Two months ago I wrote about the power of connection with others and its value in living a good life. But what happens when you lose close friends later in life when it’s harder to meet new people? Friend dating, as Lindsay Kavet, one of the Friendship Dialogues storytellers, realized, can be essential to moving on after the loss of a lifelong best friend. In Lindsay’s case, her best friend of 11 years Polly Mae Tolonen died in a car accident in 2008.
Recently the Wall Street Journal ran an article called “The Science of Making Friends.” The author, Elizabeth Bernstein, noted that she’d been going on friend dates recently and offered some words of advice that I think are worth repeating.
First of all you can’t be casual about this, you need to go about finding new friends with intention. Bernstein says, “Just as you would when looking for a mate, you need to look for someone who has something in common with you, and who is emotionally available.”
Bernstein offers a number of nuggets of wisdom about finding a friend:
Don’t expect too much too soon
Share something of yourself emotionally
Follow your interests
Consider rekindling an old friendship
It’s been awhile since I’ve intentionally gone out to make new friends. It’s not easy to do this. Your circle of opportunity narrows as you get older and you are less likely to meet new people. So it may mean joining new groups with which you have shared interests. Sometimes it means working harder on relationships you already have, to deepen the ties.
Have you made new friends recently? What’s worked for you?
What is it, do you think, that makes for a good life? Riches? Fame? Business success? Actually the answer is none of the above. A long-term Harvard University study of Adult Development has come up with a different conclusion. The study tracked 724 men from the Boston area for 75 years, an unusual amount of time for one study to last. Some of the men became lawyers, bricklayers and doctors and one, John F. Kennedy, even became President of the U.S. The study, which is still going on, has also tracked the wives and more than 2000 children of these men. The 4th study director, Robert Waldinger said in a Ted Talk the clearest message from the reams of data they’ve collected is “good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” Social connection is good for us while “loneliness kills,” he said. The brain function of those in the study who were isolated actually declined sooner than those who were connected with others. And it’s not the number of friends one has that matters, it’s the quality of the close relationships that matter. Good relationships, it turns out, protect our brains and our health. If you have people you can count on you stay sharper longer.
So what does that data mean for us? We need to “lean in” to relationships with family, friends and community,” said Waldinger. That’s a lesson that I’ve learned too from interviewing more than two-dozen women for Friendship Dialogues. The women I talked to were nurtured by the relationships they had with their female best friends. When that friend died they knew they could not replace the treasured friendship, but they also knew they had to make an effort to avoid loneliness. They understood they needed connection with others.
One of the women, Lindsay Kavet, said she had an epiphany after her best friend Polly Mae Tolonen died in a car accident that she had to start “friend dating.” Lindsay was building a community called Expressing Motherhood and was listening to people share their stories, but she had been keeping her distance, not talking to the performers. But after she realized she had to connect more with others, she started to seek some of them out, sharing her points about their readings. That led to her texting some of them and even asking some of the women to go out with her to an event. All of this was out of her comfort zone, but it led to her making some new friends and that has been a comfort to her.
When my best friend Madeleine was in intensive care for four months, another friend invited me to join her book club. I didn’t really feel that I had the time or the desire to do that, but I knew that Madeleine was deathly ill and her time was limited. I knew how lonely I would be without her and so I joined the group knowing that getting out once a month with other women was a positive step to take. It was an affirmation of life. It would foster a connection with others. It was an acknowledgement that I would have to go on without Madeleine and needed social connection with others to serve as a small cushion after she was gone.
So that’s my message: Small steps are necessary when we experience loss. Loneliness is deadly and we need to be proactive in seeking out people and interests in our lives that can make us feel connected again.