Scientific research has found that friendship is vital to our mental and physical health whether were single, married, with or without children. Here are seven ways Boomers can improve this key relationship and possibly add a few or at least happier years to their lives.
Tip #1: Where In the Life Cycle Are You or Your Friends?
Are you an empty nester 60-year-old Boomer or a 59-year-old with a 12-year-old who needs to be chauffeured to soccer practice every day after school? Some Boomers are married and raising their grandchildren and some are divorced and working two jobs. Be careful about making any assumptions about your friends based solely on their chronological age. Find out whats going on in their lives so you will know how much time, energy, or even resources they have to give to your friendship, whether you are new friends who just met in the neighborhood or friends from high school who recently reconnected on Facebook.
Tip #2: Nostalgia friendships are important to cherish but make sure there is more than just your history to sustain your relationship.
Yes, it is wonderful to have friends who go all the way back to your years in college, high school, and even elementary school. David Couper, a 50-year-old career coach who has lived in California for 16 years but is originally from England, still has strong friendships with two women he first met when he worked in Japan thirty years ago. Its great were still friends, says Couper because we shared a lot of good and bad times such as relationship breakups. We had a joke that our exes would be in the pub to talk about how terrible we were and wed be in another wine bar doing the same thing about them.
Mary A. Redmond, 58, a speaker, entrepreneur, and author, also embraces her nostalgic friendships, a group of eight girlfriends, all Boomers, ranging in age from 53 to 63 with whom she worked from 1976 to 1982. They used to have breakfast together every Saturday morning and even though they dont meet as regularly, they still get together for what Redmond calls a special girlfriend trip, a birthday with a zero in it, or a condo deal too good to pass up usually near the ocean.
We know each others stories, says Redmond. We have shared so much history that we can pick up at any moment with a crisis or a celebration.
But, for some, nostalgia may not be enough. As Couper says, Some people I have history with, I realize Ive moved on, and theyve moved on, and we have nothing in common now.
If you find you have drifted apart from your nostalgia friends, you do not have to dramatically end the relationship. Just put more time and energy into other friendships that are more satisfying, or find new friends.
Tip #3: Boomers Have to Be Prepared That Life Experiences May Test Them as a Friend
I recently received an e-mail from an extended family member whose 90-year-old father is in the hospital because of a life-threatening infection. Her e-mail thanked all her friends who had been there for her over the last week of her fathers latest illness, reinforcing that they came through for her as her true friends.
Especially when you are in the 50s and 60s, helping your friends deal with aging and sick parents as well as the death of one or both of their parents, is for many Boomers a rite of passage that can really show who is there for you. These traumatic but inevitable life experiences may also be somewhat easier to go through because of a little help from your friends. Be prepared to be there for your friends when the e-mails or the phone calls arrive telling you about these crises situations. If possible reach out without having to be asked directly for your help. Try not to stand on ceremony; just do what you would like someone to do for you if the situations were reversed.
Friends will also start to get ill and die as the years go by. Creating rituals and support systems for helping each other through these inevitable life passages is as important as the fun times that friendships can bring.
Beverly D. Flaxington is a corporate consultant and author of Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets of Human Behavior (Motivational Press, 2009). She turns 50 this year and has 12 friends going back to grammar school with whom she is still connected. Flaxington shared how her group was a support system when they lost one of the group, Carlos, to a sudden heart attack about two years ago. She said We were all in a pretty deep state of shock. Of all the times our group would get together, Carlos was always there. Afterwards, it was a surreal, hard to believe. It was being able to be together, getting the news and being at the funeral and all that. We know his Mom, we know his three sisters. We were little kids together. We still feel the pain of the loss. It has made us more focused on keeping together!
As 55-year-old Canadian entrepreneur Pat Mussieux notes, We have all experienced tragedy of some kind, whether it be dealing with aging parents, the loss of family or friends, divorced, etcetera. Ive been through it all and I absolutely would not have survived and come to thrive in my new life without the four solid friendships in my life.
