Two weeks ago I attended the 50th reunion of my high school class. We had over 500 members in our class, and the event was attended by over 200. For me, it was both a joyful and sobering evening. I really had not kept in touch or seen many of them since the day we received our diplomas, and it was wonderful to be with them again. Fortunately the organizers had the foresight to provide name tags with included our senior picture, which enabled quick name recognition. Face recognition was another story. There were those who I recognized in a moment and others for whom the name tag was a saving grace (I probably fit into that category). We spent the evening reliving old memories, sharing pictures of children and grandchildren, and catching-up on 50 years of marriages, careers and other life events. We also took a moment to remember the many classmates (over 70 of them) who had passed-on, but whom we knew were with us in spirit. As the evening ended and we shook hands, hugged, and said our goodbyes I realized that this would probably be the last time I would see many of them. Yes, there will be a 60th reunion (Let’s start planning Ben!) and some beyond that, but the reality is there will be fewer of us attending each of these events. But here’s the good news; in the meantime, by making an effort to maintain our connections, our friendship, our relationships, we can actually add to each other’s lives.
Studies conducted at Aalto University in Finland and the University of Oxford in England demonstrate that the older we get, the smaller our friendship pool becomes. The research revealed that most people’s circle of friends begins to decrease at age 25 and the decline continues to retirement. For men it can be even more difficult with two-thirds of a survey group of men over the age of 65 reporting they don’t have a close friend. At the same time there is a growing body of research that confirms that maintaining and expanding our circle of friends is essential to our medical, psychological and social well-being as we age. What it comes down to is choice, and there are a few simple ones we can make to maintain those connections, relationships and friendships:
Structure Friend Time: Ryan Hubbard a partner at Hinterland Innovation in Melbourne Australia recommends creating a schedule to ensure we “hang-out” with friends on a regular basis. It can be a monthly “First Tuesday” dinner, a yearly golf get-away, a weekly card game, or a quarterly “gathering” at the local pub. Whatever the venue, the important thing is, it is scheduled!
Reach Out: Maintaining friendships can be hard, especially when distance is an issue. Periods of silence may be a sign the friendship needs nurturing. William Rawlins, professor of communication at Ohio State suggests a simple, “We’ve been friends a long time, and I miss hearing from you.” can serve to rekindle the regular communication that all relationships need. It’s a simple phone call, facetime or zoom, but by reaching out we simply say, I’m here for you!”
Use Social Media: While this venue should not be a primary source of friendship, it does enable us to share aspects of our lives with those who are important to us. Beyond individual on-line “friends”, social media enables us to rekindle relationship through common interest groups (High School Graduating Class, Military Affiliations, Fraternal Organizations). This venue can often serve to facilitate later face-to-face experiences.
In the short time since our reunion, a classmate who was ill and unable to join us has passed on. I knew her well and now wish I had reached out. However, another, who was unable to attend the event, reached out on social media and proposed an informal “Reunion II” at a local community pub next month. It’s already on my calendar (Structured Friend Time) and I’m looking forward to it. Next Spring I plan to visit another classmate in North Carolina for a weekend of golf.
I’ve come to realize that it was this group of people, those with whom I spent the formative years of my life, that contributed to me becoming the person I am today. Yes, there were my parents and others, but we cannot ignore or discount any one group. We are a sum of the people, experiences and choices we have made in our life. Hence, my choice now will be to reach-out and rekindle relationships with old friends. While this may not serve to renew my youth, I’m certain it will generate some memories that will bring a smile to my face; it doesn’t get much better than that!