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14th February 1999
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Can you just be friends?

Friendship is often a forerunner to love. Men and women sometimes feel at ease with members of the opposite sex and become good friends with no strings attached but, can this type of relationship work .....? Wathsala Mendis finds out

Opposites attract. So you learnt at your school chemistry class. And what happens when you take a fancy to your best friend? You agonize over whether to speak up or remain silent forever. Friendship is often a forerunner to love alright, but it's awkward to have a best friend turn into the love of your life- especially if the romantic feelings are strictly one-sided. Instead of taking the risk, you would probably decide to keep mum about your true feelings and live in the land of could-have-been...

You're certainly one of those statistical few who manage to be 'just friends'-as thick as thieves and all that. You know each other like the back of your hand, you share the joys and sorrows of life, and hang out together much of the time. So much so that people around you assume that you're a couple when, in fact, you are not...

The question is simple. Can a girl and boy be best of friends without that inevitable romantic strain entering the relationship

You meet this person who is everything you ever wanted in a life partner: good-looking, funny, smart, brainy, great personality...(S)He makes your mouth dry, your stomach knot, your knees wobble. A sparkling wit among your friends, you become a nervous wreck in his/her presence. The more you get to know the person, the worse it becomes. Responding to this nagging feeling at the back of your mind that you could be more than friends, one day you sum up your courage and ask the person out. (S)He says to you: I just want to be friends...

Now, which of these is true of your relationship with your best male/female friend? Is the so-called platonic friendships (that is, relationships of a purely non-sexual nature) between men and women a reality or is it just wishful thinking? 

If it is possible, where do you draw the line? Of course, we're talking here about deep human emotions which, in any case, could not be easily turned off like a faucet. On the other hand, unless you're one of those with a devil-may-care attitude, you cannot help being affected by the way society thinks in all your dealings with the opposite sex.

Especially in a conservative society like ours, the chances of misinterpreting a very innocent friendship between a male and female are quite heavy. One would definitely have to think twice about being seen in public alone with a friend of the opposite sex because it's only a matter of minutes before people put two and two together and assume that you're having an 'affair,' even if it's the last thing on your mind.

"It's a very tricky situation," says Kevin, popular actor-cum-singer. "You see, it's like this. Sometimes just being friends is good enough. But when you get to know the person, the possibility of being attracted to him or her cannot be ruled out, which could very well put the friendship in jeopardy. On the contrary, it could also turn out for the best provided that the feeling is mutual. Still, it's a difficult situation to handle. I mean, no one would want to risk a good friendship, right? Worse still, if the two people involved are married, it could put a strain on their marriages. Anyway, it all depends on the two individuals and how they work things out."

Sanjeewani Ranasinghe, news anchorwoman on MTV, could indeed consider herself lucky since her man is a very understanding person when it comes to relationships. "I have loads and loads of male friends. If you ask me. I think it's very healthy.Especially when a girl comes out of school and goes into society, she should know how to work with men,how to be friends with them. Say, for example, if she has to work on a project with a guy, it would certainly be helpful if she knew the person. It's a good experience, really, to move around with guys and get to know them before you get married so that you have a better understanding of the way they think and act."

Shaon, a DJ at Yes FM, believes that as long as you keep to a group, things would be just fine. "The moment a girl and a boy go out alone, even when they're nothing more than good friends, they get themselves talked about- which is certainly not good for the girl. As for myself, I have lots of female friends. We set up a date, go out, and have fun. It's not something to look down one's nose at. I hope Sri Lankans are not that narrow-minded."

What is it that makes the world look at you in dire suspicion even when you are just friends and want to keep it that way? Unconscious body signals? Pheromones? Or has it something to do with typical human nature of sticking one's nose into other people's business?

"I think it depends on what you expect from the relationship and how you treat the other person," says popular film actress Anoja Weerasinghe. "If a woman treats a man the way she wants to be treated and vice versa, there won't be a problem."

