Aging comes with many difficult challenges. Meeting those challenges often requires that new skills be learned in order to adapt and survive. A hip replacement requires that you learn a new way to sit. A decision to stop driving may mean that you need to learn to use public transportation of some kind. So, it should come with no surprise that you may need to acquire new skills in socializing in new situations, too.
It is usually true that as we get older than most of our peers, many of our close friends, and even our acquaintances have not made it as long as we have in life. It’s a very challenging problem to have. On one hand, it makes us sad to lose so many people who have the same memories that we have, the people we’ve shared our lives with. On the other hand, if we are only to focus on what we’ve lost, we ourselves will shrivel up and lose the hope that’s necessary to move forward in our lives. One of the new skills we’ll need to acquire to adapt to this new way of life is making new friends. If you’re not a naturally extroverted person, it may have been several years (or even decades) since you’ve had to put a lot of effort into making new connections.
If you haven’t tried making friends for some time, here are a few tips to get you started.
Be friendly. Some of us have forgotten what it’s like to ask how another person’s day is going. Ask about family, grand-children, or whether they’re feeling okay in the excessive heat. A little friendliness can go a long way toward opening discussion.
Find new places to socialize. If you are not finding what you need in the places you currently frequent, try other spots. Try a hobby club, a book club, or even take a stroll at a farmer’s market. Go to an event you wouldn’t normally go to at church or in your community. Interacting in new places will naturally introduce you to new people.
Reach out. If there are people that need help in your community, see if you can fill the need. Cancer patients receiving treatments and sitting for hours might be in need of visitation. Join a group that makes mats for the homeless or quilts for the struggling or refugees. Even food banks can use help. Even if you cannot do heavy lifting, you can help by organizing food drives and advertising them.
Practice conversation. Sometimes our skills need to be honed on a more technical level. We may be stuck in a rut of asking yes/no questions. Practice asking open-ended conversations. Normally you might say, “Did you have a nice time with your children this weekend?” Think about how you might rephrase that sentence. Consider asking, “What was your favorite part about your time with your children?” You can start practicing when you’re by yourself. Think about what questions you’d like someone else to ask you about. Are there parts of your life that you’d love to share with others, but that no one asks you about? If your career was important to you as a younger person, ask about what another person did for work in their younger years. Practice not only how to start conversations, but also how to think of creative ways to continue them using open-ended questions. While you’re watching a program on TV, pause it and re-word direct yes/no questions in more meaningful ways. Think about how much more you will learn about people when you do this.
Stay in touch. Once you’ve made contact with someone that seems promising and like you might like to continue the relationship, make an effort to stay in contact. Ask for their phone number or plan to get together again. Most of the time, these things require a bit of scheduling energy, since our society is very over-scheduled. It is worth the effort, however, especially if you both sense that there might be a relational benefit.
Making new friends is not rocket science, but it does take tremendous effort. You will find people along the way who do not suit you, or you them. Do not be discouraged by that. You will find people who do not have time to devote to another relationship. Do not let that worry you. Those that you find that have potential will be that much sweeter when you find them. This thing that you are after, friendship, is worth much effort. Friendships can help to stave off loneliness and can improve your health and well-being. It is well worth any amount of time and energy that you put into it.
“Ten minutes with a genuine friend is worth years spent with anyone else.” Crystal Woods
Some people say blood is thicker than water. Family is important, that much is certain. One thing about family, however, is that it cannot be chosen. You are born or adopted into a family, it is not your choice. With family, it is chosen for you & it is an amazing thing, but even more astounding is when you can make choices regarding with whom you’d like to spend your time. Some people use the word “friend” loosely. They use the term to describe any acquaintance with whom they come into contact. Real friendships, however, are those that are intentional & in which you invest your time and energy. Your meeting may be coincidental, but a long-lasting friendship will need more than a chance meeting. It will require time, care and consideration in order to grow.
Just as soil needs to be cultivated or loosened in order to grow plants, so also do we. We need to be able to be relaxed in order to focus our attention on another individual. If you are extremely stressed, you may need a friend to lean on, but that is not the time to try to make new friends. You’ll be unable to focus on their needs. Because friendship is reciprocal, you can use a stressful situation to deepen a relationship, but do not begin a new one in that way. If you do, your relationship may continue to follow the same pattern of one friend always advising and the other friend always needing advice. Instead, start your friendship when things are relatively normal and stable.
