Changing Friendships

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An accepted pillar of healthy aging involves fostering nurturing affiliations with others. Former Beatle John Lennon sang “Count your age by friends, not years.”

One of the ruthless risks of aging is social isolation. Career contacts disappear. Older family members pass away. Nearby friends retire elsewhere. Children relocate to pursue blossoming careers.

A “third age” without rewarding friendships can make us sicker faster and even contribute to an early demise. A recent article in Nature reported  “limited contact with family, friends and community groups predicts illness and earlier death, regardless of whether it is accompanied by feelings of loneliness.” Feeling lonely may be an existential truth of living that we can survive; being socially isolated, however, may be a death sentence. It follows that one key to a robust old age comes from real friends.

Yet, some friendships gathered over a lifetime, we learn, are not real. They become frustrating and exhausting.  Some friends want it to be all about them or others may lack the depth and loyalty that is needed for the relationship to survive.  Other times, you may feel you are doing all the work to keep the friendship a priority.

Convenience Friendships

Many friendships germinate because of circumstances. Research from the field of social psychology validates that the most significant factor contributing to relationships of substance is physical proximity. The proximity principle suggests that we form close relationships with those who are geographically near us. People who encounter each other develop stronger bonds.

Thus, we pick up convenient friendships as we travel through life: school classmates, neighbors, people we work with in our careers, and associates we meet through professional and civic organizations. Some of these friendships become enduring and lifelong. One durable relationship may earn the championship title of “Best Friend.”

And while convenience friendships can be miracles in our lives, knitting together decades of shared experiences, sometimes these relationships survive as tired habits. Friendship based on convenience can fall out of balance, even growth restricting.

One of my family members is disturbed by a convenient friendship that began when they were young, having met through a professional organization. This friend is emotionally needy, calls every day, and rambles about her problems with a difficult child, career troubles, dating issues, and so on.  This friend is simply too neurotic or narcissistic to focus beyond herself. She’s too busy receiving to give.

While my relative loves to support others — and helping friends in need can be health-promoting — she gives away doses of psychological energy, shouldering her friend’s persistent crises and ongoing burdens.

Cosmetic Friendships

These are the fun friends- the one you meet  for cocktails after work or the one who goes with you on a ski trip.  They love to be around you when all is good and fun and sometimes these friends also are there because you provide something.  It could be access to a network of contacts or good season tickets to a football game or even financial help.  These may be friends who loved you when you were part of  a couple, but may not come around after a break-up, a spouse’s death or a divorce. When what you have to offer changes, the friendship changes also.  This friend may soon become scarce and unavailable. This friendship does not exist because of positive feelings for the relationship, but because of a benefit.

Interdependent Friendships

Interdependent relationships are the healthiest. Both parties contribute and receive. Both are available to share the joys of closeness and help shoulder the burdens that come with aging. They give and take. They are committed to mutual growth and positive adaptation along the uncharted journey through life.

Sometimes the contact can be be infrequent because of geographical distance, but these friends periodically reach out to each other and be available for support as needed.  They stand the test of time.

Not all friendships are created equal. Convenience friendships may benefit from proximity, but sometimes these attachments were never truly appropriate in the first place. Cosmetic friendships are often fleeting: when our value to the other person diminishes, they depart without even saying goodbye.

Interdependent friendships can be one gift of maturity. They include the extraordinary friends we can count on when we become distraught or disillusioned. They are people who lift our spirits and in return welcome our nurturing care during their tough times.

As we age, we benefit by learning to discern real friendships from relationship baggage, to think more critically about quality of friendships, not merely quantity.

“Books, like friends, should be few and well chosen.”

 

Article Contribution- Huffington Post

 

Laura Kay House, MA, is the founder and owner of Silver Connections, located in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Silver Connections provides numerous socializing opportunities through events and travel, personal service, quality members and connections for age 55+ (mostly Boomers!) active and single adults.