By Wendy Sue Knecht for Next Avenue
There’s no question of the importance of personal interactions and connections with friends as an important source of our well-being. This is especially true as we age, and much has been written about the challenge of making friends and finding love in the later years.
Looking for love, or even just hoping to make a new friend, can seem intimidating when you’re older. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Personally, I didn’t find Mr. Right until late in life, and it definitely took some work on my part to be ready for the right person when he came along.
Here are a few insights that may be helpful in finding love and friendship as we get older:
1. Re-frame old mindsets It’s all how we frame things in our minds that affect our vision. With the right mindset, it is easier to find love and friendship.
Although it is often said that as we get older we get more stuck in our ways, this doesn’t have to be true. We learn more about ourselves as the years go by, and our tastes become more distinct; but that doesn’t necessarily imply that we have to become more rigid. As I’ve experienced, it is possible to become more open-minded as we age.
When I got married for the first (and only) time at age 47, I can’t tell you how many comments I received from well-meaning friends and acquaintances: “Really, wasn’t that difficult?” “Weren’t you used to living alone?” and “Weren’t you set in your ways?”
“No!” I would emphatically answer. Being single for so long made me ready to welcome change. Having more self-knowledge made it easier to feel open to new experiences. I realized that being set in my ways was a choice and served no purpose. I made a conscious decision not to be “stuck” in a rigid mindset.
2. Don’t expect others to be perfect With age comes confidence, and hopefully, the acceptance of our own imperfections. Personally, in my younger days, I had strict standards that everyone had to live up to. My friends used to tell me that I was “too picky” regarding men, which was a nice way of saying “too critical.” Once you come to accept your own faults and imperfections, it is much easier to accept other people for who they are. Not only do I not expect anyone to be perfect, I would hate for anyone to expect that of me.
3. Don’t let others define you When we were younger, many of us chose friends a lot like ourselves. Hence the “cliques” in high school, where everyone was pretty much alike. Back then, we needed to be alike to be accepted.
Once we have the self-assurance of age, it is no longer necessary to find a partner or a friend to define ourselves. You can appreciate others more fully when you realize they are not a reflection of you. Differing opinions and tastes can make things more interesting if you are open to listening without judgment. For example, the famous friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Anthony Scalia comes to mind.
4. Embrace quirkiness Perfect is boring and quirkiness can be a lot of fun if you have a sense of humor. My husband’s “Obsessive Cleaning Disorder” would have driven me crazy in my 30s, but now I can work around it and even appreciate it. As long I keep my own modicum of neatness, I can reap the benefits of his obsession. I am perfectly happy for him to clean up the dinner dishes and organize the drawers (he does a much better job than I do).
Quirkiness in ourselves and in others can make life more interesting. Don’t fight it, embrace it.
5. Celebrate differences An appreciation and tolerance of differences is a big bonus of getting older.
A recent vacation was a big eye-opener. In my newly acquired travel agent role, I booked a small French river barge and filled it to capacity with 21 people. I recruited half of the passengers, whom I knew, and one of my friends brought along the others. Although mostly everyone knew at least one or two of the others on the trip, it was a fusion of childhood, college and work friends from all walks of life, white to blue collar. Everyone took a leap of faith and I held my breath, feeling responsible for the whole lot.
Our group was smart to ignore the topic of politics — one that is way too divisive these days. But everyone took the time to learn from each other. We shared our love of travel, food and wine, and embraced each other’s differing backgrounds. By the time the seven-day trip ended, we all had made a few new friends.
6. Visualize Remember the self-fulfilling prophecy is just that. If you really can feel in your heart that you are ready to meet a new friend or love interest, you are much more likely to be open to it when the opportunity presents itself. Visualize it happening. I found there is a lot of value in putting good thoughts out to the universe.
7. Keep an Open Mind Keeping an open mind is key to finding new friends and love as you get older. Never say never; love and friendship could be just around the corner.
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