When I was twenty-two, I was befriended by a woman named Doris who was thirty years older than I was. Although Doris was then a fifty-two year old woman, she did not feel it was inappropriate to befriend me. She did not operate with the social belief that she should choose her friends only from people her own age. We became very close friends and remained so until her death at the age of eight-two.
When Doris turned seventy-five, she was already widowed. The week she turned seventy-five, Doris threw two birthday parties for herself, one on a Wednesday night, and one on Saturday. Over thirty different people attended each party. I was the only person invited to both. In all, about seventy of Doris' friends came that week to celebrate her birthday. On both nights many people stayed until past one in the morning.
As I looked around the room at both parties that week in amazement, I noticed that the people attending her birthday parties were of all ages. They included toddlers, teens, middle-aged people, and the elderly. Doris had never restricted herself to making friends only within her own age group. She had always made it a point to befriend people of all ages. Consequently, she did not suffer the same social fate so many elderly people face when their circle of same-age friends starts to dwindle from sickness and death. I hoped that when I was the same age as Doris that I would be able to have as many friends and acquaintances gathered to help celebrate my birthday.
I didn't know any other people her age who could throw two birthday parties in one week, and have seventy people show up. I wondered how Doris had made so many friends. She had never been wealthy, but over the years Doris and her husband had made a practice of opening their hearts and their home to many people. They not only befriended a lot of people and maintained those friendships over the years, but they also befriended the children of their friends, and stayed friends with the younger generation.
I noticed that whenever I brought some of my own friends with me to visit Doris, she never treated my friends as expendable people that she would never see again. She was gracious and kind and interested in all of them. Her caring about each human being was always apparent. When we finished our visit, Doris would often extend an invitation to the friends I had brought to come and visit her again, and many of them did so.
When she issued invitations Doris never seemed as if she were inviting people because she was lonely or desperate for company. Her invitations were always genuinely joyful. She loved meeting people and wanted to see them again.
As Doris neared the end of her life, she became very ill. Yet, she never lacked for love and support from the many friends she had kept making throughout her whole life.
I learned something important that week at Doris' two birthday parties. I realized that we make a big mistake if we tell young and middle-aged people to invest their money for their old age, but neglect to tell them that it is at least as important to invest in relationships with other people.
We make a mistake if we don't tell people that it is just as important to invest kindness in the people we meet, and invest our interest in them. There are other kinds of investment accounts besides those that are held by banks. A big bank account won't make up for loneliness in your old age.
I decided that if I wanted to have as many friends as Doris did, I would have to keep making friends and keep maintaining friendships my whole life. I would have to make friends with people of all ages, including those much younger and much older than me.
Older people confront unique challenges in trying to maintain a satisfying social life. Many people find it difficult to make new friends as they get older.
As people age they often face social, health and monetary challenges. Older people may become less physically mobile. They often have less money to spend on recreation and entertainment. Older people are also more likely to suffer from depression. They may be physically frail and afraid to go out at night. Even if they remain healthy themselves, aging people experience the deaths of long time friends and spouses, resulting in a shrinking circle of social and emotional support.
In the modern western world, older people are often treated as if their usefulness is finished, and as if what they have to say is not really relevant to the young. A lot of older people are shocked to discover when they retire at the age of sixty or sixty-five, that the friendships they thought had developed at work do not survive the retirement party.
In many modern societies, older people are socially marginalized, and left to socialize solely with each other. People in North America are much more segregated along age lines than people in some other parts of the world. In North America, teenagers tend to socialize with other teenagers, and older people are expected to make friends with other older people.
No matter where you live, or what your age, you do not need to follow your local society's dictates about what age your friends should be. You do not need to restrict yourself to making friends only with your own age group.
If you are concerned that you may be lonely in your later years, the time to start doing something about it is now, no matter what your current age might be. As you grow older, make sure you stay living in the present, not in the past. In your conversations with others, don't be fixated on who you used to be, or on your current ailments. Be willing to make many social approaches to others, no matter what the outcome. Stay interested in the current world, stay optimistic, and keep a youthful, open mind.
Royane Real is the author of several self help books available at her website. This article is taken from her new downloadable book titled "Your Guide to Finding Friends, Making Friends, and Keeping Friends". Check it out at http://www.royanereal.com