One of the toughest things about forming new friendships is making friendly overtures without having them mistaken for overtures of another kind. Making it clear that things are platonic can be awkward — but it doesn't have to be. You can, in fact, make new friends without making out.
If you're partnered, say so.
You don't have to scream, "I have a boyfriend!" the second a potential friend starts talking to you — but if you're in a relationship, dropping that into casual conversation can be an effective way of moving things into the friend zone. Says Jenna, "If you have a partner and you happen to be flying solo and you meet someone, it's courteous to mention the fact that you're partnered in conversation. (Naturally, of course.)" Of course, not all relationships are monogamous, but unless you explicitly say yours is open, your new maybe-friend is less likely to assume sexytimes are on the horizon than if you were single. Some people feel awkward about dropping the significant-other card, but as long as it comes up organically in conversation (as it probably will eventually, if your partner is an important part of your life), there's nothing weird about it. Plus, as Jenna points out, "even if a Platonic Friend is more your friend than your partner's, you'll certainly socialize together at least sometimes anyway" — so he or she might as well learn a little about your SO before you meet.
Start with less datey activities.
Once you've been friends with somebody for a while, you can do dinner and a movie without any confusion about whether makeouts will ensue. But if you're at all concerned about blurred boundaries when you've just met someone, consider starting with a daytime hang — lunch, coffee, maybe a museum. I spoke to Juliet Lapidos, associate editor at Slate and author of a series of articles on platonic friendships, who offers some other suggestions:
Group events are probably good, it sounds less like a date if you're inviting them to spend time with you and two or three other people. Dinner parties are probably bad, because it sounds like they're supposed to be your date at the dinner party.
She adds that "if you happen to have a boyfriend, of course asking them to hang out with you and your boyfriend" can be a pretty good way of making things clear. I also talked to Dr. Jan Yager, author of Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives, who offers this general advice:
Just be direct and comfortable when you make the suggestion. If you are completely relaxed and confident about your overture, it is more likely to be taken in the platonic way that you intend it to be.
Once you've gotten past the initial period, odds are you'll be able to take your friend to a dinner party without feeling weird — it's just the early stages that may call for a little finesse.
Keep flirting to a minimum.
From the years of girls flirting with boys and boys flirting with girls — or same sex flirting if that is someone's orientation — it is important to keep that type of behavior out of your platonic activities or one or both will feel uncomfortable and the interactions — and possibly even the platonic relationship — may be halted.
Until you're absolutely sure your behavior would not be misinterpreted as "flirtatious," be extra sensitive about how you dress, speak, and even how much personal space is between you and your platonic friend so there are no subtle or overt flirtatious "cues."
You don't have to analyze your every move. Nor do you have to be cold and stiff — you do want to be friends, after all. Just don't let things get too sexual. Says Lapidos,
A lot of people flirt very automatically and they like to assure people [...] that they like them, so they're flirtatious with them, but I think most people have capacity to kind of desexualize themselves and just not make it an issue, and to be more pal-y with somebody than flirtatious. I think it's also a question of willfully ignoring aspects of the relationship that could be flirtatious and just not making a big deal out of them. If you're straight and you have a friend of the opposite sex, there will be awkward moments and it will probably cross one person's mind or both people's minds that it could go somewhere else, and I think the issue is just to be very clear with yourself that that's not desirable and not blow these things out of proportion.
So while if a date, say, accidentally grazes you with his hand, you might reach out and touch him or her back, if a new friend does this you can just ignore it. A lot of flirting involves picking up on opportunities — and in some ways, the early stages of a platonic friendship are an exercise in not picking up on those opportunities.
Ask about his or her dating life.
This might be uncomfortable if you bring it up right off the bat, but if you know someone a little better and you want to make clear that you're Just Friends, you can try talking about his or her romantic interest in others. Lapidos points out that you can "go out of your way to ask the other person about their interest in other people, and then if you're asking them about their dating life and whether they're interested in so-and-so, that's a slightly more subtle way of establishing that that's not the kind of relationship you have, because if you're interested in someone you're probably not going to say, 'don't you think Leslie is really cute,' or whatever." Says Dodai, "you can always say something like, 'I could really use a wingman' or 'I should set you up with my friend so-and-so.'"
If necessary, be direct.
If you are clear in how you feel, and it's your belief that someone is interested in you romantically, you need to let them know how you feel so you don't lead that person on. "I just want to be friends" is direct.
As a single person, if you don't have the significant other to drop into conversation, eventually you do have to be clear. I actually texted someone, "do you wanna come over and watch TV? i am not trying to seduce you." Just tell it to 'em straight, you know?
Nobody likes being led on, and sometimes it's nice to clear the air a little bit so that both parties know where they stand. But regardless of whether you ever have to spell things out, make sure you treat your new friend and his or her feelings — as well as your own — with respect at all times. Really, this goes for any friendship — as Jenna says, "whether you're single or partnered, I think the key is to behave exactly as you would with any other friend."
Strictly Platonic [Slate]
Friendshifts: The Power Of Friendship And How It Shapes Our Lives
Dr. Jan Yager [Official Site]
When Friendship Hurts [Official Site]