Go outside and play with your friends! That was Mom’s clarion call to us kids. She knew that healthy friendships were key to wellbeing. Back then when friendship was easier. When we were naive, tolerant, open to diversity, and had few boundaries. We were perfect friend-making machines. Some friendships lasted. Others dissipated. Either way, potential friendships seemed to be placed in front of us for the asking.
Circumstance, not choice, was likely to be the determining factor in staking out new relationships. People came in and out of our lives as we traveled through the cycle of education, career, and family.
It was always important, but often not Priority One.
In Later Years, Choice, Not Circumstance Became Friendship’s Handshake
Then things change.
During the latter days of our careers, and then in retirement, obstacles arise.
We’re set in our ways. Likely to harbor definitive ideas about who can be an appropriate friend. We might move to a new location. Gain or lose a spouse. Become ill or infirm. Have money. Need money. Become consumed with politics or become apolitical.
We begin to hide pieces of ourselves in order to enhance compatibility with others. After all, its a time in our lives to relax. We’ve got our old friendships to do the heavy lifting.
Some new friendships survive the journey. Some do not.
Leave Your Pre-Conceived Notion of Friendship at the Door
It takes a special type of grit to hack your way through it. To confront yourself honestly about what friendship actually means to you at this specific point in life.
We might ask ourselves, why isn’t this easier?
That’s a rhetorical question. We all know the answer is: friendship is work. Up close and personal.
We want to like others and we want to be liked. We want to be heard for who we are and stand witness as new friends reveal themselves to us. We’re seeking a compatible home for our likes and dislikes because we need companionship and communion.
That’s a complex set of expectations.
Perhaps it’s why I so often hear people resort to the defeatist question: how many really good friends can one person have, anyway?
Things to Remember as You Engage With Potential Friends
Healthy friendships are an expansion opportunity. A fountain of possibilities.
Yes. we’re looking for a match to our existing sensibilities. But want more from new friendships. Look for journey-mates who can help to recalibrate and support the contemporary view we have of ourselves.
New friends can help us see the world through a different set of eyes.
To open a lane or two into this new realm –
- Enter relationships with an open mind.
- Instead of hunting for friendship, let friendship find you. It’s a non-linear, organic process.
- Look for what’s endearing, not what’s enduring. Be verbal about the parts of the journey that work. Solid communication breeds repetition. Builds trust.
- Give friendship enough time to find its way.
- New friendships will find a mutually comfortable depth. Don’t overthink it. You have good intuition. You can gracefully back away from friendships that aren’t working.
- Not everyone releases the Director’s Cut version of their lives on the first date. Be interested and interesting. Ask questions to learn more.
- Use subtle advances and wise retreats.
- Build friendship slowly, but deliberately.
- It isn’t necessary to invite new friends on your next cruise through the Meditteranean.
- Identify what you have in common, not what separates you.
- Celebrate the strengths.
- Support friendship through language. If your gut tells you it’s working out on both sides, don’t be afraid to say, this feels like it’s developing into a nice friendship.
- Build friendship slowly, but deliberately.
In the Name of Friendship
I was a categorizer. I ran away from the term friendship for far too long. Yes, I have good friends. But other people were acquaintances. Work chums. Drinking buddies. Pals.
Definitions create limitations. Limitations create obstacles. This Merriam-Webster definition of friend will show you just how wide the umbrella of friendship can be. Remain open to the possibilities.
Not every friend will be the one you call at three in the morning for help. Not every friend makes an equally deep imprint on your life. No one person or couple can match every one of your friendship criteria. What matters most is a shared set of common values. (For more on the importance of shared common values, click on the video at the top of this article).
Choose to do the work.
Statistically, one of the biggest concerns elders have about long life is loneliness. And though the navigation of adult friendship isn’t without potholes, it’s one of the best preventative measures against this worry.
I recently opened myself up to a friendship with someone with whom I never imagined I’d have much in common. Though rough going at first, the rewards were plentiful.
Stretch. Do the work. Go out. Play with your friends!
First published on Sixty and Me.