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Creeping Isolationism

I  had an interesting discussion recently with Ed, an old friend.  We were talking about aging and its effects upon friendships and social activity.  Ed, in his early seventies, said, “I’m experiencing what I would call ‘creeping isolationism.’ It is partially due to my retirement but I’m also aware that the older I get the less socially active I care to be. I’m much more comfortable staying at home and being sedentary. The effect, though, is that I see fewer people socially and am increasingly isolated.”

His remarks prompted me to examine my own social activity and to assess if what he described was true for me. I believe it is.  Like Ed, as I age I become more comfortable being alone and I believe this is true for people in general.  I have had a number of older friends tell me they would much prefer to read a book or watch a good TV show than spend time with people with whom they have little in common.  It seems that social activity for social activity’s sake is much less attractive as we age.

One’s energy level is a factor.  I have an “anything’s possible” attitude in the morning but it dissipates as the day goes on.  I recently commented to Felicia, my wife, “Doesn’t it seem that activities we plan in the morning are generally less attractive by the time afternoon rolls around?”  She agreed and added, “I’d change ‘less attractive’ to ‘out of the question.’  If we haven’t done it by one or two in the afternoon, it’s not going to happen.”

I think also as we age we tend to be more choosey about whom we spend time with. When I was a young man, it was not unusual to share activities with individuals who were high maintenance socially but had some redeeming quality.  For example, I played a lot of racquetball with a fellow who had a prickly personality and was intermittently curt and somewhat insulting, but because we were equally matched and enjoyed many competitive games, I put up with his deficient social skills.  At this stage of my life, however, the strain of having to ignore such boorishness is something I am no longer willing to tolerate.  The same is true for spending time with folks who do not get along.  For example, Felicia and I avoid those couples who bicker when they are around others.  Such folks, though they may be sweet people when not in each others’ company, make socializing a chore.

So, as we age, it can become more challenging to build and maintain friendships and to stay active.  The decrease in social contact due to retirement; the increasing comfort with alone time; the lowered energy level; the higher standards for interpersonal compatibility—all of these things add up to fewer friends and less social activity.

The solution, it seems, is to make an effort to be more proactive about meeting new friends and to schedule activities that demand follow-through. I am much less prone to cancel attendance at an event for which I bought tickets than for one that costs nothing.  I am also aware of how good I feel after going out and being active at times when I normally would not do so.  

There is a saying in psychotherapy circles: “Feeling follows action.”  I believe it applies here—that is, by being more socially active and behaving as though social activity is important, it will then become so.        

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.    


Comment from Bill
Time: November 1, 2007, 9:23 am

I am only 40, yet I am beginning to have these same feelings towards spending time with “friends” that are unpleasant to be around. As well, I am starting to be a little more careful about any complaining or bickering that I do around people whose company I enjoy.

Comment from KU
Time: November 13, 2007, 10:35 am

I have a bit of a differnt situation, but I care for my boyfriend, so with working and running with him after work, come the weekends, I enjoy not having any plans, and to just stay inside, cook, watch tv and nap. I am only 32, but have done my fair share of going out, that I am starting to enjoy the simpler things in life!

Comment from T.K.
Time: August 11, 2008, 10:58 am

You are so right on – I am 56 – my husband is 71 and we are finding that we enjoy our own company so much more than the company of the uber-toxic groups of people we know.

One by one, the couples we used to see regularly are becoming less and less attractive…their values are so different from ours. They do not like to go out to eat, no one entertains at home – and they regard saving money as the end-all to life. If anything costs more than a trip to the local dumpy restaurant, forget about going with them! Dressing up – a thing of the past…it is like being on another planet…

We enjoy entertaining people at home but there is almost NO reciprocation – these people haven’t a clue – they have no time management skills and run around like chickens without heads – I also think there may be issues because I teach cooking and run a tea room and events catering facility!

We enjoy cocktails on our little deck in the back of our home, take walks with our lab and kick back and enjoy movies and playing backgammon together. We stay in touch with the people we know but we are increasing the distance between us. Familiarity breeds contempt

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