08/25/2014 04:58 pm ET Updated Oct 25, 2014

Friends With(out) Benefits

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All friendships have benefits. Some friends make you happy. Others give great advice. And everyone has (and needs) someone who knows just how to put them in their place. The very nature of friendship presumes that you enjoy spending time with that person (sometimes so much so that the concept of 'friends with benefits' is introduced into the equation). But what is it that makes us want to date certain people and friend-zone others? If we're cool with the benefits portion, why not go all the way and make it official? Where (and why) does the line between friendship and romance get drawn?

While searching for the answer to this question, I noticed a couple of trends that help clarify -- and sometimes further complicate matters:

1. He loves you. She loves you not.

Before college, the majority of my friends had been female. Upon entering the boundlessly exploratory time period that is college, I branched out and decided it was time to befriend some men. That first semester, I became very very close with a lovely guy who lived in my dorm. So close in fact that we ended up taking a road trip to visit his sister's college and spent the weekend, and a platonic night, in a top bunk, together.

A year later, seemingly without explanation, our friendship came to an abrupt halt and during later conversations with mutual friends, I found out the reason -- he wasn't my platonic friend -- never had been. I'd just refused to see the writing on the wall because I enjoyed our friendship and genuinely believed this dynamic was possible.

In spite of my failed attempt back in college, over the years, I've come to befriend a number of men. I think the "do not trespass" friendship lines are pretty clear. But I wonder if it's implicit that there is an undercurrent of sexuality within these friendships purely by virtue of our status as warm-blooded individuals.

2. You're friends. Why don't you date?

At a party a few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a guy I'd just met and a close girlfriend. Dating came up, as it always does. My friend was sitting on my lap and In the midst of the conversation the guy looks at both of us and asks, "Why don't you two just date each other? You clearly enjoy one-another's company. You're comfortable together. Isn't that what we're looking for in a relationship?" Though my first reaction was a hearty eye roll, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was genuinely curious (as opposed to hoping that his seemingly innocent question would perhaps result in a little girl on girl make-out sesh when we realized we were destined for each other and simply needed this conversation to bring us to our senses.) Aside from the fact that I'm not attracted to women romantically, the essence of his question rang true -- when looking for love, why not turn first to those people who know us best (and like us anyway)?

3. We're single. Let's mingle?

If you live in New York, you probably meet new people on a regular basis. So what are the rules when it comes to these new acquaintances? If you're both single, is it implied that dating is on the table? If they ask for your number -- and then to hang out, can you make the assumption that it's platonic? Or is it a date? And is there a polite way to ask for clarification?!? I've unfortunately been in far too many uncomfortable situations where I misread a "lets hang out" as a friendly request rather than a romantic one. So how do you get a real feel for the other person's intentions without making assumptions (you must be asking me out) or being downright rude (dismissing the possibility before it's even discussed)?

I know relationships of any type require work. But when did friendship become so complicated? Part of this conundrum seems to stems from our desire to keep everything loose and open -- not being entirely clear about our intentions leaves room for interpretation and possibility. We don't like closing doors. Someone who's a friend now might evolve into something more later on. I get that. But I still believe we'd all be a lot better off if we were just clear with what we wanted from the start. If you want to be friends with someone, let them know. If you want more? Say so. It'll save everyone a lot of anguish and confusion.

With benefits or without, long term or short, it seems like a massive shame to relegate friendship with another person to situations that are clearly and distinctly devoid of any romantic underpinnings. No matter how you slice it, around half of the world's population are potential love interests. But that doesn't mean we can't learn to be friends and keep it in our pants at the same time.