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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Making Friends in Old Age

As several people commented on yesterday's post, one of the hardest things about getting old is loneliness as spouses and friends die.

But death is only the most dramatic event that shrinks our social circles. When we stop working, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace and that is no small thing.

Over time, we become friends and companions with the work colleagues we spend more waking hours with than our families. A large number of workers find their husbands and wives there. Even with the growth of online dating, a 2012 study reported that 21 percent of new marriages begin at the office.

Although the coworkers we leave behind when we retire promise to keep in touch, it seldom happens and when it does, it's not the same as the give-and-take we enjoyed every day for so long.

There is more that can narrow our social lives. For some, waning physical capabilities make it difficult to get out and about. Others give up night driving and some turn in the keys and sell the car.

Many retirees, by choice or imposed circumstance, move to new cities and towns leaving behind the friends and neighbors they have known for decades. It's one thing to relocate when you still work but after retiring, there are fewer opportunities to easily meet new people.

You and I are lucky that our generation has a new tool for a new kind of friendship – the internet. Although it has been awhile since I've mentioned it, I have written a lot about the importance of online and blog friends. (These are several of those stories.)

I wholeheartedly believe that the web is a boon for elders and these days, about half the people I hold most dear I have met as a result of this blog.

All that being said, however, we humans are programmed for mutual companionship and affection – the in-person kind. We hunger for others with whom we can share interests, concern, compassion and understanding.

Some elders find it easy to make new friends. Others – I suspect a much larger group – find it hard for all kinds of reasons, those listed above, temperament and opportunity.

In my case, volunteering for a committee or two related to aging helped me meet some people in my new location and there will be more as the group of us developing our Village keeps working and growing together.

But last weekend, I surprised myself with something entirely new. To me, anyway.

While idly shopping on Saturday, I was hailed by an acquaintance, a man I had met once a couple of weeks earlier. He introduced me briefly to the man he was speaking with who had just opened his own elegant, little shop within the store. We three spoke for a bit, then moved on.

After looking around for awhile, I found myself in the man's secondary shop and we hit it off immediately. Talk, talk, talk – both of us, tripping over each other's words, laughing and enjoying ourselves immensely.

Eventually, feeling I was keeping him from his work, I excused myself, looked around the main shop some more and made a purchase. While walking to the car, I realized it was lunch time and I didn't feel like going home to cook.

It was the oddest thing. I barely formed the thought before I walked back into that store, asked the man if he had time for a lunch break and if he would he would like to join me at a nearby restaurant. It was the boldest move I can recall ever making with a stranger.

We discovered a bunch of mutual interests and that we live within walking distance of one another and had he not needed to get back to his shop, we could have kept up that conversation all afternoon.

Oh dear. It just occurred to me that this sounds like it could be the beginning of a romantic connection. Not so. It's not that kind of thing.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, that might have been, but I just don't roll that way anymore. I like my single life. That doesn't mean I couldn't use a new friend or two.

He is about ten years younger than I and what came about between us, I believe, is a sense of simpatico, the comfort that occasionally happens when a new acquaintance feels almost immediately like an old friend – or, anyway, someone who can become an old friend.

New friendships are always fragile in the beginning and we'll see where this goes. Meanwhile, I seem to have stumbled on something for which old women have an advantage over our more youthful selves: we are unlikely, in making such a bold move as I did, to be taken for a flirt. We can safely follow our friendly impulses without fear of being misunderstood.

(I don't know if this would work as easily for elder men. Jump into the comments, fellows, and let us know what you think.)

At home again after that lunch, I was delighted with myself and with my possible new friend and I have been wondering since why I don't just speak up when I meet someone I'd like to know better.

So taking my own advice, today I emailed a woman I enjoyed meeting recently and invited her to lunch.

Someone needs to make the first move in these situations. Of course, the big reason few people do is the possibility of rejection and it could happen to me with both of these potential relationships.

But here's another brand new finding about myself I learned this weekend: I don't care. For the first time in my life I'm not afraid of being turned down.

My god, am I finally growing up.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: Winning the Lottery


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I really liked reading your post today. Kudos to you for being bold.

