Feeling alone in the Empty Nest? Follow these 5 silly secrets that will help you find your tribe and start connecting and enjoying your Empty Nest freedom.
This post is part 4 of a 5 part series: The Empty Nest Mom’s Survival Guide.
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My daughter’s schoolyard days are far behind her now, but the dramas she faced way back then are still fresh in my memory.
“No one wants to play with me!” she bellowed, frustrated at the latest cliquish behavior from the grade school in-crowd.
“No one?” I prodded.
“Well, no one that I want to play with.”
Making Friends is Hard
And therein was the quandary. She’d set her sights on a very small social group and put the fate of her happiness in their nail polished hands. As a result, she fell victim to their whims to include her or leave her out.
Perhaps one of the most surprising facts of being an Empty Nest mom, for me, was the loss of my social circle. Maybe you’re feeling the same. Or maybe you’re watching your little birds leave one by one and looking for ways to broaden your friend group.
Whatever your circumstances, we can agree that making friends after 40 is tougher than the beef jerky I found languishing in my son’s glove box this summer.
When our kids were younger, there were play dates and lessons and all other manner of organized activities where parents were thrown together. I spent most of my kids’ school years driving to field trips, setting up dances, and putting together Lacrosse tournaments- and loved every minute of it.
Consequently, when my kids moved on to the college years with a brand new set of friends, I felt blind-sided and left out in the cold.
If you’re looking for a new tribe but not quite sure where to start, here are a few secrets that might seem silly at first. Maybe they’re things you’ve told your kids in the past, or tips you already know.
But knowing and doing are two different things, right? Choose a silly idea and make it your own.
1. Don’t be a Counting Clara.
The rise of social media has given an inflated view of the word “friend”.
As a result, we labor under the misperception that surely others have more friendships than we do. This summer, I had the tragic experience of attending the funeral of a man who had taken his own life.
Many in the roomful of people came up to the microphone; recounting the small kindnesses he had shown them. The favor he’d done without expecting anything in return, the word of encouragement when they were down on their luck.
Yet, family members who spoke with him in his last days agreed he saw himself as friendless and alone. He was convinced no one would miss him when he was gone.
Take Stock of What You Have
Probably most of us have felt this way at one time or another. Yet, I’m here to tell you it’s simply not true. The loss of your network may seem devastating, but now is the time to take stock of people you can count as friends.
Figure out how many friendships you truly need and why you need them. You may be the kind of person who needs a dozen friends, but very few really deep relationships. If you’re more like me, 3-5 close friends is the perfect number.
After all, no one person can fill every need for friendship. Furthermore, it’s unrealistic to expect the “ultimate friend” we may believe exists just beyond our grasp.
Friends can be:
- A work associate or professional friendship
- Someone we share a hobby with
- A childhood friend
- Someone who shares a faith or religious practice
- A neighbor
- An exercise partner
- Someone we know through social media or a Facebook group
- A member of a book club
- Or even a service provider
If you have one true friend, you have more than your share.Thomas Fuller
2. Don’t be a Stuck-Up Sally.
Don’t expect friendships to be handed to you on a silver bleacher seat. You will need to put more effort into starting a friendship once kids’ activities are gone.
Something about beginning anything after age 40 just seems unfair, am I right? I have put in my time on the novice list and others should be waiting in line to make my acquaintance and learn from my brilliance.
Make the First Move
Sadly, I’ve had this attitude and it hasn’t served me well. We have incredible gifts and experiences to offer others, but how will they ever know if we refuse to make the first move?
Research suggests what we see in our daily experiences. “People are becoming increasingly individualistic, materialistic, and narcissistic…. spending more and more time online and, thus, keeping to themselves.”
“Alone, bad. Friend, good.”Bride of Frankenstein
3. Don’t be a Lazy Lucy.
One of the most frequent bits of advice I’ve received in the Empty Nest is to volunteer. You may have lots of experience as unpaid staff at events that directly benefited your children or family. But are you willing to volunteer without a payoff?
I must admit I’ve grown lazy in this area. Before our children were born, my husband and I volunteered to help in Sunday school. We still remember those times fondly, even as the Kindergarteners we once taught now have children of their own.
Choose volunteer activities that involve some type of physical component. Our family helped with toddlers on Easter Sunday this year. Surprisingly, we bonded quickly with the other adults who were rocking criers and cleaning up spills.
When I say physical activity I don’t mean you need to be a body builder or run a marathon. Simply delivering food or straightening chairs after a meeting count.
“friendship is the most important thing–not career or housework, or one’s fatigue–and it needs to be tended and nurtured.”Julia Child
4. Don’t be a Needy Nancy.
“I actually found that I was so starved for friendship that I tended to talk too much about myself instead of asking questions and listening as much as a good friend should.” Suzy at Empty Nest Blessed
This point hits a bit too close to home for me. I’ve been a Needy Nancy at several points in my life, and for good reasons. Empty Nest moms have plenty of issues to talk about to, and we can get in the habit of sharing our drama with anyone who will listen.
Be Careful of Dumping
Air your neediness appropriately. Examine your motivation for finding friends. Do you just want a listening ear or a place to dump your problems? Consider counseling if that’s the case.
You see, nothing will stifle a friendship more quickly than bringing your agenda. In the end, relationships built on negative experiences usually don’t stand the test of time.
“Friends are the bacon bits in the salad bowl of life.”Unknown
5. Don’t be a Boring Bertha.
The truth is, most of us have a very small world, and it gets smaller every day. Too often I feel my focus has shrunk to the size of my 3×5 inch cell phone screen.
Make the effort to develop a new interest and look for friends along the way.
Need motivation to sign up for something new? Just remember how proud you are of your young adult child. They’re expanding their knowledge by leaps and bounds, taking challenging classes and joining clubs and groups.
Plenty to Talk About
Use your time apart to do the same and you’ll have plenty to talk about when your young adult returns home. Summon the courage to put yourself in a new situation and your empathy for and understanding of your young adult will grow by leaps and bounds.
The best time to make friends is before you need them.Ethel Barrymore
My daughter’s playground drama continued until I took decisive action. I made an appointment to share lunch with her at school, and afterward, followed her onto the playground to see the injustice for myself.
She dutifully pointed out the “who’s who” of popular kids in her class. Sure enough, they had formed a cozy group by the monkey bars and looked to be having a great time-without her.
But then I glanced around the mulch-covered rectangle. My eyes saw something completely different than my daughter was describing.
There were kids at every corner, swinging by themselves or just sitting alone.
“How about that girl?” I pointed out.
“Oh, that’s just Sarah.” She replied dismissively.
One by one, she named the children I identified as potential friends. Slowly, her expression changed as she realized her possibilities for new buddies were nearly endless.
I taught my daughter a valuable lesson that day, and it bore fruit in some sweet memories she cherishes to this day. But those new friendships never would have happened had she limited herself to past successes.
Seems like it’s time for me to remember my own advice. Maybe, instead of feeling sad about the good old days, I need to look around the playground with new eyes.
Please share your friendship stories! How have you discovered a new tribe?
“As soon as I saw you, I knew adventure was going to happen.”Winnie the Pooh