I hate to break it to you, but if you refuse to date someone based solely on the fact that you were friends first, you could be sabotaging own happiness. While I completely understand your concerns (which are valid) about ruining previous friendships (which can [and has] happened), I also happen to think that big payoffs are worth big risks. Dating isn't just a lottery, though; if you're looking for a serious relationship, the chances are pretty good that you will eventually find one. But "eventually" doesn't have to take forever. You probably already know someone you have a good chance at being compatible with. Why? Because you've already proven that you're compatible in some capacity if you've remained friends with a person for a long time.
Today I'm going to make something very personal very public: I don't believe in the friend zone, and I don't think going on dates with random strangers (or near-strangers) is the right way to go about dating, partly because I only believe in serious relationships.
They say that the person you marry should be your best friend. Well, then, what better way to find someone suitable for you than taking a look at the people who you already know are good friends whose company you enjoy and appreciate? You already love your friends, and if they're a real friend, you don't have to wonder about whether they love you. It's a different kind of love, yes, but it's a strong connection to start with, and if you're dating, isn't a real connection what you're looking for?
Personally, I find the idea of dating someone you already know appealing because it allows you to skip the awkward "getting to know you" phase of dating. I dislike the process of actually getting to know people anyway (especially at first) because I would rather already know someone and I find it difficult to converse with people if I'm not sure what our common interests and ideas are. And I would find it even more difficult to get to know someone if I were simultaneously starting to date them, as dating in general only adds an extra layer of nervousness and shyness to an interaction.
Dating is a hotbed of anxieties and vulnerability anyway, so why make it more awkward or nerve-wracking than it has to be? If you already know someone, it's easier to talk to them, understand them, and appreciate their particular (or peculiar) sense of humor. You won't have to worry about them judging you for your strange quirks, your weird obsessions, or your stupid puns. They already know about those. They probably even appreciate them. You'll already know about your shared interests and life experiences. You'll already know what kinds of things they would like for a gift when Christmas and birthdays roll around. You may not even have to endure the anxiety of "meeting the family" and trying to remember everyone's names and faces. You're more likely to feel comfortable with them and to be able to communicate with them openly and honestly and trust that they can do the same. And what's not to like about all that?
So no, I don't really believe in "the friend zone," at least not for single people. Yes, it's an asset (and a necessity) for those people who are in relationships, especially long-term, committed relationships and marriages. But outside of that, no. "He's a friend" is not a good reason not to consider someone out of the running unless you're in a relationship with someone else (I would never, ever encourage cheating, even emotional cheating). If there's another reason you wouldn't date someone, tell them that. Because the friend zone isn't a real reason, and you should be honest with people.
Sure, there's a chance you could lose that friendship. And that sucks. A lot.In fact, you probably will lose a friendship if you use this method of dating. You may lose more than one friendship, directly or indirectly. But you have other friends, and your happiness does not depend on a single person, nor does it depend on anyone but yourself and your own attitude. Your other friends will support you if this happens. They'll help you get though it. And even if you do break up, chances are it will be a gentler letdown than you'd get from someone who was a stranger, because you know that that person cares about your feelings anyway. And hey, on the bright side, you're at least a lot less likely to get ghosted.
But in the end, no one loves you like a friend, and it's a lot harder to find that kind of compatibility, comfort, and connection by chance. If you're like me, you might decide that friends make for better and more serious relationships than strangers, and that, in the end, the risks are worth the reward.