Just yesterday I spent 3 hours at my monthly Lunch Bunch with 5 dear friends. We were coworkers, all laid off at once and were determined to keep up our friendship. So the monthly lunches began. We are a multi generational group and we laugh, chat and gossip as we eat. Friendships like this are good for the heart and the soul.

Making, and keeping, friends has been a concern of mine since I have a tendency to be a loner. But I so need the company of others. Right now, I am lucky to have an outgoing husband who makes friends easily, so I have many people we call friends. But I wonder how I would fare if my husband were gone. Many of his friends would become acquaintances rather than friends, simply because I don't participate in the same activities. (Iceboating...I don't think so!)

I do look to my mother for inspiration in how to make friends. At 94 and in her own home (with my brother), she has a group of friends of varying ages through her pastime of painting. One of her groups meets every week to paint and have lunch. I really think her passion for painting and her friends have kept her going through thick and thin.

New friends are especially wonderful things. Don't complain about a romance tho. Romance doesn't mean the end of a single life but an addition to.

Great blog today! I have been on a quest to find friends since my husband died. I'd been his caregiver for twelve years and my dad's the five years before that, and that took me out of the 'friends' loop. In my quest to find friends I joined a couple of groups and volunteer situations, but while I meet lovely people nothing is clicking. However, a couple of people have given me their cards with contact information. It wasn't until weeks later that it dawned on me that the ball was in my court and it was up to me to take the next step. Never in my life have I had to work so hard at finding friends. Your boldness in asking the guy to have lunch with you was a brilliant example of acting our age, so to speak. We are strong enough to accept a little rejection if it turns out that way.

What a truly lovely story. Thank you.

When my out of town friends and relatives ask why I live in a senior community instead of an apartment of my own I give them two reasons. First, there is the cost and second, there is the loneliness. Here at the assisted living facility I am never alone, there is always someone to talk to and new people to meet.
If I were back in my two bedroom high-rise in the city I know I would be isolated because, no matter how nice people are, they really don't want to make friends with the "old guy in 3G".
Loneliness is the scourge of old age, scraping away at the soul and senses as much as any illness or disability and yes, it is different for men than for women. Women will talk to another women at the drop of a hat,there is always children or grandchildren to discuss but not so much for men. Men have been taught to be wary of other men who appear too friendly. There is always that little voice that asks "What is this guy really after?" which is probably the reason i have more women friends than men.Therefore Ronni, I commend you on your "boldness" and remember, not only were you doing something good for yourself, you were doing something nice for that man as well.

I can just imagine you buzzing along, chatting with your new friend. Actually, I suspect you have a gift for friendship (having been its recipient!) that has been obscured by retirement and a couple of moves. Enjoy it's reactivation.

I am trying to learn to work on new friendships. The presence of many people in my life has been a constant. Friendship, not so much so.

I was commenting to my wife the other day that I think our relationship has gotten so deep and of ever increasing quality that I no longer find a need for friends. There is risk here, that one of us may expire and leave the other alone, but I think we'd adapt to that should it happen. But, good for Ronni and all of you that seek friends.

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment that the internet allows us to rise above the boundaries of infirmity, geography, local culture, and limited finances to get to know smart, interesting people and form new friendships and social networks.

One of my learning goals is how to age well online. We know that the strength of one's social network is an indicator of long-term health. If we know how to learn, lead, and connect online, we will form new relationships with people who have ideas, vim, and enthusiasm to complement and support what we do offline, too.

An inspiring story today.

I too realize that most of my friends are geographically undesirable for day-to-day life so am making a concerted effort to find new folks.
So am joining committees wherein my talents can be utilized.

