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