Hopscotch and the Art of Making Friends as an Older Adult
Hopscotch. We played the game every day after school. We played it on the sidewalks and in the playgrounds outside the eighteen-floor brick building that was our home in Brooklyn, New York. We played as a way to hang out with each other. We were friends. We were friends because we were the same age and lived a floor from each other.
How do we hang out with our friends as adults?
Why Friendships Matter
Friendships matter for our emotional and physical health. Strong friendships are shown by researchers to be an important key to successful aging. They matter because we are social animals and we need social connection. In the United States, at least, researchers report that there has been a large decline in the number of people who have a close confidant outside of their immediate family.
Friendships need both time and proximity. In other words, we need to hang out with our friends. There’s an old Viking saying from the Havemel that is translated as, “A bad friend is far away though his cottage is close, to a true friend lies a trodden path though his farm lies far away.”
The “well-trodden path” represents all the time we spend with our friend. When we spend time, we give our friend our attention. We give them our presence. We give them our eyes and ears, our heart and our mind. We talk, we laugh, we create memories together.
The Importance of Sharing
We share. We may share hopscotch or bridge or chess. We may share hiking, skiing or hunting. We may share movies, opera and museums. We may share social justice causes and politics. We may share a spiritual practice. We may share making music, dancing and acting. We may share dog shows, music making or motorcycle racing. This list can go on forever because there are an amazing number of human activities. There’s something for everyone.
Not all friends are the same, of course. Some are closer than others. Some are acquaintances. Different people bring out different parts of ourselves.
But how does a stranger turn into an acquaintance? How does an acquaintance turn into a friendship? By being together. By taking the time. It’s an incremental process of getting to know another person. By sharing something of who you are and listening to who the other person is. This is a reciprocal process. You share a bit, and the other person shares a bit. You are encouraged to share more and the other takes a risk to share more. It takes time.
Steps for Building Strong Friendships
In former times this was a lot easier. But because we now live in such an individualized, unconnected society, we have to work on developing friendships. If you want to have more friends, if you are finding your opportunities for being social to be limited, you need to take some proactive steps.
First, find an activity you like that meets once a week. Finding people who like the same things you do is an excellent place to start since you already have something in common. An activity that meets once a week is often enough that it doesn’t take long for you to become part of the group. Better yet, find more than one activity to join.
Then go to it. There is always a first time. It’s scary, but do it anyway. The second time you’ll know more about what to expect.
Next, take part. Be helpful. Volunteer.
As you get to know the people, is there someone you’d like to know better? Spend time together outside the activity. This could be getting together for coffee (tea, wine) or to engage more in the activity you both like.
When you are together, listen and share. Make it more about the other person than you. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. No one wants to hear all about you all the time.
Other Pathways to Pursue
If you have friends you have neglected, get back in touch with them. A true friend will be delighted you made the effort. Make the path between your home and theirs a “well-trodden” path. Set up a plan to have a weekly meal together or some other activity that fits your friendship.
Another way to have friends in your life is to share housing. Living with someone you like and respect gives you the time and proximity for them to become a friend. You share making a home together. This doesn’t mean you are joined at the hip. You have independent lives and outside interests. At home you meet up, you share about your day, you might have a meal together, you hang out together. You are home-mates.
If the idea of a home-mate appeals to you, you can find someone suitable using the steps listed above. You can also talk about it among your current friends. Yes, it’s a big change. The potential rewards in emotional and physical health are significant, however. There are many stories about people who have chosen to live with others here.
The art of friendship is captured in this quote from Zig Ziglar, “If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”
Go create some “well-trodden paths.”
What kind of “well-trodden paths” do you already have? How have you pursued friendships as an adult? Do you find it difficult to make new friends? Why? Why not? Have you considered living with a home-mate? Please share in the comments and join the conversation.
Annamarie Pluhar, M.Div, is the author of Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates and directs Sharing Housing, a website providing training and tools to help individuals pursue this option. She lives in Vermont with one two-legged and two four-legged home-mates.