Loneliness can literally kill!
Loneliness is more deadly than a host of health sins. Studies show loneliness is a predictor of death. It is more deadly than smoking 15 cigarettes a day! That’s why maintaining and expanding friendships are essential to a happy, successful retirement. But it is difficult.
Our parents lived their adult lives in the same location. They were the prototypical Silent Generation community pillars, stalwarts, and fixtures. Church or community needed something done? They were the go-to volunteers. They were active in the same clubs and social groups for decades. Keeping these connections alive did not seem to need effort as they moved into retirement. But doing so was beneficial.
“Our friendships are foundational to our health, happiness, longevity, and personal growth. The lack of the them– whether from lack of interaction, or from lack of intimacy– can damage our health more than smoking, obesity, or being a lifelong alcoholic; and the presence of them can buffer our bodies from absorbing the impact of stress, inspire us to be more of who we are, and leave us with what we most crave: belonging.”Shasta Nelson
Boomers at Risk of Loneliness
In contrast to our parents, Dan and I have moved several times throughout our careers. We haven’t enjoyed the same continuity of friendships and social groups as our parents. And a majority of our current adult friendships were work-related friendships. These are not likely to continue too far into our retirement after the work connection is gone. At least not without effort. And I don’t believe we are unique. Like most of our peers, we were active volunteers in our child’s school activities; we have been active in our local churches, civic groups, and we’ve enjoyed wonderful neighbor-friendships. Unfortunately, most of those friendships and connections eventually dissolved with each move.
Rachel Bertsche, author of MWF seeking BFF, shares that only one-third of casual friends hold the potential to become a best friend. Not every prospect, pans out into a long-term friendship. And some friends fade despite effort on your part.
3-Steps to Making Forever Friends after Retirement
Some friends aren’t meant to be best friends forever. But for those select few, Shasta Nelson reports, there are three steps you can take to get to “forever” status.
Be positive support in your friends’ lives. Make the efforts needed to nurture your friendships and cheer their celebrations. Be there to comfort them through trials and losses. Show gratitude, admiration and caring. Make memories by going on adventures together! Bring your joy and listening skills. Choose empathy.
“The number one reason friendships don’t make it is because they don’t transition or survive life changes,” says Shasta Nelson. “The consistency you once created is no longer there.” Make the effort. Schedule the ‘meet-ups’. Make the phone calls. Send the greeting cards. Increase the time spent together. Notice who makes the effort to show up in your life.
Sharing more of yourself in a safe way. Letting friends see you. Being open, strategically open. We need to be seen and known to feel accepted. Mindfully, ask more questions. Deepen your conversations as your friendship grows.
“The older you become, the more important it is to have strong friendships. You’re happier and healthier when they’re happy–and you’re more likely to be sick when you don’t value friendship or your friendships are in trouble.Temma Ehrenfeld, PSYCHOLOGY Today
Here’s the plan: Making Friends After Retirement
Currently, we’ve moved into our retirement without an active social group of non-work-related friends. This means we need to make a game plan to renew and expand our social circles, transition a few work-related friends into long-term friends and add new ones. Here’s our plan.
Reconnect & Strengthen
Reconnect with your spouse/significant other — don’t forget your best friends after busy careers.
The relationships we hold most dear are often the ones we take for granted. Feed your marriage/relationships with a weekly date night, a monthly adventure and other fun activities together. Make good memories by trying something new. We are planning a weekly lunch at a local restaurant. A planned time to reconnect with each other while feeding our need for more local connections. Our small town has three prominent, four-season, locally-owned restaurants. Makes the selecting easier. 😉 We can be pretty sure to see acquaintances when we go out to eat in town. The frequency may convert the familiar into friends. At a minimum, it is shared time together enjoying the moment and planning for the future.
But I’m single
A reality for many Boomers is entering retirement alone.
The old causes of never partnered and early loss of partners due to death are still out there. But to this Boomers added divorce to the mix. Now a much more common experience than in prior generations. And Gray Divorce — divorcing late in life — is becoming more common. One in four divorces is after age 50. Psychology Today
If you are single, by your choice or not. The following steps become even more critical.
