Henry Meets Larry. By Dish Stanley

Henry Meets Larry. By Dish Stanley

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Wherein Dish introduces her friends Henry and Larry and they become instant best friends, but then she panics. Also, she gets a compliment on her beautiful dress from a stranger but it’s weird.

I got a text from my friend Henry—the very same Henry whose dog recently died—that Ted, his best friend, suddenly passed away.

Ted was 71 and had had a heart attack. He was in Henry’s regular Saturday golf foursome and also in his book group, both of which have been going for a decade. Ted also lived five minutes from Henry and they grabbed dinner often.

"Now we have to fill a spot in both the book club and the foursome. Finding a fourth for golf will be a real ordeal.”

"That sucks Henry! This feels like an onslaught. Not fair! I’m so sorry. How about if I take you out to dinner?”

The “how about if I take you out to dinner” invitation formulation from me to Henry has become a running joke between us because Henry always pays. At first I didn’t like that; I even argued once that his paying was detrimental to our friendship because if I knew he was going to pay I wouldn’t feel comfortable suggesting dinner. It would be as if I were asking him to take me out. Without missing a beat he responded, “Yeah but if you know that I enjoy taking you out—and I’m telling you that I do—then you should feel perfectly comfortable. Right?” He then pointed out that, in fact if I didn’t stop offering to pay, that would be more detrimental to our friendship.

“My Father would roll over in his grave and it would make me very uncomfortable,” he said. 

“That’s not very modern,” I pointed out. 

“I don’t give a shit,” he responded. 

“Oh, okay,” I said, laughing. “This is not important enough to me to offend two generations of Wilkes! Plus, I’m not prepared to stand on principle when I’m about to begin a major renovation of my place. I can use all the help I can get. You win.“

I did give some consideration to the source of my discomfort over him always picking up the check, but ultimately decided to just lean into it and enjoy the feeling of being taken out. Of being spoiled. Funny how easy that’s gotten for me.

I should also say that at some point in the last couple of months Henry started dating somebody. She is a hotshot, a former CFO of a major public company who now sits on a few boards. When he told me (over dinner a few weeks ago) I told him that I was happy for him (which felt true, thankfully), but that selfishly, I was also happy that she was a hotshot and had to attend a lot of board meetings out-of-state because that meant he would still be available for occasional dinners with me. Also, I hope to meet her. I’ve been friends with Henry for a year, during which neither of us has had a significant romantic partner, so this will be a new dynamic for us. To be honest, it occurred to me in the moment that I should be a little worried about what she may eventually have to say about my and Henry’s occasional dinners, but so far so good. More on that later.

So anyway, Henry and I had dinner this week at The Blue Door in West Palm Beach. Just as Henry and I were walking in, Larry, a good friend for over 20 years, came in behind us.

Larry is estranged from his long-time wife. I don’t know his wife (Larry was a friend of my late husband’s) and I don’t know any details, but for many years they’ve been living entirely separate lives without divorcing. She lives up North; he lives down here. (This is an arrangement that I have come to realize is more common than I had once understood.) A few times this season I’ve been on the practice range at our mutual golf club at the same time as him and we’ve played a few holes together. He’s a social, loving person and I know he’s spending too much time alone. He is a catch: kind, interesting, tall, fun, elegant, trim, well-mannered, well-dressed and very good looking. I’m sure that there is a lot of romantic interest in him, but he’s also a gentleman. His situation is complicated and doesn’t easily lend itself to dating, and he doesn’t want to be reckless with anybody’s heart.

At The Blue Door, as the maitre’d was taking Henry and me to our table, I felt conflicted. I knew Larry would have wanted to join us, and I wanted to ask him to, but I also wanted to have a one-on-one dinner with Henry to see how he was doing after the back-to-back deaths of his dog and best friend. If I asked Henry if I could include Larry of course he would say yes because he is gallant, and I didn’t think it was fair to put him in that position. The fairest thing was to give Henry my full attention, I thought.

And I did give Henry my full attention. But Henry had, of course, offered me the better seat, the one facing out. From that vantage point I could see Larry sitting at the bar eating by himself. I also noticed that the woman sitting next to him was flirting with him, and I actually saw him try to inch his seat away from her. Ugh. I felt like shit over leaving Larry alone. By the time Henry and I finished our meals, we had fully covered Henry’s life and I had also gotten in a funny story about a date so I said, “Henry, would it be okay if we invited my friend Larry to join us for a drink? The guy who came in at the same time we did. I notice he’s finishing up his meal. I think you’d like him.”

 “Of course,” Henry said.

When I went to the bar to ask Larry he acted reluctant, said he didn’t want to “barge in on us,” but then relented and said he’d join for a “quick drink.“ He also said “You look beautiful, Dish. That dress looks great on you. I hope this is a hot date.”

“Henry and I are just friends,” I said, “But the compliments are very much appreciated.”

“Why? Why are you just friends?” asked Larry.

