All sorts of studies detail what is important for a healthy, happy retirement. I am generally OK at the eating, sleeping, and exercising parts. But, in one area, I fall short. Actually, I may be a non-starter. And that is in the category of having meaningful friendships.
Since Betty and I will celebrate our 47th anniversary at the end of June, and my relationship with her, our daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids is at the core of my satisfaction with my life, I must be referring to a different type.
I have a severe shortage of meaningful, non-relative friends. The type of person I could call if there is an emergency. The one person I would reach out to if disaster struck. One or two friends who would join me for lunch or to watch a sporting event at a bar on a Saturday afternoon. The people on speed-dial.
I can turn it up a notch in social situations where the folks are acquaintances or casual friends: the kind I interact with at church or the library during one of my volunteer shifts. Small talk, the smile where appropriate, the words meant to encourage or support; I can do all that well. My social image is one of approachability and affirmation.
Those people are important to me, but not in a "Help Me!" situation. Nor would any of them likely think to call me to be there holding a hand or commiserating about anything. These relationships are several steps above "Hi, neighbor," but not approaching serious.
I have been very content with solo time with my wife and family for most of my life. I am not a loner in the classic sense, but I could never be a politician; the glad-handing and constant social interactions would drive me off a cliff.
Even my career in radio mostly involved sitting in a closed studio, talking into a microphone, with no real interaction with whoever was listening. I was performing as much for myself as I was for my audience.
This leads me to the point of this post: are deep, meaningful friendships a requirement for a fulfilling life? Am I missing out on what a good buddy or two would add to my days? Or, am I what I am, content in my own skin, with myself, my thoughts, and my hobbies, not needing with seems to be a real gap in my retirement?
Except for one or two people who don't live near me but have become dear friends through blogging and visits, I have never had many profound friendships. Since I was either in a radio station or working for myself, the water cooler environment was never really part of my life. I really never had co-workers, only clients.
I have made some good friends through blogging. Several times those contacts have turned into meals together, game nights, traveling to see each other, or simply talking about our day. These are enriching interactions.
When I was a counselor for both just-released prisoners and people struggling with personal problems, I formed more intense bonds, but they were, by definition, short-term and confidential-type interactions.
As a member of a ham radio club fifteen years ago, there were one or two men who I would count as dependable sounding boards.
With one in particular, I enjoyed a deeper friendship. That ended when I moved away from the area. Unfortunately, he became sick and passed away a few years ago.
There is a possibility that when Betty and I move to a retirement community in three or four years, the various clubs, social activities, and seeing many of the same people during meals will evolve into deeper relationships.
Or, a lifetime of simply being more solitary and enjoying that status will not change much.
What I really wonder is if I am missing out on a part of living that would add to its enjoyment. Am I living the way that I seems best for me? Or am I staying in a comfort zone and avoiding the work of adding another dimension to my life?
Bob, my answer to your final question of "am I avoiding the work of adding another dimension to my life" is "yes, I think you are". And I can say that because I'm similar. At 69 and after 45 years of happy marriage, my wife and I are similar to you and Betty. I, too, do not have many REALLY MEANINGFUL male friends. I wish I did. My father lived to be 87 and he was a really nice man who never cultivated male friends. Looking at him in his later years I could easily see how much happier and more fulfilled he would have been if he had.ReplyDelete
I've read much about this topic and I'm convinced that it is emotionally and psychologically healthy for men to have really deep male friends. AND, every expert tells us that it takes work. And there in lies the rub and takes us back to your last question. I know that you are a reader and "researcher" so I have a couple of books on this subject that I highly recommend. We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends by Billy Baker and Buddy System by Geoffrey L. Grief. As one "friendless" guy to another, I don't think it's too late but I do think we have to really want to work at it--sort of like any other healthy, self-improvement endeavor in life! (By the way, for what it's worth, I don't think anyone--young or old-- can count "online" connections as true friendships in the fullest sense. The distance makes it too easy to not "put in the work".)
It takes work to form, develop, and maintain a meaningful friendship. It takes a willingness to dedicate time away from other personal relationships. I am not afraid of making the effort, but I am stymied in how to start since I have gone a long time away from that pursuit.Delete
Virtually all of the volunteers I interact with at the library are female. The men at church are politically and theologically different from me, so joining a male group there would not work, either.
I will definitely check out the two books you note above. I see moving to a retirement community in the next 24-36 months the easiest route in finding some compatible male friends.
I will pick up the Hang Out book at my library this week. Thanks again for the reccomendation.Delete
Bob, I have mixed feelings and mixed opinions about this topic. On one hand, we’ve all read how the lack of social connections as we age can lead to isolation, impact our health and reduce longevity. Bad news, for sure, and there are many who would be wise to shore up their social connections. But everything I’ve read has been broad-based. It would be interesting to learn if these negatives impact those who tend toward introversion and extroversion in the same way. With all due respect to Don and his comment above, I believe there are many people who are quite content with maintaining a limited social network over the course of their lives, and I see no problem with that. If you understand yourself well enough to know your needs and preferences, and you’re completely content within that limited network, then good for you for having figured out your best life. If you have no close friends other than a spouse, but you’re close to your family, then you’re blessed way more than many. That being said, I do think people without close friends and without solid connections to children or other family members are at great risk for falling through the cracks of society as they age. Plus, it wouldn’t surprise me if this segment of the population is the least likely to seek help - which makes for an even more difficult and potentially tragic situation.ReplyDelete
As for your personal situation, you have admittedly close relationships with Betty and your entire family. From past posts, I know you enjoy each other’s company, get together fairly often and even travel together at times – exactly the type of things many people do with close friends. Are you missing out on an important part of retirement? Personally, I think not. In addition to those close relationships, you have all kinds of positive relationships with others – your fellow bloggers, the community you’ve built here, fellow residents and volunteers in the area in which you live. But, if you feel that something’s missing in your life, would it hurt to pursue friendships that might lead to close relationships? Absolutely not. Actually, I’ll bet there are plenty of people who would be happy to have and be that kind of friend. Often, just gathering the courage to reach out is the most difficult part of the process.
In the end, I think this post is more about personal soul-searching than checking off societal expectations. I never really liked this phrase, but it seems appropriate here: You do you.
Mary, you have covered the two sides of the dilemma very well. I am content with how I am interacting with others at the moment. After all, this is how I have functioned for most of my life. I am comfortable with casual relationships with non-family members.Delete
At the same time, if I am missing something that would deepen my enjoyment then I have no objection in following through. AS I noted in my answer to Don, the question is, how? I am not interested in joining clubs or organizations on the outside chance a meaningful friendship will result.
Actually, as I type this, I am reminded I am a member of a Rotary club based in Kauai. As you might guess I don't make many meetings (!), but I have been impressed with what the Rotarians do in their local community. My membership in Hawaii allows me to participate in local Rotary clubs here. Maybe that is an area I can pursue.
I completely agree with your point about seniors who do not have family or true friendships nearby. The loneliness and lack of a support system can be devestating.
I had a couple of close friends growing up; a best friend in college; a best friend after college. But once I got married and had kids the focus was on the family. Now, like you, I have a number of more casual friends based on the activities we do -- playing golf together, poker, going to classes at the learning center. My wife has done better, with two or probably more close friends she could definitely call on in an emergency. (Are women better at making friends than we are?) Anyway, if I had to borrow money, or ask for a kidney, I'd probably turn to family.ReplyDelete
Betty is of the same mindset as me: she has no real female friends beyond a few surface, casual relationships, and she is quite content. In that sense we understand each other's social needs very well and are fine with the way things are.Delete
As for a kidney, yes, a organ donor list or family list would have to suffice. For money, I would start a GoFundMe page!
I think it's worth cultivating "social connections" to a certain extent. I try and do that through my hiking groups and I belong to a motorcycle riding group but these aren't what I'd call true friends, just sort of "friends for now".ReplyDelete
I would say that I have one, possibly two, close friends that I could identify as someone I could call up and ask "Help me, I need $500" and they'd give it to me right away. Not that I've ever done that but I know they would as I would for them. I have 2 other friends I see once a year or so individually where we discuss a wide variety of topics and details of our lives but I'd never think to call them for help as such. All the rest are sort of passing friends, in the "friends for now" group that if either of us move on for whatever reason I'll never see or hear from them again and I'm okay with that.
Similar to you Bob we are long married celebrating our 40th anniversary in December last year and my relationship with my wife is the best it's ever been. I have to say I can't quite fathom what is going on with couples that find retirement together stressful but it seems a common enough problem. In our case retirement has done nothing but strengthen our relationship. Our daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids are also at the core of my life satisfaction. I've even become closer to my sister now that we both aren't so busy with jobs and raising our families.
I am happy with the way things are and though I read those same articles about having a wide social circle in retirement I don't feel the need for it. My life now is just the way I like it. If I were to go out of my way to try and create multiple new social connections just because that's what the advice books say to do I wouldn't be true to myself and it would in fact lower my life satisfaction. As you said Bob, for us moderate introverts "the glad-handing and constant social interactions would drive me off a cliff". I figure if you are happy with your life then why change what's working?
That said, should my wife pass away and my daughters and grandchildren set off and move thousands of miles away I'd definitely be the solitary old guy with few people to talk with deeply. Should that come to pass then I'd have work on turning some of those "friends for now" acquaintances into something more but until that time I am good. No sense creating a problem where there isn't one.
Your final thought is the one that I think about the most. If Betty passes first I will have family nearby. But, the grandkids will be grown and probably gone off living their own lives. My youngest daughter wants to retire to Oregon. My oldest daughter and her husband love to travel, so they would not be as available.Delete
I think I could survive as a solitary old geezer, but I wouldn't look forward to that condition.
I don’t think women do friendship better than men IF they are married. My mother’s advice to me when I was 17 was, “marry and make sure that person has the potential to be your best friend”. In our ups and down, my husband is my best friend.ReplyDelete
i have very good friends who slip in and out of my life. My husband has the same. Our problem is we need “couple” friends. When we have “non couple” close friends that friendship takes way too much time from our relationship.
My sister and her husband have two or three couples they do tons of stuff with. They have a great time. Most have been their friends for fifty years.
Still, in the end, in tragedy, they leaned on family.
My mother made tons of friends at the Terraces. In the end, she only cared that each of us visited her as often as possible. She died after seeing us, her sisters and her friend from first grade.
I know there are problems with a widow or widower fitting into social situations where everyone else is a couple. It must be hard to be the fifth wheel. I can see how isolation could be a real issue after the death of a "best friend" spouse if close family isn't available.Delete
I may be putting too much weight on this as a solution, but in a retirement community, death is a rather common occurrence. So, those left behind have other kindred spirits to help move forward, if that is desired. Maybe a morbid thought, but certainly realty.
I don't think of this as a one size fits all issue, Bob, because as with much in life, it depends. However, because you have surfaced this topic as a concern on your blog on several occasions over the years, it would seem you may not be entirely satisfied with things as they stand today. In which case, nicely, it's easily changed!ReplyDelete
In my experience, no single friendship is capable of filling all of my needs, - that's way to big of a job for any one person! - but almost every friendship can fulfill a single need, if not more. Thus, I have lots of different types of friends to fill different types of needs. I have friends I enjoy sharing pysical pursuits with, friends that I share the pursuit of specific hobbies with (bridge, sailing, wine tasting, RVing), friends that I share thoughts about spirituality with, friends who I raised my children with, and so on, and so on. All combined, they enrich the fabric of my life tremendously, along with the time we spend with our much-loved family.
Something is pulling at you, Bob, because either option - having lots of friends, or being content with just a few, plus your family - is completely fine. I think, therefore, there is value in simply sitting with those thoughts they next time they descend to try and understand where they are coming from, and why.
This question/concern has arisen before. You are right: if it pops up then there is something underlying it.Delete
The idea of different friendships serving different needs is one I hadn't really thought of until your comment. Not only does that make sense, but it takes the pressure off finding that one perfect friend who satisfies everything in one package.
I honestly feel the "must have a couple of real close friends that aren't family" is a bunch of psycho babble. Do we all long for that ideal state? Of course. Over my younger years I had several deep and profound relationships. I was really there for a number of people, because of my strong need to please and I have good listening ear. I asked for very little in return because I expected very little due to my upbringing. But as I matured into middle age and then senior status, I had to face the fact I really had a life full of one way streets. When I dipped my toes into "my turn" I pretty much found people were unwilling, or incapable of real emotional support. I am talking about emotional support and not a loan of $500.ReplyDelete
My husband is my best friend and if anything happened to him if would be the same as if something had happened to a different "best friend." I don't mind trying to cultivate a few lunch friends, and I often found that my efforts are well appreciated, but the person wants me to do all the cultivating. And as someone mentioned above, finding couple friends is dang near impossible.
But to each his own, and you need to do what is right for you.
Thank you for putting my life experience into words so well, Anne. It seems I've spent my entire life as listening post and planner.Delete
After I retired and began spending 24/7 with my emotionally needy husband (who's extremely introverted), I find it even harder to make friends as I don't have the emotional energy to make it all happen anymore. Add my 94 year old mother living with us to the mix and it feels nigh impossible.
Somehow it feels as if I did all the work of trying to be a friend for people that don't really care about being my friend. If I do find someone that might fit, my husband doesn't care for them or their spouse and there we are all over again. lol
Since I haven't had the type of friends Anne and Sus have experienced, I can only add that type of one-way relationship would seem very toxic.Delete
A relationship like that is not a friendship under any normal definition. I can see why you both ran the other way after a time.
Hi Bob. I saw my mom struggle with this after my dad died. She really had no close connections, other than her grown children. For various reasons, it really wasn’t enough to sustain her emotionally.ReplyDelete
After my husband died, I was very grateful for the small handful of close friends who helped me through a very difficult time. I lean toward introversion, but have always pushed myself over the years to maintain these few, close friendships. I’m so glad I did!
I’m guessing when you move to the retirement community, this will take care of it, as long as you gently push yourself to start engaging with others. I know it’s hard, but the benefits of a few close friendships is priceless. Even today, I still have to nudge myself to foster these relationships with shared activities. I never regret it, once I get past that initial tendency to isolate myself.
One of the reasons Betty amd I have decided to speed up our moving timetable is exactly what you mention. The opportunities for forming bonds should increase dramatically.Delete
I know I will have to push myself to join things and participate, but I am ready to give it a chance. If it doesn't work then I know how to live as I am. But, I am ready to shake things up and see what develops.
That's a tough one that I have struggled with. I'm female and women USUALLY have those close friendships. I never have. One reason for me is that the one really good female friend that I did make, had a relationship with my newly ex-husband. I felt betrayed. I've tried to make female relationships over the years but life with moving across country, family, work - it all kept me very busy. And as you said: it takes work and time to create those relationships. I've come to the conclusion that while it would be NICE to have close friends, it's not a requirement for a happy life. I'm doing what's best for me which is spend time with my husband, aging siblings, aging Mom and other relatives. It keeps me social enough FOR ME.ReplyDelete
We all have to find the balance that works for us-you have. I think Betty is as ready as I am to see what the next phase of our life looks like.Delete
Bob, only you can really determine if your lack of close friends is a weakness. I try to avoid shoulds and judging other people's values and choices. For me, my friendships have been some of my best investments, leading to much fulfillment and enjoyment. I consider wealth and friendship the same thing. In fact, I'm always on the lookout for a couple more friends. I have good relationships with relatives, but in many ways I enjoy my friendships more. I'm very grateful for the friends I have. During one of the most difficult times of my life, my friends gave me emotional support and wise counsel. No doubt, my friendships have made my life richer. I've had some friends for over 40 years. My dream is to have some young friends, widening my perspective.ReplyDelete
Because friendship has so many benefits for me, I don't let myself get away with excuses and rationalizing lack of friendship such as "I'm too busy" or "I'm an introvert." Even though I've lost some friends due to rejection, the rewards far outweighed the time and effort to maintain friendships.
Bronnie Ware's experience as a longtime hospice nurse clearly shows how meaningful friendships can be. Over several years she questioned her patients about their regrets and anything they would do differently. She wrote a blog post about the responses which went viral, titled The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. One of the most common 5 regrets was "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends." There were many regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort they deserved. At the end of life, love and relationships will matter the most. Lack of friendship may not be one of your regrets on your deathbed, but it will be a major one for many people.
Thank you so much for your full-throated defense of the positive role serious friendships have played in your life. The reason I wrote this post was to get input from as many folks as possible about potential benefits and pitfalls of how my life has been structured to this point.Delete
The friendship response of those close to death is a powerful inducement. No one says they wish they had spent more time working. The similar regret about maintaining relationships is something I was unaware of.
I once read a friend article that talked about % friends, i.e. someone who is a 50% friend vs someone who is a 95% friend. And the idea that not everyone is our best friend, but that less close friends and acquaintances have great value, too. I think the money request or the "drive me to the ER" friend is closer to the 90% range. ;-)ReplyDelete
For myself, my closest friend ghosted me 25 years ago and I haven't ever had another friend at that level. But I have less close friends -- book club friends, former co-worker friends, as well as friends in a spirituality group I belong to (outside an organized religion setting). My closest relationships are with my husband, our kids and their kids, and a couple of my brothers, either of whom I would call if I ever needed help -- and they would call me. And we have.
My DH reconnected with some of his fraternity brothers at a 50-year reunion and it has really revitalized his friend circle. Before that, I would say I was his main social contact, although really I still am. But he gets together with them for lunches and golf, which he really enjoys. That said, like you, we are each other's best friend.
I was single for 10 years between my marriages, so I guess if I were left alone, I would again try to find women with similar interests and see how that goes. I think your idea of meeting people in the retirement community is a good one!
I never want to minimize the role "casual" friendship has played in my life. Those contacts have been fun, a learning experience for me, or a way to involve another person in my life, even if only in a mostly surface way.Delete
BTW, your husband is a lucky man. I only remember the name of one fraternity brother of mine from 55 years ago. Since that was in Syracuse, I don't see a reunion in my future!
Hi Bob, I think having a few friends outside of our "family bubble" can be an enriching experience. It's kind of like when we travel and discover new places and new faces, it can broaden our perspective on life. We are refreshed just to hang out with others and just listen and take it in. It's not a contest who can dominate the conversation . It could be that maybe you were just having a reflective moment on the meaning of friendships. I have many of those moments these days on different things.ReplyDelete
I truly enjoy getting together with people I have met through blogging. Betty and I have spent time with maybe 7 or 8 different couples or singles over the years that have become regular buddies.Delete
When I read this post yesterday, I knew it would get many comments, so I held off with my input. It was such a pleasure to finally meet you and Betty in person last year. You have certainly been a good blogging buddy to me over the years. I think you and Betty will get along very well in your planned retirement community. While my handicaps prevent me from making many friends here, I can see some folks who almost always dine together and are regular goers to many activities. I'm just not one of them. But for me, just being around people, instead of being alone at my 21-year homestead, is invaluable.ReplyDelete
I was in one of my usual conversations with a couple of staff members here yesterday, and I made the comment "Don't forget about me". She immediately came back with "RJ, you are certainly Unforgettable". That Nat King Cole song has been stuck in my head ever since. 🙃 It just seems that so many of the staff here have an enormous empathy for those of us in the end stages of life.
The hardest part of not having anything but casual friends, except for your spouse, is that when you lose that connection, you feel almost totally lost. You, and my other viewers at RJsCorner, helped me with heartfelt and encouraging words that I cherish still when I lost my spouse two years ago. Since I have almost no family connections, I'm not sure where I would be right now without my blogging friends, of which you are likely the most important one.
A heartfelt, true friendship, long distance hug for you, RJ.Delete
Bob, not commented in a long time but appreciate the attention you've given to this important topic. A most complex subject in my life and it's good to see a variety of thoughtful responses, which I anticipated.ReplyDelete
I thought this post might generate some interesting comments, and it has. The subject of friendship and its place in our life resonates with many of us, but in different ways.Delete
I can think of so many close friendships that have dwindled over the years (my fault as well as theirs) and sadly have concluded that there is a limit to the number of deep relationship bonds I can maintain with, in my case, less being more. I enjoy being sociable and have any number of friends/acquaintances where the interaction between us operates at a lesser level. I do like to think that if anything happened to my husband, those relationships might intensify but could of course be kidding myself.ReplyDelete
Hi Bob, delighted to find your site - fairly new to the post-9-to-5 scene, I think we call it retirement? Was looking for sites relevant to us post-Gen X's and look forward to reading your posts, thanks!ReplyDelete
Welcome, George. There are 12 years of retirement-oriented posts available on the left sidebar.Delete
Any time you have a question, please don't hesitate to email me. After 22 years of retirement I have pretty much experienced it all.
Thank you Bob! I'm sure I'll be visiting often! Just picked up 'From Strength to Strength' by Arthur C. Brooks (Green Tree, 2023). The subheading is 'Finding success, happiness and deep purpose in the second half of life'. Some interesting points, but finding it a little 'monochromatic', missing a lot of the nuance of having reached our stage (or the 'worldly' stage, in the words of Frank Luntz) in life. So looking forward to lots of 'worldly' stuff! :)Delete
I just clicked over to your blog. Some tremendous content for writers and bloggers! Expect to get visits from me!Delete
As 64 y/o male, I've done a very poor job of making meaningful friendships in my life. I've thoroughly enjoyed many cordial relationships throughout my 4+ decades in the workforce, but I've really only made 1 close friendship from that environment. Fortunately, that friendship continues to endure 30 years after our work relationship ended, although she does now live several time zones away.Delete
I've always found that casual friends (which are almost exclusively the only kind I know about) are attached to the circumstances I find myself in at the time. Childhood friendships withered after childhood, school friendships ended shortly after graduation, work friendships ended almost the minute that the work connection was severed. Even my golf buddies, as much as I enjoyed teeing it up with them, were not a part of my life once the scores were tallied and the clubs were stashed in the trunk. I've always moved on quickly and there has always been new blood moving in to fill the void.
Sometimes I look back and wish that I'd made more of an effort to stay in touch with some of the people I've crossed paths with, especially from my youth, but effort is a 2-way street and they didn't indicate any burning desire to stay connected either. (And those girls I had a crush on in school? It's like I'm dead to them). Maybe that means I've been lazy or maybe I've always just lacked the confidence to nail down those close relationships that seem to come easily to some people.
There is a certain cost to not maintaining friendships: aside from family, I'm not in touch with anyone who knew me before the age of 30 and really only two or three people who knew me before I was 40. When no one remembers you from back in the day, it rules out reminiscing about those Glory Days (they'll pass you by). Then again, never having to look someone in the eye who is familiar with my high school yearbook photos may not be the worst case scenario.
For now, I'm comfortable enough with having just one close friend, although I may find life a bit quiet after I retire. This is one of the things that makes me apprehensive about hanging up my skates, even though I'm (hopefully) financially fit enough to pull the plug at any time.
You have given an excellent overview of the problems maintaining friendships: time, distance, changing interests, and it must be a two-way street.Delete
Building and maintaining a meaningful friendship takes work and effort to keep it strong. I have not done so.