she never dreamed the trip would end in marriage. But, ten months later, she was at the top of a church tower in Simeone on the shores of Lake Garda, saying ‘I do’ to a man she had known for 15 years.

Angela, 52, and her new husband Andreas, 50, are one of an increasing number of couples who have found love from friendship – or as Angela puts it – married her mate.

start quoteYears later he told me his girlfriend had always suspected there was something between usfinal quote

Like Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, or Cat Deeley and Patrick Kielty, who have become couples after ten years of friendship, more and more people are finding familiarity breeds attempt.

Angela and Andreas

Angela and Andreas had met through their mutual interest in diving. Both were married but Andreas’ wife died in 2006 and Angela’s marriage broke up three years ago. Then their diving club organised a trip to Israel, and they came back a couple.

Angela, from Plymouth, says: “The hardest part about getting together was telling friends. Some thought it was weird. One said: ‘How unromantic!’ But I think it’s the most romantic thing in the world to realise you know everything about this person and still fancy the pants off them!”

But is it real love? Or simply lust, or companionship? If you have been friends for many years, why suddenly get together now? A highly scientific high50 survey of friends and acquaintances who suddenly decide to get it together revealed the active ingredients are indeed love, lust and companionship, but the most important factor of all is timing.

When we meet someone in our twenties we are rarely ready to settle down, and even in our thirties and forties we may be at different stages in our lives. We might meet the ‘right’ person but be out of kilter with them, perhaps because we are travelling, welded to the career ladder, in a long-term relationship already, with or without kids. Or, for some of us, we simply can’t give up partying.

Think about your recent partners, would you have gone out with them if you had met them when you were 17? Then think about the people you dated when you were 17:what would have happened if you had married them? Frightening, isn’t it?!

But by the time most of us have reached 50, we have gone through many of life’s stages, and may be ready to come up for air.

The upside of it all is that there are few nasty surprises. You know your friend’s foibles and probably their families too, mad or not. You have a ready-made shared history and you probably even share the same social circles. But what are the dangers?

Jamie and Amanda

Publisher Jamie Lovage, 53, from Solihull, has recently found love with a woman he has known for 11 years, but sounds a note of caution. “I took my friend’s sister Amanda to a work do because I needed a partner and we’re old chums, so no complications.

“Except that something happened when I looked at her in her red dress that night and I couldn’t stop thinking about her,” he says.

“I didn’t act on it for a while because I was worried I might lose a good friend.”

Jamie was perhaps right to be worried. Many a good friendship has been tainted by an impetuous roll in the hay. As he says: “I can see the danger, but so far that hasn’t happened to us. We are still together eight months down the line and our friends are encouraging us to tie the knot – though that may be because they want a party.”

Relate relationship expert Christine Northam agrees that caution is needed: “Sex complicates things, and not always for the better. Even if a couple stay together, they can find that sex isn’t quite the grand passion they imagined.

“Because you’re friends first, there might not be too many surprises, and so sex can be convenient and comfortable rather than wildly exciting. We all know that initial thrill you tend to feel when you first meet someone, and long-standing friends can miss out on that.

“Every couple is different, though. Other people report a thriving sex life that has been built on knowing someone incredibly well first.”

Judy and Mike

Columnist and editor Judy McGuire agrees. Judy, 59, from west London, has been married for two years to a man she has known for 30: fellow journalist and now web designer Mike Brenard.

Judy says: “I had known Mike forever. In fact, I employed him nearly 30 years ago as a junior reporter. We had been very good friends, but there had never been any romance.

“The years had passed, we both married, and I went to his first wedding. Perhaps it’s with hindsight, but still, I swear I felt a possessive twitch of jealousy as I watched him make his vows to his bride.

“He asked me along to his second marriage, but I never got the invitation. Years later he told me his girlfriend had always suspected there was something between us, and failed to post it. She certainly knew more than we did.

“Mike then stopped working as a journalist, so we had been out of touch when my girlfriend and I dragged him out to dinner. I was also divorced by then.

“I was struck by how absurdly pleased I was to see him. Greying but otherwise the same, it felt in some ways as if I was seeing him for the first time. I couldn’t get over how sexy his mouth was. How come I’d never noticed that before?

“For the first time in our shared history, we were simultaneously single. Next day, with great trepidation, I called him and suggested we meet again, only this time alone. Mike was hugely reluctant, but I was determined.

“Three months later (yes, he really was reluctant), I tempted him to my house for supper. He later told me he had been fearful of misreading my signals and consequently destroying our friendship.

“We’ve barely been apart since, and neither of us, still, can quite believe it. Being together as lovers seemed at the same time both really strange and perfectly natural.

“We already knew each other inside out, and yet there was so much we didn’t know: the sort of things only lovers discover. We had years of shared history as well as years of separate lives – which gives us something new to uncover about each other every day.

“When he asked me to marry him I said ‘yes’ in a heartbeat. We told no one, just snuck off to a register office, borrowed a couple of strangers for witnesses and cried happily over our vows.

“We’re certain it’s third time lucky for two people who once genuinely believed they were doomed to life alone.

“We were convinced that we would never find love again. Let alone a love that is as all-consuming as this. We’ve always been soulmates. It just took us a while to realise, that’s all.”

Further reading

Retying the knot

A happy divorce or just one that is good enough?

Sexual liaisons: get a room!

Not on your life: the 50-somethings who are happy being single

Sex: how can we girls still get it

How to be hotter than ever