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Nothing confuses friendship as much as sex

It is a subject, a question, that often comes up in conversation: Can a man and a woman really be "just friends?" Before you answer this in your own mind, be reminded that there is a significant qualifier here: "just." As in "only" friends. No sex, no lust, no passion, no secret dreams and desires: just friends.

Many would immediately say, "Yes, of course." Others might respond, "No way," while some might feel that yes, such a friendship is a possibility.

A personable, 30-something woman (married with children) has been debating this issue with her 80-year-old father for years. When she goes back home, male and female friends constantly drop by to say hello. Dear dad constantly fusses about her "fooling around." "Dad, I've known these guys since I was a kid," she says, yet again. "We are just friends."

"Ain't no such thing," her dad retorts." A man always gonna have an ulterior motive."

Some men and women both would agree with this dad's sentiments, though they may rise from his own ingrained sexist attitudes.

A man and woman can indeed be friends, but only after "you get the sex stuff out of the way," a single professional woman tells me.

Yes, that "sex stuff" often gets in the way. How many times have women suggested to a male suitor that they "just be friends"? Sometimes women come to this decision after having sex with the man, thereby confusing him even more. And some men settle for being just friends when in fact they want to be just lovers.

"Sometimes it's a tough balance between friendship and other stuff," says a Southern man who acknowledges close friendships with several women. "Most times I reach a point where I say, 'Well, what do I want to be: a friend or a lover?' I have female friends with whom I've never had sex and never even think about sex. In other friendships, I've considered sex and had to make a decision: Do I really want to screw up this friendship? I've also had lovers who became just friends."


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Another guy tells me that most men view all women as potential lovers "at some point and to some degree." And that is not a bad thing, he adds. "You can think about it and move on. You don't have to act on it."

A female acquaintance recently told me how she was pleasantly surprised when an Italian man at her golf club told her: "You are a good friend; I can talk to you about anything. Anything."

Her husband raised his eyebrows, while the man's wife nodded in agreement.

Being curious, I asked: "Just what do you two talk about?"

"Well, recently I advised him to change his hairstyle," she says. "He got it cut short and he looks a hundred percent better. A lot of times we talk about parent-adult children relationships. We talk about some of everything. And believe me, there is no romantic interest. Just talk, just friendship."

The subject of male/female friendships is intriguing and debatable, and everyone seems to have an opinion. What both men and women should keep in mind is, as a young man told me, that true friendship requires shared experiences where trust and loyalty are proven over time. "It's harder for men and women to get to that place, particularly if they become lovers," he says.

When I think about my closest male friends, I find reflections of all sides of the multifaceted issue: A "just friends" settlement. A romance-turned-friendship. Lover as best friend. Male friends who are genuinely just that: friends.

Friendships come in all sizes, shapes and complexities, but nothing confuses this important life relationship as much as sex. A man and woman can indeed be just friends, but friends don't (or shouldn't) express themselves through sex. Simplify your life by learning to separate the two.

next: Learn to Trust Again