My plan in the New Year is to go back to blog roots a bit in terms of finances and living richly in retirement. However, I'm also going to be writing a lot more about women in retirement, single retirement, and widowhood (which I've never really dealt with much on the blog), as these are things I get so many questions and comments about.
Making connections when you move or travel is a concern for everyone, married or not. For single folks though, especially newly single folks, the challenge can be even greater. Even with family near by, most of us are looking for at least some kind of outside connection or social life now and then. For retirees, who don't have the built in socialization of work contacts or socialization around school or children, it can be an added strain. We need to create not just a network of friends, but also develop one or two of those close and strong relationships that can substitute for family. Our own little support group, if you will.
Although I consider myself social, this was certainly a challenge for me in more ways than one. We all need one or two of those really close supportive "tell each other everything, I can call this person in the middle of the night" relationships. The thing is, for many of us, this is our spouse, partner, or significant other, depending on your relationship and terminology. And so it was for me. My husband was generally the only one I told deep dark (and light and humorous and serious things to). I had plenty of other friends, but they were of the social kind. As one woman put it, I have church friends, knitting and quilting friends, and travel friends and neighbors. But none of those were best friends with whom I could or would share the other stuff.
To be clear, those other casual friends are just as important, and can be just as difficult to make-and can also be supportive. When my husband was ill, my quilting group made a complete quilt with hearts all over it and with all kinds of biblical quotes. They were also wonderful at distracting me and allowing me to remain silent without questioning or nagging. For the serious stuff, I relied on my church a bit, and on my "casualty" mentor who was a much younger widow with two kids. She understood things like my frustration with people who say " I know what you're going through", or "It's all for the best". Folks, trust me-even when it's true, try to keep those phrases out of your vocabulary.
I moved to Dallas so that my son could be near my in-laws for a few years (they were wonderful about telling stories and including my husband in conversations, telling my son about the time he and a friend climbed out on the roof of the middle school and became stranded, for example). They however were older or very busy with their own thing, and once I was settled into my house, could not be supportive or social on a day to day basis, which left me mainly on my own (my son was off at college in Phoenix).
One of the advantages to being a church goer (besides worshiping God of course) is that, depending on the church, you often have an instant connection. I chose a church that had a welcoming committee and a fair amount of social events-ones that just required me to show up. By jumping into the dinner group, for example, I had a monthly outing where all I had to do was bring something to eat, and I met a completely different group of people each month. In this case, the church also gave me my "support group" as well.
One of the (few) things I miss about moving from Texas to Colorado almost three years ago now is my old women's group. I've mentioned those women on more than one occasion on this blog, usually casually in passing. A small group made up of women of all ages, we were all divorced or widowed. Every two weeks we met for sharing, meditation, companionship, and food (of course).
Whether it was because of specific connections or that the group was church based, I am not sure. The bottom line is that we had strong connections even though we often did not see each other in between the two week period. This particular group of friendships developed faster and were deeper than, say, the gals at the neighborhood quilting group, or the local dinner group.
It was also supportive at another level. For example, when one of our older members had a knee replacement, she needed to go to rehab instead of coming home as she lived alone. We took turns visiting each day, brought her everything she needed, helped her get settled when she was at home, and more. This is just one example. Put simply, this group acted as "family" in crisis situations.
When you don't have the built in option of looking in home or next door for relationship (deep or otherwise), you have to step up and find or make the kind of connection you need. In my personal experience, making those contacts is kind of a "start from what you know and go from there philosophy". I mean, because I was a church goer, as soon as I moved to Colorado, I began exploring churches, looking for a church home, which in my case is not the closest church. Then, I began looking for groups of people who liked to do the things I liked to do, slowly perusing meet up groups and the calendars of the local papers.
I liked to knit and there was a knitting group that met at my local independent bookstore. Was it difficult to go the first time? Absolutely. But once I got there, the worse was over. I've now gone to happy hour with that group, gone on some all day field "trips", had Christmas parties and more. While these relationships are mainly casual, there are some folks with whom I could see myself getting more deeply involved. The problem is stepping out of the box, that first or second time. Not always easy, but the rewards afterwards are worth it. Something I keep trying to tell my son-a guy who needs some social interaction and is funny as hell, but is very much not confident making that first step.
My closest, deepest friendships now are with family, which is why I decided to try living in Denver for a few years. I still have those friends in Dallas, and even if we don't speak as often as I might like, I know that they are "there" for me. And if I decide that Denver is not the end of the line, and I want to retire on the Texas coast, I know I will make that friends and support group wherever I go. It may take time, it may take effort, but it can happen.
My level of social activity may be different from yours. I'm comfortable alone at home for fairly long periods of time, and in fact on occasion deliberately schedule myself for things like OLLI classes because in addition to learning for learning's sake, I know I also need to get out and be among people-people I often see class after class.
No matter your social and friendship needs, change can be an open door. You get to keep at least some of the connections and make new ones.
Trust me. Retirement is an Adventure!