It turns out making friends is harder and slower now than when I was younger. I’m not in school, I don’t have a workplace, I’m not raising kids, and I don’t have old friends introducing me to new friends, or inviting me to parties. Those old ways to friendship are gone.
We planned for retirement as much as we could, with carefully planned finances, hobbies at the ready, dreams of travel, lists of books and movies I’d missed out on. But the social networking piece was a bit of a mystery to me, something I couldn’t quite figure out how to plan for.
Now, three years in, I’ve met people through choir, music, and hiking groups, but turning these new acquaintances into real friends hasn’t yet satisfied my desire for deeper, lasting connections. For me, these come with time, and are built on trust, history, and long term shared experiences.
It turns out that one way to solve the issue happened this summer without actually planning for it when we hosted NINE sets of overnight guests over nine weeks! A long, intense streak of friendship and company fell in our lap as we hosted family members, older friends, newer friends, some from way way back, some we know well, and others not so much. They came for Portland, for the eclipse, on the way to somewhere else, or just to see us. These imported friends have brought the party to us, each with their own distinctive and interesting flavor of activity. Add to this our local family and travel, and my social needs have been well met.
I shouldn’t be surprised to realize that these multi-day visits create a more intense, deeper connection than the kind in which I meet up with people for a few hours over a meal or event and then go home. The long days give us time to share a range of activities, talk at length and in depth, get back to conversations touched on earlier, and have time for the natural silences in between.
This is how strong friendships often develop – by being housemates, neighbors, by traveling, or camping together. When we began homeschooling, our group of new friends bonded through multi-day camp outs, which meant living in community: cooking meals, sleeping, singing, talking, and playing games together for hours on end. Those people became our family’s best friends. As we aged, everyone’s focus turned to work and family, and time together with friends was more limited, and those group vacations fell away.
Now, with our imported friends, we get to extend old friendships into deeper ones, and newer friends become closer. It’s a camaraderie I didn’t expect when we moved away, thinking rather that we’d keep up via brief visits, occasional phonecalls, social media, or that in fact we’d grow apart.
When we go back to visit folks all over California it’s the same thing kind of connection; we stay in friends’ homes, camp with our music buddies, go to multi-day weddings, and the relationships, the extended conversations, the fun and games and bonding continue to flourish. I now hang out with friends in a way that we didn’t have time for when we lived just a few miles away from each other.
I knew that finding a social life in a new place would be challenging for me, a little scary, a bit uncomfortable. I’m not so great at reaching out, making conversation, turning superficialities into intimacy. I’m an introvert and I enjoy my time alone, quiet days, solitary activities. I like to read, write, and hike, I like music and movies. I’ve never had that connecting skill the way some people do, so this was my biggest leap of faith in coming to a new city – more challenging than the Portland weather!
These longer visits satisfy my need for deeper connections, but I also need recovery, and this is where retirement is especially wonderful. I love the quiet days afterward, the contrasting silence, the empty space, the open hours, mine to do whatever. As we put the house back together, do the laundry, clean the kitchen, I reminisce, thinking about conversations and interesting ideas, loving friendships.
After enjoying a summer of so much friendship, I’ve come to terms with living my somewhat solitary life. Finding new friends will happen eventually, we’ll see how it goes. These things only make sense in hindsight.