Over the holidays, I host an ornament exchange, to which about twenty to thirty friends come. We always have a great time, and many of them tell me it is the highlight of their holiday season, which is nice, because it is certainly a highlight of mine. Why? Our children (the basis of our friendship years ago) are grown and gone now. With our busy schedules, many of us only see each other at this annual event.
Sadly, we are not unusual. Many adults are alone more than they’d like to be. If solitude becomes isolation or loneliness, though, it can have an adverse effect on our health and overall quality of life.
Adult friendship is typically forged through work or school and sporting events with the kids. Once that is gone, it takes a much more intentional effort to make social connections. But the effort is worth it, not only to fill a social calendar, but also to maintain the physical and mental health needed to thrive in middle age. We are, after all, social beings, and one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves is to cultivate our social lives.
One way to do this is to build on the wonderful way in which all of us become much more ourselves in middle age. By this time, pretense has fallen away. All of us have won and lost at life. We’ve questioned our decisions, and made small or radical changes as the years have gone by. We realize the value of companionship, of being seen and appreciated by someone we too see and appreciate. Without anything to prove, we can just enjoy each other. The pressure to impress is over.
Lately, I am conversely more protective of my alone time and more open to social outings with those I don’t know so well. The paradox provides a certain balance while making life more interesting, and I’ve found a few new friends along the way. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, “The sun of real happiness shines in your life when you start to cherish others.” Friends, old and new, really do make life pretty sweet.