Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Special news series: "Senior High"

Coming in the same week as our recent discussion on "Water for Elephants" & the question of how we envision our own later years, I found it timely that The Globe & Mail is running a major series on life in a Toronto seniors' residence, which started Monday & goes through Friday. Here's a link to the "Senior High" section of their website, which includes all the articles as they're being published, as well as a video, additional photos, a multimedia presentation, a discussion on coping with aging parents, & resources. Not sure how long they will keep it onsite. Articles are generally available free online for a week.

I found it both amusing & horrifying that life in a seniors' home can be compared to high school, with its social cliques & pecking orders (you mean I'm going to have to go through all that crap AGAIN??!). But I was somewhat comforted by a quote in yesterday's (Tuesday's) article, referring to the importance of social networks -- friends, not just family members:

An Australian study of more than 1,500 people older than 70 found that those who ranked in the top third in terms of having strong friendships were 22 per cent less likely to die over the decade than people in the lowest third. Close family relationships didn't show the same longevity benefits. (emphasis mine) Ms. Smyth [Sheila Smyth, program director for the Terraces of Baycrest] says, "Kids do not a social life make."

Dh & I don't have a huge circle of friends -- guess we need to work on that! We tend to be homebodies, & a lot of our social life (such as it is) revolves around birthday parties, showers & weddings among the members of dh's extended family. As I've written before, we see a lot less of them than we used to, as everyone has gotten married, moved further afield, & started families of their own.

I've read many bloggers & board comments on the difficulty of making new friends as an adult -- especially when you don't have kids & aren't hooked into the mommy/school/activity networks -- & we're no exception. We know the neighbours on either side of us well enough to say hello to & chat with over the backyard fence, but that's about it. Cordial, but not chummy. I have "friends" at work, but we don't tend to socialize outside of office hours, aside from the occasional organized group outing to a local watering hole (although I have stayed in touch with my "office best friend," who is now retired). We have also made some good friends through our pregnancy loss support group over the past 10 years (although two couples recently moved away).

And I have two friends in the area from my "previous life" before I got married & moved here -- one a friend made through my very first job, who lives about an hour from me and meets me downtown for lunch a couple of times a year; the other, my first-year university roommate, who lives on the other side of the city but works across the street from me as a high-powered corporate lawyer at one of the country's biggest law firms. We used to get together every month or so for lunch, but she has been strangely incommunicado this past year. I can't remember the last time we had lunch or even spoke, except that it was well before Christmas. I'm not sure why, other than that she is an extremely busy person (not only professionally but personally, caught in the classic sandwich generation dilemma -- young son and aging, stubborn father). For my part, once we got past Christmas & my birthday in January, I didn't want it to seem like I was hinting for our usual birthday lunch/gift exchange.

We'll finally be getting together on Friday for lunch (unless one of us has to cancel). I was the one who finally called -- to wish HER a happy birthday last week. I'm curious whether she'll have anything to say about why the long silence. The last time I went this long without hearing from her, I found out she was getting a divorce. Hopefully nothing like that this time around.

Next: my 100th published post!


  1. Congrats on the 99th post!

    I totally understand about having difficulty making new friends in adulthood. I had difficulty making new friends when I was a kid! For me, the quickest (non-kid) route was actually joining the home owner's board of my development. Not particularly glamorous, but I've met lots of people that way, including a really good friend.

    Making new friends is a lot like dating. You just have to put yourself out there and try. That doesn't make it any easier, though!

    Have a great lunch on Friday. I think you will really enjoy it.

  2. Every part of life seems like it has a "high school" aspect to me. It's unfortunate that we can't excape it- I hated it the first time.

  3. It's not only the quantity- it's the quality. Have a big group of acquaintances is fun, and something i really need but not dh. But I have found that quality is really important.
    If your friend you are meeting on Friday is still having a tough time with her dad, offer help. Those who have really helped me recently are really endeared to me. My neighbor (we were cordial before) has really been there and she said "we are now bonded to you guys in a special way" (Not direct quote but meaning is true).
    One other point, it doesn't always mean close and hang out. My grandmother has many friends but she is also an avid letter writer. Us grandkids are horrible at writing her, but I know she has many other social contacts thru her letters. I have a feeling many friends are dying or unable to write anymore. She is more forward about asking me to please reply (ok, I'll get off computer early tonite and write her) But I am not her peer, so like article said, family vs friends.
    But anyway, my point is that thru blogging you do have contacts...

  4. I wonder if when we are in senior residents if they will be studies to test longevity on bloggers versus non-bloggers.

    Hoping that your friend has a good enough explanation - but that nothing bad was going on.

  5. Another post I can relate to Loribeth.

    I have always been a quality over quantity person where friends were concerned - always happy to have a few close friends, and not too interested in maintaining a large social network. Both DH and I are homebodies, and really enjoy eachother's company more than anyone else's. Guess that is why we married ;)

    What I found is that when we were hit with IF, we turned completely inward as a couple because there were details we did not want to share. I quickly found that I had absolutely nothing to say to anyone. It was an effort just making small talk with people. We had just moved and it is only now, four years after moving here, that I am starting to make friends with people from work.

    I am just not interested in putting myself out there for the "do you have kids" questions, so I am pretty guarded most of the time. And it is much harder to meet people as a childless couple.

    Anyway, I have tried, over the last year to identify people I feel safe around, and I cultivate those relationships.

    And I love what clc said - we think that we have escaped high school, but we don't really. There are always the "in" people, the outcasts, the haves and the have nots, and those people who are shunned.

  6. I love the study you cite about happiness in the twilight years. One of the things I worry about is who will be my support system the older I get. I have close friends, none of whom are child free. Interesting dynamic.

    I agree though that it is more difficult to make "good" friends the older I get. My reason is more selfish I guess because I'm private now. I just don't want to tell my story. So maybe it's laziness vs. selfishness? Both, I guess. But enjoy your lunch!

  7. I find it very difficult to make the leap from friendly acquaintances to friends who actually get together. I think a lot of it is just luck. Sometimes, you may get along well with someone, but they just have too full of a social life to want to make much of an effort. Sad, but true.

    I've made a few good friends in adulthood, but only after a significant amount of effort on my part. With one of my best friends, I actually made a conscious decision that I was going to do my darnedest to make sure we were friends! It took a long time, but finally she was contacting me nearly as much as I was contacting her. Whew--what a lot of work!

    Then again, for every success story like that, I have five more stories of potential friendships that just didn't make it.

  8. Via NaComLeavMo..
    I'm still at university so still have alot of friends I see very regularly. I lost touch with my school friends by choice, I realised they weren't true friends. As my university friends graduate and move all over the country I'm determined I'm not going to loose touch with them.

  9. I love the quotes on the sidebar of your blog.

    It is harder to make new friends and make time for "old" ones too. Not sure why that is - I guess everyone is so busy these days.

  10. When my grandma was in a seniors residence, my mom said that the residents who seemed to handle it the best were the ones without children. The parents spent all their time waiting for those few and far between visits from the kids while those without children were quite used to fending for themselves for a social life and filled their days with activities.
    Being painfully shy, I think I'll just have to pin my hopes on my eyesight lasting long enough so that I can keep my nose in a book throughout the geri-years.

    Hope all is well with your friend and you have a great catch-up visit.


  11. I can completely relate to being the homebody type. Hubby & I also don't have such a large circle of friends. It seems the older we get, the further removed we are from other friends that have started their families and are involved in other activities surrounding their families. And the further we feel left behind.

    I wish I had something more positive to say, but alas ...