Rebooting the buddy system

Posted on August 18, 2016
Filed Under Columns & essays, Events & news | 1 Comment | Email This Post

Relationship experts weigh in on the art and science of friendship after 50.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Michigan Prime, a supplement to the Sunday Detroit News and Free Press.

As Lennon and McCartney wrote, we all get by with a little help from our friends. But current medical research also shows that our health literally depends on the company we keep. In fact, having an active social network can significantly lower the risk for depression, enhance our ability to cope with illness, and increase longevity, explains Irene S. Levine, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine and creator of The Friendship Blog.

DSCN1916“One study suggests that friends may be more potent than family in enhancing our physical health and emotional well-being,” Levine says. Furthermore, as reported by AARP last year, women with large social networks reduce their risk of dementia by 26%.

Yet making new friends while keeping the old can be a challenge for empty nesters and retirees. Gone are the days of commiserating with other parents in the school parking lot, or gathering with coworkers by the coffee maker on weekday mornings. Other factors — including divorce, relocation, or becoming a caregiver – also complicate friendship later in life.

Ironically, Americans collect countless friends and followers on social networks, yet many report a lack of depth in their friendships, says Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness (Seal Press; $16).

“Between two-thirds and three-fourths of Americans believe there is more loneliness in today’s society than there used to be, and feel they have fewer meaningful relationships than they did five years ago,” Nelson says.

Reach out and meet someone

So, how and where do we begin to rebuild our social circles? Introverts, take note.

“Be open to anything,” advises Annick Hivert-Carthew, 68, a freelance writer in Auburn Hills. “I’ve lived in foreign countries for 40 years. It would have been lonely had I not taken the first step to meet people. I believe it’s easier for seniors to make new friends because we have more leisure time.”

Hivert-Carthew says she smiles a lot, chats with dog walkers and introduces herself to new neighbors. She also joined a senior center, takes classes, and volunteers for organizations.

“My neighborhood has an awesome Bible study group,” she adds. “I’m not religious, but I was curious, so I joined the group and I love it. We go to lunch, help each other during illness, share cultural activities, and knit hats for elementary schools in Detroit.”

Likewise, Mike Atwood, 68, a retired sales manager in Royal Oak, refuses to isolate himself.

Version 2“Making new friends is a matter of staying engaged in life and being interested in other people,” he says. “I make a point of meeting in person – not relying on social media to stay in touch.”

Shasta Nelson agrees.

“Time together is essential. Unless your time together is automatic — meaning you’re both paid to show up at the same job, for instance – there’s no other way to foster a real relationship,” Nelson says. “Growing a friendship requires a lot of initiation. Repeatedly. If you want to start a new friendship or revive an old one, you have to reach out several times.”

Roll with the changes

As we mature, it’s natural to put a premium on loyalty and shared history.

Marie Osborne, 58, host of “In the Mix with Marie and Rochelle” on WJR Radio, learned that true friends prove their mettle at life’s inevitable crisis points.

“Six years ago, when both of my parents died within three weeks of each other, I was in the funeral home and noticed three of my girlhood friends sitting together and chatting,” recalls Osborne, a Royal Oak resident. “At that moment I found the word to describe us. We were ‘lifers.’ These are the friends who understand you to the core – no words necessary.”

After 50, however, we’re also less tolerant of what experts call “imbalanced” relationships. More than 60 Prime readers were polled for this article, and several admitted they’ve dropped “toxic” friends who made them feel used, drained, neglected, manipulated or bullied. As one anonymous reader put it: “With age I have more self-respect, and I seek out friends who treat me well and are fun to be with.” Others admitted that they’d grown tired of “always being the one who reaches out” to initiate time together — and consequently allowed those friendships to expire.

According to sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst, most of us reevaluate or replace about half of our friends every seven years, usually due to a change in residence, career or lifestyle. If we’re trying to curb unhealthy habits, for instance, we might spend less time with pals who smoke or drink too much.

Or, as Marie Osborne found, some friends simply “drift apart” over time. “Those friends, although still loved, didn’t make the return effort of friendship,” Osborne explains.

