Sage: Friendships evolve and
often end, even in retirement
We retired a few years ago and struck up a friendship with a couple from the same part of the country we came from. We talk the same language, our senses of humor mesh nicely, we feel very comfortable when we’re with them, and we can talk for hours and not feel bored.
The problem is that they have made other friends in our retirement community and suddenly stopped accepting invitations from us. We went out of our way to invite them out to dinner several times, but they have stopped answering emails and do not return phone calls. We are stumped, as we have always tried to be gracious and respectful. When we bumped into them recently, we asked why they’re not getting back to us, and they replied that they’ve been busy and tired and not feeling 100%, yet they socialize with others. How do we handle this?
– Disappointed in Charleston
The Sage, in all his wisdom, is tempted to answer your question with two words:
But he shall humbly offer advice anyway, because no self-respecting windbag ever shuts up, especially when he has a propensity to dispense advice that encourages tolerance, understanding and maturity, even in the face of obvious disappointment and pain.
We shall assume that this has not been a one-sided, toxic relationship involving hypocrites who engage in gossip, backstabbing, rumor-mongering and who, when with others, would proclaim that they would enjoy seeing you humiliated in stocks in the public square. Even more sadistic, without your cell phone.
We shall presuppose that they are not so disobliging, that they are adults who can make sensible choices, even if they seem to be as communicative as a tree stump.
First, friendships evolve over time. Everyone’s needs and tastes change, too, and this does not stop once we become of a certain age and figure that people ought to know better. We can all exhibit less-than-ideal behavior well into retirement, and demonstrate resentment, envy, jealousy, revenge and nastiness, to start with. We remain social creatures with strong emotions. But we are wired to seek out friends anyway, even at the risk of being viewed by some as dwelling several levels below certain forms of marine algae.
Studies have shown that friendships provide innumerable physical, psychological and emotional benefits. Yet they are fragile and do not often last forever.
For example, Florence Falk, PhD, a New York City psychotherapist, told CNN, “As we gain a stronger sense of self, what used to matter no longer does, and we
are bound to outgrow certain friendships. Once you're aware of that, without being cruel or feeling guilt-ridden, you can begin to let go of relationships that no longer nourish your most authentic self.”
Key word: authentic.
Over the course of our lives, friendships serve different purposes at various stages – when we’re single, when we have kids, when we’re working, when we retire. We change and our friends change, and relationships can become a little wobbly, or really unstable, and we can lose the trust and commitment that each one has offered at that particular time. It’s OK, and sometimes crucial, to let go of it. After all, not everyone will offer the unconditional love of, say, a German Schnauzer.
The Sage suggests that you continue to treat these folks, whenever you see them, with dignity. Don’t ignore them or insult them, especially given that you all live in the same area.
It could be that your friendship was one of convenience for them. Maybe you were the center of their social lives, and you met that need until they discovered more suitable friends, for whatever reason. Perhaps they thought that they had more in common with others. Maybe their education backgrounds, or hobbies, or other interests were better matches. Or they feel more comfortable with their new companions, reveling together at monster truck shows or at riveting, nail-biting curling competitions.
It is also possible that their new friends don’t particularly care for you and exert implicit pressure to avoid you. That happens all the time –friends get jealous of each other, and that can work both ways.
It could also be a less wholesome situation. Maybe your former pals are more interested in status, and these new acquaintances accord them what they view as more prestigious connections (remember the high school social food chain?). Maybe they derive considerable self-respect from fraternizing with more highly educated people who had better jobs, or who went to better colleges. For many people, status is extremely important to perceived self-image, even if at the expense of relationships that may have been right smack in the middle of their comfort zone, sadly.
And frankly, perhaps these people find it draining to spend time with you, for whatever reason. Maybe one of them doesn’t like one of you. We’ve all felt that with co-workers, bosses and many others we don’t particularly care for. Toxic relationships are everywhere, some of them, unfortunately, necessary.
Perhaps we not only dislike a person, but we hate the way we act when we’re around him or her. If you feel that you need to take a two-hour shower after a get-together – as if you’ve just spent a morning with a time-share salesperson – well, we’ve all been there.
Likewise, we’ve all socialized with others out of a sense of obligation and have had to psych ourselves up beforehand, as if we spent the previous 24 hours blowing up a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade balloon.
We have many acquaintances, but few true friends, on this planet. The latter ultimately embody an almost effortless level of trust, dignity, appreciation, honesty and a genuine caring for one another – in other words, your true friends rescue you from the stocks in that public square, your cell phone in hand. Fully charged, too.
You truly embrace these people and they let you be yourself when with them, totally relaxed, cherished and comfortable.
There will also be times in your life where you want to break up a friendship. The Sage would suggest that you show a generosity of spirit and maturity if and when that happens. Make it about you and your own place in life, and your changing needs and circumstances, not about what you perceive as the other person’s flaws or deficiencies.
For instance, you can say, ‘I feel that my life is pulling me in so many different directions these days. I want you to know that I will always truly value the friendship and the times that we have spent together.”
Remember that your situation – your health, your interests, your needs – will change in retirement, just as they have until now.
We all haveto make changes. But even though we may feel that a certain relationship has gone out of style, kindness and gratitude for past joys should not.
Good luck in making new friends who bring you lots more fulfillment and satisfaction. Just remember that no relationship is perfect, even with that German Schnauzer.