Darlings, one of our themes for February is connections. This wonderful blog by author and blogger Jane Leder, takes us through her journey of friendships and making new connections. I hope you enjoy her wonderful story, I know I did.
CONNECTIONS THAT LAST
Some of us are lucky enough to have friends we’ve known forever. They go way back—some even back to elementary school. These BFFs share a history of good times and bad, of successes and failures. In many ways, they are like siblings who know us in ways few others can.
I have clear memories of my schoolmates at Robert E Barber School in Detroit. We’d walk together to school and back, ride our bikes around the neighborhood, and, when at the ripe old age of, say, eleven, play “Spin The Bottle” in someone’s basement. That’s when Dale H. puckered up and gave me a quick smooch on the lips. I was in heaven.
Dale and Penny and Evelyn and Bob (many more) were my first friends who helped me connect with my peers, my community, and with myself.
Things changed after seventh grade when my family moved twenty miles away to what felt like another country. For the first time, I understood on a gut level that nothing lasts forever. I’d never had to work at making friends; they’d just gravitated toward me like paperclips to a magnet.
Now, I was lost.
My mother suggested that I try out for the girls’ field hockey team. At that age, what daughter wants to listen to her mother? In desperation, I took her advice and made the team. Within a short time, I made friends. Later on, I appeared in the school play (I think it was called “In Twenty-Five Words Or Less”). Apparently, my impression of an old woman made an impression because the guy who sat behind me in sixth period English starting talking to me. He eventually became one of my dearest friends.
AS WE AGE
Gail Sheehy’s book Passages has been described as a road map of adult life—a map that shows the inevitable changes we go through from our 20s to our 50s and beyond… She’d have had to go more than two decades beyond to catch up with me. Leaving home, searching for a partner, reassessing our goals and relationships, and self-discovery are experiences we all share and, along the way, we explore our need to connect. And, to disconnect.
When I was in my late 20s and early 30s, it seemed as if every woman pushing a baby buggy or showing up at a PTA meeting was a potential friend. We had a lot in common—the challenges and joys of parenting—and shared a kinship with each other that was both comfortable and meaningful.
But as our children aged and our interests expanded, many of us lost touch. Still, it was easy to make new connections. I started a career as a freelance writer and met lots of like-minded women and men. I took up modern dance classes again and formed friendships that remain today. Other women I knew went back to school to start or finish degrees. Our lives were full, often chaotic, but rarely dull.
OUR 50s and BEYOND
For many women who have worked outside the home, the 50s often signal a major change: women cut back on their working hours, choose to work from a home office or retire. We don’t see our work peers as often and feel a real need to keep those important connections while making new ones—to create community. We are empty-nesters, sometimes bereft of what to do next with our lives. Relationships with our partners have changed, sometimes not for the better. By then, I had divorced my first husband and been remarried for fourteen years. The professional badges we wore so proudly no longer carry the same weight.
Heck, back in my 30s and 40s, I had a Rolodex (Yikes! I’m really dating myself!) filled with a zillion contacts. Now the number of contacts, duly organized on my cell phone and computer, pales in comparison. What’s up with that? Have I lost my mojo? Nope, I’m just more discerning; some might say picky. For me, the whole deal of ending a friendship was not easy. Sometime in my 50s, I realized that I wanted to surround myself with people who “got” me, who valued who I am and didn’t try to change me.
I realized that my time was precious and that I didn’t need to continue an unsatisfying connection with someone who required too much caretaking (I still had a son, a husband, and myself) and was incapable of giving as much as she took. The friendship had become one-sided, and I moved on.
MAKING NEW CONNECTIONS
I’ll be the first to admit that we often have to step outside our comfort zone. Maybe you are introduced to a friend of a friend who, at first meeting, seems like someone you’d like to get to know better. You can say nothing and wait to get the lowdown from your mutual friend. Or, you can:
Come right out with it and make plans to grab a cup of coffee or tea
At a New Year’s Eve party to ring in 2020, I sat at a table with a woman I didn’t know. After talking about what we do in life, she said, “I really like you! Let’s exchange numbers and get together soon.” She called me a few days ago, and we are going to a local book club together next week.
Try something new that attracts potential new friends
I know you’ve heard this before, but sometimes a good way to make new connections is to join a community (class/program). I love to dance and take at least three classes a week. I’m learning Spanish and sometimes meet with a conversational group. I sometimes find myself bumbling along but, in my bumbling, have met others who feel as incompetent as I do.
Like-minded people are drawn to many of the same opportunities to share skills and make a difference. Once a week for over four years, I volunteered at a residential community for adults with mild to profound developmental disabilities. Several of the residents became dear friends.
Start A Group
I recently left a book club after several years. So, I’ve decided to start my own. I have posted flyers in local bookstores and at my main library with basic information: location, time/date, book genres, and a listing for a paid professional book club leader. As an author and ex-English teacher, I considered the position but decided it’s more work than I can handle. And, of course, there is a myriad of online groups on this network alone. You may want to join and then start a group of your own.
Researchers have identified the core factors in a happy life. The primary components are the connections we have: the number of friends, closeness of friends, closeness of family, and connections with co-workers and neighbors.
So, while making new connections, reach out to old ones. Tell friends and family members how much they mean to you and the many ways in which they’ve enriched your life.
“Make New Friends and Keep The Old
One is Silver, the Other is Gold”
Jane Leder is an author and blogger. The 2nd edition of her award-winning book, Dead Serious, a book about teen suicide, is available online and in hundreds of libraries across the country. Leder’s blog, seventynme.com, focuses on the joys, challenges, and issues most important to women 70+ (though she welcomes younger subscribers, too.) You can check out her website at janeleder.net.