There are many who believe that the friendships formed later in life are the ones that are truly the deepest. It certainly is not a competition between lifelong friendships and those made in the latter chapters of our lives, but developing new friendships as we age is worthy of consideration.
Much of the research in the field of aging well confirms the positive health value of human connections such as loving relationships and friendships. For some of us, as we get older, we are more likely to experience changes in our relationships, especially within our families. Roles and expectations change, people move, and there is a lot of shifting. We experience loss of our family and friends and sometimes face physical or mental challenges (our own or with those close to us). These can change our relationships. We may still be in one another’s lives but the quality of the engagement is different. It is difficult to adapt when people are no longer with us either because they are frail, ill, distant, or because they have died. There is healing strength in memory and even though friends move away or we can no longer see them in person, we can initiate a weekly call, use FaceTime or SKYPE to stay in touch. These are important to maintain. And so is cultivating friendships that fit where we are at this stage of our lives?
Most people notice that as they age they have less tolerance for “BS.” Perhaps because there is a recognition that people do not live forever, they seem to know themselves and understand what works for them regarding people in their lives. People seem to be attracted to one another because of where they are at this time of life, focusing on qualities that resonate with their own values, purpose, and personality. There are a lot of “young / older people” who regardless of their numerical age, live their lives with passion and a zest for living. Their curiosity and willingness to go beyond “expected” limits help to ensure a life of adventure and stimulation. They do not focus on other people’s expectations of what they should be doing or how they should be acting. They focus on opportunities for engagement, learning, meaning and fun.
One woman I know whose husband suddenly passed away, moved from the home she and her husband and family shared for most of her life. She had always found solace in reading but now there was palpable loneliness that intruded in her solace. She moved to a new community and there, she joined a book group where she discovered connections with others that went further than their shared interest in reading.
A man I know become active in programs connected to this place of worship. He did not have the time to do anything more than once a week worship earlier in his life and discovered that his love of sacred music brought him closer to the music director and he joined the choir. Additionally, he volunteered to organize music programs for his church which grew to a multi-community music fest.
Another person shares his love of film with others because he reached out and joined a movie and art discussion group. Not usually a joiner, he found the depth of conversation stimulating and now enrolled in higher ed level classes to study further.
A woman shared with me that when she was in her early 20s she was politically engaged and had put that aside as she developed her career. Now that she is retired her love of politics resurfaced and she is even more active in her 80s than ever before. She meets and volunteers with people of all ages, backgrounds, and is having great experiences.
Each of these folks are connecting with new people and are involved and talking and sharing common interests. Even a solitary sport like swimming can lead to joining a seniors’ swim group or just connecting with people in the locker room and grabbing a cup of coffee together. When we do what we want to do, and get satisfaction from our time, we are likely to be more open to meeting other people as well.
As we reflect on ourselves as friends, it can be helpful to take the time to sit quietly and go to a very deep and personal place and recall the images and some snippets of conversations that we have had over these years with friends to re-experience the impact we have had on people’s lives and their impact on our lives. As we move through different chapters we may be concerned about our weaknesses rather than our strengths. It is sometimes true that others may notice and focus on our weaknesses or how we are different at first but if we remind ourselves of what we have to offer and how we have the capacity to connect deeply with people we will be more likely to push through and make heartfelt connections.
Part of being human is questioning our purpose and sometimes that comes along with self doubt. Particularly important is that at certain junctures in our lives we approach a crossroad. We don’t know what each road will look like but but we have to move along one. Having faith, being curious, and having a sense of adventure helps the journey. Humility is good, and so is kindness; kindness to others and to ourselves.
Even though no one can replace another person in our lives, when someone leaves us there is a new space that opens. If we choose, and are open to taking a risk, we can be open to forming other connections. We can think of serving others in ways they need, and they can serve us in ways that we need after we recognize and get used to that space that is open.