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Love changes everything.

Byline: Jenny Rees

As 'Friends' films its final episode, Jenny Rees wonders: Can men and women ever truly be friends ... or does sex always get in the way?

THERE can be huge advantages to having friends of the opposite sex.

Aside from them introducing you to their eligible mates, men can also offer a fascinating insight into the bizarre realms of a bloke's mind.

Sadly, however, there are also the unfortunate, yet predictable scenes that can bring the friendship hurtling to an uncomfortable end.

Picture it . . . you can giggle in front of the TV together and share a pizza after a night of talent spotting in bars.

Yet there will come a time when he will turn to you and try to ram his tongue down your throat. As you squeal and push him away, screwing your face up to show the sheer disgust and horror that you feel, he whispers sleazily, 'Oh come on, you know it was only a matter of time, you've been thinking about this as much as I have.'

The explosion of fury, contempt and nail scratching that follow are the scenes that Tarantino pays millions for.

You will spend hours on the phone with (female) friends lamenting the stupidity of men and curse yourself for ever defying the adage that men and women can never be friends.

Perhaps it comes down to men not being any good at reading the signs. For a gender that likes to brag about its map reading skills, when it comes to women no compass on earth can help some men.

Even the glaringly obvious can be misconstrued.

Sign one: You have seen her wearing her faded, baggy Winnie the Pooh pyjamas, no make up and greasy hair.

Underlying message: she's comfortable with you and feels she can be herself. She's not interested.

Sign two: She'll tell you to shut up when you're boring her.

Underlying message: You're boring her. She's not interested.

Sign three: She excitedly tells you about a bloke she fancies and it's not you.

Underlying message: She's got her eye on someone else.

Sign four: You spend hours alone together every week and yet she's never so much as given you a smouldering look, or brushed her fingers across your knee/cheek/arm.

Underlying message: She's thinking about something else and has no inclination to flirt or touch you. Can we see a pattern emerging here? She's not interested.

So does it come down to the fact that men have a one-track mind? 'The difference between a nine-year-old boy playing with Lego and a 14-year-old boy interested in his willy is the massive influx of hormones - they have testosterone poisoning,' explains Phillip Hodson, fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

'In their late 60s, some, but not all men, lose a lot of interest in sex and they say it's like being liberated from a compulsion or addiction. You stop looking at women with this overlay of lust and start looking at them as people with feelings and needs.

'For most people under 70 there is the possibility of friendship, but you have probably got to deal with the sexual issue in one way first, by making it pretty clear if you're not interested, it won't happen.

'Otherwise it's part of the male traditional role to keep trying. And I think the old fashioned female role is to keep running just fast enough for them to catch you - keep flattering the eyelashes.'

So why is it that something so blindingly obvious to women can be such a friendship killer in men? Perhaps it comes down to the fact that women (OK, not all) are capable of juggling complex relationships.

As Mr Hodson suggests, 'The difference is that, in a way, women have better organised social brains. Men are better at problem solving and linear thinking, and women are better at emotional literacy.'

And many of us will compartmentalise friendships and relationships with men in the same way that we compartmentalise our wardrobe.

- Men to lust after. Like exotic dishes they can be tasted, but don't go back for second helpings. And it's never as good as the picture on the packet.

- The untouchables. She will never feel worthy of such an Adonis and cannot string sentences together in his presence and knows that even if she were to be the subject of a miracle and he were to look her way, the reality will not live up to the dream and it is better to keep him on his pedestal. All buffed and nubile.

- The tease. You know you'd never do anything, but the flirting is entertaining and it makes you feel attractive.

- Then there is the achievable. The sort which involves plenty of flirting and, if you're lucky, a relationship.

- The safe, non-threatening variety. He's likely to be married, gay, much older, has a beard, is slightly overweight, or a relative.

- The simple lothario. He thinks he's attractive to everyone. We know better and mock him at every given opportunity.

While women can respect that each type fits neatly into his own little category, just like plainly labelled books in a library, the trouble starts when the men venture out of their dust jackets and decide to push their luck with the librarian.

The difference with men is that their categories of women aren't so broad. There is the good looking sort that fancies them. She's to be approached whenever the urge takes him, if she turns him down she's in denial or is playing hard to get.

'It's not universally true and there are differences within each sex,' says Mr Hodson. 'I don't like the idea that men are from Mars, women are from Venus - people are from Earth.

'In any relationship, as long as communication is good, you can manage anything. Behaviour is forgivable. You must draw a distinction between the sin and the sinner - if you decide they are a sh*t then the relationship is over. But if the person is OK, provided they can see your point of view and accept it, [then] part of any good relationship is learning how to apologise.

'You should air your feelings otherwise they fester - you think you won't reveal it but your behaviour will subtly change and you will perhaps be sharper with them. We're so terrified of emotional confrontation and we've got to get better at it - what's a friendship worth if it's only weathered sunny days?'
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 27, 2004
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