But there certainly is another side to the story. Platonic or otherwise, friends who have your best interests at heart are hard to come by. As a newscaster at a popular radio station puts it:

"I think it's really impossible to come across a caring friend these days. As far as men are concerned, it's practically non-existent. (Isn't he being very negative here?) OK, maybe they just want to be friends at the start, but then today's men tend to be very physical. They think of the woman only in terms of her body and it's only a matter of time before they want to satisfy their desires. Many guys I move around with are like this. It's not a matter of mixing with the wrong crowd, you know, but it's rather the general trend nowadays."

Well, say you do have this friend- close friend- of the opposite sex, would you do things with him/her that you'd normally be doing with friends of your own sex. Can a girl tell all her secrets and go shopping for shoes with a guy or can a boy have a comradely drink and go for a spontaneous spin in his work clothes with a girl whose just a friend? 

A colleague was of the same mind about platonic love which he describes as "utterly impractical." 

"You cannot have a purely spiritual or intellectual relationship with a person of the opposite sex and not think of or desire that person's body."

Hearts and flowers? think again

By Ayesha R. Rafiq
So it's Valentine's Day once again and star struck lovers and secret admirers are rushing around Imagelooking for the perfect expression of their love.  But as wonderful as it is to be in love, Cupid is getting rather expensive these days, and some people have even been saving up for months hoping their gift will be lavish enough to convince Cupid to aim one of his arrows at the object of their affection. 
'Show her how much you love her, (save an year's salary) and buy her this or that, 'he deserves the best, buy him this perfume, or exclusive shirt' (never mind if you have to beg, borrow or steal to pay for it) are some of the hacked slogans which are doing the rounds this year. 

And young lovers are unwittingly going around filling the pockets of jewellery, card, clothes and soft toy stores, while diligently wearing  a hole in theirs. 

The point is however, you don't have to spend to show your heart-throbs how much you love them.  A card, a ring or a cuddly bunny is fine, but you can create something beautiful, inexpensive and touching on your own too, if not an item, then a moment. 

In case you're still not a believer, see how some of these people did it.

Chairman of the BOI Thilan Wijesinghe recalls how when he first started dating his wife-to-be in 1993 she didn't know he could sing.  'Singing folk songs is my hobby, but by around the second or third date she still didn't know it'.  He had taken her to his place, and with his acoustic guitar and harmonica for accompaniment, sung love songs to her for a whole hour.  (Isn't this every girl's fondest dream, to be serenaded by the man she loves?).  'One of the songs was Richard Marx's 'Now and forever I'll be your man'.
And the most romantic thing that has ever happened to him?  'Well it's a bit unusual.  During the first year of our dating, I was driving in my best friend's car, with my wife to be, and we met with an accident.  The car was badly damaged but luckily we weren't hurt.  I was really upset, but she took charge of the whole situation and her presence was very comforting.  I just fell so madly in love with her right then, that I proposed to her on the spot, and she agreed to marry me.' 

Natasha Serasinghe's fondest memory is the day her husband to be proposed to her.  'I was eighteen and he was twenty one.  We'd been going out for three years by then.  One day we were going somewhere when he suddenly detoured and took me to the Mount Lavinia beach. 

"He had this beautiful picnic laid out for me, with all my favourite food.  There was music playing, and he had lit little candles inside a small glass.  He had done it all himself, and spent about a week planning it out.  It was just out of this world.   We ate and talked and he started romancing me telling me how much he loved me and how much I meant to him.  It was really beautiful, especially because I could see it was from the bottom of his heart, and I said yes right away."

But ideas don't necessarily have to be that creative.  They can be just mending a favourite broken possession, or dressing the way he or she likes you to, just anything that proves that you're thinking of that person and trying to please him or her. 

Anupama Wickramasinghe remembers the day she first fell head over heels in love with her husband to be.  There was this new place that had opened up, and she had been dying to go there.  One day he took a for a drive, and they travelled quite a distance.   On the way Anu had seen a notice about this place and was going on about how much she wanted to go there.  In about five minutes Ravi turned down a lane, and she found herself at the place.  'He had been planning it even before we started out because I had talked so much about it.  That is the absolute sweetest thing that anyone has ever done for me, and the love I felt for him at that moment was incredible'. 

Popular actor and singer Ronnie Leitch seemed to have had Cupid's mischievous younger sister on his side during his courting days.

