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Last year, on your advice, I dumped my loser boyfriend. Inexplicably, my best friend started sleeping with him shortly afterward. I was stunned, but even more so when her company transferred her to another city, and she launched into a long-distance relationship with him! She's a successful professional like me, and he's the deadbeat who didn't own a car, didn't go to the grocery store unless I drove him, and expected me to pay his way when we went out. (How do you have a long-distance relationship with a man who doesn't own a car?!) I want my friend back, but I'm having a hard time stomaching all this. I've been in a happy, successful relationship for a year, and will probably get married ... so why can't I just be OK with them being together (eeuw, gross!) if that's what makes them happy? Horrified

Why can't you stop feeling so creeped out? Maybe because this is the social equivalent of having somebody in a restaurant lean over your booth divider and ask, "You gonna eat that?"

A real friend responds to your breakup by offering you a shoulder to cry on, not by welcoming your ex to moan in her bed. Unless "last man on Earth" rules are in effect, it isn't like your discarded deadbeat is any woman's only option for sex. In a hilarious study, psych professors Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield had men and women approach the opposite sex and say, "I find you to be very attractive ... would you go to bed with me tonight?" Surprise, surprise, every single woman refused, but 75 percent of the men said yes. In other words, a woman on the make simply has to put the word out, since sex for men is like beer or pizza (if it's there, they'll probably have some).

But, let's say it was more than lust causing her to confuse dating with dumpster-diving. A real friend would still resist the temptation to recycle your relationship debris, lest it jeopardize the friendship or even just make you uncomfortable. But, say her feelings turned out to be (eeuw, gross!) love. If she cared about your feelings, she probably would have come to you, begging you to understand that she just can't help herself. After all, it isn't every day a woman meets a man who makes her feel the way he does; you know, like a hotel shuttle with a built-in ATM.

"Unconditional friendship" is the idiot cousin of "unconditional love"; supposedly the apex of romantic achievement. Frankly, I can't think of anything less romantic and more insulting than asking "Why do you love me?" and hearing back, "I dunno ... I just do." If people actually could love unconditionally, it wouldn't matter whether they were with some soul mate they searched decades to find or the first drunk who threw up on their shoes in the corner bar.

There are friends people with shared values who look out for each other and then there are "proximity friends," people who see a lot of each other because they live in the same building and need somebody to feed their turtle when they're on vacation. Instead of putting all this energy into pretending this girl's your friend, maybe you should look back and admit she was really just friendly. Let her fade away, and you'll free yourself up to befriend people who share your sensibilities for example, your newfound distaste for playing cash cow to some guy's gentleman farmer: not only is the milk free, you have to pick up and pay for the coffee and doughnuts, too.

On the rogue again

I typically date intense, exciting, sexy men. After breaking up with the last one, I flew into the arms of my solid and reliable best friend, who revealed he'd been attracted to me for years. We have a lot in common, but the spark's just not there. I've been putting off breaking up with him, but I've met a new guy with the qualities I usually go for, so it's time to do the deed. How can I end it without crushing him? Breaking News

You'd probably never buy a sensible sedan, but if your insurance company loans you one while your hot rod's in the shop ... why not? Taking the human Oldsmobile for a spin is a bit more complicated, since you can't just fill him up with gas and drop him off at Hertz when you decide you're ready for something with a little more pickup. Even if you thought you could learn to like "solid and reliable," the moment you realized you couldn't was the moment you owed the guy the truth: "I think we work best as friends." How can you end it now without crushing him? Silly question. Besides, don't you really mean, how can you crush him without getting any on you?

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com).

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