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Should you be friends first before dating

It was at her boss's wedding that Sophie Holland decided, with stone-cold certainty, that she wanted to be next down the aisle. Simon, one of her closest friends for the previous three years. We'd stayed overnight at his parents' house, and I woke up and thought, "I am going to ask him to marry me."' Until then Sophie, 40, had worked alongside Simon, 44, in a fabric shop in Soho, London.She'd found this affable, gentle man appealing as a shoulder to cry on when her succession of thrilling but chaotic relationships dissolved.

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She described him to other friends as 'not very exciting'. It was like an epiphany.' Most psychologists would say that was unusual.Yet not every close friendship will develop into the kind of romance that would give Danielle Steele a run for her money.'It's the sexual chemistry that ultimately sends you over the edge,' states Christine Northam, a counsellor working for Relate. Each of us has a psychological make-up that has been moulded by life's influences and experiences, and most of the time we're not even aware of it.'And there are certain people, friends or otherwise, who you could never imagine as a sexual partner. We unconsciously sum up this blueprint in another person, and if there is a "fit" we make an emotional connection.Subconsciously you're deciding whether you can take it further, from a friendship on to a more emotional and sexual level.' Of course, the overlap in what we want from both friends and partners is significant.In a poll conducted for the women's website 83 per cent of female participants believed that a purely platonic friendship could exist between men and women.

But, when probed further, one third said they secretly lusted after their male friends.

It seems that physical attraction is often a by-product of a cemented companionship.

The reality is that when friends become lovers the shift in their emotions is usually gradual.

In fact, it's so subtle they don't even notice it's happening until the moment a kindly hug becomes loaded with intention.

Mo Kurimbokus, a relationship counsellor, says, 'Think of it like foreplay.

All the time you're being friends, you're learning about each other.