February 14, 2015

Retirement and Your Social Network

When you read the phrase "social network" what do you think of - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram? Is your first thought that it is past time to post some fresh pictures or read what your friends are doing and thinking?

The dictionary definition of social network agrees: a dedicated website or other application that enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. 

Importantly, that is the second definition listed for the phrase, social network. The preferred explanation is the one that seems to be lost to many of us today: a network of social interactions and personal relationships.

For many in America (the only country I can speak of with any confidence) the first definition has been lost in the chatter and bustle of a permanently connected electronic leash between us and others. We are all familiar with the reality of the 24 hour a day nature of news and information. The gap between something happening and everyone being made aware of it is measured in seconds or minutes. 

I read an article on Huffpost not too long ago about a growing business: electronic detox. Attendees of these conferences are banned from cell phone, laptop, and tablet use for the weekend. The goal is twofold: to dramatically demonstrate how addicted many of us are to these devices, and to teach someone to physically talk with and respond to another human being, face-to-face.

Not surprisingly, the article mentioned the rather high dropout rate of attendees. After just a few hours, the desire to check for messages or text someone was too strong to deny. You can certainly appreciate the irony of texting someone that you are at a weekend retreat to break the hold electronics has on you. 

Regular readers know I have removed myself from Twitter. While I maintain a presence on Facebook to help promote Satisfying Retirement, my participation in the regular flow of messages and videos is minimal; the snarky, vulgar, and hateful stuff was affecting my attitude throughout the day. 

I get requests to join someone's LinkedIn network several times a week but I politely decline. Pinterest would take too much of my time to participate in a meaningful way.

The problem, then becomes, building and maintaining a meaningful social network of real people. I will be the first to admit I am a loner by nature. When you consider my 35 year career in radio that seems a little odd. Entertaining thousands of people at a time on the radio doesn't seem like a good fit. But, actually it worked well. Locked in a studio with some records and a microphone I could project a friendly, let's party type of presentation while operating completely alone and not having to really deal with many of those listeners.

In retirement, my loner nature pretty much continues. I can "behave" well in social situations. I smile, listen to others and affirm someone else whenever I can. But, I just find making many new friends to be hard work. I have lots of acquaintances and  "Hi, neighbor" type exchanges, but few close relationships.

Blogging has been good for me in this regard. I have met several new people in person who are either fellow bloggers or readers. I find those exchanges to be quite satisfying. I look forward to spending time with those folks. We share common experiences and common problems and have an easy time relating. Those friendships have blossomed into something much more than just blogging issues. 

I think as we get older friendship becomes more difficult at precisely the time they are needed the most. Work relationships fall away. Those we have known for many years move away, get sick, or die. Adult kids have their own lives and families so interaction time tends to diminish. 

There are solutions. Join a club or a group that focuses on an activity you like. Become more active in your church, something more than an hour spent in a pew Sunday mornings. Volunteer in such a way that you interact with people. Use the "other" social media to stay in touch with friends who live too far away to see anymore. Of course if your personality type leans toward being a loner, then those simple ideas don't hold much appeal or seem to work well. 

Many of my posts urge you to live your life your way. The retirement journey is personal and unpredictable. Part of the reason it is so much fun is that change is a constant. Yes, there may be periods of boredom or staleness, as I well know. But, overall the experience for most of us is quite positive.

So, my question to you is this: social networks and interacting are positive. The benefits of being with others is well documented. But, what if you are happier being alone, or primarily with your spouse? There are a handful of people you enjoy spending time with, but you are just as happy with a book, the back porch, and sunshine. Is that wrong? Is that approach meaning I am losing out on joyful interactions with others? Am I shortchanging myself by claiming to be happiest with my own company (and Betty's) or am I being true to myself?

Your thoughts and experiences are encouraged.





31 comments:

  1. I sometimes struggle with this. I am by nature a loner. I have many acquaintances and people I am friendly with, and just a handful of people I would identify as close friends. I treasure these friendships.

    Long ago I studied Kersey Bates (Please Understand Me), a book published quite a few years ago. It gave me great insight as to why I am the quiet one. I like who I am. But yet I know that the vast majority of people are not loners, they thrive and get their energy from being around other people. For me it is emotionally draining to be around others for too long of a period of time.

