January 24, 2017

Friendship and Retirement: Not a Simple Combination

Maybe it was because I worked for myself for so many years. Maybe it was because I tried working for big corporations and found I didn't play well in a big sandbox. Maybe it is just part of my personality. Whatever the reason, I never had very many close friends. 

My business as a consultant required lots of acquaintances: clients, industry contacts, friendly competitors, and suppliers. But, those were not the type of relationships that led to enduring friendship. Because I was on the road for many days each year, I never developed many close friendships on a social level at home, either. My wife will admit she wasn't much better.

Unfortunately, I carried that situation into retirement. If Betty and I wanted to do something with another couple, we would scramble to think of who to invite. Usually, that meant we would involve family, or do things as just the two of us.

One unexpected benefit of blogging was the start of several on-line, virtual, friendships. Regular readers became people I enjoyed contacting  through email exchanges. Over time, a few of those on-line contacts developed into actually meeting several of these folks in person. 

Over the last several months, we have reconnected with a couple we have known for over twenty years but lost contact with. Another fellow who was actually responsible for my meeting Betty on a blind date initiated a get together during our RV trip back east last summer. After 40 years apart we picked up right where we left off and added his wife to our circle of people we consider important parts of our life. This shift to having more people in my life with whom I am developing a real friendship is a pleasant change. 

One of the realities of retirement, though, is the possibility of social isolation. While both sexes have this problem, men are the ones who raise the issue most often with me. The friends lost after leaving work are not easy to replace. We guys are not as open and sharing as our female counterparts. Developing a strong friendship is more difficult for us. We are more hesitant to reveal the flaws and weaknesses that help cement a relationship.

That can be a real problem in retirement. All of us need someone to feel comfortable enough with to share problems, turn to for advice, and have fun together. A few couples or single friends to join us at the movies or at happy hour on a Friday afternoon sounds simple enough, but is a struggle for too many.

This past year I have worked on the goal of expanding my circle of acquaintances, with the hope that some of them would deepen into real friendships. I have attended men's meetings at my church, joined some volunteer organizations to find like-minded people, and been more aggressive in turning blogging contacts from virtual into real relationships. I have tried to be more open to meeting new people. It hasn't been completely successful but 2016 was a better year than most in adding to my roster of friends. 

Friendship and retirement are an important paring. I will be the first to admit that strengthening this often involves hard work, and making yourself vulnerable to disappointment and hurt. But, the payoff is worth the cost. 

How are you doing? Is your retirement well-stocked with friends? Do you have a handful of people you can turn to if there are major bumps in your road, or is this one area when you are less than satisfied with the status quo?


A post from two months ago may be worth re-reading if this an area where you'd like to dedicate some extra effort. The Five Key Qualities of a Spouse, Partner, or Friend.



27 comments:

  1. I have worked at developing friends in my new home. A key component is to have activities you do regularly with others. It may be church, a sports league or hobby group. For me, it's the dog park and water aerobics. It's important to reach out to others, to appreciate you may make mistakes, and to be available when needed. Friendship is a two way street.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those are good suggestions, Jane. Dogs seem to be a universal plus when meeting new people.

      Delete
  2. Like the singles of today, making connections outside of the internet is more and more difficult. One stat I heard was that more then 60% of marriages today, begin on the internet.
    People do not attend, or socialize, at churches as much. The days of meeting at the bar are gone. The people with the most success, on the friendship level, seem to be those who move to retirement areas (Anthem, Park Homes, Florida).
    We have become much closer to our families. I am enjoying getting to know the only people who will remember me in fifty years :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your last sentence speaks to me. We moved to be closer to family and it has paid off in spades. Adding a few old and new friends into the mix has been a pleasant surprise, too. Betty and I are, by nature, loners, but we realize that friends can add a lot of richness to life.

      Delete
  3. Managing friendships can be as dynamic as managing retirement. I've seen the issue of social isolation in retirement more than once in retirement blogs and wonder why. Certainly, some of the workplace "friends" drop off as the commonality of work goes away in retirement. Is it that with more time at hand, we have a greater need for interaction with others? I find that my friends are busy with their immediate families who are in hockey, dance, gymnastics, horse competitions, etc, etc. One of my friends has 23 grandchildren so attending their functions becomes a full time job. There is still only 24 hrs in a day. I wonder if we become more content in our own skins and less needy of validation from such outside sources as friends. The vagaries of aging can impact friendships, i.e., hearing loss, incontinence, mobility issues, diminishing eye sight, loss of driving skills, illness, etc. Some retirees are full time caregivers to partners with ailments and that impacts friendships. Maybe retirement is a "me" phase as the new retiree explores all those opportunities that couldn't be taken advantage of with work and family commitments. Conversely, there are so many opportunities to enhance or create friendships with more time and opportunity to engage in new activities as well as the technological capabilities with internet and social media.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, retirement often requires an inward turn based on health or family obligations. But, every mental health study I have seen makes it clear that having a few important people in one's life that are not family is important to happiness.