Good on you Ronni! Pursue to broaden your new friendship!
A major reason older RV'rs buy into the Co-Op where I live is to have a "home-base" where they take time from the
traveling just to "sit a spell" and connect with good old friends and new younger friends. There are couples and singles. We have a Happy Hour every afternoon to socialize. I play music 5 days weekly at these gatherings.
Often visiting RV'rs let me know they too play music. This gives us the opportunity to jam together!
I have met some incredibly wonderful musicians from all over the planet who are RV'rs
as well.
My cat greets all the women who come to visit and all the
men who enter our RV with musical instruments! The other men, who are few, he does not bother with at all!
My musician friends are mostly
in their late 50's, and 60's,
the ages of my children! The residents and visitors are people in their 40's on up to
really old, like me (I am 82). Currently there are some young men who work in the oil fields nearby. One who is 48yrs old, outgoing &
just adorable! and I "hit it off" like you and your new friend... We can sit and talk
for hours and hours! about a million things that are of interest to both of us! He has a wife in a town too far
away to commute daily.
So, Ronni...enjoy your new gentleman friend, I sure enjoy mine!
Bruce Cooper.... If you change your mind....your life will change! A Positive attitude is such a good thing to greet the world with!
Sounds to me like you really need a bunch of warm friendly hugz!

Brava Ronni. I grew up kind of shy about meeting people and recently have been trying to extend myself to get to know others. Even if no friendship evolves, I have the comfort and fun of knowing the people I do see better. I love your remark, "I am finally growing up." That's true for me too.

What a nice happening. I've found as I've aged that I've become less self-conscious and more willing to engage with strangers. It certainly can be a perk of aging. Good for you, and if a different kind of friendship develops too, go with the flow!

An acquaintance called out of the blue a year ago and said she had a friend that she thought I would really like. She asked if I would join the two of them for lunch.

I did go -feeling a bit embarrassed that someone thought I might need to be "fixed up" with a new friend- and the minute Connie and I started talking, we knew we would become friends. And we now talk several times a week, get together often, and our husbands also enjoy getting together!

I have been pondering the same concerns you mention about the inability to meet new friends in retirement, we relocated 8 years ago to hubby's home town. I lament not being around peopleas I was in career time, and wonder, what if we'd stayed in CA. Well most of my career contemporaries also relocated, out of CA, Sometimes I think we cannot connect where we live now because it is too small, too midwestern and the people have only lived here. I have made acquaintances through the physical activities programs at the Y but not the lasting kind of friends. I too have the blog and FB and wonder sometimes is it me? So it was refreshing to read a validation of what I was suspecting. Fortunately my spouse is alive and we have each other, enjoy traveling, etc. and I am an independent woman. Still, I miss the friendships.

Delightful to hear your "voice" in this post--energized, risk-taking. Thanks for encouraging others of us to take the chance of reaching out.

For me, in long term marriage, a different issue. How to convince new women acquaintances that I/we also would be glad to get together separately.

I agree with Doris Reeves-Lipscomb in that it is important for older folk to use social media. I have met so many new people using Twitter and Facebook. REcently I have found new friends via Instagram. It's a great way to spread one's wings.

I'm far too shy and introverted to go out and do something (like volunteer) with the idea that I'm doing it just to make friends. I have to stumble into it inadvertently, as you did. And since I don't get out often anyway, it's very unlikely to happen.

I basically lost all my "friends" when I lost my job. They'd been my only "friends" for 15 years, as I was more than happy to go home and enjoy some solitude at the end of each day. Turned out they weren't such friends after all; not one of them called to ask what happened after I was fired. And I was far too shocked and embarrassed to reach out to any of them.

Oh well, my fault I suppose. For the most part I do enjoy and prefer my solitude, though I do worry that someday it will be my undoing.

So true about friends from work. I think people mean it (or think they mean it)when they say "Let's keep in touch", but it just doesn't happen.

Both my husband and I have friends from two Toastmasters clubs we belong to and from our neighborhood. We struck up a great friendship with another couple in a dance class we took a while back and go out to dinner with them from time to time.

We've recently made friends with two women we see in Starbucks on occasion and really like to talk to, but it's not something we plan.

I'm not shy about getting out and making friends on my own and I do love a good conversation, but I'm afraid to think about what I'd do if I were on my own.

I had three strikes against me when I needed to make friends after my husband died and my children were gone. I was an elder, I have a severe hearing loss, and I am not very outgoing.

The Internet saved my life and I keep in contact with old friends and meet new ones via e-mail. I used to write a blog and keep promising myself to start again, but never seem to get around to it. I made some wonderful friends that way and I really should get back to blogging.

I use the Internet even with local friends who are too busy to visit. My best friend in Tucson is still working full time and caring for a daughter who is undergoing cancer treatments, so she is a very busy lady and we rarely visit in person, but we keep in touch with daily e-mails.

I have made other dear friends with this maddening but wonderful media (including you, dear Ronni) and that has kept me from being lonely. Lucky me to grow old after the Internet became so accessible.

I think you are just wonderful to ask that man out for lunch and I predict an exciting friendship that will continue. When we find that 'someone' who shares our interests and we click with that person it is magical.

I've just been able to skim this and have printed it out for further reading, but wanted to comment that since I retired and "lost" several friends, I was definitely lonely - even though I still have a spouse at home. So I joined our local Senior Citizens Center and am participating in activities there. I am an avid bridge player and my one foray into playing bridge there has led to three sessions a week at the center and membership in two other bridge groups, and new friendships with both males and females. I've set up monthly lunches with several female friends and am making all efforts to go out and be active. My granddaughter and I even rode the train the other day and met a very nice younger woman and conversed for an hour before our stop. One has to get out and FIND those friendships.

I am one of the many people who appreciated your post today. Until recently, I always considered myself an extrovert -- never had any trouble meeting new people and making friends. I joined groups and often even facilitated them. I had no problem walking into a room where I knew no one and striking up a conversation with a stranger. But I've changed; life changed me, I guess. Bad knees keep me from doing the dancing I always loved to do, and I no longer like to drive at night. After living with and taking care of my mother until she passed away, I moved in with my daughter and family, 90 miles from where I used to live. That was about five years ago. Even though I've joined some groups, I haven't clicked with anyone as a friend, even though they and I have made some effort. And I have decided that it's not a problem. I thoroughly enjoy doing the things that I love to do and, while it would be nice to share my interests with some others, it's no longer necessary the way it used to be. Of course, I have family right on the other side of my door if I feel lonely, and we spend as much time together as I want or need. I also periodically visit with a group of close women friends where I used to live, and we keep in touch online as well. And yes, over the years online I have made new "virtual" friends and also connected with old friends from my past lives. It is said that "happiness is not having what you want; it's wanting what you have." At my college reunion, an old friend asked me if I am happy. What I told him was that I was content.

hello, i've arrived here from lydia's blog and what a fine story i've just read!

i stopped work last june and so far so good. my time to write is my own, i have family and friends and plenty of interests. still, your words ring true because they are universal.

thank you. nice to make your acquaintance.

love
kj

Great post and comments. I'm a natural-born introvert and socializing doesn't come easily. It never has except during the "Party Girl" stage in my life. That ended 40 years ago and is a place I would never want to revisit even if I could.

Fortunately, I have a wonderful spouse (who is also a loner). I worry sometimes about what will happen to the survivor if one of us dies before the other. I think he'd do O.K. on his own--which he probably wouldn't be for long--but if I were no longer able to work P/T and/or couldn't volunteer anymore, I'd be pretty isolated. That's not a big concern at the moment, but it's one more thing to think about. . .

What a nice story Ronni. Things like this always remind me of a line from a book by Harriet Lerner from decades ago. I can't recall right now, whether it was from Dance of Intimacy or one of her other books, but she simply said, "Nothing changes until something changes." It seems so obvious and a "duh" sort of statement, but it seems to me to be profound in its simplicity. If one doesn't reach out, say something, do something, then truly, things often do not change, whether that's meeting new people, trying a new food, venturing to a new place, taking a new job, what ever it may be. Not that there is really a need for change, but often through change, we introduce things into our lives that can deeply enrich them. Sounds as though this might be true in your case.

Love it! Dee

Wonderful, inspiring post!
I have heard of 3 women recently who all drastically cut their hair and announced that their life changed (for the better) immediately afterwards. But is it a "chicken or the egg" situation? Perhaps they had felt different inside first and then wanted it to manifest outwardly, too. Either way, getting older often means we are bold & daring in ways never considered when we were younger --because the outcome doesn't matter that much....because we CAN!

Ronni - I 've know you a long time and one of the things that I remember about you is, "you like younger men."

And, it seems they like you too!!!
Hope this turns to to be a good friendship!

