When a man told me, "I just want to be friends," I knew I'd be kicking my heels up with the Rockettes before I'd ever hear from him again. Removing sex from the equation was like removing air from the tires of my car: I'd still have a Toyota; it just won't go anywhere. As for the term "platonic friendship," I assumed it was a euphemism thought up by snarky divorce lawyers.
So when Gary, a romantic partner of three months, told me he just wanted to be "friends," I took it in stride. We had met at a speed dating event and that's how it goes, I thought. I was wrong. Gary continued to invite me to his house for elaborate meals, consisting of perfectly grilled steaks, homemade pizza, artful salads and fine wines. He even baked pies! Then, he walked me to my car and kissed me on the cheek.
At first, I was suspect. Surely, he expects S-E-X. But, no. All Gary expected was for me to help set the table, carry the dishes back to the sink and refrain from chatter while we watched the world unravel on the evening news. After dinner, Gary brewed Formoso Oolong tea and showed me his latest photos—he specialized in nature photography. Then we'd settle comfortably in the living room like an old married couple and watch Netflix or HBO. I thought this would last a New York minute. It's been over ten years! "The Sopranos," "Breaking Bad" and "House of Cards" ended. Gary and I are still going strong.
I admit, in the course of my decade-long platonic friendship with Gary, I have been "involved" with other men. But those men come and go. Gary is a constant factor. He was there for me when my mother died. When I needed a ride to my first colonoscopy (you can't get more intimate than that). And when I don't understand what the flashing red light on my car's dashboard means or why my computer is suddenly printing Sanskrit, Gary calms my panic.
Until Gary came into my life, I had never known the pleasures of a platonic friendship with a man, other than with gay men—whom I secretly desired—and with boys I had known before puberty set their hot hands on me.
All of my expectations associated with "dating" and "relationships" fell away. Gary didn't have to call me every day to sustain my interest. He didn't have to dazzle me with invitations to upscale restaurants, theater tickets or cashmere sweaters. A last minute call, any day of the week, announcing that he was making pasta carbonara was enough to set my heart (and appetite) fluttering.
I thought Gary was an exception. However, our friendship gave me the courage to reach out to other men with nothing more in mind than sharing a home cooked meal, conversation and hugs. Guess what, ladies? After 50, sex isn't the only thing on their minds either! I now have male friends who are more excited about my freshly baked muffins (no pun intended) than what's in my pants. They too want to schmooze, go for a walk and even go shopping with me.
Yes, I have friendships with married men. But I'm no home wrecker. We don't meet in motels. We meet at Wegmann's and exchange recipes. I make a point of always asking about the missus and the grandchildren. Our conversations are peppered with the kinds of intimacies you'd hear in any physician's waiting room. How's your cholesterol? Is your gall bladder acting up again?
I can't help but think of my newfound friendships with men as an incredible gift, a reward if you will, after a lifetime of categorizing them as Mr. Right or Mr. Oh-So-Wrong. I had always thought that stories of men who visit prostitutes merely to "talk" was an urban legend. Now I know that under the bravado and swagger, many men my age are just as eager as I am to dissect the new season of "Downton Abbey," swap gardening tips and recall their youthful escapades rather than dropping their pants.
From a demographic perspective, the possibilities are exciting. While finding a perfect romantic match at my age remains a long shot, finding a new friend is twice as easy now that my options include both sexes.