      For those who do not live in a retirement community, finding compatible people is hard work!

      Delete
  4. Wow, Bob!.....Talk about hitting the nail on the head! Your first few paragraphs describe my own situation and maybe many others', as well. I figure the vast majority of folks in my life are "acquaintances", to varying degrees, but my wife is the only person I'd consider a true friend for which I am so grateful. Having had no natural children, by choice, eliminates the option of exploring the family more and the family I DO have is busy with their lives and we weren't conditioned to express love and affection by our parents. Being in my first year of retirement, my goal is to find interests that include others but it's going pretty slow with boredom my prime enemy.
    Thank you so much for your helpful articles and allowing me to see that I am not alone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your are very welcome, Bruce, and you are definitely not alone. Men, in particular, have this friend problem to try to overcome. Betty is my best friend and confidante, but there are times when having a guy to hang out with would be enjoyable. And, as I noted in the post, finding compatible couples is not easy for either of us.

      Delete
  5. Bob, as I near retirement, this is a real worry for me. We moved to a city five years ago for my work, and have had a tough time getting to know anyone. The city, although lovely in many ways, is conservative and cliquey, and we just don't seem to fit in. Although I have tried to reach out at my workplace, folks are cordial but not friendly. This is unfamiliar for us, as both of us have always formed friendships easily wherever else we have lived. We really miss our many friends from our former community.

    When I retire, we are thinking about moving to Vancouver Island to be close to to several of our kids and grandkids. But, if we do, we will have to make new friends there, as we only know family but not close friends in that immediate area. Given our recent experience, I worry about it. Have we lost the knack for making friends? Friendship seems like such an important component of a rich and satisfying life. We could enjoy spending time with our existing friends if we moved back to our former community. Yet, that community is far away from the kids and grandkids and I would really like to live close to my kids and be a part of my grandkids' lives as they grow up. A dilemma, for sure.

    Jude

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A real dilemma, Jude. I wonder how much the growth of social media and services like Skype have made friendship-building more difficult. Is everything virtual? It is great to stay in touch with people around the country, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

      As we get older making friends seems to be more difficult. But why? You would think we would have learned to build these bridges by now.

      Delete
  6. Bob, I've lived in the same town most of my life, however, most of my close friends have moved away. With work no longer a part of my life, those contacts are gone as well. On top of all that, I'm an introvert and reaching out is never easy. I've become more active in our church and that helps. I joined some exercise classes for people of my age which also helps to get me out and moving. Nevertheless, I'm more fortunate than some in that my wife is an extrovert on overdrive and she is great about pushing me to mix and mingle in the numerous groups and circles of friends she associates with regularly. Like you, I'm working to improve this important aspect of retirement. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are lucky that your wife can help balance things out. Both Betty and I are fine in social settings, but are introverts by nature. We have to really push ourselves in this area.

      BTW, thanks for the reprint of my post on retirement and mortgage. I plugged the link on Twitter and urge readers here to click on Easin' Along above.

      Delete
    2. You're more than welcome. This was very timely for us and the article has received many views.

      Delete
  7. Point well taken, Bob. I suppose I'm a loner, too, and post-divorce find it hard to establish new friendships.

    A question for other readers: Is an expat community a potential answer? I'm thinking of trying out one of the many expat communities (in Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, Penang, Spain, Belize, etc.) as a way to establish connections with like-minded and adventurous types. The other bonus, assuming this works out, is that it costs so much less to live ("champagne lifestyle on a beer budget") that I'd have more funds for travel, visiting the kids, etc.

    Has anyone tried this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is an excellent question. If we don't get enough feedback from your question that would be a good topic for a future post.

      My guess would be that yes, this would be a way to find like-minded people who share a lifestyle and some of the same issues. Being in another country has to be conducive to building relationships.

      I hope others will charm in.

      Delete
  8. Like you, I had "work" friendships, some of which were deeply rewarding but would not, I knew, survive retirement. I have a very few friendships that have spanned decades, some from childhood, some from my living overseas, and one or two that made the transition from work to retirement. Now it's kinda funny, but I have some good friendships at my martial arts school with some folks much younger than I am. Like work, these friendships are, I believe, rather situation based. If I stopped going to the school, they would fade away. But for now they are quite fun. I am also fortunate to be friends with my most excellent neighbors. So I don't lack for social life when I want it, but I do sometimes miss having a very best friend, a soul friend, if you know what I mean.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had some friends during my time as docent at various volunteer activities, but only one survived over the years. It isn't particularly close at the moment, but it is someone I know I can talk to if I need an ear.

      Situation-based relationships is a good observation. That is where Betty and i find ourselves most of the time.

