Dilemmas: Can we have sex and stay friends?

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This week's dilemma: Max, single and 30, has the occasional girlfriend and once wanted to get married but it didn't work out. He now spends lots of time with a single woman friend, who's suggested they have sex - just sex, nothing more. He quite fancies her, but doesn't love her and worries it might destroy the friendship

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

Some men try to persuade women into bed by telling them they love them, and that sex will add a new dimension to their relationship. Some women persuade men into bed by saying that sex is just nothing, and it will simply be a pleasurable but meaningless experience.

Both of them are lying through their teeth. The men usually want a pleasurable but meaningless experience, and the women want a deeper relationship.

"But don't women these days see sex in a much more take-it-or-leave it way than they used to?" I asked my son, having been fed this fuck-'em- and-chuck-'em line by a diet of movies, women's magazines and telly sitcoms.

"Not really," he replied. "Of course there is the odd one, but they're usually a bit screwy."

Unless this woman is one of the screwy ones, then, Max will find that including sex in the relationship will change it drastically. How will he be able to take the occasional woman out if he's sleeping with his female friend who will suddenly have changed - literally overnight - into his girlfriend? He'll have gone to bed with a platonic pal, and woken to find her grinning maniacally and saying, though probably not verbally: "Heh, heh, heh, fooled you. Now, when can we move in together, have babies and get married?" - in much the same way as many Don Juans leap out of bed in the morning, laughing their heads off, saying: "Heh, heh, heh, fooled you, don't really love you after all, see you around."

Of course having sex with this woman will change the relationship. Of course it will destroy the friendship. Take an ounce of flour (Max), an ounce of butter (his woman friend), mix together and add boiling milk (sex) and you get a white sauce (a completely new relationship). Just as it is impossible to reverse the process of a white sauce and reduce it to its original ingredients, it is equally unlikely that Max could re-create the friendship he and his friend have now.

Put another way, you can add salt to a dish but you can't take it out. A lover can be a friend as well as a lover, but an ex-lover is hard to turn into a friend until lots of time has passed.

Now sex may destroy the platonic friendship, but it might lead to something deeper and more permanent. Max may find he's in for a complete surprise when he gets into bed with his friend. Unfortunately, you can never tell until you've tried. She might be so sexy, sensual and loving when she tears her clothes off, that he becomes completely hooked.

But it might be a disaster. If so, wriggling out of sleeping with her again is going to mean he has to reject her, unless he's prepared to go through a dismal bedtime charade every time they meet.

Whether he has sex with her or not depends partly on whether he's a gambler. But, at this stage, I think he should probably say no.

There are, after all, more attractive ways to seduce people than to say: "Let's have sex - it won't mean anything," which, even to a man, is surely a fairly bleak and mechanical prospect. Men don't like being used any more than women do. And love usually plays a greater part in their enjoyment of sex than some men would like to admit.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

It certainly worked for us

I don't usually write to newspapers, but after reading about Max's dilemma it struck such a chord that I felt I had to. I too was in such a predicament (a rather pleasant predicament) in that I was 28, a single man, had been engaged and had a close female friend who wanted more than just a friendship. It was further complicated by her having a six-month-old daughter, Hannah, by another man long consigned to history.

I dithered for ages as I too didn't feel that I loved her. However, after going away for a few weeks, I missed her greatly and we ended up in bed upon my return. It was certainly awkward afterwards but, because our friendship was so strong, we got over this. I had been reluctant to take this step because I feared getting involved in a relationship that I didn't want. However, our relationship had changed - for the better. Once the "Shall we, shouldn't we?" question had been answered, we relaxed and realised it could work. Love doesn't necessarily come like a flash of lightning, but can grow from friendship (perhaps it is better for that).

We are about to celebrate our second Christmas together and we look on Hannah as our daughter. Therefore, although it may not necessarily work for Max, if he doesn't try it, he'll never know - which is the worst scenario of all. If the friendship is strong, it will survive. Go for it!

ROB VAN DER EYKEN

Truro, Cornwall

Life isn't a dress rehearsal!

I'm terribly impressed that you are now getting messages from beyond the grave, because I'm quite certain that Max has died and gone to Heaven!

There are millions of blokes the world over who, confronted with the possibility of a lavish sex life with no strings attached, would not be dithering and writing to newspapers about it. They'd be into the bath, down to the florists (via the chemist) and presenting themselves on the appropriate doorstep with a broad grin.

It would seem that Max ought to revise his attitudes towards women. They are not that terrifying.

In most relationships, a good friendship is essential; if it's already there then he should capitalise on it. As the philosopher said, life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it.

NICHOLAS DIXEY

via e-mail

Don't be used just as a stud

This sounds fine in theory, but warning bells are ringing in my head. Firstly, in my personal experience, I have never known a woman enter into a relationship for reasons of friendship, without finding that she then falls in love and wants more. Secondly - be careful that she hasn't just realised she wants a baby before it's too late, and sees you as just the man to father it, with or without your agreement.

INGE CUBITT

Brentford, Middlesex

Love may follow friendly sex

I feel you are looking for a committed relationship with someone you love. I assume by love you mean romantic love. What a marvellous state to be in, and wouldn't it be fantastic if this ecstatic state went on forever. It rarely does.

One of the pitfalls for many romantic lovers is that they see their lover through rose-coloured spectacles. In an ecstatic state one "projects" qualities onto one's partner that they do not possess. With time the magic wears off.

Three important components of love are intellectual commitment, intimacy, both sexual and emotional, and sexual passion. It sounds as if you already have the emotional intimacy and it's this that is so important in any long-term relationship. The importance of friendship first and love second is that one is much more likely to have got to know the true - rather than illusory - qualities of a partner before "falling in love".

As long as your relationship is one of true friendship (respect for each other and emotional intimacy), then I think your friendship will be cemented by having sex, and - who knows - it might be followed by passion and commitment.

DR P LOUGHTON

Essex

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Seventeen years ago, I took in a kitten that had been cruelly abandoned on a motorway. Snoopy was a cat in a million. He was more like a dog than a cat, and would follow me from room to room each day. He would even come along with me for short walks in the country.

Sadly, he had become very ill over the last year, and I kept thinking to myself that it would be kinder to have him put to sleep. However, the vet said his time had not yet come.

Snoopy became iller and iller, and finally I found him stretched out in the hall, having been sick and unable to move or lift his head. He was just skin and bones.

I took him back to the veterinary surgery, but this time it was a different vet on duty, and he put him to sleep straight away. Since then I have not been able to sleep for guilt. Should I have had it done earlier? Should I have waited longer till the first vet came back? Should I have just let him die in my own home, rather than take him to the vet? I keep remembering the terrible look in his eyes as I had it done. I cry all the time. I feel so wicked, having done this to my best friend.

Yours sincerely, Penny

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