A few nights ago, I was having dinner with my neighbors. They have about 7 or 8 years on me. We were talking about friendships and who they saw this summer, as we’re very close to the beach and that’s everyone’s favorite time of year to visit. Gee, I wonder why I never hear from anyone in the winter. As she was rinsing the pasta in the sink, she said we used to have a lot of friends. We don’t anymore. This surprised me because I look upon them as extremely social beings. They always seem to be meeting someone for dinner or having them over. Maybe it was said in retrospect. So it started me thinking and I realized I don’t have as many either. I wondered why.
I’ve noticed that getting older seems to have shrunk our social circles. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I had so many friends, I could barely keep up with them all. But we also hung around in groups. There were wads of us, all single and all tasting freedom at the same time, for the first time. After our college obligations were fulfilled and the regulations of living under our parents roof was gone, we thought we had found life. Like all 20 year olds having their first bout of freedom, we didn’t know it was temporary..
Then one by one, after a few years or more, some of us began to settle down, get married and raise a family. Most of our energy went into the kids. It should. It takes a lot of hands and attention to raise kids today, or should I say raise them right. So circles began to swell in a different direction, They centered around kids calendars and the parents of our children’s friends And we all became friends. It made sense as we spoke often enough, but still, our kids were always at the forefront of our conversations and the main focus.
Once they grew up and went off to college or somewhere other than home, we were left alone. A new chapter. life without them. Freedom. So you and your husband or wife, if you were able to sustain a marriage that long, are left in a larger home than you need. You keep the house for a few years debating all the while. You vacillate on whether to stay or sell. You weigh the pro’s and con’s. You want your kids to have their old room when they come home and a house that feels familiar. This was especially true when they came for the holidays and during the summer. But Eventually time moves on and your needs change. Or they don’t. The broad scope is you are slowing down and find the upkeep of a large home becoming a burden. There are too many empty rooms occupied enough to brush the cobwebs from on a continuous basis.
Once the kids leave, part of your social network seems to go with it. Some of these friends move away, downsize, follow their kids to different parts of the country once they’re married, settled and have their own children. Many grandparents don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to watch them grow. Some people decide to live part of the year elsewhere or they develop interests that don’t include yours.
Whatever the cause, the insular network of all those kid years begin to dissipate. You now meet people in other ways. In classes or hobbies you pursue. You pick up the pace with old childhood friends if you’re still in the area or they are. You feel akin to the people volunteering for the same cause you so passionately believe in. You find yourself changing.
With a new-found freedom, you now gravitate towards the things, issues and events that most entice you. Something that has true value and meaning for you. These days, I don’t feel as compelled to spend countless hours on the phone chatting. I don’t feel like wasting an entire afternoon shopping, or getting my nails and feet done. I don’t need two-hour lunches at a trendy upscale restaurant, where the price of my meal could buy a child in a 3rd world country a month at school, where he or she would get at least one daily meal a day. A longshot from the values in my twenties, thirties and even early forties.
I haven’t abandoned everything. I still keep my 6 week date with the hairdresser. If not, I keep a few packages of root rescue around. I still book a massage when I have the time and money. I still belong to a gym. I still meet friends for lunch or dinner at times. Every so often, I take in a movie.
I find happiness and value in the more simplistic pleasures of today. I can fill a bird feeder and watch them for hours. I walk to the beach and breathe in and out with the rhythm of the tides. I weed a garden and feel the softness of grass between my hands. I fantasize about the next exotic trip I’ll take. I study for a new certification in a field that promotes health and can help others as well as myself. I take a bike ride. I read a book. Simple. Easy.
So I question whether we have less friends by choice or circumstance. Or.. could it be another phenomenon of getting older ? How much energy do we have ? What is left over at the end of day for socializing, as time seems to have its way with us and keeps moving faster. I can’t imagine mounds of people traipsing through my life anymore. And here’s the other piece, at least for me. I’ve become more selective, more prudent where and with whom I choose to spend my time with.
There’s no room for people in my nucleus that aren’t positive, supportive, loving and kind. There are plenty of negative, self-centered spoil sorts. Just walk out your door. It’s enough I have to deal with them on the outside.
Humor has shot to top of my list as one of the most important attributes in any of my relationships. We all need to laugh and Norman Cousins had it right. Laughter is the best medicine. Even when things have been at their worst, someone says something funny and I forget what I was upset about to begin with. Even if it’s for a minute. It breaks the heaviness, the intensity. We all need comic relief to break the tension, the concrete block that starts to build around our heart after a sad or traumatic event. I realize I also have more of a need for intimacy today and it’s pretty tough to trust 2 dozen people with guarded feelings, thoughts, concerns, fears, goals, dreams and achievements.
So, perhaps this really is just another rite of passage. I think I remember the same with my parents, especially my father because he lived 20 years longer than my mother. So, I seize the handful of friends I still have and am grateful. We talk, we laugh, we cry. We share our strengths, fears and secrets, but in the end, it is the closeness I treasure, that invisible bond.
I feel secure with these friends and know they have my back. I have theirs too. And although our styles may be different and even frustrating sometimes, there are a handful of people I love and know I can trust. So, who needs so many friends that could fill an arena ? I’m just fine the way it is. Right now.
Till next we meet….