TEXT: Kristen Vermilyea

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether women and men can be friends. Here’s my answer: Yes. But it’s admittedly complex. If you have repressed or unprofessed feelings for anyone, you are not being honest and thereby have a relationship based on a lie of sorts. On  the other hand, confessing your love to the husband of your best friend is not only awkward, it could be downright dangerous. 

My male -friend friendship skills were recently put to the test when I was in St. Moritz for the weekend for the White Turf  races. Solo. And, as you may remember, I do find it challenging to be alone at social events . After patting myself on the back for such bravery among  the Champagne-swilling, dead animal-wearing, scary-too-tight-pulled-and-injected-faced  lot, I set out to enjoy the races, flirt with men not wearing fur (a girl’s gotta have standards), and let my ghostly-white face be kissed by the glorious rays of the snow-reflected sun . 

My plans, along with those of many others, were changed suddenly when tragedy struck during the first race of the day. One of the horses’ hooves went through a small hole in the ice which had not been there upon earlier inspection of the course. The horse broke his leg and landed atop his rider, George Baker, who was immediately airlifted to the hospital in Chur and had fallen into   a coma. The jockey is now okay. Sadly, the horse is not. This certainly put a damper on things and the mood on a Sunday morning which had been so ripe with potential, went from jovial and decadent to somber and dazed. And rightly so. 

After touching base with my friend, race presenter and commentator Tommo Thompson, and hearing the details of the accident, we decided to cancel our planned afternoon of socializing and introductions – he knows everyone in the horse race world and apparently, I was soon to as well  – as he was very upset about the jockey (a friend of his), and after witnessing the accident up close, visibly shaken. 

We said our goodbyes, promising to meet up at another race in the spring, and I set off back into town to regroup. It was back up the hill that I found my next adventure and the story of men and women being friends for which you’ve been waiting so patiently. Danke. 

I was feeling a bit peckish after consuming only Champagne that morning so I did another thing which makes me uncomfortable: I ate  lunch alone. I made a beeline for the cozy dining room of one of my favorite hotels, plopped myself down at the best table and proceeded to peruse the menu. No sooner had I decided on the ‘fitness teller’ (boring, yes, but a girl’s got to counteract all the liquid calories consumed and Summer  is just around the corner…) than in came a group of men, all dressed somewhat similarly, as though they were part of some club, all with posh British accents (one of my weaknesses, but really, who doesn’t love a British accent?) and having a jolly good time. 

The only free table was one almost adjoining mine and so they sat very close. It was not long before they were smiling and chatting me up, in a harmless and charming way. They had many questions about the fact that I was alone, and seemed somewhat concerned even. After agreeing to their offer of a glass of wine (several, really) and indulging in a clever and witty conversation, we became what I would call acquaintances of the moment.

Things potentially changed when two of the men asked what I was doing later. Did I want to join in their evening’s entertainment? (Which included watching a live sporting event, dinner and then a party at a private club.) I seriously considered it. Was I interested? Yes. Was I hesitant? Indeed. Is life short? Yes, indeed. Do I pride myself on being spontaneous and taking advantage of moments ? Yes. Indeed. Knowing that several of them were married men and them not knowing my status , I asked if other ladies would be joining. They looked at one another. Finally, after a few awkward moments, one piped up. “No, actually.  The ladies don’t arrive until tomorrow.” They all looked like little boys. One was actually blushing. They didn’t know what I’d say and neither did I. 

In the end, the decision was not a difficult one for me. I made it clear that I would very much enjoy spending the evening with a group of charming men such as themselves and that I hoped to meet their partners the next day. This changed the dynamic and I could see a few of them exhale with relief. This is what I like to call expectation management. And though this was a very subtle variation on this theme, it was enough to make us all feel quite secure moving into our evening. Besides, when I considered my evening’s plans  – dining solo (again) and writing in my room – theirs seemed much more enticing. 

I had the most wonderful evening, which was greatly enhanced by the fact that not one man made a pass at me, though the dirty jokes and cheeky comments abounded. (I was deemed able to handle it. One of the guys and all.) Were there men to whom I was attracted? Of course! Who wouldn’t be attracted to a count who has a collection of Austin Healeys and a penchant for yachts and Yeats? But the count is taken – by the countess – and I’d have a terrible time giving up my stable of twenty-something Italian lovers just to move to a castle in the English countryside. (Would that it were true .)

My new friends were all embarking on a new experience early the next morning  trying out a dangerous sport for the first time, and I promised I’d be there to cheer them on. By this time, I felt like a kid sister or a mysterious distant cousin or, I suppose, merely a new friend. I was still not completely comfortable, but that was on me. The men were focused on their (hopefully) death-defying tricks and I was busy learning what a bull shot was and joining in this surprisingly yummy pre-run tradition. 

I cheered my new friends on , joined them for lunch, insisted on paying my own way and accepted when they offered to drive me to the train station. 

The questions that were left were these: Do we keep in touch? Exchange email addresses? Why would we, really? We’ll not likely ever see each other again. But who knows. I get to the UK sometimes. They collectively own a pub. I like a pint. Maybe I’ll drop by next time I’m in town. Or not. I reminded myself, as I sat on the train headed back to Zürich, that these were just series of moments. These men are not really my friends. We shared some moments. That’s all. Moving on.

 I do know this. Being alone is not a bad thing. And it’s surely different than being lonely. I’m still not terribly comfortable in these situations but I’m getting better and, like so much in life, it’s about practice, perhaps. 

These are my new mantras: You are in charge of you. Accept offers. Dance. Mingle. Drink. (Don’t drink too much.) Laugh. Converse. Feel free to say no. Always. Silence is not as uncomfortable as you think it is. And be  in the moment.

Until next time.