There is a lot of research about the benefits of a strong circle of friends, especially as we grow older. It seems like all the research published the why it’s important, but little is ever written on the How to do it! How do you maintain friendships as your life dramatically changes moving into retirement? How do you establish new friendships, when traditional ways (school, work) are gone? The “how” type of information is harder to locate and was therefore precious when I did find it.
In retirement, I needed to move from the convenience & reliance on work for my casual, social connections to actually learn new ways to develop and maintain connections. More than 80% of my regular daily connections were gone. I needed to learn the how – the “art of friendship”.
William Rawlings, professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University stated: “Satisfying friendships need 3 things: somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy”. He also points out 2 critical elements for developing friendship:
- Make the time and do it consistently; spending time together is critical to friendship formation. By intentionally investing in areas of your own interests, the three elements of quality friendship have a higher likelihood of being met.
- Listen when others share. Take the time to learn about them — not for them to learn about you. This is not about rebuttal or one-upmanship in conversation. When others feel listened to, they are more likely to feel positive to you.
An investment of time is required. Here’s a few how-to invest in friendships I’ve found in various articles and tried to implement:
- Regular attendance at something. Church, yoga, an exercise class. Pick something and commit to attending for at least 6-8 visits. And while there, talk to people! If someone expresses interest in you, then follow-up with a one- on-one coffee date, or walking date, or something.
- Find a club that matches your interests, whether it’s a walking club, book club, writers group, garden club, pickle-ball, or bird watching. Again, pick something and then regularly attend and talk with/listen to others. Meet-ups are a great way to locate groups of interest; or your local OLLI, senior center, YMCA, rec center.
- Plan something yourself, regularly, and invite others to join in. If people keep showing up, keep doing it.
The thing I noticed about all of these How-to’s was the time investment needed – the regularity of connection. In the past (school, work), that regularity of connection was simpler — it came with the job, or the kid’s activities. Now, in retirement, those regular connections need to be created.
Learning the skill of listening is also quite challenging! With my storyteller traits, I noticed I’m often doing “one-upmanship” in conversation. Perhaps I was taught this was a way to establish connection. Now I need to learn to listen more, to be present in the conversation, and ask a question of their experience versus give my own experience/story.
It’s also about giving of yourself. I’ve recently changed my thinking on planning activities and the need for reciprocity. I’ve tried to move from frustration that I seem to always be the planner (old thinking) to thinking this is my gift to them. It’s a bit of selfish pay-it-forward – they enjoy the activity, but I do, too!
Investing time and working on the skill of listening has worked. I’ve recently realized I need to change the tapes in my head away from focusing on the loss of 80% of my connections (all work based). I do have a strong network of friends, an abundance of friendships — old and new, IRL and virtual, near and far. I have people in my life who give me energy, who are there if I need them, who I love spending time with, who I can talk to. I hope I can be the same for them.
I will continue to invest time and energy on friendship (and listening skills) in this coming year. Are you investing in friendship?
Picture credit: Tim Doyle, Serengeti Cuddling Cats, 2017