New Friends/Old Friends


July 10, 2015 by Jean

FriendshipIn 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.

11 thoughts on “New Friends/Old Friends

  1. Diana Studer says:

    I wonder if the losing friends aspect was more a man’s view of retirement?

    • Jean says:

      Diana, That observation was from Robert S. Weiss’s study of the experience of retirement, and his research included both men and women. I remember reading somewhere else, however, that women are more likely to form new friendships in retirement than men are. So it may be that men and women experience similar losses of workplace-based friendships, but that those losses loom larger for men than for women.

  2. Jean R. says:

    What a wonderful experience you’re having in acquiring and renewing friendships in retirement. Do you think you are the instigator in most cases, organizing and calling people to meet or do things together, or do others do that in equal measure to what you are? I’ve always been a go-along person. In grade school and high school my best friend was an instigator and so was my husband. It seems so foreign for me to arrange for “play dates” which is a major flaw in my desire for more friendships now that he’s gone.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, This is a good question. I tend to be socially insecure, so I have trouble initiating things for fear of rejection. However, I have been taking the initiative to arrange “play dates” once I have an indication of interest from the other person.

      • Jean R. says:

        That’s what I have to get better at doing. In hindsight, I realize I passed up two wonderful opportunities when people indicated interest and I didn’t follow through. Have since lost the contact information.

  3. What a wonderful topic (and superb post), Jean! Retirement for us meant moving to a completely new place where we only knew one person. Eight years later, I find I have a very dear group of completely new friends. Joining our local Master Gardener program helped because I met some lovely people who shared my gardening interest and then was introduced to others through them.
    But the first part of your second-to-last paragraph especially resonates with me. A few years ago, through FB, I found/was found by one of my oldest friends. We’d lost touch when she moved away 46 years before (when we were both 16). At first there was the usual catching up–do you remember when? What happened when you moved? What are you doing now? Often, after that, the connection flags and both parties move on. But we discovered what you described: we have more in common now and are much closer now than we were then. We not only reconnected, but met each other afresh, as adults. Now she is my dearest new/old friend. I think–if you are lucky and work at making time to make new friends–retirement can be full of lovely surprises!

    • Jean says:

      Emily, What a lovely story; thanks for sharing it. I’m feeling as though the blossoming of both new and old friendships in retirement is a very well-kept secret. I wonder why? Maybe because so much of the writing about retirement focuses on finances rather than on living.

  4. No I have to say that it is true for me that I lost many friendships and have virtually become an island. I have more time to myself and my garden but that is not what I like….even as an introvert, I like to go out and visit with folks from time to time….it has been a downer as they say.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I hope that as things settle down and you have time to engage in activities of interest to you, you’ll meet some like-minded new friends.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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