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August 9, 2018

How Do We Make Friends?

By Hillary Wadsworth, Programme Manager Time to Shine

My little boy is due to start school in September and I find myself thinking about the friendships he will make; ‘will he make friends?’, ‘will he know anyone?.

The school has organised events for the new starters to meet each other, parents are contacting each other and setting up Facebook and Whatsapp groups. Everyone very aware of the need to help develop friendship groups and connections with others. All of which is really positive, but got me thinking about the help we receive and the expectations of making friends at certain life points.

We expect to make new friends as a child, at college or at university, but as we get older our expectation of the ability to make friends seems to decrease. Are we open to friendship at different stages of life?

Time to shine is gathering evidence on which approaches work best to address loneliness and isolation. The importance of friendships is coming to the fore as vital in alleviating symptoms of loneliness. Through discussions and ongoing work in both Leeds and across the other fourteen Ageing Better areas: the need connections with others and the protective factor of deeper friendships are becoming evident: The sort of friendship that feels comfortable and homely, the sort of friendship you can rely on and feel at peace with.

Me and my best friends have an unwritten rule that when we need a ‘top-up’ we can meet without children and have an opportunity to share, laugh.. Moan.

We teach children how to make friends – ‘just ask that little boy if you can play with him’. Is it that easy, can or should adults do that? Maybe the answer is that we should all be a bit more childlike – whether we’re 38 or 98; If we see someone we like the look of just ask them if you can join in. As they say play shouldn’t be only for the young!

But in many ways it isn’t that easy; as we get older we start to lose confidence, we start to over analyze what people think or us, we think we haven’t anything useful to share or that people won’t like us, old friends may have died or moved on. I once heard an older person say that they had ‘lost the art of communication’; through a lack of contact with others they felt they had nothing to share with others. I am of the firm view that everyone has something to give.

Maybe part of the solution is that yes, as we age we need to be open to making new friendships, but we should also try and help others to establish friendships too. Help to create the environment (like we’d do with children) for adults to make friendships with others.

Do you know someone who could do with a friend – think about them.

Do you know of two people with a similar hobby – connect them.

Do you know anyone of a similar heritage – connect them, introduce them.