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Can I have male friends without the romance?

Q: I am a divorced older mom. One of my ex-husband's good friends is also divorced. I would like to enjoy this man’s company on occasion but absolutely do not want anything other than a friend. I think he would feel the same way. Is it unrealistic to think we could get together on occasion without sex or commitment? Could I tell him it would not be a date but just friends getting together?

A: Yes, absolutely. It’s fine to contact him and say you would like to get together as friends.

It’s entirely possible there is something about this man that makes you like him as a friend, without being interested in anything more than that.

It’s all about communication. If you are upfront and clear that you don’t want this to be romantic in any way, that’s fine. Simply let him know this.

Not only are men and woman capable of being friends, but they often truly enjoy such friendships. These friendships tend to work, however, only if both parties wish to be just friends.

Women report they enjoy the direct way that men communicate, and are often relieved to avoid the drama and tumult they have with female friends. They also enjoy the brotherly feel of the friendship.

Men say they like the freedom they have with women friends to discuss emotional topics, not just the typical male fare of sports, business and politics.

In your case, because you’re both divorced and unattached, there’s no issue about jealous spouses or temptations to cheat. When one or both people are married, negotiating that terrain is more difficult.

This brings up the possibility of romance.

Ask yourself why you want a platonic friendship with this man. Are you so sure you want to cut off any possibility of romance before it even begins? Are you saying you don’t want to get involved with anybody, ever again?

This attitude might result from fears of vulnerability, especially after a divorce. It feels safer to take a defensive position, declaring no possibility of anything further. You might be closing the door on something good without ever giving it a chance.

Many lasting romantic couples start off as friends. And friendship is an important ingredient in a good relationship. So I urge you to examine whether you might really want more — or whether, in fact, you simply are not attracted to this man but know that he makes for pleasant company.

Here’s another point: He might or might not be content with being your pal. For many men, some element of attraction is part of the appeal of friendship with a woman.

Without that, it’s just not as interesting to him. He might rather spend time meeting women who are better romantic bets.

So be aware of his feelings: Especially if he wants a relationship in his life, he might decline your invitation if you declare upfront, “Let’s be friends” — a sentence, incidentally, often uttered during a breakup.

If he does send signals about wanting more, don’t pretend not to notice, and don’t lead him on. If you ever cross the line to flirtation or anything that could be construed as suggestive, it’s difficult to backpedal.

So go ahead and get together with this man on a friends-only basis, but keep your actions consistent with your words. Dress nicely, but not provocatively. See a movie, but not a ‘date’ movie. Share dessert, but don’t eat off his plate.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It’s fine to approach a man to get together just as friends. Just don’t dismiss the possibility of underlying romantic motives on the part of one or both.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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