    At the same time, I need my close friendships and cherish them dearly. It is a balancing act for me, every day, to make sure I get contact with others, and also get enough alone time to recharge my batteries. Much easier to do in retirement, than when working!

    Long ago I became friends with someone in our neighborhood. I discovered too late that she was bossy, opinionated, and not fun to be around. Why I did not pick up on this before we became walking partners, I'll never know. It was a painful experience for me to extricate myself from this friendship.

    I'm getting to know some women at the YMCA. These are my workout friends, and so far have not taken it beyond the gym. But I'm giving it serious thought, as I think it would be beneficial to do so.

    My husband is almost as much an introvert as I am. As a couple, at times we enjoy doing things with other couples. Then there is the complexity of all 4 people liking each other and getting along reasonably well.

    I embrace my quiet, loner personality. But yet I know that as I age I do not want to be alone, and it is not healthy to do so. I plan to continue to push myself a little, to be open to a few more friendships along the way. Out of my comfort zone; taking chances...

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    1. It sounds as though we could be friends...oh, hold it, that's the problem with loners!

      One of the primary reasons in my season of "move" we are actively pursuing the idea of moving closer to our daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids is they are our closest and dearest "friends." It is a tremendous blessing when your grown children want to spend lots of time with you and grab every opportunity to be together.

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  2. I have found making and keeping friends is like growing a garden, you plant the seeds but then you must water and fertilize! People seem so "busy" these days! EVEN RETIREES!!!! So When i make a friend I make sure to follow up quickly with a call,an invite to cake and coffee , and I call AGAIN if that's what it takes. I think a lot of folks have forgotten the art of making friends, so I will go the extra mile to help it along. In our new town I have made friends easily through our volunteer work, by signing up for a Memoir class and and art class with a neighbor.. we get to know each other on the ride down the hill every Tuesday. And I make sure to host a get together every once in a while for neighbors.My new favorite thing is a dessert visit..Sometimes I don't want to make a whole dinner for guests,so I invite someone over for pie and coffee around 6:30 (retirees tend to eat early, we always have!) .It's a hit! I enjoy a combination of lots of quiet time to read,meditate,write. But I value my friendships too..I know they help keep me emotionally and spiritually healthy, and it's always good to hear another person's perspective on the world.. it's too easy to become isolated and closed minded..I won't do it! And then,Ken is my BEST friend, we make sure to plan dates and special times together in nature to keep the fire burning.. all of it just takes commitment and consistency! If it's worth it to you, you'll do it!

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    1. Today is Valentine's Day...and..Betty's birthday. We are each other's best friends which makes life very sweet.

      You are to be congratulated for fitting into the social fabric of your new community so quickly. If that wasn't the case you may have felt the pull to make that long drive back to the Valley just to be near familiar places and people..

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  3. It's almost embarrassing to admit that I thought I was a very sociable person until I quit working. I discovered I cherish the time spent with my husband and kids the most. I have several friends who are faithful to call and insist on lunch dates, and I'm always glad to see them, but I don't pursue new friends. I almost feel guilty admitting it. I reach out to help neighbors and church/community contacts whenever there's a need, but I don't seek friendships. Maybe it's because I now know how much time and effort it takes to be a truly committed friend, and I don't want to rob any time from my loved ones. It's an area of my life in which I've asked God to help me because I don't want to be selfish, but I want to be true to myself and my family, too. It's not always easy to stay balanced.

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    1. No, it is not easy to stay balanced or not feel guilty from not following up with others. But, as we age we learn what makes us happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. Ultimately. we must be true to ourselves.

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  4. Your post reminds me of a series of very funny "introverts unite" quotes, one of them is: INTROVERTS UNITE! WE'RE HERE, WE'RE UNCOMFORTABLE AND WE WANT TO GO HOME.

    Both my husband and I are loners by nature. We enjoy people and have a several very good friends but we find it hard to expand our social network, especially now that we are retired. I like Madeline's suggestions for building friendships and will try to incorporate one or two of her ideas in the future (but, right now, I think I'll just curl up with a good book).

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    1. I like that quote!

      Madeline has done an amazing job of integrating herself rather quickly in a new community. She and her husband did spend time there before, but living someplace full time is different and creates different dynamics.

