Are you lonely? It’s not an easy feeling to admit. Whether that’s from shame, feeling as if there’s something wrong with us, or because we feel that we are the only ones experiencing it. Let me lay that idea to rest. Based on conversations I’ve had with women when facilitating my 100% Event, loneliness is far more common than we think.
There’s a lot of reasons we might find ourselves in this state and it has little to do with our relationship status. When I share my experiences of loneliness I can draw from times when I was single and in a relationship. As soon as I admit to it, I find other women nodding their heads. It’s time we brought this topic out into the open.
Fringe lifestyles contribute to loneliness
Life has decidedly become more complex. For women in mid-life they are experiencing the realities of a changing society. More than just the sandwich generation, some are raising their grandchildren. Sometimes this is due to their children’s mental health, addiction or complex relationship issues.
For these women they are juggling multi-generational demands, with little time or energy to meet their friendship and social needs. Unlike their own initial parenting days, they may find themselves on the fringes. From a different generation than the parents of their grandchildren’s friends, they are less likely to receive invitations to come for a coffee or stay for a visit following an event. The kinds of interactions that can lead to friendships.
Then there are changes in proximity. I’ve personally experienced the loss of friends who’ve chosen to move so they can be closer to their grandchildren. Or, as new grandparents, suddenly have less time for their former social habits. Understandable, but as someone without grandchildren, it places you on the fringe.
Your adult children shouldn’t be your only friends
With more adult children living at home than ever before, it’s too easy to make them our confidantes and social network. Being close to our adult children is great, but they should never replace our independent friendships. Nor should they be the buffer if the relationship with your husband has stalled.
Boundaries within families are important for the emotional and mental health within the family context.
Women need women friends. Even if we’re in a relationship, however good – or not- we interact differently with each other. We listen differently, we share different aspects of ourselves with our women friends. We seek out information and lean on each other differently. And because that’s true, as close as we are to our adult children, there are some parts of ourselves that are best kept out of our relationships with them.
And, the fact is, that unfortunately, when our intimate relationships aren’t good, we need our friends even more.
Loneliness following relationship changes
Then, there’s the changes in our marital status. With the greatest numbers of divorces happening in later life, some women find themselves on the outside of former couple relationships. And even adrift from the in-law network. People with whom you have spent decades attending weddings, funerals and birthdays. A network of people no longer available.
Sometimes we also find that as adult children sort out the changes in their parent’s marital status, they step back from you. They may choose to distance themselves or favour the other parent. Leaving you with even fewer people to break up your time alone or with whom to mark special occasions .
Combating loneliness through focused friendship making
Since it’s well documented how important friendships are, what’s the answer to making new friends?
I’ve found the most important factor is choosing to be open to opportunities. Strike up some conversations with people you see often but don’t know. Perhaps at the gym, or at work. Or, you may need to stretch your wings and begin to seek out some classes or groups which interest you. Yes, that may mean initially going alone, but you never know who you might meet.
The days of meeting people at school are done.
Now, it’s up to you to take the initiative and break out of your regular patterns. Find places where people are willing to engage with you. Consider doing some service work, where you can meet others who share your interests.
When you are out there, meeting new people, don’t make the mistake of disregarding people who are younger or older than you. Every generation has a unique perspective to share and connections to groups or events you don’t. The joy of having friends decades younger or older than yourself is in the vibrancy and wisdom that each bring to the friendship.
Some experiences will be similar and others unique to the decade in which you belong. I’ve found myself in discussions of all sorts with younger friends. From politics to education to sorting out relationships. It’s mutually rewarding to consider the information and knowledge that comes about.
Building friendships take time and effort. Some of those new people you meet might end up being friendly acquaintances, others could be more. You won’t know until you try.
The land of lonely is no place to be and it is detrimental to our health. Based on the conversations I’ve had, there are others in the same boat. Just because loneliness isn’t being talked about doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So, before you feel as if this condition is yours alone, know that there are others, just like you, looking to build their friendship circle.