Set aside time to talk. Whether it is on the phone or writing back and forth, you’ll need to communicate if you want to get to know someone better. Be sure that that communication involves asking many questions of the other person and showing interest in what they have to say. Even if they have interests that are directly opposite to your own, you can still be interested in them. Ask questions like, “Why do you like football so much?” or “Why is orchestral music your favorite type?” Once you know a little bit more about the subject, you’ll be able to ask more directed questions and perhaps eventually be able to dialogue somewhat intelligently on that particular subject. If you do not know anything about the subject, do not act as if you do, but rather admit that you do not. There is no shame in not knowing about something. It simply means that you’ve not been exposed to the subject material yet. If you know nothing about something that they are passionate about, just be honest. In reality, they’d probably be very excited to share their passion with someone else.
Make an appointment to get together to do something you’d both enjoy. While it is true that friendships can be maintained long-distance, most relationships can benefit through some quality time spent together. If you live a great distance from one another, make arrangements to meet in the middle at an inexpensive location to spend the weekend. Or, take turns hosting the other person. Whichever way your choose to work it out, be sure that your costs are split evenly and that the activities are things that you’ll both enjoy. If it ends up being a good experience, you’re more likely to repeat it. If it is boring or annoying for one of the parties, they’ll not want a repeat & you’re sure to grow apart.
Help one another grow. If you recognize certain destructive behaviors in a friend, find out from them if they’re willing to talk about it with you. Sometimes this is a good thing to discover at the beginning of a friendship so you know whether they will be a life-time friend that will help you grow into a deeper person or more of an acquaintance. Start a conversation by saying, “I tend to be very direct with my friends if I notice that something is off or if it seems like they are making choices that may harm them. Will it annoy you or offend you if I do that with you?” Also let them know that you would expect them to do the same with you if they notice things that are not good. This lets them have an option of deciding that they would not like to be that close & also prepares them for a more direct approach in the future so that you will not need to tiptoe around difficult subjects. Often, people are uncomfortable with this type of honesty, especially if they’re dealing with addictions. It is always better to be aware of this before you invest loads of energy and time with a person. If they will end up resenting you for the perceived interference, you do not want to begin.
Pay attention to how your friend shows that they care. If they complement you with words often, they probably appreciate words. If you shower them with gifts and never say positive words they may not perceive it as care. If they like you to spend time with them & instead you send notes all the time, they may not consider you a caring person. People often will show you how they want to be treated by how they treat you. Pay attention & care for them in the way they need to be cared for.
Friendships are sometimes difficult, but are always worth it in the end! Keep up the good fight!
How Important is a Social Life to the Elderly?
Throughout history, there have always been those who are more comfortable in social situations and those who are less comfortable in the same situations. There are various types of personalities which thrive in large group settings where they can mingle freely & those who are not anti-social, but would prefer to have fewer and closer friendships. As we age, this does not change, but oftentimes it becomes more challenging to meet the social needs that we have. Our relatives & friends who are younger have very active lifestyles which may not be conducive for a drop in visit as often as we'd like. Some of those closer to our age have passed on or have moved into different living situations making it nearly impossible to get together on a regular basis. It would be easy to sit back and feel sorry about our circumstances and finally, to give up trying to form new friendships.
If you look at research, however, that is the very last thing that we should do in order to stay healthy for longer! Social engagement can help to stave off dementia if it is combined with physical exercise, mental activity & a good diet. It's an important part of a holistic health plan for yourself or a loved one you are trying to help.
But what types of social engagement might be enjoyable or appropriate for the aging? For starters, volunteer work of various kinds is available for elderly people that are still wanting to be involved in affecting change in our society. Many people work in charitable thrift stores sorting clothing & other items. Some that have repair skills have started up community repair shops where people can have belongings repaired instead of throwing them out. Baking or cooking for those in need, or being a part of a sewing/quilting/crocheting group that makes things for those in need are also great ideas to start off with.
If you are from the quieter side of society, perhaps playing cards with a smaller number of people would be more to your liking, various other activities might include chess, pottery or ceramics, painting classes, a music or singing group, or even a book club. These activities may have fewer people involved, but are just as important to those attending them for a sense of belonging, stability, & engagement with others.
We all need friendships, but until recently their importance for our overall health had not been studied. The more we discover, the more we realize just how much they impact our lives, mental health & emotional state.
Reach out to others today and just see of those acquaintances become valuable friendships down the road!