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  5. I have a special Betty in my life, too, whose birthday is Valentine's Day - my sister-in-law, my friend. Happy Birthday and happy hearts day to the Betty's. My first thought about social network was the social interactions and personal relationships - those folks who make up a core group of close friends. I think the other social network is more superficial. Someone once said that's why she likes Facebook, so she could keep in touch with people that she wouldn't ordinarily. Can we call them friends if the only contact is through a Facebook page? If you wouldn't bother to visit with them in person or go to their aid in a time of need? It seems that Facebook "friends" are more about the poster getting his/her news out there than about the readers. I guess it depends upon one's definition of friendship. I believe that true friendship needs to be nurtured. I think we have lots of acquaintances but only a few true friends. It's easy to say you're a nice person when you live by yourself (!) so I like my solitude balanced with good doses of social interaction.

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    1. A Facebook 'friend" is really a misnomer: Often it is just someone who agrees to interact (sometimes) with you at some level. I have a few folks I know and like to read what they post, but generally Facebook isn't much of my life.

      I think someone can volunteer or be involved in some activity without becoming more than acquaintances, and that is OK. A smile, being pleasant, and listening to the other person is always welcome.

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  6. I am an introvert and loner by nature. After my divorce, I realized I had to force myself to be outgoing or it would be a very quiet life, indeed. I have grown into it - chatting with friends and strangers - but I do require more down/alone time than extroverts need. That's fine, I am neither as shy nor as judgmental as I was.

    At the same time, I have had to learn not to put all my eggs in one basket. Being dependent, emotionally, on one or two people is a recipe for heartache, so I have close friends and a broader group of those with whom I socialize. Lastly, I am still in the process of learning to let go when a relationship has run its course. I think it would be easier for extroverts, but maybe that's a fantasy. Anyway, I realize I hang on too long, get frustrated and ultimately have to accept that what filled a need at one time no longer serves a positive purpose.

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    1. Your last point, Jane, is important. Relationships often have a lifespan. They begin and then end as we and others cycle in and out of each other's lives. That just seems natural to me and simply human nature.

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  7. For years I couldn't be alone in silence. Had to have the radio or tv on all the time, whether I was listening or not. It's from a childhood 'trauma' kind of thing. But, once I started to become comfortable in my own skin I began to relish time alone so much I didn't notice the silence. It took a long time, but now that we're retired I really love my time alone because there's less of it. But I always love when he comes home!
    b

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    1. From what I read on your blog and on Facebook it seems as though you and hubby, Dave, have a nice balance. With your full time move to a new community last fall are you finding it easy or hard to become part of the community? Maybe you can't answer until the weather turns nicer; it is hard to be terribly social when it is snowing or really cold!

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    2. As it turns out, the woman we bought the house from is our next door neighbor and she has been more than helpful with getting us into the community. She is a lovely person, who is an artist and very involved in that community which has been great for me. She took us to a dinner last week, 'Ground Hog Day Dinner', to meet more people here. It is just for West Cape May, and we met some lovely people. I think the influx in the summer will be nice, but those folks will be temporary. Getting to know the ones who live year round, as we will, is very comforting.
      b

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  8. I love Madeline's comment, above. That's exactly how friendships should be made and sustained. I'm convinced of it. Do I do it? No. Do I like to have friends? I do. But I always worry that my contacting them would be an imposition on them. And I do crave that time alone, too. When Carole talks about contact with people being emotionally draining, I get it. Fortunately, I am married to an extrovert, so I get dragged along with him to be with people often. I've finally realized that this is the way God brings friendships into my life--through my husband--because I might not reach out to others if left to myself.

    A psychologist friend once called me a 'social introvert.' Like you, Bob, I know how to behave with others. I was a teacher for many years and had to force myself to be social--and extroverted as well. In retirement, the social part is less strong and the introversion is winning! However, I do worry about being self-indulgent.

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    1. The fear of being too self-indulgent among us introverts has come up in several comments. I hadn't really thought of it that way, but I appreciate how that could happen. It takes extra effort to stay connected, doesn't it.

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  9. If asked I would say I had very few, if any close friends, but many acquaintance style friends, and a church support network. My closest friends have always been family, husband, kids and now siblings and kids. One of the major reasons I moved. It is difficult to make new friends-one of the reason my widows support group encouraged me to move when I could do so, so I could "still make friends". Other than church (where I participate in built in social activities and a seminary level bible study group, my friends are those made through interest groups. Some of my retired friends in my knitting and newcomers groups keep their days completely full-bridge, knitting, classes and more. I prefer to keep it to two things a week (sometimes three) plus my class and have there rest of the time to be home (even if I am alone).