Tip #4: Make sure you are putting the fun factor into your friendships
Having fun is as crucial to Boomers as it was during our formative years perhaps even more so since for those of us who are older, so much of everyday concerns can be devoted to earning a living and taking care of others who are dependent. Friendship offers a chance to just have a good time, to have a reprieve from the day-to-day career, financial, or every day cares. So try new activities with your friends including travel, even if its a day trip, or start a poetry writing club or a book club, explore a new sport or make a point of finding new experiences to share that youve have always wanted to embark on.
Tip #5: You are not Too Old to Make New Friends
When I do friendship coaching, often one of the questions I am asked is how to make friends especially if you are older. Age has little to do with making new friends. It is more a question of being open to the possibility of exploring someone new which means you are opening yourself up to acceptance but also to the flip side of that coin, rejection.
The process is the same, whether youre 15 or 50. You might, of course, find that you feel like you have become a fast friend with someone new but my research has found that it takes, on average, three years from when you meet till you become tried-and-true friends. During those three years, you will be testing each other out.
The fastest way to push away a potential friend is to be too needy. So be careful about coming on to strong to a potential friend or making too many demands on your new connection especially since everyone has other concerns including their family, work, or other friends.
You can make friends in the old-fashioned ways that have worked all your life such as just being friendly to the new neighbor who just might become a friend or taking a class and going out for a cup of coffee afterwards with someone who accepts your invitation.
But today you also have the benefit of using the Internet to initiate a connection that might become a friendship. Eons.com is a website aimed at Boomers that was started by Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor. It is a free signup online community for Boomers that offers the opportunity to start or join the scores of groups that center around shared interests such as the mobile home community, healthy recipes, and athletes.
There are sites on the Internet that offer the opportunity for potential friends a chance to connect such as Girlfriend Circles, founded by Shasta Nelson and Girlfriend Social (GFS), based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, which was started in January 2009.
If you have a particular interest, or even a health concern, you might find online options especially appealing. Says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., psychologist and author of the forthcoming The Friendship Fix (Thomas Dunne/St. Martins, Winter 2011), Boomers who are facing health problems can find particular emotional intimacy with online support groups, and form very special bonds and intense friendships with people who might live thousands of miles away. Often, things that might be too shameful or scary to talk about in person can be more easily discussed online, where support can be found. Also, for people suffering from rare conditions, this can be particularly beneficial.
If you are finding it hard to make friends as a Boomer, is this a new situation for you, or a lifetime challenge? I heard from a Boomer who shared that she has always had issues with friends. She said that when she was eleven, one girl told her, The only reason I invited you was because your mother called my mother and she made me invite you.
Seek out professional help if you find yourself in that Ive always had problems making and keeping friends category since there is still time to change your behavior and find the devoted and positive friends who could make the rest of your life so much rewarding.
Tip #6: Avoid Letting the Differences in Your Work Situations Hurt Your Friendships
Just as each Boomer may be at a very different place romantically or in terms of your family situation, in terms of work, whether you are working fulltime, part-time, or retired can vary greatly as well. Some may already be thinking about retirement, some are back in school in order to start a new career, and some may be at the height of their careers. Find those you are comfortable being around who are in a similar situation to you, based on shared values and situations rather than just chronological age, but also, if you do value a nostalgic friendship, or even a new friend, emphasize what is similar about you rather than dwelling on the differences in your work situations.
Tip #7: Make Friendship a Priority
It may sound obvious, but so many think that friendship is a relationship you get to when you have the time for it. If that is how you think, you may spend a lot of time alone. Friendship takes time and commitment. You need to e-mail and call, set up get togethers, and even if you are on Facebook together, you have to read their posts, make responses, and post now and then yourself, if you are comfortable doing that, or find another way to communicate regularly if you prefer private e-mails. Make friendship a priority. Friendship is not just an extra relationship; it is a key ingredient to a healthier, happier and more satisfying life.