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