Social Life


December 15, 2015 by Jean

One of the trickier aspects of retirement for me is finding the right balance between social life (connection with others) and solitude (connection with self), both of which are essential to my well-being. In The Experience of Retirement (ILR Press, 2005), Robert S. Weiss tells us that social life is often a problem for retirees. Those whose social life has revolved around relationships with coworkers can find it particularly problematic, and those who live alone are especially at risk for social isolation. (See my review of Weiss’s book here.)

I don’t have the problem of friendships that were based primarily in the workplace; because I divided my time between Gettysburg (where my job was located) and Maine, I was away from co-workers whenever we had breaks from school and too busy for much socializing when school was in session. But I do live alone, and my love of solitude (see Retirement Preview: The Temptation to Be a Hermit), combined with a certain level of social insecurity about initiating invitations makes social isolation a real risk for me. I experienced some problems with social isolation during my first year of retirement. The long period when my house was under construction kept me from inviting people over, and last year’s harsh winter often made it difficult to get out (see Cabin Fever and Social Isolation).

From last winter’s experience, I learned that I need at least two meaningful social interactions each week to avoid social isolation in the winter, that I need to find a way to schedule some of these into my winter life (despite the vagaries of winter weather), and that I need to be more open to spontaneous opportunities and invitations from others.

My first line of defense against social isolation is to schedule regular social engagements. The monthly lunches with my W.O.W. retirees group are one of these. I’ve also reached out to schedule social engagements with my recently widowed next-door neighbor. Recently, I invited her to accompany me to the twice-a-month winter farmers’ market; she loved it, and we have left it that she will go with me whenever she can. More importantly, I have initiated a weekly dinner with her. She is a busy teacher who is too tired to cook when she gets home at the end of the day and whose late husband was the cook in the family. Since October, she has been coming to my house for dinner each Thursday evening. I like to cook, and it’s fun for me to try out some of my favorite dishes on someone else. We have both come to look forward to good food and good conversation each Thursday evening. And because we live next door to one another, she can get here even in rough weather.

I’ve also been pushing myself to accept invitations that come my way. In the past two weeks, I accepted an invitation to afternoon tea from a woman who was a student in my Senior College course and who lives just a few miles down the road from me.  In the same week, I rearranged my schedule of chores and errands to accept an invitation from my friend Joyce to attend a Sunday afternoon concert in Portland (about 50 minutes away). This week, I will take her up on an invitation to a holiday craft fair.

Initiating invitations is still my biggest challenge, but I am working on it. Email is a boon to me in this regard. I generally find it difficult to make phone calls (worrying, for example, about whether I am calling at a bad time). The anxiety is greatest when I am telephoning with an invitation, and I find myself feeling unreasonably rejected if the other person cannot accept. I don’t worry about intruding on others with email, and I feel less sting of rejection when someone declines an email invitation. Last Saturday, I went off to Portland for some Christmas shopping followed by a delightful dinner out (arranged by email) with a former Gettysburg student who lives in Maine. This week, I sent out email messages to a group of local friends offering my house for our annual holiday dinner and gift exchange. I’ve also sent emails to some old friends from southern New England to see if I can connect with them when I’m in Massachusetts and Rhode Island visiting family over the holidays.

So busy has my social life been in recent weeks (3-4 engagements per week) that I’m taking a bit of a break this week, with only two engagements and time for solitude. This will recharge my batteries for a busy social schedule during the holidays. After that, I will settle into a quieter winter pattern. Our weather this year has been meek and mild, compared to the feet of snow that we’d already had last year at this time. But even if (when?) the winter weather turns severe, I feel that I have the foundations for a winter social life in place and am less likely to repeat last year’s experience of social isolation.

13 thoughts on “Social Life

  1. Diana Studer says:

    I’ve come to loath the telephone.
    Email is so much more civilised – almost going back to the days when invitations were handwritten then posted. Giving hostess and guest the quiet opportunity to mull it over.
    The telephone is What, Now, I need to think about that … can I call you later.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, I used to think my difficulties with the telephone were my own personal social phobia; now I know that those feelings are widespread. I like your parallel between email invitations and old-fashioned handwritten ones.

  2. Kim says:

    Jean, this is so great! I want to stand up and cheer for you as I’m reading about your growth. I feel validated in my own past struggles to initiate meet-ups as I take in your story. I, too, have been practicing reaching out to friends and neighbors and yes, e-mailing (or texting) works great. (With the 2-3 friends who prefer phone calls, it’s at least nice to know that fact and I honor it — somewhat begrudgingly, if I’m feeling hermit-y regarding spoken conversations.) Because singleton writers seem to be plugged into the same theme sometimes, I just posted a thing about isolation today (inspired by “the crone”‘s blog). It’s meant to be thoughtful and even jubilant, though it may seem dark to some.

    • Jean says:

      Kim, I wonder if we’re plugged into this theme at this time of year because of the special challenges posed by the holidays (a post that I’m working on now).

      • Kim says:

        Very true, yes. The holidays, the cold, the ending of another year…. thank the goddess for our abilities to write, to learn from others, and virtually connect with one another. I look forward to reading your holidays post!

  3. Dawn says:

    Wonderful news, Jean! I love the idea of your Thursday evening dinners. It’s something special that both of you can look forward to each week. In my retirement, I have found our local public library to be an amazing place to learn new skills, take on new challenges, and meet others who share my interests and are free during the day. I am often involved in a workshop at the library twice a week (or more often!). We all gather there to learn, grow, and make new friendships! ♡

    • Jean says:

      Dawn, Your library sounds wonderful. My local library is too small to be this kind of resource, but I am finding other sources. The singing workshop I participated in last year (and which introduced me to several new friends) was sponsored by the Portland Public Library.

  4. Jean R says:

    You’ve been so pro-active it’s no wonder you’ve found yourself some fulfilling social engagements. Just reading this I can see I need to gather more email addresses of the people I meet and have an interest in getting to know better. Now that you mention it, rejection by email would be so much easier than over the phone.

    I’m happy for you that you have your Thursday dinner with a neighbor. That’s will be HUGE come those months when it’s hard to get out because of the weather.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I do find it much easier to issue invitations by email because it is so much easier to deal with having those invitations declined. I hesitated to suggest the Thursday dinner to my neighbor because I didn’t know how she would react, but I’m so glad a screwed up my courage and did it. It’s perfect because it meets both our (different) needs and has that nice balance of reciprocity.

  5. pagedogs says:

    It sounds like you have put together quite a nice social life. Compared to you I’m a hermit. I’m just now discovering how many people share my dislike of talking on the phone. I much prefer email or even texting.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, Because I live alone, I have no baseline of social interaction with a spouse or housemate that is just built into my days. When I get into hermit mode and don’t make the effort to put together a social life, I can go weeks (literally!) without exchanging even a few words with another human being.

      • pagedogs says:

        Yes, I understand and it sounds like your efforts are paying off well with some rich and valuable connections. I am fortunate to be married to someone with tendencies similar to mine so that we can be hermits together.

  6. I have a similar issue and am working on figuring this out for me….I don’t join groups easily where I could maybe make new friends…neighbors are all younger with kids….work friends are an hour away. But I am not alone with the hubby here….just needing to have more friend time is my issue. Those connections are important and somewhat neglected.

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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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