This week we continue or discussion of the transitions associated with moving from full-time career pursuit to partial or full retirement. The men and women interviewed for the book “Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement” were unanimous in the value they placed on sustaining important existing friendships and developing new ones. Their discussion of this topic also highlighted several factors that can impact our network of friends in this phase of life. For example, some of those interviewed had important friendships in their place of employment and found many of these relationships becoming more distant now that the daily encounters of the workplace no longer existed. About a third of those interviewed relocated to a new community around the time of retirement, and they faced the challenge of building a new network of friends in the community to which they moved. And in reality, whether we relocate or not, enough of our peers will elect to do so that relocation imposes the need to make new friends. Still other men and women mentioned that illness and death of friends had impacted their network of friendships.
What are your thoughts on the following questions related to building and sustaining friendships in retirement.
(1) If already retired, how have you observed the transition to retirement affecting your network of friendships? Or if you are not yet retired, what are challenges in sustaining existing relationships and building new ones that you think you may experience as you make this life transition?(2) As you think of your network of friends, are there a small number of people with whom you are particularly close? As you move toward and into retirement, what steps might you take to sustain and even enrich these most important relationships?(3) As you move toward and into retirement, what might be some ways that you can make new friends? Or if you are already retired, are there ways of meeting new people that you have found particularly helpful?
(1) If already retired, how have you observed the transition to retirement affecting your network of friendships?
We took early retirement and are the only ones who have done so of our immediate friends/family. Because they have more constraints on their time and energy, we contact them, and make the time/date convenient for their busy lives.
It's true that most Boomers make their friendships through work, instead of the previous social structure of church/community. It makes friendship a more diverse mixture, both racially/socially/religiously/politically, which can be challenging, but also much more interesting than clinging to a set of people who look, act, and talk just like you do. If I wanted a mirror, I'd stare into it 10 hrs a day!
(2) As you think of your network of friends, are there a small number of people with whom you are particularly close?
One huge difference in living on the West Coast is that people get together much less often than social circles I grew up with in the Midwest. This was brought home strongly to us when a decade ago we brought a grown nephew from Chicago out to CA. He really struggled with the looser, more casual attitude we have towards seeing one another. He was accustomed to seeing his friends every day, or at least several times a week. Out here, it's not unusual to feel you are good friends with someone you see maybe once a year, twice at most.
We're techies, at least for our generation. We don't play e-games, but are on the computer for hours at a time and use it extensively. We are comfortable with it, which many older Boomers are not. So we keep in touch with folks via e-mail. I read a lot, and send articles around that I think friends would be interested in. I've gotten a lot of feedback that they really appreciate it, because it's like having your own clippings service, LOL! In another life I guess I should have been an e-librarian. My mother was always complaining she was born too soon, and I guess I was as well.
If you want to be close to people, you must be willing to reach out to them. Take the initiative - after all, being retired means you have the time and energy now! My MIL, a lonely, bewildered widow who is physically healthy but slowly declining due to dementia, has never understood this. She is a passive spectator in life, watching her friends dwindle in number to death or relocation. Despite our best efforts she has made no new friends, let alone younger ones. She is sadly, a very good example of what not to do as one gets older.
(3) ...if you are already retired, are there ways of meeting new people that you have found particularly helpful?
We're newly retired, so haven't had to face this issue yet. We will, though, and it's something I ponder at odd times. I'm more social than my DH, so it's easier for me to make new contacts. Sometimes I bring him into it, sometimes I don't. We have a number of interests we share, and others we pursue separately. The options we have for increasing our social circle are:
a) Meeting others through friends/family. We do this to some extent, but we don't make a point of it (never have, actually)
b) Volunteer work. I've done it, but am not interested in doing it right now. DH has no interest in it at all.
c) Part time work. Again, a future possibility. Right now the economy is so bad, I'd feel guilty taking a job away from someone who might really need it. We have no financial worries so there's no need for us to look for employment.
d) Join a church (or other social activity). Well.....both of us were raised in religious families, and neither of us go to any church. We draw a line between spirituality and religious dogma, and our mutual interest in history gives us a bent towards the former rather than the latter. This is common in the SF Bay Area, so it's accepted without comment.
We're the types that would rather develop a few deeper, stronger friendships than a lot of shallow ones. We've made some friendships with a number of younger people, because it's something we believe is important as you age (looking at my MIL's example again). We have numerous hobbies, and a lot of intellectual interests we love pursuing. And of course, there's that travel and fine dining thing we've been doing so assiduously over the last year! Truthfully, there aren't enough hours in the day to fit in everything we want.
Unlike my MIL, we have some friends who are the epitome of everything we'd like to be as we age. They are vital, interesting, alert, and active - not just physically, but mentally. It's wonderful to have them as our example of growing old with grace.
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