July 10, 2015 by Jean
In all my advance reading about retirement, I did not see anything that suggested retirement would be a time when friendships flourish. The only thing I remember reading about friendship was a warning about the loss of workplace- based friendships after retirement. But while I have experienced some of these losses (after all, I no longer have the daily sharing of space and activities or a shared local community to bond me to former workmates), they have been more than offset by new friendships and by the renewal of old friendships. My retirement story is about gains, not losses, in friendship.
First are the newly-made friendships of retirement. Because retirement has freed up time for new activities, it has also introduced me to new people. Yesterday, I drove down to southern Maine and went out to lunch with one of several friends from my spring singing workshop. We had a long, leisurely meal with lots of laughter as we got to know one another better. Hers is one of several friendships from that group that promise to have staying power. I have also made a number of new friends through gardening (and my garden blog). These are not Friendships (with a capital F) – the intense, intimate relationships of adolescence and early adulthood – but friendships (with a small f), more about the sharing of interests and pleasures than the baring of souls.
I expected that retirement would make it possible for me to renew and nurture some old friendships, particularly with Maine friends that I would be able to spend more time with now that I am living in Maine full time. Interestingly, this has turned out to be less true than I expected. While I do see these friends regularly, the friendships have not necessarily strengthened. I think I forgot that my Maine friends had very full lives during all those months I was in Pennsylvania, not big gaping holes that they were just waiting for me to show up and fill.
The big surprise of my retirement has been the renewal of very old friendships from childhood. This was facilitated by my 50th high school reunion. I was asked by the reunion committee to set up a Facebook group for our class and to get in touch with class members to ask them to join it. This became the impetus for wonderful on-line exchanges with many classmates, including some I barely knew when I was in high school. The reunion itself also provided an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and classmates. Earlier this week, two classmates with whom I was not friends in high school (we were in very different social circles) stopped by my house for a visit. Yesterday, I went on from lunch with my new friend to spend the afternoon visiting with an old friend, someone I went to school with beginning in kindergarten. In the evening, I found myself online making plans to get together with yet another high school classmate who turns out to live nearby. Still another classmate is planning to stop by next month when she will be visiting with friends just a few miles away from me.
Two things have struck me about these reconnections with people I haven’t seen or talked to in 40-50 years. The first is how much I have in common at this stage in life with people I didn’t think I had much in common with when we were teenagers. (And, in some cases, as we’ve shared reminiscences about high school, I’ve discovered that we had a lot more in common then than I ever imagined!) Sometimes, as I reconnect with old classmates, I feel as though I’m meeting them for the first time. The second thing I’ve noticed is that by this stage in life, most of us are very comfortable with who we are and that this makes us more tolerant of those who are different. Many of my old friends and classmates don’t share my liberal politics – but that’s okay; we can focus on what we do share and not talk about politics. Because we don’t expect to be everything to one another, we can more easily agree to disagree.
Last year, one of my newly retired friends said that her motto for retirement was “savor.” One of the things I am savoring is the wonderful variety of my friendships with old friends and new friends.