- Written by Sara Zeff Geber Ph.D. Sara Zeff Geber Ph.D.
If you are like me, a child-free Solo Ager, you have a more limited network of relationships than your parent peers.
For a parent, each child represents another factor in their network of relationships. The children’s relationships with their friends and, eventually, in-laws become part of the parents’ relationship network as well.
As a Solo Ager, if you are part of a couple, the strongest connection in your social network is probably your partner. If you are single, the strongest connections might be with your siblings or close friends.
Lesser, but still important, relationships are with cousins, sometimes nieces and nephews, and often with additional friends. Community ties are often stronger for people without children as well.
Strong evidence exists for a direct connection between social support resources (relationships) and good mental health. Strong social networks have buffering effects when we go through painful events or experience temporary stressors.
Relationships are critical for everyone, and especially for those of us who are child-free. Friends, relatives, and community ties are not just nice-to-have pieces of your life; they are key to your survival!
Anyone over 60 will likely tell you they have seen their primary relationships change over the years. Ideally, these changes marked a steady progression toward a core social support system, one that is mutual and rewarding to both parties.
For older parents, primary relationships include their adult children, whether those children are enjoyable to be around or not. For the rest of us, relationships are much more a matter of choice.
If you are finding you need to bolster your friendship network and you aren’t sure where to start, you may find the following suggestions helpful:
Look around you. Who lives in your neighborhood that you don’t yet know? Could you form a stronger friendship with a close neighbor?
What are you interested in? Join one of the thousands of “Meetups” occurring in communities every day around the United States (www.meetup.com). Stitch (www.stitch.net) also links people who share interests.
What do you care about? Whether your passion is local politics, animal rights, road safety, or practicing medicine halfway around the globe, volunteer opportunities exist for you to help change the world and at the same time meet likeminded people.
If you are unsure about how to get started, try VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org).
Go back to school. Is there a language you have always wanted to learn? A hobby you would like to pursue? A computer skill you wish you possessed? Classes are a great place to meet new friends with similar interests.
In addition to extension programs at local colleges, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) programs can be found on the campuses of many colleges across the country. Check out the Bernard Osher Foundation’s website (www.osherfoundation.org).
Are you interested in traveling? Taking a trip with likeminded older adults can spark some terrific friendships. Road Scholar (formerly Elder Hostel) is a tour company that serves only older adults.
Start online. In the same way young people are now meeting and getting to know one another through social media before they ever have a face-to-face encounter, older people can begin to form friendships in the same way. You can connect with all kinds of special-interest groups by searching online.
My husband likes to quote something his mother told him when he was in junior high: “To have a friend, you need to be a friend.”
Somewhere along the way, as your relationship develops, look for an opportunity to do something for your new friend. Offer a ride to the airport or an invitation to a dinner party. You may have the opportunity to offer caregiving after a minor medical procedure.
These kinds of small gestures are the glue that holds relationships together.
Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D., is a speaker, retirement coach, founder of LifeEncore, and author of Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Child-free Adults. Geber lives with her husband in Santa Rosa, Calif. www.lifeencore.com