I just moved into a senior retirement complex
“Never underestimate the empowering effect of human connections.”
I smile as I stick the vinyl letters of this quote on the kitchen of my new apartment. I thought carefully about what quote to put here. What means the most to me? What really defines me?
Connecting with others is what’s most important to me.
I strongly believe that we need connections with others to be happy. Though I’m quiet and reserved, and I do need my space, my time alone, I have a compelling need to connect with others. Check the next link with a quick guide on how to check your paystubs.
I’ve just moved from a rural area, where for days I didn’t see any other living things than deer, raccoons, squirrels, even a bear lumbering through. I found that, after a few days without seeing another person, I’d get a little uneasy, on edge, so I’d hop in my car to go to the library, the 7-Eleven or somewhere just to see and hear other people.
Now I’ve moved into a senior retirement complex.
I don’t know anyone in the complex or the area. When I knew I had to move, I made a list of pros and cons about whether to live in a regular apartment or a senior residence.
A big deciding factor for a senior residence was that I’d have people right in the building. I wouldn’t have to get in my car and drive somewhere to find people. I could make friends with people who were my age and facing some of the same challenges; we’d support each other, get through this aging thing together. It sounded more appealing and didn’t cost much more.
I firmly believe that belonging and connecting to others is a basic part of being human. We need people around us and this need is hardwired into our brains. We’re a social species. We don’t do well alone.
According to experts, our bodies actually tend to work better when we’re not alone. Being lonely has been linked to damaging physical and emotional health outcomes and poorer well-being. Experts recommend we connect with others in a social setting at least once a week. Even being around strangers is better than sitting alone at home.
I know I’ve got to step out of my comfort zone to get people in my life. Falling into friendships isn’t as easy as it was. I know I’ve got to make it happen. To get friends, I assume I’ll have to put out all the effort.
Here’s what I propose to do; maybe you’ll get some ideas from my plan. I’m considering it as a learning experiment. I’ll see what works and what doesn’t work.
First, I have to find some potential candidates. I’ve got plenty, right here. However, if you live alone, you’ve got to get in your car and go to where potential people are, like a library, learning in retirement center, church, senior center, volunteer.
As you meet people, smile, make eye contact, appear open. As I look for people to talk to, I look for those who make eye contact with me, smile at me, appear approachable.
Remember that most people are just as uncomfortable about this as you are, maybe even more so. Though we have a need to connect with others, most of us are uncomfortable actually doing it.
Once you’ve made an initial connection with someone, you’ve got to get a conversation going. I do this by asking questions; probably I ask too many which does put people off. But ask simple things like “Where do you live?” “How did you come to be here today?” etc. Your goal is to determine whether you click with this person, whether you have things in common.
Open-ended questions are best —questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
“Tell me more about . . .” is always good. Besides showing the other person you want to hear more, this can help you learn whether you have anything in common with them.
Look for the interests or experiences that you share. Maybe you like the same kind of music; both enjoy volunteering or have similar professional backgrounds. Use those common interests as the foundation of your relationship.
When you click with someone, invite them to do something with you. Exchange phone numbers, ask them to do something outside of the situation you’ve met them in.
This is an important step. Many of us hit a wall here. I certainly do. We’re scared to put ourselves out there to be rejected. But if you don’t take action, you won’t form any new relationships.
Open up to the person you want to be friends with. Not too much, too soon — that puts off others. Trust is built when you are authentic, empathetic and perceived as competent.
Once you’ve made a new friend, stay in touch. Regular contact deepens your connection with others.
Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at email@example.com.