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    1. You are pretty active, Barbara, so your circle of acquaintances is probably pretty large, compared to mine. Most of my extra activities are solo or with Betty: on-line classes in American law or creativity, Bible studies, film festivals, and RV trips. I do like my Tai Chi classes since there are a few people who I see every week, but they will always be fellow classmates and nothing more.

      It is interesting to see the differences in RVers that we meet. Some are very social and think nothing of stopping during a walk to chat.I enjoy those conversations and participate willingly, though I know I am unlikely to see those folks again.

      Others seem to rarely come out of their motor homes, or when they do they go about their business without a smile. I thought RVers would all be much more social, but people are people, regardless of where you find them.

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  10. This is a topic I've thought about -- in part because I'm a sociologist who doesn't think of the internet first when I hear the phrase "social network" :-) Like you, I am an introvert with high needs for solitude. But, unlike you, I don't have a life partner and live alone. I love living alone; it suits me. But I am also convinced by the research that shows that social isolation has a lot of negative consequences (e.g., in health) for retired people. If I didn't make a special effort to fit social interaction into my life, I could easily slide into becoming a hermit who goes weeks without ever talking to another human being. So, I make an effort. Right now, I'm doing some volunteer work that gets me out and interacting with others one afternoon a week. I also try to make sure I have one meaningful face-to-face social interaction a week (e.g., a visit with a friend, going out to a movie or dinner with someone, lunch with my retiree group). I am finding that this is more difficult during the winter, so I'm going to have to give more thought to how to get around the snowbound factor.
    Although you have your relationship with Betty to save you from social isolation, there is an important reason why you should not depend almost entirely on Betty to provide you with a social network: It is unlikely that you and Betty are going to die at the same moment; one of you is going to survive the other and need to manage on their own. If it is you, you are likely to fall into social isolation if you don't have a pre-existing social network to fall back on. (Couple networks turn out not to be very reliable in widowhood.) If, as is statistically more likely, Betty survives you, will she find herself isolated because being your primary social network made it more difficult for her to sustain independent friendships? -Jean

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    1. We have discussed that very issue, Jean. Neither of us would remarry, and we believe either of us would be OK alone...because of the close proximity of family. We do very little in couple settings so the single person in a couple problem isn't an issue.

      As I type this I realize how much we do rely on each other and of course we have no real idea how we would react as widow/widower. But, our feeling is we would make it OK.

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  11. Introversion is an area in which I excel. Although I blend in and function very well socially at the office, I literally go years at a time without making or receiving a personal phone call or even doing something as simple as meeting someone for lunch.

    It wasn't always this way. I used to participate in every company event going. I did all the lunches and never missed the team-building field trips. I grabbed a beer with the gang after work as often as asked. I took up golf when it was all the rage with my co-workers. But, over the years, people passed through my life like I was a revolving door, and I eventually got to a point where I had to admit to myself that all of my non-familial relationships were a mile wide and an inch deep.

    Since most of these social connections seemed to revolve around excessive alcohol consumption, and determined as I was to dial back the drinking I was doing in my younger days, I used a job change as an opportunity to start saying "no thanks" to invitations to various (in fact, almost all) get-togethers. Fast forward 20 years and my life is now so quiet I can hear a pin drop in the next county and what I've learned about myself is that this way of life is a lot closer to my true nature than the social butterfly I was trying to be back in the 80's and 90's.

    The concern that is gathering momentum in the back of my mind as I look forward to retirement in a few years, is that, in trying to avoid the ultimately soul-sucking emptiness of the transient relationships that I used to be immersed in, I've allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the direction of social isolation.

    It will be up to me to make the necessary adjustments in retirement, but my social networking track record since my glory days in the back yard sandbox suggests that much of my conversation in retirement will be limited to telling the nice lady at the drive-through what I take in my coffee. I know I can count on her to listen.

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    1. You have a pretty solid, and honest, grasp of your social situation. For you to see the pendulum swing as far as it has toward isolation strikes me as important. What you do about it is really the issue, right?

      As I noted in the post, my career involved a lot of social interaction, but it was all surface stuff. I probably maintained several contacts for a few years after I left the business world behind. But, now, there are maybe three people i have some contact with from that part of my life.

