“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I had interactions with two good friends this week and I anticipate a third at the end of the week. One is a new friend who lives in my community that I met through a mutual activity. We are both retired, over sixty and share many of the same interests. Our friendship is growing and I missed her a lot during her recent extended stay overseas. We had lunch this week and caught up on our vacations, ideas for future traveling, and our frustrations with the current President. My other interaction was with a long-time friend who had just gotten unexpectedly bad medical news. Our friendship has been a thread of continuity that has run through good times and bad times. She was one of a very few friends who stood by me every day during my late husband’s sickness, death and my grieving. I love her dearly and I will be there for her as she has been there for me. My third friend interaction is an upcoming visit from a high school friend that I haven’t seen in thirty years! He is an accomplished musician, who played classical guitar at my 1981 wedding and has performed internationally. These three friends represent my past, present and future – it’s worthy of contemplation, isn’t it?
There’s no doubt that friendship is important throughout our lives. According to William Rawlins, Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University, there are three expectations of a close friend across the entire life span: somebody to talk to, someone to depend on and someone to enjoy. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/how-friendships-change-over-time-inadulthood/411466 What changes as we get older is our level of dedication and communication. As we enter adulthood and move away from home, our childhood friendships often fall away. According to the 2014 American Time Use Survey, young adulthood is often the ‘golden age’ of friendship when individuals between 20 and 24 years old spend the most time per day socializing on average of any age group (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). As we get older, spouse, work, and children require our friendships to become less spontaneous and more scheduled. Once our children leave home or we retire, some friendships endure while many do not. The net result is fewer friends, and less time spent with friends.
After retirement, we still need friends but we may be more discerning. Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior, a professor of psychology at Georgetown University who writes the Washington Posts’s Baggage Check column and is the author of “The Friendship Fix,” says, “With self-reflection and increased wisdom comes the realization that we really should maximize the amount of good relationships we have and not spend so much time on the ones that aren’t good.” ( https://seniorplanet.org/how-friendship-changes-as-we-age/)
What are the traits of a good friendship after we retire? Ann Brenoff wrote a great article titled “What I know About Friends Now That I Am 60.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/making-friends-5-things-i-learned_b_3379825). Here are some of her thoughts, along with my additions:
- Share control. For real friendship, control needs to be shared. It is a combination of taking and giving. It’s people who “get” you, accept you, make you laugh, make it fun to be around. It’s people who value you for who and what you are, don’t expect you to change for them, and understand that your friendship is balanced with the other relationships in your life.
- Have more than one best friend. As we mature and our needs diversify, so do our relationships. I have a hiking best friend, a call-in-an-emergency best friend, a best friend for work issues and a best friend for family confidences. I love them all; but I love them all differently. Life is richer when you allow more people in it. And since adulthood means the acceptance of imperfections — yours and the rest of the world’s — why insist that one person should meet all your needs?
- Avoid “threesome” friendships. Odd numbers are weird in adult friendship circles, just like they were when we were younger. In young kids, threesomes means someone gets left out. In adults, it can mean taking sides – the neutral one around whom others gather. I avoid traveling alone and I avoid people who regularly put me in the middle of their conflicts.
- Be a good neighbor. In my community, which is over 50% comprised of retirees, there is an emphasis on neighborly socializing and volunteering. Without jobs to fill our days, we talk over our yard fences, just like the 1950s! We watch our neighbors’ homes when they’re gone; we sign up our neighbors for volunteer events, and we offer to pick up anything a neighbor needs when we go to the grocery store.
To conclude my thoughts on friendship, I’d like to add one more suggestion that comes from my study and practice of mindfulness: be your own BFF! Show yourself compassion as you tap into your Present moment and choose carefully how best to communicate your thoughts and feelings. Avoid the negative self-talk that sabotages true friendship. More to come on this topic!
The Arrow and the Song
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen ad strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.