by Growing Needs | Nov 29, 2022 | Lifestyle & Wellness, Lifestyle habits
More than half of the elderly have experienced loneliness since the pandemic, and friendships are particularly hard on older people, says a psychologist.
If you’ve ever tried to make new friends as an adult, you’ll probably see why loneliness is at an all-time high. Making new friends just feels plain hard.
In school, making friends can be as easy as going on the monkey bars together. But as adults, making, developing, and maintaining friendships can be rather difficult. This issue matters because we need friends. And while old friends are golden, nothing stays the same forever. Old friends may move far away or have their time taken up by child-rearing. Some may opt to focus on their careers.
Without action, loneliness can quietly grow within you. It’s worth taking seriously because evidence now suggests that chronic loneliness can be lethal. It is said to have the equivalent impact of 15 cigarettes a day on mortality rates. It’s not just you, either. As a matter of fact, loneliness has been at epidemic proportions in many countries, even before the COVID-19 pandemic started. In recent times, COVID-19 further amplified loneliness as it made it much harder for us to see our friends.
Before COVID-19, around a third of the population reported feeling at least one episode of loneliness. Since COVID-19 brought widespread disruption to our work and social lives, loneliness has soared. Surveys now find over half (54 percent) of the population report experiencing greater loneliness since the pandemic started. As we reach for a new COVID-normal, it’s worth evaluating your friendships and assessing whether you feel your social life is fine or could use a little help.
In a recent study, researchers interviewed adults about making friends. It was cited that the most important challenge was a lack of trust. That is, people found it harder to put their trust in someone new and fully invest in friendship compared to when they were younger. Perhaps that’s why many people try to keep their circle of old friends, if possible, given the trust they may have built up over many years. Who found it harder? Women were more likely than men to say they didn’t make new friends easily because they struggled to trust others.
So, what is it about adulthood? Well, as adults, we have greater self-awareness than children.
While that is often positive, it also means we’re more aware of the risks of being judged by others, not being liked, being rejected, and being hurt. Or perhaps it just means we’ve been through high school and our 20s. If we’ve had previous rejections as friends or suffered a breach of trust, we may find it harder to trust others in the future. To trust a new friend means opening ourselves up and being vulnerable, just as we do in relationships.
After the trust issue comes time. “Lack of time” was the second common reason cited after “lack of trust” when people were asked why they found it hard to make friends as adults.
This is not news to many of us. When we have demanding work schedules, very involved family lives, or a combination of the two, our time for investing in friendships drops. Even when we meet a promising new friend, it can be hard to carve out time to invest in him. This is a bigger problem for older adults as most people find their obligations increase with age.
How long does it take to make friends? It shouldn’t be a surprise that closer friendships take longer to build than casual acquaintances. There are researchers that had tried to quantify this. Their estimate is that it takes roughly 50 hours of shared contact to move from acquaintances to casual friends. To be a close friend? It will take more than 200 hours. What’s more, the hours you spend together need to be of quality. While you may well put in the time with work colleagues, those professional interactions don’t count for much. To develop a new friendship, you need a personal connection. It doesn’t have to be an intimate conversation to strengthen a friendship. Casual check-ins and joking around can be just as important.
There are many other barriers stopping us from having the friendships we want. These include having an introverted personality, health barriers, personal insecurities, maintaining a formal façade, and not allowing potential friends in. Older people are more likely to cite illness and disability as a barrier to socializing. Meanwhile, younger adults are more likely to be stopped by introversion and fears of rejection.
It’s entirely possible to overcome these barriers and build meaningful, long-lasting friendships. We don’t have to accept loneliness as inevitable. And while you might think everyone else is having a great social life, remember loneliness is widespread.
So, how do you do it?
You don’t have to climb mountains or bond intensely over a shared hobby to solidify a new friendship. If you allot 10 minutes a day, you can maintain existing friendships and build new ones. Send a text, forward a meme, add to the group chat, or give someone a quick call. Don’t get caught up on how much effort, energy, and time goes into building friendships. Ten minutes a day may be all you need.
When you do get to properly spend time with a friend or acquaintance, make the most of it. Avoid distractions – if possible, keep Instagram on the couch at home, and be present with your new friend.
We’re often scared by the idea of being vulnerable, but we should embrace it. Remember, you are in control of how much you trust and how much you open. If you struggle with trust, consider sharing personal information slowly rather than all at once. Yes, there is a risk in being vulnerable, but there is also the potential to connect on a meaningful level with another person, who may very well become a good friend. And that is a fine reward.
Growing Needs grew out of our own encounters with caring for our aging parents and reflecting on the Growing Needs that we ourselves would face as we advance in years. We hope to build a community that will learn, share and contribute towards caring for the growing needs of our loved ones.