Way back in the early 70's Ronnie seemed to have been very romantically inclined since he counts his number of girlfriends as 12. 

'A particular girl friend of mine once took the upper hand and suggested that we go out for a movie.  She said it would have to be on a day she could get permission'.  Weeks had gone by and Ronnie who was out of school but not yet working had a hard time hanging on to some money to pay for the date. 
Then one day, just as Ronnie had hit practically rock bottom financially, she called out of the blues and said she'd got permission.

'I had only Rs. 15 with me, and balcony seats for the cinema were Rs. 5 each.  The movie was a beautiful one but I was on pins and couldn't enjoy it'.  Towards the interval he had been practically sweating but offered to buy her something to eat anyway.  'Thank God she said she didn't eat or drink anything from outside'.  "I just managed to get her home in a bus, luckily in my day there weren't posh cabs like there are now.

Another time, he used to ride his friend's bicycle past this girl's house just to attract her attention.  'I would ring the bicycle bell and take off before her father appeared.  One day, I was riding with my hands off the handle and accidentally knocked a dog.  The bike crashed against the girl's gate and it was so embarrassing I never went down that lane again'.  Funny but romantic, and just the kind of memory you'd like to tell your grandchildren.

Sacha Emmanuelle, a 23-year-old from Nawala was really touched when her boyfriend turned up on Valentine's Day with a present for her.  But she was even more touched when she saw what it was, especially since he is such a shy person.  'He'd kept a journal for the past one month, and recorded his thoughts about me.  If he had seen me do something which he thought was sweet, instead of telling me, he had written it down, and there were about two photographs of me I didn't know he had taken, together with a couple of bills from restaurants we had been to.  He had written a beautiful message in front of the book for me too.  It's been an year since then now, and he doesn't know it yet, but I've done the same thing for him this year'. 

In a stranger twist, 29-year-old Anita Ramanathan remembers the most romantic  gesture made to her by a 13-year-old when she was 19.  'No, it wasn't that I was starved for love, but I thought it was really sweet', she says.  'I was in a summer camp in France when this 13-year-old who had a crush on me won this toy frog at a coin machine and gave it to me.  I still have the frog by the way'. 
Hafeeza Kareem's husband donates money in her name to an orphanage which houses disabled children.  'The sweetest thing is I didn't even know about it until one day I got a card from the orphanage thanking me for my generosity.  Only then did he tell me.  It was so very sweet, and made all the better by the fact that he didn't even let me know'.

Peter Shucroft first set eyes on his girlfriend, a popular TV presenter on a winter's day in 1989.  The winter was particularly bad in the States that year, he remembers.  'One day I was having a hot chocolate in a cafe when I saw a beautiful young girl pass by outside.  Suddenly I saw her stop and look at something on the ground.  I knew it was a person when I saw her bend down and speak to him.  The next thing I knew she walked into a shoe shop a couple of doors away, walked back to the man and handed him a package." 

On his way out he had seen it was a beggar he passed regularly on his way to work.  He spoke to him, and discovered that the girl had noticed the beggar didn't have a pair of shoes and bought him one.  'I returned to the cafe the next day and she passed by again.  I ran after her and introduced myself, and the rest is history', he laughed.   'It was only about an year later that I told her the story, as her Valentine's gift, and she said no one has ever given her such a romantic gift'.

When singer Dalreen Suby met her husband to be in 1982 he was living in Saudi Arabia.  "After he went back to Saudi we kept in touch.  Then one day, later in the same year, he turned up on my door step with no warning, and said 'let's get married'.  I agreed and we went to the registrar's straight away, me in the clothes I was wearing."

A poster hanging in a friend's room says the smallest of gestures always outdoes the grandest of intentions.  And Valentine's Day should be a day when people celebrate the glory and meaning of love, and the many beautiful and special ways it touches each and every one of us.  Love in itself is a gift equal to no other, and special and unique to each relationship, which no amount of money can buy. 
So on Valentine's Day don't only dwell on  cards, chocolates, soft toys and jewellery, which just come out of a shop and are often forgotten about so soon anyway.

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