Saving Bonds
Effort and an open mind help forge and maintain friendships.
by Bill Donahue

Humans are social creatures. Why, then, do so many people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s find themselves alone or at least lonely? One might point the finger to the breakneck pace of American life in which multiple obligations have demanded our time and, as a result, whittled down our friends list. Add in a healthy dose of inertia, and before we know it, we look around and wonder where all the cowboys have gone. 
For most of us, our friend groups expand until age 25, according to a National Library of Medicine study of more than 177,000 people. After that mark, however, friend groups shrink quickly and significantly. A study conducted in the mid-1980s suggested that most people had a total of three people in their lives they would consider friends or confidants. That number has since fallen to less than one. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has not helped. 
So, does that mean we should all resign ourselves to spending the rest of our days as hermits in complete isolation? Hardly. 
Anyone with an interest in making new friends should find comfort—and hope—in the fact that they are not alone; in the irony of all ironies, most adults have an innate need to socialize, even if they have difficulty making new friends. Thankfully, the world has evolved with a raft of tools to link people together. Friendship apps, social media sites, and websites such as offer convenient options to start conversations with prospects we might one day consider friends.
Likewise, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are perhaps some of the best places to connect with someone new. In addition to the safety, comfort, and peace of mind that comes from having one’s health care taken care of, CCRCs offer built-in opportunities to form bonds with people who have common interests. 
Regardless of how someone chooses to tackle a friend-finding mission, relationship experts suggest keeping a few things in mind. 
* Make an honest effort. Just as maintaining a friendship requires effort, so does starting one. The phrase “put yourself out there” applies.
* Affirm, affirm, affirm. Continually remind yourself why you are seeking out new relationships. These affirmations may prevent someone from getting discouraged if anxiety rears its ugly head when preparing to meet someone new or, conversely, if lasting connections are difficult to come by. 
* Realize that not every connection is likely to last. If a new friendship that is not serving your needs slowly comes to an end, that’s certainly all right. Turnover in social groups is natural and inevitable, especially as we grow older. 
* Aim for quality over quantity. Don’t accumulate friends purely for the sake of having them. As Bill Murray’s head-counselor character told a shy camper in the 1979 summer-camp comedy Meatballs, “You make one good friend a summer and you’re doing pretty well.” 
Of course, everyone’s needs are different, and there’s nothing wrong with preferring quietude and seclusion. Some of the happiest people I know prefer to spend their free time with only a good book and a cup of strong coffee as company, and then head back home for the companionship of a dog, a cat, and a kitchen full of sympathetic houseplants.

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, September 2021.