Never thought I would be lonely because I enjoy solitude. But lately I do miss having a friend or two. Like you, Ronni, I should make more of an effort.

The post and comments have given me, not only food for thought, but also a boost of hope and courage. Thank you.

I'm an introvert. Every once in awhile i make myself go out and do something that takes me out of my comfort level. This post reminds me that i need to continue.
Thanks for this wonderful post!

Excellent post, Ronni. Yet again I 'm glad I stumbled upon this blog which, more than any other, speaks my language. This one hit home because, having given up romantic relationships at 40, after two husbands (divorce) and the loss of the love of my life, I settled into a professional career and being a loner in private life. This wasn't a problem until I retired, moved, and lost all the people who had been substitutes for friends. A part-time intermittent job filled the void for awhile but I soon discovered that even free-lancing can involve one in office politics and not be worth the effort. Since then, I have made do with internet commenting, email and phone exchanges with my son across the country (who is my best friend) and infrequent visits and outings with my daughter. On the whole, it is a lonely existence even for a committed loner who has an actual aversion to joining any group or organization. I would like to be you, Ronni, but since I'm not and could never be, I will have to enjoy a vicarious interest in your life and thoughts through TGB. Even this wouldn't be possible if you were one of those people who give off that "I'm me and you're not" vibe, but I get the impression you're just like most of your readers---sometimes you're lonely and sometimes you get lucky. I'm going to try to do a little better in terms of reaching out---I do recognize that I have sometimes let opportunities slip by---but I will probably still be mostly on the internet and doing the NY Times crossword and schlepping around the house making plans that somehow never get carried out.

Coincidence. I just received an email from a teacher who hired me in Bangkok seventeen years ago.

The more time I spend in the USA, the more chatty I am with people at home.

Last week I walked up to a senior woman shopper and complimented her on her spiky hair. At first she was taken aback, but then I said "we look like twins," and she laughed.

My mom said..."who was that?"

"Someone with cool hair."

Volunteering is a door opener to meeting people.

Thankfully I have a car and don't have to rely on anyone for transportation.

My friend Monica is 90 years old. She is smart, witty and she shares tips and advice about who to hire for just about anything.

My mom and sis are my best female pals, plus we have a big family.

Nobody is left out.

I'm hoping my husband and I live long and healthy, can't imagine living alone in a high rise.

Where will we all be in ten years?

Your post today reminded me of advice given by a friend who I met at a book club meeting when she invited me to join her for coffee after the meeting. She told me that making 'coffee' invitations is her way of getting to know people. She moved from South Africa to Canada about 8 years ago to be near to family. Because of her out-going personality and her many 'coffee' invitations, she has a large network. Her example is one I've tried to follow!

Good for you and good reminder for me- it's all in my hands. Move out, speak up, make friends- a recipe for happiness.

BRAVO! Serendipitous friendships are my favorites.
a/b

Those aren't teardrops on my keyboard - it's just condensation. OK maybe not all condensation. A couple of tears shed for the friends who have gone ahead maybe. Someone recently remarked that he knew he was getting old when he saw frequent obituaries in the paper about his friends and contemporaries. I replied that "you know you're really old, a 'Super Elder" when you don't see many obituaries for friends and contemporaries anymore.

When I stopped in Milan for a visit a few years ago, I made a few phone calls to friends I had made when I lived there for several years in the "sexy sixties" but after I got a few " No, sorry he died a couple of years ago" I stopped calling.

The older I get the less likely I am to make friends -especially in a place so far from where I spent most of my life. The connections tend to be tenuous and rarely survive more than a few encounters. My tennis partners and opponents are fine- even great for tennis but not much else. Is it me? Probably but like Popeye used to say between gulps of spinach : "I yam what I yam"

I was very moved by your post. The taking chances bit. I tend to be more passive and let others approach me. so far I've been very lucky.

I am a gregarious loner.

But your example has ignited me, I need to be more proactive.

Well done you!

XO
WWW

Bravo, Miss Ronni ! At 75 I'm feeling the same freedom you have by making a point of creating my own adventures - a new blog, a small space in an antique mall, coffee and cribbage with an old friend... It's great fun, and I'm going to try your approach for just making a friend I think I'd like to know.

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