How to keep men as friends, without benefits.
When my friend Chris asked me to go to Cape Cod for the weekend, I was so eager to get out of the city that I ignored my own nagging question about his intentions and said yes. After spending the weekend holing up early every night with "a cold," I realized I needed a serious re-think on how I was approaching friendships with the men in my life. If there was one thing I'd learned from my divorce, it was that I liked having a male presence in my life. If there was one other thing I'd learned from my divorce, it was that I liked many more men than I wanted to sleep with. How could I get the best of both worlds?
1. Name those un-named expectations.
Not long after we returned from the Cape, Chris called and asked if I could go out to dinner. He gave me two choices: Thursday and Saturday. This was probably his way of testing the water, but I happened to be busy that Thursday but not Saturday. He came back via email suggesting a French restaurant I thought it sounded far too much like a date place. Attempting to be coy about it, I wrote back with some decidedly less sexy options, explaining I couldn't afford his selection. He replied that the meal would be his treat. What to do? The answer was with me all along, I realized, when I wrote back simply, "That sounds too much like a date." Now when we hang out I don't worry if I'm doing anything suggestive because I've made it clear that I'm not in the market for a romantic relationship with him.
2. Turn it into a group outing.
The good thing about many male friends is that you probably know them through other friends. Mark was just such a guy. Had we met on a dating website, I might have gone out with him. But it wasn't long into knowing him that I knew it never would have worked. No shag with an expiration date is worth jacking up a circle of friends. This all seemed so obvious that I was surprised when he kept going in for a kind of open-mouthed goodbye kiss. Avoidance behavior and flat-out rejection, I feared, might cause the rift in our group that I'd been trying to prevent in the first place. I took the easier way out by always suggesting we include our mutual friends when we get together. If it is just the two of us, I ask about his love life.
3. Try going on a date.
I knew Sam was into me because of the way he'd lock down on me whenever I saw him. We did share an unwavering and constant desire to belt out '80s pop tunes given very little provocation, yet this did not make him a guy I wanted to date. But should it? He was smart, funny and handsome. We were friends. Common wisdom would have me believe we just might be perfect together.
"Go out with someone who'll treat you nicely," my friend Willy advised. Why the hell not? I'd experienced attraction deepening other times, maybe my soul mate was standing right in front of me. Sadly in this case, this was not so. When I found myself on said date repulsed by his thumbs, I knew I had to get out of there fast. I ended the date early. I still see him around, but the build-up to that date has dissipated—we don't IM or text anymore. I'm OK with that and think he is too. First Date Tips Guys Should Memorize
4. If all else fails, lie.
Oh look, I know it's not the most evolved response, but sometimes the best brush-off is the "accidental" kind. I was consoling a long-distance friend via an IM chat when he stopped talking about feeling sad about his ex- and started talking about how he "got" me. The attention was stroking my ego, and I let it go much farther than it should have. I snapped out of it as soon as he suggested coming to visit. "Oh," I wrote. "I don't think my boyfriend would like that." As far as I'm concerned, it's kosher to tell a little white lie in order to spare a person's feelings.
5. What not to do.
Whatever you do, do not talk about other men in your life. Seems crazy, right? You'd think this would be a turn-off. It generally is for women. Even if we're not interested in a guy, if he blathers on about his conquests, we start to feel, well, somewhat like chopped liver, right? Apparently, with men, any talk of exes, hookups or dates could plant images in his mind and/or entice him to want what he doesn't have. Better to stay mum.
And you, dear reader? What tips do you have for keeping it platonic?