Friendship: An Expansion Opportunity
By Howard Fishman
Go outside and play with your friends!
That was Mom’s clarion call to us kids. She knew healthy friendships were key to wellbeing. Back then when friendship was easier. We were perfect friend-making machines. Naive, tolerant, open to diversity, we had few boundaries. Some friendships lasted. Others dissipated. Either way, potential friendships seemed to be placed in front of us for the asking.
Circumstance, not choice, was likely to be the determining factor in staking out a new relationship. And people came in and out of our lives as we traveled through the cycle of education, career, and family.
Friendship was always important, but often not Priority One.
In Later Years, Choice, Not Circumstance Became Friendship’s Handshake
Then things changed.
In the latter days of our careers, and then again in retirement, obstacles arise.
We’re set in our ways, likely to have definitive ideas about who would be an appropriate friend. We might move to a new location, gain or lose a spouse, become ill or infirm, have money, need money, or allow personal politics to set the standard.
Or sometimes we begin to hide pieces of ourselves in order to enhance compatibility with others. It’s a time in our lives to relax. We don’t often reach out to begin new relationships. After all, we’ve got our old friendships to do the heavy lifting.
Leave Your Pre-Conceived Notion of Friendship at the Door
When we’re older it takes a special type of grit to hack our way through it all. Confront ourselves honestly about what friendship actually means at this specific point in life.
We might ask ourselves, shouldn’t this be easier?
That’s a rhetorical question. Because we all know the answer. Friendship isn’t easy. Friendship is work. Up close and personal. We’re seeking a compatible home for our likes and dislikes, for companionship and communion. And that’s a complex set of expectations.
Perhaps it’s why I so often hear people drift toward defeatism and ask: how many really good friends can one person have, anyway?
Things to Remember as You Engage With Potential Friends
Healthy friendships are an expansion opportunity. A fountain of possibilities.
Yes. We’re looking for a match to our existing sensibilities. But we’re not 20, 40, or 50 anymore. We could profit by wanting more from and for ourselves. Seek out journey-mates who can help recalibrate and support the contemporary view we have of ourselves.
New friends can help us see the world through a different set of eyes.
To open a lane or two into this new realm or friendship-building:
• Enter relationships with an open mind.
• Instead of hunting for friendship, let friendship find you. It’s a non-linear, organic process.
• Look for what’s endearing, not what’s enduring. Be verbal about the parts of the journey that work. Solid communication breeds repetition of the positive. Builds trust.
• Give friendship enough time to find its way.
• New friendships will find a mutually comfortable depth. Don’t overthink it. You’ve earned your intuition. And you can gracefully back away from friendships that aren’t working.
• Not everyone releases the Director’s Cut version of their lives on the first date. You don’t have to invite them to join your next cruise through the Meditteranean. Instead, take your time. Be interested and interesting. Ask questions to learn more.
• Use subtle advances and wise retreats.
• Build friendship slowly, but deliberately.
• Identify what you have in common, not what separates you.
• Celebrate the strengths.
• Support the process by good communication. If your gut tells you it’s working out on both sides, don’t be afraid to say, this feels like it’s developing into a nice friendship.
In the Name of Friendship
I was a categorizer. I ran away from the term friendship for far too long. Yes, I have good friends. But other people were acquaintances. Work chums. Drinking buddies. Pals.
Definitions create limitations. Limitations create obstacles. The umbrella of friendship covers a wide territory. Remain open to the possibilities.
Not every friend will be one you call at three in the morning for help. Not every friend makes an equally deep imprint on your life. No one person or couple can match every one of your friendship criteria. What matters most is a shared set of common values.
Statistically, one of the biggest concerns elders have about long life, is loneliness. And though the navigation of adult friendship isn’t without potholes, it’s one of the best preventative measures against this worry.
I recently opened myself up to someone with whom I’d initially imagined to have nothing in common. Though rough going at first, the rewards were plentiful. It became a surprising, yet cherishable, friendship.
Choose to do the work.
Then go out and play with your friends!
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