The Family We Create

As I am writing this post, we are still in the middle of Covid, and for many of us, that means we are hanging out at home—perhaps with family or often alone. We’ve been told since last Spring that this virus is particularly dangerous for older people and those with underlying conditions. It’s pretty difficult to have lived seventy years or more without having some kind of condition, so we are vulnerable on two fronts.

We’ve been living this solitary lifestyle since early last March, when Covid first became a topic of conversation. If we have been following CDC recommendations all this time, we haven’t seen very many people. Of course, in many neighborhoods it is possible to go outside and take a walk, as long as we do it wearing a mask and observing the suggested social distance. Another way to see people up close and personal is to host them on your driveway if you have a big enough driveway. It is a little awkward to carry on a conversation with people spread out all over the place, but it can be done.

Then, of course, there is virtual communication through FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and the most popular choice, Zoom. Zoom takes a little getting used to and can seem frustratingly complicated the first few times you use it. Even those of us who like to think of ourselves as computer savvy seem to struggle a bit with Zoom.

We have gotten quite inventive when it comes to spending time with people, because the alternative has little appeal for most of us. While we need social interaction, what we really need are friends. We need friends all our lives but never more than in our later years. “Friends become increasingly important to health and happiness as people age,” according to an article in Personal Relationships. “They’re so crucial, in fact, that having supportive friendships in old age was found to be a stronger predictor of wellbeing than having strong family connections.”

Strong friendships actually help us live longer. They boost our immune system and reduce stress, chronic pain, the risk of heart disease, and high blood pressure. We don’t need a scientific proof to remind us how much we miss seeing our friends. Somehow, writing emails, even long ones; texting; talking on the phone; and getting together on Zoom aren’t satisfactory substitutes for getting together face to face.
We not only need friends, we need those friends to be part of our support system. Life is unpredictable, especially as we grow older. When we hit a rough patch, we need those who will understand what we are going through or at least be able to listen to us as we try to explain.

As we age it’s difficult enough to expand our social circles, but the older we are, the more likely we are to see our contemporaries die, each death a profound loss. Old friends cannot be replaced, but new friends can help to fill the void. It takes imagination and courage to develop new relationships at this stage of our lives. And the longer we are isolated, the more difficult it becomes.

I speak from my own experience. I have worked in a solitary profession for thirty years. Shortly after I closed my business, Covid hit like a hurricane, and I immediately went into lockdown because I am in that vulnerable group that is considered particularly vulnerable. I am fortunate to be living with family and so am not completely alone. But I have recently moved to a new city and have not yet met people. Back in St. Louis I entertained friends at driveway get-togethers, but that of course, is no longer happening.

Connecting with strangers online feels a bit intimidating, but I have met a couple of lovely women that way in the course of trying to finish my latest book. My copyeditor and website designer, who were total strangers just a few weeks ago, are becoming friends. Meeting them was pure synchronicity, but it tells me there could be other really neat people out there, just waiting for me to show up.

As a start, I’m going to explore Meetup groups, book clubs, political-party headquarters in my new state, and any senior citizens’ groups I can find. If I reach out to people with like interests, I am bound to connect with a few of them. I will let you know how that works out in future blog posts. In the meantime, you might want to give it a try and let me know if you have any success.