I recently read an interesting piece: I Need a New Group of Friends where Janet Torge, the author, laments growing away from friendships that have filled her past life. I’ve been thinking about her realization that she needs actively to search out new friends.
Because I’ve moved about over the years, grew up in Halifax, lived in Toronto, in Winnipeg, spent a year in Italy, visited Australia, travelled, I’ve had various collection of friends over the years. I’ve learned friends are the people you have meals with, do things that interest you both, with whom you share laughter. Friends are people who help out if you’re in a pinch. Friends are those you stop to talk to regularly in the grocery store – the gal who runs the deli department, that special cashier who kibitzes with you when you’re checking out, the bank teller who takes time to chat. And after these past few years, I’ve come to realize my days are built around the solitary time I spend sewing, knitting, reading and writing and those conversations I pursue each day – the brief text messages, or emails about inconsequential things that may interest someone else. They all contribute to making me feel connected and each day satisfying.
I’ve never had a huge coterie of friends. I got burned in my early teens by a friendship group that turned on me when I defended one of the other girls for some minor “transgression.” It wasn’t until I was much older that I was able to build a broad coalition of friends. In Winnipeg, I learned to reach out to women interested in aspects of the world that interested me and others who expanded my horizons. I had a wonderful collection of friends there.
When I returned to Halifax four years later, I discovered many friends had moved on and I was in need of new people in my life. I reached out to the gals in the swimming class. As I was singing along to the exercise music one of the women recommended I come along to a chorus rehearsal. That led to many years of singing baritone in a series of women’s barbershop choruses. Great fun that. I was also sewing a lot and reached out to other women who sewed. I started travelling with groups interested in textiles – Bali, Peru, Italy, San Francisco – I made friends all along the way. These days I have swimming friends, and sewing and knitting friends, those who have been friends for a long time, friends I’ve met as I’ve travelled, some more recent friends.
In 2016 I moved into an apartment building – there were community activities – cribbage on Monday night, coffee Tuesday morning, other card games Thursday nights, knitters congregated on Friday afternoons. There was a core of people who participated in all these activities, others attended one or two. I decided to reach out to these folks, too.
Even through COVID lockdowns we have managed to get together, both indoors and out. Months ago, when restrictions were lifted, we went back to meeting regularly (some of us wearing masks, others comfortable without) but all of us enjoying the laughter which is an essential element of whatever’s going on.
As our lives change, our friends also change. Some fall by the wayside, new people come along. It’s important throughout our lives to keep reaching out to people, sustaining old friendships and building new ones.
Last week I had my 80th birthday. My niece and her sons, my nephew and his wife all arrived from Toronto just for the celebration. Seeing them in the doorway of the party room left me speechless. I wasn’t expecting them. It was a wonderful surprise having them there to celebrate with me. It was also terrific watching all of them work the room – walking up to strangers and asking “How do you know my Aunt Judith?” My grandnephews (now 20 and 21) have learned the art of a good opener! They had no difficulty engaging this gathering of mostly elderly women in interesting conversation – interesting for the gals as well as the boys.
So many people seem to forget how to start a conversation. Conversation is just storytelling; everybody has a gazillion stories to relate. “How do you know my Aunt Judith?” and another story is shared, building ties between people who moments before were strangers. In the elevator I’m joined by a couple carrying loaded grocery bags. “I see you were shopping!” – an easy conversation starter. The people in my apartment building all talk to one another in the elevator, in the lobby, in the garage. Everybody greets everyone else. It creates a sense of community everyone enjoys.
Regardless of age, everybody needs friends. You just have to reach out. Noticing something about a stranger can let you ask a question that starts a conversation – and maybe begins a new friendship!