friends

Who needs friends anyway?

Is friendship really all it’s cracked up to be? asks the US novelist Richard Ford.

That’s a controversial start – the accepted line is that senior citizens must cultivate new friends and be socially active.  Loneliness is a curse to  be avoided in later life.  Isn’t it?

For most people that is true.  There are some personality types that thrive, or at least happily survive, with a minimum of human contact and no mates. We’ll come back to that category later.

For most people,  a circle of companions and relations is a basic requirement for human existence at any age,

It gets progressively more difficult of course, as we age and our existing social circle  shuffle off their mortal coil. Being active socially requires transport, money, decent clothes – and the effort to get off the sofa and out of the house. (And, at the time of writing, no pandemic to keep us trapped indoors.  Temporary afflication hopefull).

Are friends important?

According to a 2017 study  by William Chopik, friendship has strong links
to happiness and can contribute to improved physical and mental
health.

“Friendships become even more important as we age,” said Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology. “Keeping a few really good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being. So it’s smart to invest in the friendships that make you happiest.”

How to make new friends

Friendships have to be cultivated over time, but by increasing social interaction we improve our chances of creating new contacts – or at least nodding acquaintances.

There are a number of popular ways to find this interaction

  1. Explore past social circles, to resurrect and reignite friendships. Facebook is alive with possibilities to reconnect with old acquaintances, and make new ones.
  2. Use sites such as Stitch (the world’s largest companionship & activities community)
  3. Use technology to find other local networks – Google is your friend
  4. Volunteering for a local charity or community group
  5. Join a club or local group – the U3A have a national network
  6. Get to know the neighbours – an original concept, but they do live quite close and may be looking for the same thing!

How to keep old friends

  1. Contact.  A telephone call, an email, Whats App or an actual live conversation (let’s meet for coffee).  Don’t let old friendships die on the assumption that there will always be time.
  2. Interest.  Listen to their stories of events, happenings, dramas or just plain routine.Being a good listener is a challenge for those that like to talk, but being interested in other people’s lives is a good way to retain connections.
  3. Memory.  If an event occurs that triggers a memory (do you remember when…) a good old chinwag is a way to recover lost relationships.  My blog doesn’t dwell on the past too much, there being too much life to live to look backwards, but sometimes it’s good to reminisce.
 

Ditching friends

Shock.  Horror.  Ditching friends in later life?  Surely not   … and yet, these years should be about pleasurable things and pleasant people.  Dumping the grumpy old soul who never has a good word to say is possible.  Perhaps desirable.

People change too – interests no longer align, conversations become stilted.  Perhaps both of you long for relief – or maybe your friend persistently wants the pub or wine bar, when all you want to do is potter and slump by the fire.

And generally speaking you want to fill  your life with positive people. So unless you can turn the grumpy old curmudgeon around  – it’s ok to cast off an old friend and make new ones.

Which brings us to – that loner? The guy in the corner of the pub with his pint and crossword.  Seniors are still humans, some people just prefer their own company and enforcing social jollification is just not for them.

So if a solitary life is for you – even seniors have the right to choose.

Social life in a pandemic

I have included this paragraph as the normal means of making new friends is currently denied to us.  These are challenging times, but there are still opportunities to make new contacts with human beings, and retain the old links in readiness for a brighter future.  They almost exclusively involve using technology as face to face meetings are certainly discouraged – and that can be an additional hurdle for seniors.
 
But what’s life without a challenge, without making the best of your circumstances?  So join on on Zoom, Eventbrite, Facebook groups and other medium.  It’s not the same, maybe never will be, but it’s what we have right now.

Conclusion

You don’t have to be lonely in old age – but you do need to make an effort not to be.  The world is alive with possibilities for new friends, online and offline. 

So the watchword is still – carpe diem.  Sieze the day!