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Friday, August 12, 2011

Making New Friends 201

I’m constantly losing things: my car keys, my coffee, my mind. You too? What we really, really hate losing, though, are friends, but lose them we will, whether from death, relocation, or diverging interests. So what are we going to do about it? If we have any hopes for a robust fulfilling life, being friendless is not an option. Time to find some new ones. It’s work, but well worth the effort.

My oldest friendship started in utero. Our moms were best friends and were pregnant together. To this day, we refer to each other as “womb mates”. She lives quite a distance away, but when we get together or email, we just take up where we left off.

Making New Friends 101

When we’re young, shared interests and attributes are all we need: I’m popular; you’re popular. We both have straight hair. (Okay, we’re not so popular and both our heads look like giant Brillo pads when it’s humid. Let’s be miserable together.) We both adore (or loathe) Justin Bieber. Let’s be friends! I had one good friend from high school (We fell into the not-so-popular chunky category), who kept in touch with other classmates and kept me up on their doings. When she was killed in a car accident, I lost my high school connection all together.

Making New Friends 201

Later in life, the rules change; hence: Making New Friends 201. The givens may include loss of old friends, like my high school buddy; messy divorces, financial problems, and health issues. How we view our world and our control over it have a different tint; and we bring all that baggage to any new friendships.

One thing is the same: we still want friends who are fun. And we don’t want them to be much slimmer or younger-looking than we are, or have a better plastic surgeon. So even though we weren’t born yesterday, we want to have fun with our friends and feel comfortable around them. Then we can safely share anxieties and catastrophes. But if we go looking for friends we can unload on, they won’t be around very long. They have their own woes.

My approach is to start with a shared interest. Join a group that does something you like to do: writing, quilting, golf, volunteering for a charity, church, walking, or working for a living. Starting with special interests means we already have something in common with the other members. From there, we can start spending more time with individuals who strike us as interesting. Whether they succeed depends in part on whether we make the effort to seek them out, rather than waiting for them to come to us.

Friends don’t necessarily have to share political or religious views. If we’re friends, we can agree to dance around those! I have this notion that I’m going to live to be a very old age, so having friends of different ages will be important for me. One of my friends works for the Red Cross, where I’ve volunteered for 35 years, and is much younger than I. She sees me as a mentor. I remember how older friends in my life helped me when I was starting out, so it’s an honor to pass that on.

I have another friend who works full time, so I hang out with her mother, a vibrant 85-year old who has a great sense of adventure and sees the humor in life. She’s a hoot! The two of us once spent a whole day standing in line to audition as extras in a movie being made in our town. She said it was the most fun she’d had in a long time.

More and more, I’m developing friends my own age because we understand the common issues we’re all facing, and can be silly together, and yet push each other to follow our dreams. Some of my best friends are relatives. They know all my warts and still like me. I have a cousin with whom I keep in touch; my three sisters and I have our own club: the S.P.S.: Sisters Preservation Society. They support me and won’t ever let me play the age card, even though I’m oldest. It’s by cultivating dear friends of all ages and ilks that we can share both our joys and sorrows with someone who really cares. We don’t have to go through life alone. We share a common lifeline that enriches us every step of the way on this all-too-brief journey.

Mary Jo finds humor an essential companion on this rollercoaster we call life. She gives humorous cancer survivor speeches, teaches Aging with Pizzazz seminars to promote senior activism; and fervently believes if we can get enough Baby Boomers involved, we can get the law of gravity repealed!