Besides food, water, sleep, and shelter, there is another crucial ingredient for survival —the need for friendship, for a connection with other humans. This need starts early in life and lasts throughout it.
There are at least four stages in our lives with different friendship needs. School years, parenting, empty nesters and old age. Some friends can last a lifetime, however they need to grow with us over the years as our life circumstances change. My best friend from high school still calls me; she is the only one who remembers my parents.
Children in kindergarten have best friends and throughout elementary school friendships are established, some lasting a lifetime. This goes on in high school where we see the importance emerge of belonging to a group; this continues on in college where the parade of girl/boy friends takes up much of the conversation. The special bonds created by all-night bull sessions in dorm rooms can last beyond school.
Then something totally different happens with young adulthood. Couples with children become friends with other couples who have children around the same age. This is a time of fun outings and shared pleasure in seeing each other’s children grow up. The single person without a partner and/or children may feel left out. Grandparents are often included in these activities; they may be welcomed additions in sharing the family responsibilities.
As children mature and make their own friends, empty-nest parents find friends with mutual interests. This is a time when couples can pursue activities that were postponed during the child-rearing years; they may also recommit to work or volunteer activities. Adult children, and possibly their friends, can be included in adult pursuits.
As the years pass and death takes its toll, some people become single again. As people age, there is not only loss of normal activities and loss of identity as a contributing member of society, but, more importantly, loss of relationships. We no longer have the opportunity to have colleagues at work to socialize with nor old friends as many of them are gone or live too far away.
This is a time when the newly single people look for companionship. We need people to do things with — go for a walk, to a restaurant, or a movie. Even watching a sunset is more pleasurable when shared. An evening of good conversation, whether it is the political situation, the latest book we read, or bragging about a grandchild’s accomplishment, is a time that is cherished. We give each other advice and complain about our aches and pains; we always look forward to time spent together. We create a new family of friends.
This is what many single people living alone miss most: the sharing of one’s daily life. Some single women form groups to go together to concerts and plays, travel or play bridge on a regular basis, and stay involved in each other’s lives.
With time, companionship can become true friendship, the kind of friends who are there to listen to our woes, share our successes, and have fun with. There is mutual acceptance and support. When we are with real friends, we don’t have to be on guard, watch what we say, or worry about offending. We are there for each other in good times and bad.
It means being willing to be vulnerable with another person. Vulnerability means becoming known, including all of the embarrassing thoughts, fantasies, guilt of past mishaps, pride of accomplishments, disappointments, hopes and fears — the totality of what makes a human being whole. Being accepted, warts and all, and not judged, given honest feedback, and valued are all ingredients of true friendship. One has to be willing to become known as well as to know and accept the other; the issue then is to find a person with whom this can be achieved.
It requires time, effort, and skill to find like-minded people with shared interests. These can be discovered in a variety of communities or groups of people working together. Such encounters are possible in professional gatherings, volunteer groups, and various clubs that cater to special interests.
Living in a retirement community makes it possible to see people on a regular basis, share meals together, and participate in activities of mutual interest. Frequency and consistency are the key to real friendships; these can easily be attained in a community setting. It is reassuring that even in old age, new friendships can be formed that are as meaningful as old friendships from our past. We can create a new family – a family of friends.Natasha Josefowitz is the author of more than 20 books. She currently resides at White Sands Retirement Community in La Jolla. Copyright 2020. Natasha Josefowitz. All rights reserved