      Delete
  9. Sounds like most if not all of us are in similar circumstances. At this point I have less need for close friends because Deb and I travel so much. On the other hand I can start talking to people almost anywhere, probably due to my career in sales, so if the time comes to expand a circle, I believe we can do so easier than most.

    We have some immediate neighbors around us that have potential to be good friends. I sense that one couple would like the same but they are oftentimes burdened with their grandchildren (from one of the kids who is a screw up), as well as his elderly parents who live in the area. If/when those situations change our chances of becoming closer will increase.

    So for now our lack of close friends is more by choice, or rather by lifestyle choice. It does concern me somewhat but not enough to actively do anything about it for the immediate future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Betty and I do well with each other's company most of the time, but having other people in our lives does add some freshness that both of us enjoy. Just having other folks to discuss the issues of the day, movies we like, and exchanging grandkid stories is fun.

      Delete
  10. Bob,

    Really enjoyed this post. My take on this is quite different as I process your words and those of your readers. I realize that I am truly blessed to have about a half dozen significant friendships. Your post has made me feel "rich" in this area, thank you. My wife being the gregarious one has a few more than I. Our struggle is that our life/friends are here with us in Maryland, and our 7 grandchildren are in Montana and Pennsylvania. We are wrestling with whether or not we move closer to one of our children or the other or stay here with our comfortable life and friendships. It's difficult to contemplate leaving our friends, but you well understand the pull of grandchildren. Thanks for another thought provoking post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are blessed in the friendship area, Mike. I envy the number of significant friends you have. As you can see by the comments, most of us are not as lucky.

      The moving issue is a tough one. Factors to consider: is the family you move closer to likely to stay put? There are few sadder realities than moving to be close to family, only to have that family relocate.

      Maryland and Pennsylvania share similar weather and typography. Montana is a whole different animal. Could you be comfortable with the extreme winter weather and relative isolation of Big Sky Country?

      How old are the grandkids? While young they want to spend time with Gran and Grandad, but as they become teenagers they tend to move in different circles.

      Our decision was simple: our daughters moved from California to be closer to us. Then, we moved just 40 minutes down the road. A relocation that meant leaving lifelong friends would present another scenario. I don't know if we would have done that.

      Betty and I agree that without the strong family tie we would be living in Hawaii. But, now that we are here and our daughters are not going anywhere, we are happily committed.

      Delete
  11. Back in 2002, five of my high school buddies (and me) decided to get together regularly for a long weekend. We were all reasonably good friends in our school days and had the "coming of age" experience together and now, facing growing older we are able to share that experience as well. Things went so well that we now get together two weekends a year. It has been fantastic. I now know I have five friends who will (and have) been there for me if I need help or support.

    It was such a success that the wives of the married guys have reconnected with old friends and started similar gatherings. It provides a chance to "remember when" but also talk about the challenges of "now." I highly recommend it.

    Rick in Oregon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds like a tremendous experience, Rick. My high school experience wasn't filled with many friends and I live 2,000 from where I have been for the last 30+ years.

      You are blessed to have those weekends.

      Delete
  12. Hi Bob, For some reason, my comments on your post aren't getting through; but I'll try this one more time (maybe the third will be the charm). My experience with friendship has been different from many of those recounted here. For me, the nadir of friendship was in middle age, during my prime professional years. I think the fact that I am single is key to this experience. The social scene around my workplace was mostly couples-based. In general, I found that busy professionals, especially those with children, looked for friendships with those in similar life situations -- i.e., other married couples with children. My many attempts to develop friendships with married colleagues went nowhere. One of the sweet surprises of retirement for me has been the flowering of new friendships. I'm finding that, with their children grown and gone and with more time to develop interests separate from their husbands', married women of my acquaintance are more open to friendships with single women at this point in their lives. -Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Jean. The system is set up so comments that are added 4 days or more after the post first appears needs my review. That is to prevent spammers from adding junk to older posts. Unfortunately, because it was over a weekend your first comment was sitting there waiting for my approval.

      Your perspective and comments are encouraging for many. You are so correct: it is a couple-oriented world in many ways. But, as you note, when the empty-nest arrives maybe things can change.

      It has been suggested I tackle the subject of friendship and the situation in both retirement communities and the expat world. There is a feeling that building friendships may be easier in those settings due to shared lifestyles.

      Delete
  13. Responding to the first comment. I have travelled extensively. You should think twice about seeking an overseas lifestyle as a bridge to issues in your home country. The culture shock is often discounted and people either pack back up and return home with less funds, or remain in the country more miserable than they were before leaving. While it is possible to gain what you want overseas, if you are not the very independent type, there are people who will take advantage of your situation also.

    You might consider joining clubs or volunteering to bridge the isolation you may currently feel.

    Regards,

    Paul

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All good points, Paul. Just like any relocation after retirement, I urge folks to rent for awhile before committing to a purchase/move for exactly the reasons you mention.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted