Almost every article about having a fulfilling retirement or improving your longevity includes strong advice on the need to be connected socially at this next stage of life. A blogger friend (Donna at Retirement Reflections) even recently posted a bunch of the research supporting this importance of family support. She did it in the context of her own crisis where she had the support.
So, no argument, a strong family support system is critically important. But then I look at my family reality.
My reality is I do not have strong friends and family connections. Even if I know it is important, dream about it, envision it, it is just not my reality and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to give up the dream on family and focus on friendship building skills.
As with so many things we are told we “should do” (really, who can eat 5-7 veggies/fruits a day!), you have to ask “Is it real?” I know it’s not advised to do comparison with others, but I had to really ask – In today’s world, do real people have strong connections with family? Do real people have a strong support group they can rely on? And my answer is yes. This is not looking at Facebook fantasy or a scripted TV show – this is looking at real life women; women I know (besides Donna virtually).
If it were just one woman I know, I’d say it was a fluke. But I can name a few whom I know well. Women aged 30, 40, and 50 who not only have strong sister and girlfriend bonds that have lasted through the years, but who socialize with their siblings, moms & dads, cousins, aunts & uncles, on a regular basis (not just Thanksgiving dinner). Family members even seem to like one another. They gather to watch a Sunday football game, regularly play board games, have drinks for the solstice, run a joint yard sale, go to a festival in town, have a girls weekend out of town, or try out a new restaurant on a random Friday night. They support each other with shared interests, watching each other’s pets (and kids), gather to make holiday cookies, pitch in for wedding planning, or sit in the hospital when someone is having surgery. They are connected and have a support network they can rely on, in good times and bad. And there is reciprocity of engagement; it’s not always one-sided planning.
What is unique about these women? And I guess, more importantly, why can’t I become one? It’s not that they are all extroverts. Do they have a more nurturing personality? Maybe. Are they a better friend to others themselves? Maybe.
Is it about family proximity? My family is spread far and wide, but my hubby’s family is close by (most within 15 miles). Is it that some people were raised to expect that connection is what family is all about? And everyone in the family still believes in maintaining the connection? I think with the ones I’ve seen, it’s just “what you do”, even when the initial matriarch has passed. “It’s what you do” exists on both sides of the connection.
I guess I need to accept the fact that I don’t and never will have the strong family support that I’ve dreamed about. It’s not the reality of my wide-spread family, nor my husband’s large, close-by family. We just “don’t do that” – that being all the things that makes a support system exist. The putting aside of this long held dream of family is hard; I need to mourn its loss.
And I need to continue to work on friendships… finding those individuals who will provide the social support in our future. Not just acquaintances, but close friends – the call-at-2AM kind of friends.
I read recently that finding new friends is like dating. I haven’t been in the dating scene in 25+ years and even then, I wasn’t very good at it. So building friendship is another new skill to learn in retirement. Luckily, I’ve got some great role models to watch and learn.
Do you have any advice for building friendships at this point of our lives?
Picture Credit: Pixabay
11 thoughts on “Family Reality”
I live in my own World of possibilities, projects, and family care taking. Friends are lovely, I tend to focus on family. I guess I cannot be too helpful to you.
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I think it’s wonderful you have family to focus on. I’m sure you appreciate them as well!
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You bring up a good point. I think closeness is also relative to our own experiences. If you stay in the same town where you grew up, you probably continue to cultivate friendships from your childhood. If you are like me and moved around a lot as an adult, keeping friendships is more challenging. Also, you don’t have to have a lot of friends for it to make a difference in your life. My support system consists of a few well-choosen friends. The key is I make an effort, even when I’m super busy, to support them. It’s a two way street. I also make an effort to support my immediate family…my husband, daughters and son-in-laws, grandchildren. Technology like Skype, FaceTime and FB make it easier today to stay in touch and share the day. While I come from an extended family that is closer than most, we are so spread out, admittedly, it is not my priority. My connections with others depends upon a certain amount of commonality and a warm fuzzy feeling. At one time I found myself spending time with “friends” whose life philosophy didn’t mesh with mine. I let those friendships go. Think about who you connect with on a real level and make an effort to nourish that relationship.
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Kathy – I sometimes wonder if I am a good friend to others…making the effort, supporting them, nourishing the relationship. Sometimes I feel like I am always the one reaching out to try and plan things. If I don’t make plans, I can go for months not seeing some “friends”. And I am horrible in “times of crisis” – I offer to do things which I’m able to do, but if they don’t take me up, then I don’t know what to do. I’ll keep working on it because except for my husband, there is no immediate family… friends is all I got! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Pat your observation about families who make connections a priority is right on. That didn’t happen in my family either except with just a few family members. It saddens me that we aren’t closer.
Maureen hit the nail on the head – you have to start by creating the opportunities.Locally I’ve found new friends through a running group and if I took the opportunity, they could become those 2-in-the-morning friendships. My dearest friend lives over 200 miles away but we’ve maintained our high school friendship over the years with phone calls, visits and social media. Now we even do work together. Maybe there is an old high school or college friend with whom you could reconnect?
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This “friendship realization” has made me more conscious in reaching out to a early-post-college friend who lives in another state. We need really disconnected, but I do consciously try and connect with her more often now – both calling and email note drops. Thanks for the advice.
Hi, Pat – Thank you for mentioning my blog in your post. I am grateful to have such a supportive family. I recognize that for a variety of reasons, beyond any individual’s control, not all families are this way. Research is also very strong on the importance of friendships, especially in our senior years. Maureen and Janis have offered great advice above on connecting with new friendships in retirement. I have joked with you about this before, but in all seriousness, several good friends that I have met in retirement I met through yoga. There are also numerous great blog posts on making friendships in our senior years (e.g. http://www.drkathyjordan.com/2010/05/hello-world and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/19/how-do-you-make-friends-post-50_n_1539680.html?slideshow=true#gallery/233510/7 and http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2014/03/making-friends-in-old-age.html. Like Maureen and Janis, these other bloggers talk about being a ‘joiner,’ and taking risks. Hope this helps.
At a minimum, know you aren’t alone. I think the grass can always look greener but when you look closer that person might have grubs too. Don’t have answers for you but here’s what I’m doing. I have joined the Y. While I’m not sure this is going to lead to any 2 AM friends, I’m thankful that at least a fellow water aerobic classmate notices if I miss classes. I started a book club at my church as well as joined the one at the Y which is helping me get to know fellow members better and hopefully closer relationships. I’ve just started knitting and the local yarn shop has weekly social “come knit” sessions that I plan to visit. I too yearn for those 2AM friends rather than acquaintances. I’m thinking that I’m going to invite fellow Bible Study classmates
to meet for coffee at a nearby coffee shop once a month following the class to try to deepen friendships. So similar to the comments form Retirementallychallenged, plan on it taking a long time but starting with creating lots of acquaintance opportunities. I suspect a lot of people would like to be invited for coffee before or following a group activity.
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Thanks Maureen. I’m doing some similar things. I started regular Yoga classes this month; not sure it will result in anything except better flexibility and balance, but I am trying to meet people there. I’ve reached out to a woman I met at Zumba for dinner with the hubbies…. to see if we all get along. I started a foodie group – monthly we go out for dinner someplace “new” around town. I reached out to an old friend to do walks. I guess the “taking a long time” is my challenge. And I feel like I’m always the instigator on planning things and working on the relationship. Sometimes I think it would be nice is someone reached out to me. My husband always said relationships are not 50/50, they are 100/100… so I’ll keep putting in 100% effort.
I’m lucky that I still live in the same community I grew up in. I have lots of friends from when I was small and from school. It’s harder to make friends later in life, that’s for sure. I would think that pursuing something you have interest in – something that involves other people – would be a good place to start. Find someone you click with and try to move the relationship beyond the larger group (meet for coffee, a walk, etc.). I’m an introvert too, so cultivating new friendships is hard for me as well. If I’m not careful, I find that I can get too much in my head, worrying about how I feel, how I’m acting, how I’m coming across, and forget to show interest in the other person (“what do they think of me” rather than focusing on them and getting to know them).
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Thanks Janis. Now that I think of it, 2 of my “role models” are women who live where they grew up! See what comes from comparing yourself to others. Sigh. I am pursuing things and consciously reaching out…so I am hoping at some point I reap the rewards…because as you know, as an introvert, this is hard work!