How to start off as friends first?

I've been badly burned by romance in the past and i'm finally after 6 years beinging to collapse the barriers i have erected (no innuendo intended), however i'm still not comfortable going on a date with someone whom i don't have a connection with first and more of a connection than just "She looks cute".

How do i let a girl know that i'm interested but i want friendship first before trying anything romantic. For me opening up and letting people in is something that goes against every fibre of my being; every part of me wants to close down and run away when i get feelings for someone unless i know ahead of time that it would never work anyway (such as long distance or they are taken).
How to start off as friends first?
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