“Oh.My.God. Do you want to join us, or do you want to grill me about my love life again?” I said, teasing him. “If the former, come now because I don’t want to leave Henry waiting.”

An hour later, Larry and Henry were 20 minutes into an animated conversation about the superiority of alternate shot team golf—the predominant style of competitive golf they both played on their respective high school teams— when a woman in a short, green, puffy-sleeved number walked over to our table. None of us knew her. Interrupting Henry, she looked straight at me and said “Well, you’re certainly doing something right. Most of us are having a hard time getting a date with even one good looking man. Who makes that dress, by the way?” 

“It’s custom-made,” I responded. (Because it’s true.) (It’s also true that both Henry and Larry are good-looking.)

She dropped her voice and said, “Of course it is, honey,” and walked off as if I were selfishly holding out on the sisterhood.

After a pause, Henry offered “I think I can guess why she‘s having a hard time getting a date.”

"Is it the too-puffy-sleeves?” I asked. “They didn’t work for me either.”

And Larry said: “That was just weird.”

It turned out to be a really, really good, fun night, which we all needed for different reasons. But then again, who doesn’t, always? 

Later, I was reflecting on how great the night turned out. I felt so happy to have introduced Henry and Larry, as if I had just fixed up a couple who would go on to marry or something. Part of me wondered whether Larry might be a potential candidate to fill the empty spot left by Ted in Henry’s golf or book group, or for dinners. “No, that would be too good,” I thought, “Like a movie. Ridiculous.”

The best thing about the night, though, was what happened next. Two days later Henry sent me this text: 

“Went fishing today and caught loads of pompano. About 6-8 of us are going to the Grill tonight. They’ll clean and cook it and we’ll order sides. Want to join? You can ask Larry.”

“Sounds fun!” I texted back. “Wish I could but I have plans. Thanks for thinking of me. But you should ask Larry.”

"Do you think he’d want to go?"

"YES! And I also think you really only asked me because of Larry! Do you have a man crush on him?"

"Not true. And no. But what’s his cell? In addition to the pompano dinner I need someone to fill a foursome next week … "

“Bullshit. You totally have a man crush on him! It’s not like there’s anything wrong with that! xxx-xxx-xxxx. Enjoy.”

The story should really end there—a good little story about an impromptu introduction of two male friends who could both honestly use more male friends, and who appear to have hit it off. A happy little success story. And that’s where I’ll probably end it if I include it in a book of short stories that capture my 50’s—a decade of friendship and dating after the loss of my husband.

But since this is being written for you, dearest CRUSH Readers, and you’ve come to know me and I’ve come to trust you (I’ve never ever gotten a single harsh note from any CRUSH Readers, how lucky am I?), I’ll continue.

I felt happy for Henry and Larry’s friendship, BUT my demons kicked in. After Henry’s last text asking for Larry’s cell I also felt queasy. It took an instant for me to recognize the source of this queasiness—it was my fears of abandonment and loneliness that emerged after my husband died at 41. In addition to losing my husband suddenly, at the same time I lost a vibrant social circle of couples. I often felt for the first time in my life, abandoned, intensely lonely and left out. It was sudden and powerfully destabilizing. This sort of thing—the social life suddenly vanishing—happens to a lot of people after the divorce from or death of a spouse.

For me, those fears haven’t completely disappeared with time, therapy or the more social life that has organically come at this stage as friends become empty nesters and everybody has a little more time. But the fears sometimes emerge out of nowhere. Only two nights earlier I was gloating to myself over having introduced Henry and Larry. But then, all of a sudden, I was picturing all the fun they’d be having without me, meeting up to grill pompano on the regular.

It also occurred to me for the first time (duh) that with Henry’s new girlfriend maybe Henry wouldn’t end up available for occasional dinners any more. We usually had dinner once every six weeks or so. Light, casual affairs where we discussed books, politics, golf, culture. Conversations along the lines that I imagine most men have with their male friends since they didn’t get particularly emotionally deep into our lives, but I really enjoyed them. I had come to think of Henry as part of my tribe of friends in my new home after a big move, and it would hurt if we lost touch. I’m truly happy for him, and I‘m not jealous per se, but would I be crowded out?

I felt a little destabilized, feelings no doubt irrationally amplified by my past experiences.

The morning after Henry’s pompano dinner, I sent him this text:

”I hope your pompano night was fun! Can I take you out to dinner again sometime in the next few weeks, before we leave for the summer?”

And do you know what? Henry sent the perfect reply. It’s like he somehow knew my deepest fears—we’ve never discussed it, but he’s no doubt experienced the same feelings of loneliness and being left out that I have—so I imagine he sought to reassure me. He’s quite empathetic. It didn’t escape me that our recent dinner was put together on the heels of his recent set of losses, but now who is taking care of whom? Anyway, I felt instantly relieved.

“Yes! I definitely want to see you again before we all take off. You’ve been a good friend to me this winter. I appreciate it. Since you’re taking me out, you pick the place.”

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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