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The Boy Is Mine

How to Deal with a Platonic Boyfriend

Pla·ton·ic boy·friend/pla-'tä-nik 'boi-"frend/ n. 1. man who gives emotional support to, and receives drunken late-night phone calls from, a girl with whom he is not romantically involved. 2. one who comes along (ungrudgingly) to social and business events: Christmas parties, random weddings, etc. 3. the platonic boyfriend pretty much does it all-except for the sexy stuff. [NB: It is not advised to attempt to designate one as a platonic boyfriend if he already has a mate. Just FYI.]

There are many reasons why a girl might be an unfettered single: Maybe she just wants to do her own thing for a while, maybe she hasn't really clicked with anyone, or maybe she is the emotionally unavailable type that sabotages any chance she gets. The list goes on and on. But even if you don't want (or have) a boyfriend, it's tough to deny that they do offer certain things a girl can miss.

I don't mean sex-that can easily be garnered by sitting on a barstool or by soliciting a male friend into a night of passion. I'm talking about the other stuff: Having a guy to go to the movies with on a random Tuesday night, for example, or having your face light up when his name flashes on the call display. Though these things are harder to find, they are still available to the single gal through the platonic boyfriend.

I am all for this kind of friendship, but there are a few things you should keep in mind when you find yourself involved in one. Here's a short guide.

1. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
Garnering a platonic boyfriend may seem like the simplest thing in the world, but trust me when I say that things can get complicated-and fast. Let's say you're single and strong, but have moments of loneliness. You acquire a guy-friend to make up for what's lacking. He's single, willing and kind, so what's the problem? Nothing, really-just keep your wits about you while you're having fun. If you "play house" with a guy-acting like the fabulous girlfriend you are-he might get confused and fall for you. Of course, this is the premise for a thousand romantic comedies, but if you don't dig him in that way, try to make that clear at the outset. At all costs, though, you should avoid the "I just don't see you in that way" conversation. That's a sure-fire way to lose a good friend.

2. Oops, I did it again.
The romantic feelings can just as easily go the other way (girl likes boy). The first sign is when your friends ask if something is "going on between you two." (And who can blame them? They see him on your arm everywhere and you look happy.) We're just friends, you insist, but then later that night, after a few pitchers of sangria, when you're sharing a slice of pizza on the curb, you look over and think, Why not?

Sleeping with the platonic boyfriend takes you into the murky waters of the undefined relationship. Oftentimes you can talk it over, decide not to do it again, and end up doing it again anyway. There is a lot of potential to get hurt here-or at least become very confused-and to lose a good friend. All of a sudden, you find yourself crying when you're a little drunk, and not even hitting on the cute guy your friend's introduced you to.

To be fair, though, I've heard stories that went the other way. For example: A good friend moved down to the States for medical school and was put in a shared apartment with a guy. She promised herself that she would not sleep with him. She broke that promise-and was never happier. I just got the "I'm engaged" e-mail last week.

So even though things can work out, the lesson here is to be wary. The theory that says, "Since we're great in the bedroom and friends everywhere else, we are perfect for each other" doesn't always pan out. Nobody knows why.

3. The boy is mine.
Now we're getting into advanced stages of our topic-what to do when your platonic boyfriend already has a woman in his life.

Always remember that relationships take time. Though you may be someone's platonic girlfriend, his actual girlfriend is going to want to have him around-for sex, for socializing, for family events, but also for quiet moments with just the two of them. Although it's unavoidable, try your best not to step on anyone's toes. The way I see it, there can only be one First Lady.

I recently heard of a girl who was spending lots of time with a male friend who was already in a ten-year relationship. When he got sick with a cold, the platonic girlfriend was the one who volunteered to nurse the guy in bed. The girlfriend didn't say anything; she just sat there watching, bewildered. Finally, a third-party took the platonic girlfriend aside and said her behaviour was inappropriate. In another case, a girl and an otherwise-attached fellow were working very closely together as caterers. Apparently, they had a great connection. There were many moments of near-kissing over the lobster bisque, followed by long walks home after work. She may have been providing something that was lacking in his relationship, or maybe she was just his work-flirt while she was secretly falling hard. He may have even liked her, but couldn't do anything about it. I think both of them became totally confused.

In the end, these girls were in lose-lose situations. They were either strung along or coming close to helping the guy cheat. Neither is all that great for the ego. One thing is certain, though: both girls were spectators to the other people's relationships when they clearly deserved to be major players in their own.

4. The end.
As with all kinds of relationships, the rules for platonic mates are very unclear. It seems to me that there are certain boundaries that ebb and flow given the circumstances-a platonic girlfriend shouldn't feel like she is always the one walking home alone at night. It's not fair, but she can't always expect to be escorted by someone else's boyfriend. Waiting around for him or stepping on someone else's toes isn't really all that satisfying anyway-I think sometimes it's just a matter of moving on. She'll find another, and maybe even more.

Emma Appleby is a fabulous force on the Montreal scene. Read more recent columns by Emma Appleby.