04/13/2012 05:59 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2012

Friends or 'Menemies?'

When I was younger, my Dad used to tell me: "Boys don't want to be your friend." He then left the rest to my imagination.

At the time, I didn't agree. I thought: I can crack a good joke, I know how to shoot a hoop, and I'm a cheerful person (but not in an annoying way). What kind of boy wouldn't want to be around that kind of girl?

Turns out, my Dad was right. Not to be all "Samantha Brick" about it, but in my experience, single, heterosexual men aren't actively looking for an exclusively platonic relationship with a woman they find sexually attractive. This of course is not a revolutionary concept. In fact, it seems pretty natural to me.

Now, I will be the first to say that it is really and truly the most wonderful thing in the world if the attraction is mutual. But the Powers That Be seem to like to play these complicated little mating games with humans where the guy we want to re-enact scenes from 9½ Weeks with sees our attractiveness level as akin to that of a discarded dishcloth, and the most physical we could see ourselves being with the guy who actually likes us is a game of ping pong over an especially long table. All of which means that someone usually ends up getting rejected.

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I have struggled with the scenario where I am not interested in a man romantically, but I want to keep him as a friend because he is funny and I enjoy his company, or he has shown himself to be that rare specimen known as "a nice, genuine person," or he simply doesn't mention his therapist in every other sentence.

Rather than string him along and give him hope, I feel compelled to somehow communicate to him sooner rather than later that we'll just be staying friends, nothing more. Otherwise, I think I am being unfair to him. Why should he waste his romantic stamina on me when there are loads of other single women out there who might fall instantly in love with him?

The thing is, it can sometimes be tricky to reject a man and keep him as a friend. If the operation is not executed carefully, you may end up creating a "menemy."

It requires a certain amount of skill to be able to turn down a man's sexual advances or romantic gestures and then get him to agree to meet you for blueberry pancakes the following weekend and chat about the latest Woody Allen film. Some men aren't satisfied with just that. I'm not clear why. What's so bad about friendship? Everyone needs buddies. But I've seen men react poorly or simply fall off the face of the earth. I get it -- their feelings are hurt. None of us likes getting rejected. But in my experience, some men find it especially soul-crushing.

I am only bringing all of this up because I recently had to go through this scenario again. I had spent some time cultivating a friendship with a man who, in my defense, I thought was gay. So I didn't see the harm in him buying me the occasional falafel, or accepting an invitation to see a film with him. Isn't that what friends are for? But a mutual friend shed light on his sexual orientation (straight) and suggested that his intentions -- and attentions -- weren't platonic. He had never "made the moves" but now it was all crystal clear -- that explains the way he had looked at me that time the tahini sauce dribbled down my chin!

Since he had clearly been too timid to express his feelings, I thought I would be clever this time and subtly mention the dates I had been going on, focusing on the one guy I was kind of keen on, so that he would know that I was "unavailable" for heavy petting and those sorts of activities, but that I was available for things like roller skating, falafel-eating and shooting the breeze. Doesn't that sound nice? That way, he would have known not to try to lean in for a kiss, and I wouldn't have to pull the Stevie Wonder dance and dodge him when he went for it. It was like pre-rejection, yet I was sparing his feelings because he didn't even have to put himself out there! I really thought I was being brilliant.

It backfired, of course. Said man ended up sending me an email rant accusing me of being insensitive by talking about other men when he had "feelings for me." As if I am psychic, by the way, just because I am a woman! How was I supposed to know that? I think in his mind we were dating. In my mind, he was my new gay BFF. In the end, I got mad at him for getting mad at me, and now the friendship has ended.

And I have created yet another "menemy."

Look, I have also tried the direct thing: "I really like you, but only as a friend," but you can only do that when the guy has made his intentions clear, and in my experience, they either cope okay (though rarely do I feel much enthusiasm for friendship after that), or they really don't cope well. I also tried the thing where you make them think they are rejecting you, but it gets quite confusing and only works if the guy isn't very sharp, and why would I -- or you -- be hanging out with someone not that sharp in the first place?

As we all remember, Billy Crystal's character says men and women can't be friends in When Harry Met Sally because the sex stuff gets in the way. I do have single, male, heterosexual friends with whom I have an easy, non-romantic rapport, but I honestly don't know if they would walk away if I was sprawled naked on a bed calling out to them. I may not be everybody's cup of tea, but sometimes, I wonder if they wonder. And they may wonder if I wonder. If so, I hope they'll keep it to themselves.