Aug 16, 2008

Create a Strong Friendship Network

Whether you retire rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, you will almost surely be poor in spirit during your retirement years, unless you have both good friends and the skill to make more. And this is likely to be true even if after an over-busy life your dream is to avoid the chattering masses while looking for happiness in splendid isolation.

The reason we all need friends later in life is simple -- retirement can last a long time, and as we age, our old friends tend to die or disappear, just as we ourselves tend to get increasingly shy and intolerant. Thus, while at 25 we probably included all sorts of people in our broad friendship network, by 75. chances are we have become less trusting, less open, and more likely to give up on the possibility of making new friends.

And don't just assume that your old friends will see you through. Especially if you live a long time, your friends will move away and die. And friends who are closely linked to work, sports, or some other activity are likely to disappear when you change your routine. Add to this the possibility that, should your spouse die before you, many of your "couple friends" are likely to drift away, and it's easy to see why it's so important to be able to renew your friendship networks.

So ask yourself, when is the last time you made a real friend -- someone not connected with work or your raising kids? If the answer is "it's been a while," you have some work to do. That's because if you're already losing the knack of social networking in mid-life, you are highly unlikely to rediscover it when you are older and less sure of yourself.

To counter the real threat of spending a lonely retirement, commit yourself to making new friends now. And make sure that at least some of these friends are younger than you are. Think of it this way: If most of your friends are about your age or older, and you live into your eighties, many, if not most, will die or become mentally incapacitated before you do. Not only will this deprive you of their companionship and increase the likelihood that you will spend many hours and days alone, but losing a friend is always a painful event. This is true even though you still have other friends or the ability to make new ones.

Here is how my friends Michael Phillips and Catherine Campbell, authors of Simple Living Investments for Old Age (Clear Glass Publishing) -- a small book I highly recommend -- put it:

The death of friends, including lovers and family, will be a powerful and debilitating force. As we age, the names listed in our personal phone books will slowly be crossed out. To sense the extent of the problem, we can imagine a party to which a large number of long-time friends are invited. Now picture the same guest list when we are 65: One out of four, 25% of our male friends, will have died, and 15% of the females will be dead. By the time we are 85, only one out of five men who were our friends at age 35 will still be alive, and only two out of five women.

When we travel to a city where we once had many friends, it will be painful to try to reconnect with them. Too often the person on the other end of the phone will say, 'He died in March, didn't you hear?'

To clearly understand how death will rob us of our friends as we age, consider that a person who had 200 friends, close associates, and relatives in his/her life-circle at age 35 will -- at age 75 -- be losing to death one male friend every two months and one female friend every four months. Ten years later, when that person is 85, the rate of loss will have doubled, with a male friend dying every month and a female friend dying every other month. The death rate difference between males and females means that those of us still alive at age 85 will have twice as many women friends as men, assuming we started with an equal number of each in our earlier days.