Build a calendar
Reconnect with old friends — you got busy, they got busy, but the connection isn’t cut, just idle.
Build a list of friends and an associated calendar of birthdays/anniversaries/etc. At a minimum, send a birthday greeting to each friend.
We’ve been practicing this one for several years. Two college friends and roommates were in our wedding party. They got married a few weeks before us. Jane and Lee live in the same state and we see each other intermittently. And it’s like time stood still. It’s an easy friendship. An anniversary card is on its way to keep the line open. Always room for improvement, however.
Work to deepen your friendships. This requires authenticity and vulnerability. Hard for introverts and extroverts alike. Who likes to share their fears or appear weak?
Yikes! This can be a hard one for some of us (*cue Lori here). That vulnerability requirement is scary but necessary for authenticity.
Try saying yes more. Say yes to those ‘effort’ events. You know the ones. Those activities or events you know will take effort and are easier to avoid. Let’s do them! I have a local networking group that is way too easy to avoid. I’m committed to becoming a regular. If it’s too difficult after 6 months I’ll move on to another high-effort challenge.
“As crazy as that may sound, many adults haven’t taken the time to stop and think about what goes into a good relationship and evaluated how well they may or may not be doing.”Robert Laura, Three Reasons Why You Won’t Have Any Friends in Retirement
Your kids and grandkids will, with good fortune, always be with you.
Make strengthening these relationships a top priority. Be a part of their lives and continue to be or become their support. We moved back to the Midwest to be close to our adult daughter. We’re trailing parents. Close enough to help, far enough away not to be a nuisance.
When and if our daughter has kids, we may choose to move even closer to give support and share in our grandkids’ lives. For now, we still get to play coach and provide emotional support.
Extended family is just as important. Your sisters, brothers, cousins, and more also got busy but may have that same need to reconnect over shared history.
I’m always amazed at the stories and perspectives I share with cousins. It’s like we grew up together. We did! It left a mark.
Call, text, write cards and letters. Bake cakes and create those parties. Celebrate even small things together.
Keep a current list of their addresses/phone numbers and use it — weekly. Send one weekly greeting card or letter to a loved one. Just to say hi. In a years’ time, you’ll have sent out at least 52!
Social Media helps
Connect with your closest friends and family on social media. Social media like Facebook makes it easy to share photos, current and historical, coordinate events, and just keep track of life changes. It allows you to stay current in their highlighted activities.
A close cousin, Alysen, shares our love of dogs. It’s always an easy reconnect. A step-cousin built a new house on a farmstead Dad gifted to him, realizing Dad’s vision for the lot. It’s good to see these stories unfold, even if they are happening far away from where you are today.
Calendar those red letter days
Keep a calendar of birthdays and anniversaries and send greetings for each.
The little remembrances are remembered and treasured. Even if not reciprocated, you get to reflect on shared memories every time you send a card or note.
Who doesn’t enjoy a card in the mail? And knowing you were remembered!
Holidays, Reunions, Weddings, and Funerals
Attend and participate in the family get-togethers. Both the raucous and sad ones.
We just had a big family reunion for Mom’s 91st birthday party. Her memory is such that she may not remember it all, but we do and will. And we reconnected with twenty other family members that created and shared “91 reasons we love you” with Mom. We also recently lost a close cousin who died much too young. The funeral brought all the branches of the family together in the old stomping grounds. There is something valuable in celebrating a life with remembered stories.
Regardless of the cause of the family gathering, the results can be positive.
Take a picture of this
Share old photos and the memories that go with them.
For Mom’s 91st, we had her go through photo albums and share her memories. We heard about working at the FBI in Washington, D.C. as a 16-year-old filing clerk in WWII anti-espionage. This was back before computers. The file cabinets where how the dots got connected. Mom was the operating system (along with a multitude of other filing clerks). There were photographs of old homes, cars, and kid pictures of a family now grown. It let the grandkids in on the family tales, real and tall.
