Tonight, I had to break off a romantic relationship with a man I am awfully fond of and who I am actually quite attached to. I didn't really want to end it, but given the turn my life has abruptly taken continuing things would be deeply unfair to him.

He's funny, smart, sweet, sexy, and a damned fine human being. He would make a good husband and an excellent father, and I hope Fate has a family life in store for him. I don't want to be the sour cherry on a cake of failed relationships that drives him to bury himself in his work and hobbies and forget about trying to find his lady love.

I wish I could fix him up. (Anyone know a smart, single, liberal Midwestern woman who enjoys science fiction, cats, literature, NPR, opera, and especially auto racing? Drop me a message.) I know the sentiment might seem arrogant or naive ... but when I break something I want to try to replace it, you know? And I broke this relationship.

I also hope very much that we can be "just" friends.

I hope this of all my dating relationships. I don't get into a romantic relationship in the first place if I wouldn't want to have the person as a very close friend. I always hope that, when it's all said and done, you can still share life and laughter with a person you care about and once shared a bed and dreams of the future with.

And I know that it's a tall order; the people I count as real friends are gold to me, but sometimes there's so much pain at the end of the relationship that the best thing to do is just walk away.

I've been there. I know in excruciating detail what it's like to be the one who's madly in love, then gets dumped with a cheery "let's just be friends". You latch onto those words like a drowning person grabbing for a life preserver. You're too in love to be angry for anything your beloved does, so besotted the thought of never seeing your beloved again seems worse than death. And living in the shadow of the love you crave like air and water is better than not having that love at all, isn't it?

Yes, we can just be friends, you think. I can be cool. I'll be the best friend ever. Supportive. Understanding. Ready for any crisis. And he'll realize how cool I really am, and he'll come back to me. This thing with this new girl, it's just a phase. He'll come around.

The months pass, and you learn to smile and be cool while you watch your beloved go out on dates, dance, kiss. You get to hear about how the new girl fucks. And you learn that the bitter saltwater well inside a broken heart is truly bottomless.

And you go insane from the pain or you walk away.

But it isn't always like that, and saying that you want to be "just" friends with a former lover doesn't have to be a sad, cliched blow-off disguised as caring.

I'm still friends with my high school sweetheart. He's living 2,000 miles away and is married with three kids. We went through heaven and hell together, and we grew up together. He's turned into a wonderful man and I'm glad a platonic adult relationship sprouted in the ashes of our turbulent adolescent love. We give each other windows to our pasts and possible futures that no other kind of friends really could.

I haven't always been able to stay friends with ex-lovers; the kicker is, of course, that it takes two people to maintain a friendship. Will my newly ex-boyfriend and I succeed as friends? Maybe. He says he wants to try.

I hope this is the start of something beautiful.