When friends fall into bed and strangers occupy personal space

Dear Aunt Trudy,

Leonard (not his real name) and I have been friends — just friends, mind you — since college. Neither he nor I have ever married, although both of us have come close. I've been engaged twice, once I broke it off and once the guy changed his mind. Leonard almost got to the altar and then had the proverbial cold feet. So he and I have been hanging out — dinners, weekend lunches, the beach, each other's Christmas parties — off and on for ten eyars. There's never been any "fizz," any physical excitement between us. But guess what? The other night we both had too much champagne and ended up at this house in bed in our birthday suits and you can guess the rest. Now, what do we do ? So far we've been dealing with this turn of events by acting as if nothing happened. Well, something did happen, and to make it scarier, we used no protection.

Apprehensive in Vista

Dear Apprehensive,

Be of good cheer. Many friendships have weathered sudden swerves into sex. Sometimes both parties agree that after a long maturation period, their bond has ripened into a beautifully hued true love. (Wasn't this the plot of the move When Harry Met Sally?) The relationship transforms accordingly. Music swells. Friendship in some cases can be a hallowed basis for mutual adoration. Other times the revelers decide that their sexual episode was more fun than any acts the Ringling Bros. ever trumpeted into town. However, after careful consideration the pair agree they're meant to be friend. With a minimum of fuss they return to some version of their former chaste alignment. Occasionally after ingenious arrangements — sexual or non-, but thoroughly amendable to both people are — are worked out.

Be patient with each other. These "Oops! I went to bed with my friend!" tangles are not resolved overnight. Make sure you're not pregnant and that you haven't contracted any intimately transmitted bugs. If there are repeat performances, please have your pal use a condom.

Be honest with yourself. After you've dealt with the bodily practicalities, think deeply about what you want. You say nothing in your letter about how you feel toward this person. Are you full of passionate stirrings, anger, shame, regret? This ponderous silence can be broken gently and discreetly. I think everyone would benefit if you had a friendly chat about what happened. It may grow more and more awkward to carry on as before if you don't: the unmentioned elephant in the room has been known to bloat and swell to enormous proportions. Not acknowledging what's passed between you provides fuel for misunderstandings and resentments. It isn't always easy to figure out what we want to be to each other. Such decisions often evolve over lifetimes. But if you don't speak soon about the conversation your bodies struck up, you run risks. You could really be lost to each other.

Be brave. You don't need to know in advance what you're going to say. Just start talking.

Dear Aunt Trudy,

Please have a private word with the men in your audience who seems to fell free to sit with their knees widely spread on all sorts of public seating. I have noticed this while seated next to men on planes, buses, trains, and in theaters. It is especially problematic in two-person seating arrangements where some guy has one of his knees halfway into the middle of my space. Someone told me that the problem is anatomical, but I think it is just unconscious arrogance. Any suggestion for a firm but polite request I cold use in these situations?

Scrunched in Serra Mesa

Dear Scrunched,

Last week I flew to Chicago for a literary conference and found myself sandwiched between two hefty men. Not only did both of them spread their bodies out so I was forced to curl up like a cooked shrimp (no small contortion, as I'm five foot ten), but they hogged the armrests shamefully and lolled into my space in all sorts of ways. One snoozing fellow sagged over into my territory till I pushed his head off my shoulder! So I am all for more consideration in the public crush. I did feel sorry for these big dudes: a man over 200 pounds simply will not fit in most airline seats. Let's lobby for more commodious seating in movies, at restaurants, in planes, etc. We are not sardines! Next time you're compressed by your neighbors you might try to politely declare that "Since we're all crammed in so tightly here, I wonder if you might try to shift your knee out of my thigh a bit, if you possibly can," or some similar sally. I pray your smiling requests be received in responsive and gentlemanly manner.

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