A Reunion, Old Friends, and Social Security

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

You can’t make old friends.  You either have them or you don’t.  ~ Kenny Rogers

It’s reunion time again; my high school besties and I are in Myrtle Beach celebrating 48 years of friendship. We do this every other year, gathering over Columbus Day weekend to reconnect and reminisce about our incredible journey.

It Takes a Long Time to Grow an Old FriendOur group is smaller this year. We are saddened by two girlfriends who can’t make it and beloved classmates who passed away. Their absence hurts, creating empty spaces in our reunion circle. We talk about the importance of cherishing each day given to us.

Old friends are the best friends. C.S Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” These sisters of my heart share a unique bond with me. We share a  BRAT history, our Dads assignment to SHAPE Belgium threw us together and we became each other’s family.  We are unbreakable, even when we are apart.

No Time Like the Present

Friendships underwrite a meaningful life. Maintaining these bonds becomes even more important as we grow older. No matter where I am in the world, these are the women that truly know, love and support me.

One Day the Plane Ticket will Be One WayThe absence of my sisters makes our circle feel incomplete. We’ve been a group of five for so long we fear the day one of us is gone forever. The heartache of losing friends celebrating with us two years ago offers a stark reminder that our final plane ticket is one way.

As we were hugging and reconnecting, our missing girlfriends came walking through the door, surprising us beyond words. It was the best kept secret of the reunion! Tears of joy and shouts of OMG were all we could manage. Our circle is whole again.

People of a Certain Age

When I was a teenager, Social Security was something old people got. A check came each month reaffirming their old age and they stopped doing all the things they loved.  I know—but I was fifteen, and the age I am now seemed too far away to imagine.

Social Security CardsI am reminded of this misconception when I sit down to complete my own Social Security application. It’s all done online and almost too easy to believe it will execute seamlessly. It did.

Our reunion this year is about becoming people of a certain age, leaving the work force, downsizing, relocating and stepping into our social security years. This is what we talk about, exchanging stories about retirement and the many ways we’re adjusting to not working in a nine to five job.

It’s been a very long journey to get to this place.

The Friends You Chose Make Difference

Friendships are the relationships we choose. Studies show that healthy long-term relationships make aging more enjoyable, lessen grief and loss, and provide solidarity and support in the later years of life.

Enduring friends are part of a healthy lifestyle. In the absence of strong family connections, close friends provide the encouragement so important for older adults.   When family relationships demand increased caregiving responsibilities or financial support it changes plans, creates stress and negatively impacts our physical and psychological health. Friends shore us up.

The people we have around us, the support we give and receive, and our shared experiences build the friendship infrastructure needed for the long haul. When you invest in friendships that inspire you to stay healthy you have a good chance of remaining healthy during crisis times.

Friendships Help Us Age Well

As we enter middle age, we have more demands on our time, many of them more pressing than friendship. The risk of older adults withdrawing from their friend network or reducing their number of friends is often a result of declining health, changing roles within the family or loss of income due to retirement.

Real FriendsWhen the number of friends decreases with age, one of the simplest explanations is that people out-survive their friends. As we age, we also become more selective in our friendships, dissolving relationships that become tangential; focusing on strengthening quality relationships that reinforce our emotional ties.

In a pair of studies involving nearly 280,000 people, William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, found that friendships become increasingly important to one’s happiness and health across their lifespan. “Friendships become even more important as we age,” says Chopik. “Keeping a few really good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being.”

As you age, your friends influence your happiness.  From age 65 on, valuing and investing in friendships makes a bigger difference than it did when you were younger.

Old Friends are Good Friends

Friendships are unique relationships because, unlike family, we choose to enter into them. We make new friends at each reunion, discovering common experiences that widen our circle. It does not take long for a new friend to become an old friend.

Being around old friends and welcoming new ones upholds and reinforces the compassion, sensitivity and understanding we shared when we were young. These traits shaped us into the people we are now and keep us connected.

Old friends are a constant in my life; a reminder of relationships begun 48 years ago when Social Security was way over there with wrinkles and bad knees. A testament to what it means to be friends.

We endured, along with the deeply held belief that friendships like ours confirm the people we are today continue to celebrate the young people we once were.