It’s a Guy Thing: The ROMEOs bond through food and good times

Published 1:59 pm Monday, October 3, 2016


Written and photographed by Steve Wong

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” the lovesick Juliet asked the night-sky from her balcony.

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He’s on the bus going to lunch with the guys, and you aren’t invited.

Actually, he’s with a busload of ROMEOs, all Retired Older Men Eating Out, and repeat:  no girls, women, females are allowed. That is about the only rule these male residents of Tryon Estates have when they get a hankering for  some guy-time and lunch, which is about four times a year.

“It’s a guy thing,” group organizer Ralph Collins is fond of saying. “We have no charter, no dues, and no committee meetings. We don’t do good work; we just have a good time. The purpose of our group is to get to know one another in an informal setting and share in fellowship.”

They keep it loose and easy. Loose clothes; easy conversation. Ralph is the only guy who takes charge with this purely social group. He has the email list of men, and he sends out the notices. The guys sort of look to him to make sure everything comes together on the day of the outing. He’s got the list and the nametags, and if you’re not in the lobby ready to get on the bus at 10:45 a.m., well, the search is on.

“Get ‘em on and get ‘em out,” Ralph says.

Most recently the ROMEOs had lunch at Bay Breeze seafood restaurant in Hendersonville. There were about 25 guys, enough to fill up two long banquet tables in the private dining room. That’s a good number, Ralph said. He could handle more, but he tries to keep the group manageable — less than 35. After all, they have to fit onto the Tryon Estates bus.

The bus driver, a man, took the scenic route, which was often the topic of conversation during the ride. Other — mostly one-to-one — conversations among the men that could be overheard were about military service, the weather, dogs, the weather, wives, cars, the weather, doctors, politics, the weather, adult children and grandchildren, fishing, food, and the weather.

Normally, Ralph picks restaurants that are “reasonably” priced with lunch specials. “This is a meat-and-potato bunch,” he said. The women’s group at Tryon Estates — the Silver Foxes — tends to eat at more upscale establishments that serve lighter fare, and they seem to “linger” longer than men might like.

With everyone seated and conversations flowing, the waitress asked about the checks… “All individual checks,” Ralph spoke up, and then added, “but they are all big tippers.” This drew a new round of laughs.

The ROMEOs have been eating out for the past six years and among their destinations have been the Tryon International Equestrian Center, BMW, NC Justice Academy in Edneyville, Burnt Shirt Winery, Walnut Grove Plantation, and the Sierra Nevada Brewery. But the real reason for the outings, says Ralph, is a need for a men’s social group, a way for men to find each other and to connect. In his observation, women find it much easier to connect with each other. He was glad this most recent excursion had three new residents in the group.

“We’re not sitting around in rockers with our shawls,” Ralph said. “But even though we are all in the same place, it’s big, and this gives us a chance to get off campus, to socialize with different people.” And as far as having — or not having — women in the group, he said, “It’s just a big joke. At our age, we can go with or without them.”

“I do think that it is harder for older men to form social groups than it is for women,” Pam Doty, Director of Polk County Senior Centers, said. “Cultural norms in the ’40s, ’50s, and even into the ’60s taught women to be nurturing in their relationships, while men were encouraged to be strong, silent, and competitive. Men typically connected their work with their identity, and retirement brought a loss of identity and isolation from the acquaintances who reinforced that identity. Since men were generally taught to keep their emotions to themselves they generally have fewer intimate relationships, fewer confidantes. Women tend to share their feelings with each other, therefore creating closer friendships.

“Studies have shown that lacking a friend, a confidante, or a social support structure nearly triples mortality risks,” Doty said. “The age-old custom of gathering together for a meal and a story-swap can be more healing than we, in our age of technology, realize,” Doty said.

As the meal ended, one of the men received his bill and said purposely loud, “Give this to Ralph.” Again, more goodhearted laughs.

In appreciation of his organizational skills, they like to give Ralph a hard time. “Can we stop at SAM’s,” someone asked from the gallery. “No, and we’re not getting ice cream or going to Walmart. We’re going back to the ranch.” And with that in mind, all the guys gave Ralph a round of applause.

Steve Wong is a freelance writer living in the peach orchards of Gramling, S.C. “Give me an experience, and I’ll give you a story. It’s that simple,” he says. He is always open to new ideas and comments. He can be reached at