Dr- Jacqueline Olds

Friendship Challenges that Come With Age

Someday when I'm ninety I look forward to making a comparison of what it was like making new friends in each decade, in different life stages. Until I have personal experience that only comes with more birthdays, I can only guess and lean on women who share what it's like from their vantage point.  Here's what I've heard so far, and I look forward to your comments to teach me more!

Friend-Making In Our Twenties, Thirties & Forties

In some ways, being in my twenties felt most challenging.  The New York Times reported,

One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch.

Those kinds of statistics take friend-making to a whole new level!  Add to all those transitions our own search for figuring out who we are after a decade of trying to be like everyone else.  We're getting our feet on the ground, but a lot still feels uncertain!

The thirties seem to bring polarizing life choices to friendships-- the decision to have kids (when, how many, how to raise, whether to stay-at-home or not) marriages and divorces, increased awareness around wanting to live life around our personal values even if the outcome is less than popular, the financial disparity that was less existent when we were all in our first jobs, etc.  Somehow we all felt like we had more in common in our twenties and now we're not so sure what commonality holds us together.

The forties seem to be where most women report the most exhaustion.  Maybe they just admit it more?  Or maybe they actually do feel it more now as their too-full schedules with kids and career seem to leave them feeling a great sense of disconnection to what they once valued.   The ever-present tired feeling can make it hard to want to schedule the time a new friendship demands.  And it seems they don't always feel especially close to the women they actually call their friends (mostly work connections and their children's social calendar network) so just adding more people into life certainly wouldn't be appealing.

Friend-Making Over Fifty...

But it's when we're in our fifties that it seems we report the most loneliness.

Kids, careers and spouses were effective ways to meet new friends in the younger days, but as our kids move out, divorces occur and we cut back on working at the office, those popular areas of commonality become less helpful in forging introductions.  Plus, the life experiences of baby-boomers now decidedly include having their own fair-share of death, divorce, loss and disappointment, which increasingly heightens the desire to have real friends, not just a social network.

Another challenge to friendships for those facing retirement, which often includes a new move closer to grand kids, to a warmer place or to a dream house, could mean leaving behind a network of local friends and starting the process all over at a time where you want to be reaping the benefits of time already put in.

Even without a move, in retirement, the disparity between financial freedom, health & fitness levels, relationship status, hobbies and life choices might become more obvious within a circle of friends.  While one friend might view retirement as the time to go travel and live life up, another might feel it’s time to live cautiously and stay close to home.  Differences can feel heightened at an age where how one spends their time really matters to them.

Friend-Making All Along the Way Matters

It makes sense that as generations age, our awareness of the importance of caring for our physical and emotional health seems to intensify. Research has long shown the benefits of friendship to preventative & restorative health, increased happiness and lower stress levels, but as findings are connected to longevity, all of us should definitely take note.

In fact, Dr. Jacqueline Olds, a psychiatrist and prolific author says, "Aside from genetics, the two most important factors in longevity are exercise and a network of friends." And certainly as our exercise abilities change as we age, the friendship piece could play a stronger and more significant role in the quality of our life.

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Questions: Ladies, are you willing to tell us what decade you're in and how that impacts your friend-making journey?  Tell me what challenges it brings.  Tell me also what makes it more meaningful or easy at this life stage. I lean on your experience to help me better articulate the needs that are unique to your contemporaries.

 

Loneliness & Your Health

Loneliness is rampant. Loneliness is not about social skills, like-ability or the kind of friend you can be to others. You can be popular and be lonely. You can be beautiful, friendly and successful, and be lonely. You can have a full social calendar and be lonely. You can be married and be lonely. You can be networked and be lonely. Loneliness speaks to your sense of connection. Dr. Jacqueline Olds is a consulting psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, has seen patients for 32 years and is a prolific author on the subject of loneliness. She was quoted yesterday in the The Boston Globe as saying that "Aside from genetics, the two most important factors in longevity are exercise and a network of friends."

Think about how much attention is given in the media and culture to exercise! Every women's health magazine focuses on new exercises to try every month, doctors encourage us to get to the gym and schools set aside an entire period for our physical education & exercise. When was the last time you received the same kind of encouragement to focus on your friendships?

This is a huge issue. And it's largely missing from our conversations regarding our health.

How many Friends do you HAVE? The American Sociological Review published research in June 2006 that showed almost 25% of Americans claim to have no confidante that they share deeply with. Add the 19% of people who claimed to only have 1 such person in their life (most likely a spouse or significant other) and you have almost 50% of Americans who have virtually no close friends outside one relationship (imagine what happens after a divorce, break-up or death?) The other half aren't much better off with the average being two close friends.

How many Friends do you NEED? Compare those numbers of how many close friends most of us have with the numbers that suggest how many friends most of us need.

A study commissioned by The National Lottery to determine the happiness levels between lottery-winners and non-lottery winners showed that it was actually the number of friends that made a bigger impact than the amount of money the respondents had! The report found that "those with five friends or fewer had a 60 per cent chance of being unhappy. People with between five and ten friends have a 50 per cent chance of being happy. But for people with more than ten friends, the likelihood of being happy varies between 55 and 56 per cent. Adding more friends than this doesn't significantly increase the possibility of happiness- so ten is the optimum number. On average, respondents who reported themselves 'extremely satisfied' with their lives had twice the number of friends of those who were 'extremely dissatisfied'.

So on average, most of us have two close friends. And, on average, most of us would be happiest with ten.

Granted, we're all different. We are not a statistic. But do those numbers help reveal a need in our lives?

What are your numbers? How many people do you have that you confide in? How many would you like to have?

Could it be that maybe just as important, if not more, than losing those ten extra pounds might be to add those ten extra friends into your life?