Who is more likely to remain together – the couple who were friends before they became romantic, or the couple who sizzled from Day One?
Janet Nast, 58, and Tom Carter, 66, of Bremerton, Wash., vote “friends first.” Well before they married in 2003, they were strictly friends – as in separate booths at their favorite fast-food restaurant.
When Nast told Carter she was always there at 1 p.m., you could set your clock by his arrival, she said. “Not with tires squealing or dust-a-flying,” she said, but “cool and calm as a cowboy.” Every weekday for two years, she with a chicken sandwich, he with an iced tea, they chatted about everything from kids to cars.
“He was married and I was going through my ‘I hate men,’ post-divorce phase, so we were just friends, and every topic was safe,” Nast said.
Convinced she would never find the man of her dreams, Nast drafted a “perfect husband list,” then shared it with Carter. He kept mum that he was divorcing. Too bad, he said years later, because the list described him to a tee, except he couldn’t dance.
It wasn’t until Nast recruited Carter, then a telephone company lineman, to help her move one weekend that they finally shared a kiss and became “more than just friends,” she said.
Now, their marriage is built on “honesty and trust” they achieved through friendship, Nast said. Add the magic that occurs whenever their eyes lock, she said, and their marriage is a keeper.
Couples like Danica Keefe, 31, and her husband, Brian, 35, on the other hand, were shot by Cupid’s arrow on Day One, then built friendship from there.
Sure, she admired his athletic skills the first time she saw Brian playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament, Keefe recalled. But she also was smitten by his stride with confidence. “You could tell people looked up to him,” she said. She didn’t meet him until a year later, in 2007, at a Frisbee party. Her intuition was correct, and the attraction was mutual. “Afterward, we went to his house and made out – a lot,” she said.
After driving back and forth from her campus to his house, until she graduated from college, she knew she would spend her life with him, Keefe said.
They married in 2010, had a son and settled in South Bend, Ind., where he’s a supervisor for a home improvement retailer and she’s a therapist for autistic children.
“Whether it’s trying for a new job or training for a competition, we support each other,” Keefe said. “I couldn’t be with a man who doesn’t do that.”
Now, the sparks are still there, but there are days when their 3-year-old drains them of energy, Keefe said. Then, she said, the friendship part of the marriage rules. “You have to be nurturing,” she said. “You’re tired, too, but you have to just try.”
In the end, “it’s not so much which comes first – love/lust or friendship/trust – as long as you have both,” said Lonnie Barbach, a San Francisco clinical psychologist and content director for the app Happy Couple.
Before you rush to the altar, “take your time to get to know each other,” Barbach said. “After about nine months, you’ve talked about the big things like values and you’ve seen the little things that annoy your partner. You wouldn’t believe how many people bring up that toilet paper thing, for example – one person hangs it ‘over’ and one hangs it ‘under.’ ”
Listen to what your close friends say about your new love, said Kelly Roberts, marriage and family therapist and assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of North Texas. “They’re risking their friendship with you by telling you if they don’t like him,” she said.
Know your partner long enough to see her through some tough times, Roberts added.
Accountant Tyler McCarl, 25, married his childhood friend, publicist Megan Susterich, 25, in 2015, so he knew she was unflappable. After all, she handled an eighth-grade breakup with finesse. McCarl talked Susterich’s boyfriend into breaking up with her so he could ask her out.
The grown-up Susterich proved to be equally steadfast only a few hours into their marriage, when the Grand Rapids, Mich., couple were in a car accident on their way to their honeymoon. “Megan handled it,” McCarl said.
One of the reasons Denver children’s musician Cory Cullinan, 46, fell for his college classmate Janette Sampson, 46, was the way she overcame obstacles.
“She demonstrates more grit and character every day than the rest of us do in a week,” Cullinan said of his wife, who is legally blind. At the same time, he said, “she is ridiculously, lovingly supportive (of me)” and juggles parenting their kids with her job as an intellectual property development manager.
Cullinan recalls the day he made the friends-to-lovers transition.
“When the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake happened, Janette didn’t come to work, so I rode my bike out to her dorm to make sure she was OK,” said Cullinan, who lived in a dorm where Sampson worked. “The conversation was something like, ‘You OK?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘You OK?’ ‘OK, bye.’ On my way back, I thought, something’s not right. I have a girlfriend back home, and I just rode all the way out here to make sure Janette was OK.” Soon, the Cullinans were an item.
While Cullinan describes the transition as smooth, many couples recall the day they “fell” in love as though a cliff was nearby. It’s no wonder, said Roberts, because falling in love is an “amazingly complex” phenomenon.
It’s so complex, in fact, it’s an evergreen topic in script writing.
If you go by Hollywood’s storylines, “relationships are stronger when they have friendships as their core starting points,” said Elizabeth Coffman, associate professor of film at Loyola University Chicago.