Build your tribe

From Lucy and Ethel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the “best friend” partnership is often idealized in pop culture. Yet it’s unrealistic to expect one person to meet all of your friendship needs, warns Levine. It’s wiser to build a team of friends, including, say, the empathetic listener, the shopping buddy, the political ally, the fellow film buff, and the pal who loves sports or pets as much as you do.

And while you’re expanding your circle, don’t overlook friends from different age groups. Reaching across generations will sharpen your perspective on life.

But always take it slowly, Levine advises. “Don’t make the mistake of expecting too much too soon. Friendships take time to nurture and develop.”

How to be a good friend

Friendship experts and Prime readers agree that friendships thrive on mutual care and effort. Follow their tips to strengthen your own:

*Initiate. Don’t wait to be contacted. Invite pals to lunch; suggest special activities; host a gathering. Take turns making plans and follow through.

*Engage. Express interest in others; be a good listener. Don’t monopolize conversations with your own issues or problems. Ask questions; remember details about your friends’ lives.

*Communicate. Be responsive. Stay in touch with emails, texts, calls and birthday cards. Don’t let social media become a substitute for real contact with close friends.

*Reciprocate. Return favors, dinner invitations and other gestures of kindness. Show courtesy and respect. Aim for a balance of give-and-take.

*Support. Be there when times get tough — and to applaud your friends’ successes. Refrain from competitive or judgmental comments.

*Respect. Honor boundaries; don’t pressure friends to meet your needs.

*Affirm. Never take friends for granted. Express gratitude and affection often.

Photos by Cindy La Ferle, copyright 2016

My new essay in Victoria

Posted on July 25, 2016
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DSCN2106I just received an advance copy of the September issue of Victoria, which includes my new essay about the bittersweet process of selling my mother’s home and sorting through her belongings for an estate sale. This is my second piece in Victoria — one of my all-time favorite shelter magazines. September is my mother’s birth month, and I think Mom would be honored to know that her love of beautiful things is the subject of my essay. The new issue will be on the newsstands August 2. For a preview of what’s inside, please click here.

Something beautiful every day

Posted on July 12, 2016
Filed Under Events & news, My artwork | 4 Comments | Email This Post

For years I’ve posted inspirational quotes to illustrate my photographs on Facebook. Earlier this year, while taking a break from social media, I created a new blog to curate the photos in one place. I was thrilled when Jeanine Matlow featured it this summer in her weekly Homestyle column in The Detroit News. 

DSCN0943Purely visual, Something Beautiful Every Day: A Photo Diary” is an outgrowth of my personal challenge to find beauty and magic in ordinary moments — every single day.

The seed for this project was planted four years ago after my son Nate gave me a Nikon COOLPIX camera for Christmas. At the time, I was spending week after week in hospitals and nursing centers with my mother, who was battling vascular dementia and other health crises. At the day’s end, I’d find comfort shooting still life photos with my camera, then pairing them with inspirational quotes I’d collected.

What I enjoy most about this project is that it inspires me to look outside myself. In the past, spending too much time on social media left me feeling empty, unhealthy and unproductive. Today, I’m scouting for the magic hidden in ordinary moments — and I feel whole again. I hope you’ll visit me there soon, and share the link with your friends.

Once you’ve opened the blog’s main page, click on the “Subscribe” icon near the top right corner. You can receive daily updates via email or RSS feed.

 

 

How I became a dog person

Posted on July 11, 2016
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unnamed (1)I’ve always loved animals, yet I never imagined I’d become a fully registered “dog person” at this stage of life. Throughout most of my adulthood, I’ve been content to curl up on a couch with cats while binge-watching television. But that was before one stray dog changed everything…. To read more, click on this link to my current column in Michigan Prime, delivered monthly with the Sunday Detroit News and Free Press. Please flip to page three.

How to stop the worry machine

Posted on June 9, 2016
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DSCN9320If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably read or watched a few scary news stories about unusual heartbeats, headaches, skin rashes, memory lapses, or other frightening symptoms that made you doubt your own health, sanity or longevity. In my latest Michigan Prime column, I talk about the increase in health-related worries as we age — and what we can do to calm them. To read the column online, click here and flip to page 3.

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