Recently I wrote a column about the healing power of female friendship. Shortly afterwards, a reader suggested I do an essay on friendship between women and men. Her message couldn't have been more timely: I'd been thinking of doing just that, especially after The New York Times ran a piece in June on male friendship that focused on relationships between gay and straight men an emphasis highly relevant to what I wanted to say about male-female friendship.Also, on a trip to London during the summer, I was reminded of the perils of friendship between the two genders, and of the misconceptions that often ensue when women and men are friends with each other. That's because we visited someone whose friendship with me back in the 1970s nearly cost me my reputation. Remembering what happened back then prompted me to ruminate on this topic. In 1971, my not-yet-husband had concluded his three-year gig at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. where we met and had returned to his job in London. He was succeeded by another very nice young bachelor who realized immediately that he had a tough act to follow. I could tell that he was a bit lonely, as was I with the departure of my "boyfriend." We struck up an immediate friendship and began to do things together. Once, we went to New York to see an opera, a visit that necessitated an overnight stay in separate rooms. In no time at all, rumors flew fast and furious; everyone who knew us (and my soon-to-be-fiance) assumed that I had, to be blunt, jumped tout suite from one bed into another. The thought that a man and a woman might be "just friends" seemed inconceivable to everyone we knew. At the same time, the idea that all relationships between males and females were inevitably sexual was inconceivable to me. What was so hard to grasp, I wondered, about two people who enjoyed each other's company and had things in common becoming friends? Throughout my entire adult life this question has plagued me. Why is every relationship between women and men assumed to be sexual? (Let's leave aside the sleazy histories of politicians here.) I've had people really close to me, people who should know me better -- assume that I'd behaved inappropriately with colleagues, friends' husbands, men I've made friends with continents away and with whom I have corresponded. Once, someone even suggested that one of my fictional characters must have been someone I'd been involved with! The New York Times article pointed out that "friendships between gay and straight men have barely registered on the pop culture radar, perhaps because they resist easy classification." The same can be said, I think, about friendships between men and women. Such alliances confuse some people. They shock others who at some level find them inappropriate, counterintuitive, or too risky to contemplate. In a world as sexualized as ours, they just don't fit. We assume, as Billy Crystal did in the film When Harry Met Sally, that it's difficult for men and women to be friends because "the sex part always gets in the way."