Do We Need More Friends? The Joys & Challenges Of Senior Friendship
There are multiple articles out there helping seniors to make new friends, since we all know it gets harder as we get older. But do we need new friends?
The simple answer is yes, everyone needs a friend in this world. Recent scientific research has even suggested that senior friendship is a key to a longer life. But that doesn’t have to mean the same thing to everyone.
Do we need more friends?
It’s a given that, just as ‘no man is an island’, we all need friends. None of us would be happy living in social isolation, but we still might not need as many friends as we think we do. With social media such as Facebook and Twitter measuring how many friends we have, people come to believe that it’s important to have a lot of friends. Disney has a lot to blame here, too. Movie after movie and TV series after TV series teach that the most important thing in life is to have friends. But those of us who are more introverted or just often prefer spending time by ourselves don’t always want to have as many friends as Disney insists that we need.
I read one article by a woman who spent most of her childhood spare time at home, reading. Most of her childhood friends lived in her books, and she was perfectly happy. Not until adulthood did she realize that every Disney movie was sending her the message that her childhood experience was pathetic and inadequate.
Baby boomers are used to a different model of friendship. A loving marriage and a handful of old friends is all that many of us wish for (and it’s a lot to be grateful for). With someone to rely on and share our happiness and sorrow, we can feel confident to resist the insistent call that we need to make ‘more friends’.
Quantity Not Quality?
With that said, the senior years are notorious for being the time when loneliness hits hard. Often retirement brings a move to a new neighborhood, leaving your social network behind, while divorce or bereavement leave seniors bereft of their previous circle of friends and the emotional support and rapport of their spouse.
It is then that the challenge of senior friendship really begins. There are many suggestions for how to meet new friends as an adult, but that is only part of it. Many of us have an ideal of perfect friendship; soul brothers or sisters who understand us fully (thank you again, Disney and Pixar). We hold this ideal as the holy grail of friendship and will settle for nothing less. But perhaps it’s better to stop looking for the perfect friend, and just make a friend.
Sometimes, growing a new friendship can require more time and energy than we possess. Sometimes, we turn away from opportunities to make new friends not out of shyness or fear of rejection, but because we fear that the friendship will not stand up to our ideals. Sometimes, we don’t feel able to dedicate ourselves to growing a perfect friendship right now, and so we choose not to make friends at all.
Seniors need to diversify our friendship requirements and let go of the need to find the one perfect friend. Or to put it another way, go for quantity, not quality. Perhaps we need to think again about what to expect from friendships that begin in later life. Maybe they will never be anything more than semi-friends, people to go to the movies with or meet for coffee, but not someone that you’d pour out your heart to. And that is OK.
One woman writes about her friend’s experiences making friends in a totally new community, and how she is happy to have made ‘good-enough’ friends:
When I asked her if she’d made any close friends in her new town, she answered matter-of-factly: “I click about 85 percent with four or five women I’ve met. And I think that’s pretty good.”
Another baby boomer explained that all her really close old friends live in a different city. In her new town, she has not made any close friends, but she has made friends for going out for coffee with, friends for going to the movies with, friends for walking with, and friends for going shopping with. She explained that she doesn’t need to have her soul-mates in her community, and is perfectly happy knowing whom she can call to join her for a given activity.
Do we need to keep making more new friends? The answer is entirely up to you.