Having a social network is critical to one’s meaning and purpose of life in retirement. And this social network has to extend beyond our family. Our family has to love us, but there is something very affirming about people who are not our family befriending us and wanting to spend time with us.
I’ve heard it said that one’s social network shrinks to just 9.5 people in retirement. I’m not sure how you can have half a friend, but you get the idea.
One of the problems with a “cliff” retirement is that many of us have friends through our work, and suddenly losing our work means suddenly losing our friends.
It was for these reasons that I read with interest this section of the book “Retire With A Mission” by Richard G. Wendel about being proactive and intentional about finding friends and cultivating relationships:
Developing a Network of Friends: The Differences between Men and Women
Independence, stoicism, and self sufficiency are valued traits amongst the alpha males/hunters in our culture. Due to these real or imagined societal norms, men become more focused on competition than cooperation and collaboration. They are generally good negotiators but are generally less skilled at maintaining and nurturing relationships than women. As a result, men often have few close friends and real confidantes. Moreover, with those whom they would call close friends, they often bond through common interests such as golf, fishing, poker, and the Friday night out with the boys. Men rarely telephone one another to chat without an agenda. For men, friends usually come and go based upon activities rather than an enduring and trusting relationship.
Women tend to nurture a broad circle of close friends. The female style of participatory and interactive management in the workplace embodies a skill set well-suited for retirement. Women also tend to enjoy a broad range of common interests – a few photographs of children, grandchildren, or even the family pet are good starting points in the female bonding ritual. Moreover, women usually exercise a larger measure of control over a family social schedule that revolves around friends and activities.
In retirement, a supportive circle of close friends in invaluable. It is sustaining to have lasting friendships with member of the same sex with whom you can commiserate, confide and share experiences. A large reservoir of contemporaries, who are circling and entering the retirement process, should make it relatively easy for men and women alike to build a post-retirement network of close friends. But for those inexperienced at actively seeking new friendships it may requires a reassessment and planning process.
- First, make an extensive list of friends, relatives, coworkers, and social acquaintances with whom you regularly interact and feel comfortable. Add to the list friends from the past who have fallen through the cracks because of changing careers, geographic mobility, family breakups, and differing social circles. It may take weeks or even months to pull the list together – every day you may find that you add a new name or two. Once completed, evaluate and rank each person on the merits of a broadened relationship.
- Make a second list, this one of activities that you truly enjoy. This list might seem quite simple to create, but all the enjoyments of a lifetime pose a wide variety of satisfying activities, and pursuing one may cancel out the opportunity to pursue another. Once the list is completed, weigh each option based on a scale of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. It is important to be certain that the activity is sustainable and fits with the other realities and relationships in your life.
- Match the lists to identify those special individuals with shared interests who fit with your definition of a potential lasting friend.
- After deciding who might work best for you as a lasting friend, design a process to connect, and lay the foundations for a broadened friendship with them. Initial steps might include a simple phone call to share recent events and get caught up. You might invite them for lunch or to a social gathering. And the golf course, tennis courts, and card table are always good venues to renew friendships.
Depending upon your interests you might also join a travel, garden, investment service, or hobby club to meet new people. Volunteer and church work can be used in a similar fashion.
Retirement is a marvelous time to become a true people person. One of the foremost positive predictors of a satisfying shift into the retirement mode is having a large, rich network of friends.
Building a community of friends with shared goals and interests usually does not result in an inbred narcissism. Narcissism comes from isolation. A community of friends with shared values is what pulls us out of our isolation and brings meaning to our lives. Being intentional may involve being intentional about a community within which we can continue to contribute and serve. And having such a community is critical to our success and significance in retirement.
Photo by Steve Smith used here under Flickr Creative Commons.