“I feel like my life is shrinking,” said my sister as she talked about a close friend that had moved, a sister-in-law’s quick relocation to Florida and other relationships that had changed or diminished. I’ve had the same thought.
Is it normal for our worlds to shrink at this stage of our lives? Do we find ourselves in a relational rut? Or are we less energetic and/or more discerning?
There was a day when I saw every new relationship as an untapped opportunity. Several of those developed into good friendships and others never quite passed beyond the level of acquaintance. Of course, that’s normal. We can’t be best friends with everyone.
The Wall Street Journal article Baby Boomers Get More Selective About Friends reported that people aged 55 to 64 had a larger drop in social activity than in the past. The author, Clare Ansberry, suggested possible reasons: care giving responsibilities, work, mobility, self-sufficiency or increased selectivity.
Whatever the reasons, it’s an interesting trend that will impact individuals who have become more isolated, and it will also affect society. Psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura Carstensen, said in the Wall Street Journal article:
Stanford’s Dr. Carstensen is concerned about what is lost if baby boomers withdraw from meaningful engagement. As a generation, they can provide much good—volunteering, mentoring, helping kids read—especially since they are healthier and more educated than previous generations. “To the extent that we keep to ourselves, that is not going to be good for our communities,” she says. “We need all hands on deck.”
As for the personal effects in socially disengaging, research shows that solid relationships are good for us and that socially isolated individuals incur surprising health risks. From the Stanford Center on Longevity:
Mounting evidence consistently demonstrates the relationship between social engagement and higher levels of physical, mental, and cognitive functioning and its association with longer life spans. By contrast, socially isolated individuals face health risks comparable to those of smokers. Their mortality risk is twice that of obese individuals.
We are people who operate heathiest in community.
Family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances are all necessary parts of a productive and healthy life. For some people a good friend or two is enough; others require many more. However, it is important that everyone has at least one good friend or family member to whom they can communicate honestly and who will love them unconditionally.
My long time friends from high school and college days become more treasured every year. Our lives have gone in different directions and we live all over the map, but I still love them unconditionally. I trust they feel the same about me.
There is freedom in knowing that pretending is unnecessary. We are who we are. Those of us who knew each other before we fully knew ourselves have seen the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the successes and the struggles. Every life has all of those elements, and more. It’s what makes each of us unique and interesting.
I know what my friends have been through and have observed how they have handled the circumstances in which they found themselves. I have learned quite a lot from them, and maybe they have learned a thing or two from me.
If our social lives are shrinking, it is in the number of close relationships that we have close by. Friends have moved, and it is more difficult to develop close relationships at this age than it was years ago. But that’s no reason to give up on new friendships.
According to Psychology Today, the older we get the more important our friendships become.
…the older you become, the more important it is to have strong friendships. You’re happier and healthier when they’re happy–and you’re more likely to be sick when you don’t value friendship or your friendships are in trouble.
I happen to know that my sister, who fears her life is shrinking, has multiple strong friendships. Our social worlds may be more focused and we may have a little less energy for nights out with friends, but relationships matter more than ever.
Jesus communicated love for his Father and his friends as he prayed on the night before his crucifixion (John 15:9-15). He called us his friends, and his relationships were of primary importance to Jesus. He had not gained one of the things we so often want from this world: money, success, fame, power. He didn’t need any of that. What he valued on this earth were the people, his friends. He knew that he would spend eternity with everyone who calls Jesus Savior and friend.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
If you have difficult relationships or have not valued friendships, it’s not too late. You can always count on Jesus to be your friend. It’s a great place to start.
Do you feel like your life is shrinking? Are your friends becoming more important to you?