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  12. Wow, Bob, you clearly hit a nerve with this post. Apparently there's a whole "community" of us loners out here in cyberspace - worrying about why we like being alone, about why we don't have a whole bunch of friends, and about whether we should try to change our nature. I worry about having vicarious relationships with television characters that continue in TV series for years - what used to be called "water cooler gossip" before I retired from work where there was a water cooler. I "talk" online with some of my Facebook friends and relatives about what is happening to Alicia on "The Good Life", and whether Mary will ever marry again on "Downton Abbey", and why Sherlock is so rude and unfeeling on "Elementary". There is nothing really wrong with this, unless we forget that TV is not real.

    Where I live, I am the only person of my educational and cultural background in the entire county. I grew up in another state, unlike the residents here. There are literally no "peers" that I can get together with. I have to dumb myself down to make conversation with the acquaintances I run into at the grocery store, gas station, convenience store, or other place that we all drive 10 or 5 miles to get to. And I don't say that in an arrogant way; it's just the fact that the things I am concerned with are not the same things that my acquaintances are concerned with. And I can do it now. I've spent more than 20 years living in rural areas without any close friends. I spent a lot of time learning about the things that people here are concerned with so that I could write about them in my newspaper reporting.

    But I have become accustomed to being alone, I like it, I can set my own schedule, eat what and when I want, sleep when I choose, and not have to work around another person's needs. At the same time, I miss having a partner due to a divorce many years ago that was not my choice, but turned out to be the right thing for my well-being.

    I am just totally grateful for the blogs and bloggers that I get to read and interact with even though it's at a great geographic distance. After reading the comments about this post, I am convinced that we have a good deal in common, and that is comforting.

    Rin

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    1. If I didn't have this blog to write for and share thoughts with others, I would notice a big drop off in social interaction. There is just so little satisfaction in most electronic social media exchanges. You would think loners like me would love things like Facebook or Twitter because I'm not really face-to-face with others. But, that is not true. Someone who appreciates alone time can also appreciate first rate discourse and ideas....something seriously lacking on Twitter.

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  13. I'm about split between introvert and extrovert. I need conversation and that's one of the reasons I love our winters in Arizona. I usually have three or four good friends in my life, though they're not always the same ones. I need conversations beyond chat. Not all the time, of course, but on somewhat of a regular basis. My husband is quiet and likes his solitude so I'm free to make and sustain friendships.

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    1. I am familiar with your extrovert side; you are very easy to talk with. Art is certainly quieter than you but will do more than me: he dances and acts!

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  14. Bob, What a great post to reflect upon. As you know, I am recently divorced after a 28-year marriage. I find myself always scheduling things, and truly believe I have ADD. I workout every morning, then by the end of the day, I have to go back and swim many laps, or I feel I'm being "lazy." I do not like being alone for long periods of time, and do not sit still for very long either. I hate an empty calendar, and will go to networking opportunities that interest me. I think the only way I can slow down is to go to a remote village in Africa, where there is no Internet.

    I do think you're right about developing fewer "quality" relationships, rather than the reverse on social media. I can see from the long comments you receive, and your response to each person, that you've done just that.

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    1. You better book a trip to Africa quickly. My understanding is Internet and cell phone access in most of Africa is growing rapidly!

      This post and the comments it has generated make me feel better about my "aloneness" personality. Apparently I am not unusual in that regard. I find it encouraging that all of us understand the need to not become isolated as we age, regardless of our enjoyment of solitude.

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  15. I agree with everything you wrote. Taking it out another 10 to 20 years when you might be a widower, constrained by vision or mobility problems, unable to maintain your own house easily.....a retirement community steps up to the plate. I watched my mother blossom in one. She had her own apartment for privacy and peace but when she felt lonely or bored she simply walked to the "tea room" and would always find one or her new friends to visit with. Since these friends changed with each year she became very adept at welcoming the new people in her life with absolutely no expectation of it being a lasting relationship. It was a nice final chapter.

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    1. Good point, Karen. Retirement communities do offer built-in opportunities for relationships if one is so motivated. My dad lives in such a community but is quite content going from his room to the dining room and back with no desire to form any type of relationship with others, except a lady that sits at his table for two meals a day.They share their meals and a bit of conversation and that seems to be enough for both of them.

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