EDITORIAL REMINDER: One of the reasons Time Goes By is such a friendly place to have a conversation is that from day one, no commenter has been allowed to personally attack me or anyone who posts a comment.
Disagree about ideas? Fine. Assail others? Never.
On Monday's post, one reader attacked my research abilities and my thinking skills. That person's comment has been removed and he or she is now permanently banned from commenting here. No recourse.
That's how it's done at TGB. Fortunately, it doesn't happen often.
A quick search around this blog reveals that about once a year we discuss loneliness among elders including all the terrible statistics related to people who feel lonely.
For example, Medical News Today recently reported that
”Two new meta-analyses from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, UT, reveal that loneliness and social isolation may increase the risk of premature death by up to 50 percent.”
We could discuss that again (and probably will in the future), but last week a new reader, Albert Williams, left a comment on a 2014 post about friends in old age that interests me:
”Whew! I'm glad I found this site,” wrote Williams. “I was beginning to think that I was the only person with such problems, and that, perhaps, there was something wrong with me.
“However, after a bit of introspection, I realize that this is not completely true. (Completely? Try old, ugly, curmudgeonly, short-tempered, cynical, and a few more applicable adjectives...)
“Time has, indeed, taken its toll. I am now an old man. Most of my life-long friends are gone. I've never had any kids; I've outlived two wives; and almost all of my family on both sides have already died.
“I find it very easy to make new acquaintances, but these seem to never develop into the deep, trusting, abiding friendships I had when I was young. Loneliness, apparently, has become a permanent part of my remaining days, and my best friends nowadays are my dogs and my computer.”
That is a familiar thought for me. Most of my “deep, trusting, abiding friendships” of many years have died or live far away and the people I enjoy spending time with where I live now haven't crossed to that special status yet although two or three are heading in that direction.
It's close enough to true to say that all websites aimed at elders repeat the same, facile solutions on this subject: join a senior center, make use of online groups, figure out local transportation options if you don't drive anymore.
But none of that gets to the more ephemeral problem that Albert Williams is talking about and they don't discuss the reasons this happens to so many old people.
Here are a couple of my disjointed thoughts about how this happens:
Disability, health conditions and just plain being more tired than when we were young keep many of us at home. I know that it has been years since I have booked social engagements two days in a row and I sometimes need more days in between.
We no longer have careers and children in common as a starting place for new friendships. In fact, the only thing we can be certain of sharing in old age is our health which, as a reader noted recently, many are reluctant to talk about and too many others are guilty of oversharing.
Social media – texting, Facebook, etc. - have taken a toll on friendly telephone conversations. Remember when the phone would ring at random times and a friend was on the other end seeking to make a dinner appointment or just chat for awhile?
Few people I know do that much anymore. We make appointments – actual appointments – via text or email to chat on the phone. I appreciate that with my far-away old friends but I miss the serendipity of telephone visits with people nearby even as I have become accustomed to making these appointments.
No one can decide to make someone a friend. The thing about friends who fit like an old shoe is that it takes time - and the effort to keep in touch between in-person visits.
Always, a new friendship has surprised me even back in the days when it seemed easier than now. After some period of time, usually several months, I think, I realized one day, “Hmmm. When did Tom, Dick or Mary become a friend? I didn't see it coming but here it is and I am glad for it.”
It happened while we were going to movies together, sharing stories about ourselves, recommending books to one another and becoming comfortable enough together that we came to relax together in ways we can't until we have come to trust.
Those opportunities seem to diminish as we grow older. Albert Williams is not alone and the problem of elder loneliness, according to researchers, is increasing. I'm pretty sure some of you have plenty to say about this.
(There is a new-ish category of friends, online friends we have never met in person or only once or twice that I believe are important to our well-being and expand our lives in important, lovely ways. But that conversation is for another day.)