Beep, beep, beep...the alarm clock wailed so loud I could faintly hear my next door neighbor lightly tapping on my bedroom wall. Half- asleep and slightly embarrassed, I blindly reached for the clock sitting on the nightstand and fumbled to find the right dial to turn it off.

Frustrated that I couldn’t locate the same switch I had turned off every morning for the last 10 years, I unplugged the clock from the wall.

(30 minutes later...) I must have dozed off again as I awoke to loud banging at my front door. I tripped over my laptop, bruising my left toe, hopping on one foot to the edge of the door. I couldn’t muster a “Who is it?” So I just opened the door. I muffled, “Morning Kathy, what time is it?”

Fully dressed, she pushed past me as I stood in the doorway and said, “How could you oversleep? We have a bus to catch in 20 minutes.” Kathy and I were taking a weekend bus trip to Pennsylvania for some “retail therapy.”

Once we arrived at the hotel, the bus driver quickly exited the bus to pull our luggage from the bottom. I packed light, so all of my luggage was sitting in the rack above my head. I waited for Kathy to grab her new Louis Vuitton duffel bag underneath the bus, she tipped the bus driver, and we walked into the hotel.

We managed to get in more quickly than the other passengers on the bus and we only had two people in front of us. “Welcome to the Hyatt, do you have your confirmation?”

I pulled it out of my briefcase and handed it to the short lady behind the desk. She echoed, “I apologize for the inconvenience, but we only have one king bed available.”

Kathy and I sharply glanced at each other and then back at the hotel staff, neither one of us uttering a word! For some of us, staying in the friend zone is easy as long as we don’t place ourselves in situations that resemble “more than friends.”

For decades we have tried to define what activities would push friends out of the “we are just friends” friend zone and into “more than friends.”

Some of those responses I have received through surveys and interviews over the last few years have been: abstain from sexual intimacy, no public displays of affection, don’t introduce them to your close friends and family, do not have conversations about the future, refrain from one person paying for brunches, luncheons, and dinners (everyone pays for themselves), do not leave personal belongings over their homes, and limit the number of photographs taken together on Facebook.

While I recognize this short list may not be indicative of your thoughts; this list only represents the few hundred people that I surveyed. Because the answers vary greatly, there is not one rule or rubric to follow that would ensure comfort in the friend zone.

Is it possible to stay in the friend zone? Yes, it is more than possible, but what needs to take place is constant communication within the friendship. The two of you can agree that there are some activities that you will do as friends and some things you will not do as friends.

It’s important for women and men to express how they feel. It is not enough to share it one time in the beginning. Men, at times, feel that all they have to do is express what they want one time and women should catch on and understand. Women express it many times only seeking clarity and not to be a nuisance.

Periodic communication about the same conversation allows both she and he to make minor adjustments, be open and honest about “where you are,” and keep each other from assuming what the other feels. One reason the friend zone becomes a tricky situation is because what works with one friend does not guarantee it will work with another.

Everyone is different. Everyone’s needs are different. And because of that, the key to understanding one another is constant communication. Without it, someone wants to remain friends and someone else wants to move out of the “friend only” zone.

And if constant communication is not happening, both of you are in the friendship for two different reasons without even letting the person you are with know about it. Kathy and I never talked about having to share the same room or bed for that matter, which led to our awkward silence checking in to the hotel.

We were just friends, but were too afraid to have that conversation prior to, not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Fear of conversation should not be part of any genuine friendship. We learned that day, that as friends, it is important to discuss even the hard conversations.

Enjoy the friend zone! Don’t be so anxious to leave it. The benefits there are the foundational musts of any great relationship. If you leave it too soon, you decrease your chances of a strong “more than friends” relationship!

Jason Ottley is a relationship expert in the Washington, D.C. area. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonOttley and learn more on his Web site

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