by Charlotte Muir

When a genuine friendship turns to lust, should you follow your head or your heart?

Let’s face it, we’ve all fallen victim to the typical ‘friend crush,’ that one person, who, even though you know you shouldn’t, you can’t help but have the serious hots for. Playful flirting and late night texts, it all sounds innocent enough, but what happens when the footsie under the table gets serious and feelings start to get in the way of your friendship?

Chances are there has always been an underlying spark in your friendship. That odd flicker of lust that you’ve been gently ignoring in the hope that Prince Charming will soon arrive to sweep you off your feet. But what if Mr Right doesn’t show up on your doorstep with flowers and champagne? And what if you realise that your perfect match is in fact already in your life?

We aren’t suggesting that you do a Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake on us and try the friend with benefit approach, we all know that these end in a broken heart, a box of tissues and a family size bar of chocolate. And it’s probably not wise to suddenly announce your undying love and turn all bunny boiler-esque on him. You need to decide what you want from this tricky friend/ potential lover situation and stick to it.

“Speaking up and owning your truth is the hallmark of an empowered woman,” says Susan Winter, relationship expert and author of Older Women, Younger Men. “Courage and conviction show you know yourself and have the internal strength to stand up for what you want and speak your mind, without fear. If your friendship is based on mutual respect for each others feelings and there is an open and comfortable ability for communication, then you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Taking a friendship to the next level will of course involve risks. The danger that the other person won’t feel the same and the possibility that if you do try to move things on it won’t work, might put you off admitting your feelings to him. But remember, great relationships require vulnerability, if the relationship has any chance of working then it has to be a risk worth taking.

Ella Wilson a fashion graduate from Devon has been with boyfriend Ben for three years. Friends since primary school, a relationship was the last thing on either of their minds.

“Mine and Ben’s parents have been close friends since we were youngsters so we practically grew up in each others pockets,” begins Ella. “We would have sleepovers, go on bike rides, walk to school and tell each other secrets, typical best friend behaviour.”

It wasn’t until her late teens and a sudden move to University, that Ella’s feelings towards Ben began to develop into something more than just friendship. “When I moved away from home the contact between me and Ben had trickled down to the odd catch up call and the standard ‘happy birthday’ message on Facebook. Even though we didn’t speak much, I always knew that he’d be there for me if I needed him,” continues Ella.“When I returned home from University for the summer we spent lots of time catching up, it was like we were 12 years old and inseparable again. The more time I spent with Ben the more intense things became, and I started to get butterflies in my stomach every time I was around him. The problem was of course telling him how I felt. I wasn’t entirely sure if he felt the same way and the last thing I wanted to do was make a laughing stock of myself and lose my best friend in the process.”

22-year-old Ella finally took the plunge and confronted Ben about her feelings. “I realised that I couldn’t go on like this, if Ben did feel the same way then we were both wasting valuable time.”

“At first Ben was a bit overwhelmed with the confession, but after hours of revelations, we both admitted our feelings for one another and decided to give things a go between us. That was three years ago, and it was probably the greatest decision I have ever made. We have our ups and downs, everyone does, but our relationship has proven that there really is such a thing as being a best friend and a lover. I couldn’t ask for a better boyfriend.”

Ella’s relationship may prove that turning a friendship into something new can work, but remember, every situation is different and they don’t always end in a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates and cuddles in bed. Sometimes, no matter how much you want something, it’s just not meant to be. Does that ‘like’ seriously have the potential to turn into love?

“Whatever you decide, remember to be strong,” believes Susan. “You have many friends. Losing one man, whom you’d rather have as a lover, isn’t a loss at all. It’s a clarification. On to the next. You want what you want. If it’s love, then you should create a possibility for love to flourish. You have your girlfriends and you have a life. One man less is of no consequence.”

If your friendship is as important as you say it is then there’s nothing stopping you both from working things out. Talking is the way forward, and if he’s not prepared to talk then he’s not worth your heartache.