Find your village
Connecting with your community is a foundation to connect with other community members. Join Facebook groups for your local civic groups and watch for event notices. Be active and meet new folks.
We learn more community news through our Clear Lakers Facebook Group than through the local media. And it’s far more timely.
We have some traditions built-up in Clear Lake. Call it our social calendar. Arts Center Gala in February. Fourth of July on the Lake. CLASSIC Car Cruise around the Lake first weekend in August. And more. Here’s a suggestion.
Target three groups to join and become an active member. One group just for fun, one group to learn something new, and one group to support a better world.
One of our favorites? The local library’s Book Club. If nothing else, we read a book a month and find some great gems and a few duds. And get to talk about both with new friends. If you enjoy reading and are looking for a book club to join here’s a site that might help you make that connection: https://thegirlybookclub.com.
We also support clean water initiatives and green energy to protect our lake’s watershed. CLASSIC Car Cruise is just for fun. Hundreds of cars in the show and more than a thousand cars cruise the fourteen-mile drive around the lake. Here’s were volunteering pays off in meeting people with shared passions and purpose. Groups like the local food pantry, Scouts, Rotary, 4-H are big in our area and always looking for new people to volunteer. Working together eventually leads to belonging.
Finding Home Wherever You Are
Another tip. Read “This Is Where You Belong” by Melody Warnick. Melody, like many of us, moved too many times. She tells us “The average restless American will move 11.7 times in a lifetime.” So, I guess Dan and I are not that unusual. We’re in the low teens for moves. (Dan counts more moves than I do. He’s wrong. 😉) Melody Warnick made a commitment with her last move to make the new place one she loved and belonged. She shares her research and interviews on the steps she takes to make this happen in her book. It is a good read.
Invest the effort and time
Spend time with your new or renewed friends. And be patient.
It takes time and effort to make new friends. How much time? A recent study concluded it takes roughly 50 hours of time together to go from acquaintance to “casual friend”; around 90 hours to become a true-to-form “friend”, and over 200 hours to form a Best-Friend type bond.
The time spent together can be doing anything so long as you’re both choosing to spend time with each other.
The next move
Dan and I, like most Baby Boomers, are likely to move again. Next time our move will bring us closer to family and into a low-maintenance condo. There we plan to be surrounded by many grandchildren. We can hope.
This making friends and connecting with the community is a rinse and repeat process. Place changes require renewed effort.
In the Meantime, Love the Place You’re In
But today we are focused on making new friendships that we can carry with us. And along the way, loving where we live! So next time you’re in north-central Iowa – give us a shout! We will always make time for friends!
Our Formula For Making Friends After Retirement
Building Friendships Checklist
- Reconnect with your spouse/significant other
- Reconnect with old friends
- Build a “friend’s calendar” and send greetings for birthdays/anniversaries/etc. Everyone likes to be remembered.
- Share more of yourself with your friends.
- Say yes to those harder to attend events and see if you don’t enjoy them!
- Renew and expand your family relationships
- Keep a current contact list of family and friends and use it. Send a greeting to one loved one weekly. In a years’ time, you’ve have remembered and reached out to at least 52!
- Connect with your family and old friends through social media. Keep current in their lives.
- Help celebrate special events by attending and then commemorating these. Keep an annual calendar of the special dates and annually follow-up with cards/letters/parties.
- Attend and participate in those family gatherings. They matter.
- Share your history and memories with your loved ones. It is what connects us.
- Make new connections
- Participate in local social events.
- Become an active member of local clubs/groups and volunteer. (See a related article by Sixty and Me: When can a cup of tea and a slice of lemon cake save a life?)
- Love your city and do what is good for it. (Corollary: What’s good for your community is usually good for you!)
- Spend time with your new friends and be patient. It takes time!
“Tell me about yourself,” (is) the only icebreaker you’ll ever need”– Terry Gross, How to Talk to People
How (and Why) to Nurture Casual Connections – Me Quilibrium – by Hannah Wallace (March 28, 2021)