It's Not Easy Being Green
Blend in or stand out - how will you make a friend today?
"Friendship is important to those over 50. We’ve spent most of our lives caring for other people – children, parents or both – and ask, 'when is it my time?'"
About one-third of adults worldwide feel lonely. That’s according to a 2019 global survey by Statista. com, with the numbers in Canada coming in slightly better with 31 per cent of respondents saying they “often, always or some of the time” felt that way. The U.S. had the very same response, while Brazil topped the chart with 50 per cent reporting loneliness as being a problem.
With many adults moving to new locations for work or other commitments, making new friends as an older person presents new challenges. When we were children, school, sports and clubs provided friend-making opportunities. When we went away to college or university, living in a dorm, fraternity/ sorority or apartment often put us near others of similar ages and interests. When our offspring were young, their school, sports and club activities meant that other parents were around who shared similar life experiences, producing opportunities to be befriended.
But when we’re older and move to a new place, it’s not as easy. Perhaps our company still has a remote work policy, or we don't attend church or service clubs, or we don't golf or have other social hobbies that bring us in contact with others. This all makes finding new friends a challenge. Add a natural tendency to shyness or introversion and you have a tougher nut to crack.
But friends are good for us as older adults. According to Medical News Today, lack of social interaction affects not only our mental health. Studies have shown that a low quantity or quality of social ties is linked to many medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer and impaired immune function.
Silvia Plester-Silk, a registered social worker and energy psychotherapist, says that “friendship is important to those over 50. We’ve spent most of our lives caring for other people – children, parents or both – and ask, ‘when is it my time?’ We learn about ourselves in different ways now, and it’s really about finding people who have similar energy and interests.”
In her book Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make – and Keep – Friends, Marisa Franco (PhD) outlines many factors that play into our ability to not only develop friendships but also to maintain them.
Plester-Silk was one of those adults described earlier in the story: moved to a small community as an adult, had no children, didn’t attend church or service clubs. “It was a village, and everyone had connections through church or kids or sports.” She wasn’t into sports, but her husband was. “That’s how I met some women. I became friends with the other wives and partners.” Later when the couple moved to a larger city, she learned from that experience and took crafting classes.
Plester-Silk was following Franco’s first bit of advice for making friends: put yourself out there. Finding a group, class, club or organization that meshes with your interests is a good first step. Introverts may tend to stay home and not want to enter social settings but not putting oneself in the line of fire means that you’ll never get to take a shot at friendship.
Having followed her own advice, Plester-Silk tells clients to find something “that you might genuinely enjoy. Make a list of 10 or 20 things and try them. If you’re creative, try a pottery class, for example.” She adds that it’s important to set yourself up for success. “If you only tolerate golf, it might not be a good place to start.” If you do hit it off with someone, they might be disappointed when you don’t accept an invitation for a weekly date to play.
Franco’s second step is to take initiative and strike up a conversation with someone by asking them to have coffee or lunch after the group activity is over. “It’s a process of reaching out over and over again. It’s meeting someone we like and, instead of letting the moment pass, hoping that they ask for our phone number, seizing the moment and asking for theirs,” she writes in the chapter entitled Taking Initiative. Usually, the other person will be flattered to be asked. Honestly saying, ‘I like you and would like to get to know you better’ could be hard but wouldn’t you be flattered if someone initiated friendship in this way?
Pat Mussieux (71) was 55 when she moved to London. Since her father was in the military, Mussieux had moved around so much that she wasn’t able to make lasting friends as a child. “But I learned great networking skills,” she says. She put those skills to work as an entrepreneur and started to build her network by attending events and meeting a lot of people. One of those was Wanda McKay. They were seated next to each other at a networking lunch and discovered they had much in common: both were single, ran their own businesses, loved to travel and shared religious views. McKay asked Mussieux to attend church with her, beginning their 15-year friendship that lasted until McKay died of ovarian cancer.
“We were soul sisters,” says Mussieux. “It couldn’t have been a better match.” When Mussieux attended that networking lunch, she easily accepted McKay’s invitation to attend church because she was confident and felt worthy. Franco says this is another key to finding friends: assume people like you. Our self-view can dominate how we interpret others’ actions or inactions.
“Secure people know their worth, so they assume others do too. Rejection sensitivity – the tendency to project rejection on ambiguity - is a key feature of anxious attachment and it hurts anxious people and their relationships,” Franco explains. When we are confident we assume that when we show up to events others will like us, making it easier to approach them or to be approached.
Acknowledging that these directives would be nearly impossible for many, Franco suggests an introvert-friendly technique to build up confidence: reach out to old friends or acquaintances to renew the relationships. In these post-pandemic times, many acquaintanceships suffered, and people are now ready to rebuild their social sphere.
Another suggestion Franco has for the socially hesitant among us is – paraphrasing – don’t be a wallflower. Finding a class or group event to attend is just the beginning, speaking up during the class to ask or answer a question or following up with someone who had an interesting elevator pitch at a networking event is imperative to making friends. As Kermit says, “It’s not easy bein’ green. It seems you blend in with so many ordinary things.”
Speaking up and standing out is also an important first step in making friends. Franco calls it “overcoming covert and overt avoidance” and encourages us not to be tempted to hide in a corner but to step up and step into our own power.
Amanda Ellis (no relation to the writer) confirms this. The 47-year-old is a quiet person, who works in banking but loves the arts. Though commonalities are the bedrock of many friendships, sometimes those things aren’t as important; one of her closest friends is 20 years younger. Ellis and her friend Katie, who is an artist, met at networking events when Katie would bring her baby and Ellis would help entertain the infant. This gave them a starting point to talk about, but their friendship grew out of a shared love of the arts and a thirst to bring that passion to a wider audience. Katie wants to open an art gallery-coffee shop-creative space and has been seeking business opportunities to make that happen. Ellis’ experience with financing and the business world allows her to help Katie on this path.
“She (Katie) is an old soul, but the age difference made me feel more comfortable giving advice.” Ellis goes on to explain that she’s often the recipient of advice from older friends, so this feels like paying it forward to her. The two serve on a gallery development board together, talk or text daily and get together every couple of weeks.
Plester-Silk characterizes the levels of friendship as inner, middle and outer circles. Outer circle friends are people you know; middle ones are acquaintances with whom you might have a casual coffee, but inner circle might be described as your ‘ride or dies’ or your ‘shovel friends’ (the ones who would help hide the body) or, as Joseph Rapai (71) would say: moving friends. A retired director of the Catholic School Board who has adopted Bayfield as his home in recent years, Rapai has bought and sold several homes causing him to move often. “Middle circle friends become inner quite quickly, which I find out when I have to move. Some you thought were middle circle friends show up, and some inner circle disappear quite quickly.”
He also points to changes in circumstances, like retirement or divorce, as impacting the quality and longevity of friendships.
In her book Franco clarifies that to maintain healthy friendships “you must be the type of friend you want to have.”
It really isn’t easy being green “but green’s the colour of spring and green can be cool and friendly like,” according to Kermit so why not step out and find a friend? It’s good for your health.