I’m a little troubled.
Twice now in the last year, two friends of almost 4 decades have confided in me that they no longer have an interest in making new friendships. The man said “It’s too much work” and the other, a woman, said she is “without enthusiasm or desire for it.”
Couple that with the fact that my friends and I are all proceeding to the milestone age of 70.
Articles abound on how loneliness is an epidemic and adds to our health problems. Loneliness feeds on itself creating terrible self-talk (what do I have to offer? What would I talk about, anyway? It’s not safe to express an opinion, and besides I’m not up on the news…) that keeps us housebound.
A recent article about a study in the UK says that hundreds of thousands of people often go a week without speaking to a single person. Nearly half of all the seniors interviewed said they’d feel more confident to head out each day if they knew their neighbors. This begs the question… why don’t we know our neighbors?
Why aren’t we looking into the eyes of people we live next to and giving them a smile? Or talking about the roses in their gardens, or the pup they walk daily?
Are we just so afraid of each other that we cannot afford to make small talk anymore? I have lived outside the US for many years now, and forgive me for asking… But is this chatting up a stranger considered impolite these days? Or hazardous?
Two more firsthand experiences
Some years back I witnessed two of my relatives in curious circumstances. One elderly aunt said “I don’t need any more friends. I have my husband, my church group, children and grandchildren. Why would I need more?”
To myself I responded “Do we have so many friends that we can’t squeeze in another one? Someone who can make us laugh, or teach us something? Who in the world has too many friends?”
Another elderly relative, on the way to breakfast after church, had a well-dressed gentleman say hello to her and something about “what a nice day it was”—and she was aghast.
She responded, “Do I know you? Why are you talking to me?”
To me this situation was incomprehensible. It seemed obvious that the man meant no harm and he was actually on the way to his car in the restaurant parking lot—right where we were—after finishing his morning meal.
Heads up here
If loneliness is the epidemic disaster that health studies say it is, then maybe we could prepare for this ahead of time.
Ask yourself how might we be part of our own problem here? Or if you are inclined to take action, I have a couple of suggestions below which you might find useful.
Meet new people and have realistic expectations
Everyone doesn’t have to be your best friend but having someone to socialize with on occasion is a good thing. It opens up our minds and sometimes our hearts with the exchange going on. These days there are plenty of ways to meet people with common interests.
If you enjoy photography, art, music, biking, hiking, baking or even conversation, there’s a meet up group in your city or town that also enjoys these things. It’s a great way to meet someone and then maybe someone else. Again, these people are not spouse substitutes but one thing can lead to another and perhaps you’ll discover a different restaurant, a new hiking location, or learn something which will add pizzazz to your life.
Get life energy into your “people pipeline” now.
Take your ear buds out, say hello to someone and smile for no reason
People (other than my older relative) often respond positively. Make small talk in the grocery line. Chat with your checkout person and make them feel like the work they are doing is noticed. Make eye contact when you can. Say “Thank you” to your server or to the clerk behind the desk.
While this might be more of a trait with the younger set, if you are in the habit of living your life with ear buds glued into your ears, take them out. Ear buds isolate you from being present in the community and noticing what’s around you and it stops others from acknowledging you. It is both wise and rewarding to invest in personal capital.
What are your skills and personal talents? What could you offer your community? Maybe you could join a holiday food bank and serve in the food line. Maybe teach a course (or take one) at your community college? Volunteering is a win-win for everyone and it gets you out of the house, exchanging with others.
Take a trip
It doesn’t matter if you are single, handicapped, or don’t have a lot of money. There are travel clubs of all ages, size of groups, and with a different focus or destination. This is a great way to meet people and uplift a sagging perspective.
Take a walk and say hi to strangers
Because of our traveling lifestyle for the last three decades, Billy and I are often in new situations where we know no one. If we are shopping in the market, walking around town, by the lake or even when we take the bus, we’ll often catch the eye of a stranger and say good morning. The brightness in our eyes and our lack of pretense often takes people by happy surprise. They will respond positively themselves and return the greeting.
There, now. That wasn’t so hard. And sometimes a short conversation will follow. We must say that this is a positive and easy habit to start.
Why not try it?
Breaking the ice
There is a popular Mexican expression that says “The easiest way to break the ice is to pour tequila over it.”
Now, even if you don’t drink, you can still gather some neighbors around, have some shared appetizers and pour some ice tea or lemonade over your ice. Getting together semi-regularly insures that you know the folks living around you. It’s always possible to share community news and to find out if a neighbor needs a ride to the doctor’s or to the grocery store.
If at this time you don’t have a sense of community in your village…build it yourself.
These are just a few suggestions. The point is to be aware that loneliness just might creep up on you if you pinch yourself off from healthy contact as you age.
There is no logical reason to do this. Friendliness has no age limit to it. Why wait for someone to pick up the rock you are hiding under and discover you?
Smiling and saying hello costs you nothing. Why not let your light shine and add something positive to your life and to the world?
Everyone will benefit from this and your life will be enriched. Best of all, Loneliness won’t be your companion.