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Experience

Experience October/November 2023

An Old Man’s Search for Friends

Joe Weeg

Summary

  • Friendships are important for overall well-being.
  • Spouses are different than best friends.
  • To make a friend, you must be open to connections and actively engage with others, much like looking up to see a butterfly.
  • Making friends when you're older can be challenging.
  • Friendships are important no matter their depth or duration.
An Old Man’s Search for Friends
istockphoto.com/Sand555

Jump to:

Now, so get on board the Friendship Train
Everybody, shake a hand, shake a hand
Yes, I’m talking about the Friendship Train
Come on buddy, shake a hand, make a friend
—Gladys Knight & The Pips, “Friendship Train,” 1969

The dilemma. Let’s start out with the obvious: I don’t have friends.

“Duh!” you say. “Of course you don’t.”

Fine, but let’s set personality aside for the moment and do a small review of the past. I did have work buddies—cops, prosecutors, defense lawyers, staff, and investigators—but I’m long retired and travel too much to be good for lasting relationships.

I had parent connections when our kids were in elementary and middle school, but they all peeled off as my personal-time-off days grew into distant memories of “B-25, do we have a bingo?” I had college roommates and high school and grade school pals, but they soon disappeared as we all started our careers and families and very important lives.

So, you doubters, I did have people who liked me. I just don’t have them now. Now I’m an old man, and the people I meet slip through my fingers like the fine grains of my remaining time. Friendless.

“But why do I need friends anyway?” I whine to my friend-promoting wife.

Watching my wife read to our granddaughter is a deep pleasure. The sounds of bombing in Ukraine, the smell of fires in Canada, and the need for active-shooter drills all disappear in the hush of reading to a limp, liquid child in your lap. Still in their pajamas with the dog at their feet, the story of Delia’s Dull Day by Andy Myer is read aloud by my wife as I drink my coffee and listen, barefooted.
Reading Delia’s Dull Day by Andy Myer.

Reading Delia’s Dull Day by Andy Myer.

Joe Weeg

Why do we need a friend?

Truly, why should we care about friendships?

Well, the popular press and medical online sites certainly care. Friendships enrich your life and improve your health [mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860]. Having friends is deadly important, we’re told. And the more friends, the better. And the more frequent contact with these “more friends” is better still. And having friendship groups that meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, where everyone is dressed in snazzy T-shirts that announce in bold lettering BESTIES is the best.

OK, maybe not that crazy, but friendships are important. Sharing your time with others is your ticket to preventing that stealth heart attack or that lurking cancer or, at a minimum, that descent into madness. [https://bbc.com/future/article/20230329-why-friendship-makes-us-healthier]. Friends brighten your life, reduce stress, and help you transition into assisted living. Yahoo for friends.

And by the way, the value of friendships is not only sung about by Bill Withers (“Lean on Me”) [https://youtu.be/gOZgo8gMIoM], Carole King (“You’ve Got a Friend”) [https://youtube.com/watch?v=eAR_Ff5A8Rk], and The Beatles (“With a Little Help from My Friends”) [https://youtube.com/watch?v=C25LRl15fOE].

Even 2,000 years ago, that old Roman, Cicero, had a thing or two to say about friendship:

Well, between men like these the advantages of friendship are almost more than I can say. To begin with, how can life be worth living, to use the words of Ennius, which lacks that repose which is to be found in the mutual good will of a friend? What can be more delightful than to have some one to whom you can say everything with the same absolute confidence as to yourself? Is not prosperity robbed of half its value if you have no one to share your joy? On the other hand, misfortunes would be hard to bear if there were not some one to feel them even more acutely than yourself.” [https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/asbook.asp]

So, yes, you guessed it. I’ve ignored all these medical articles and songs and words of wisdom to live a friendless, old-man existence. But now my wife tells me this needs to change. Great. But how does this friendless old man find a friend?

Hmmmmmm...

My wife gets my granddaughter adjusted in her lap, takes a drink of coffee, and begins Delia’s Dull Day. It starts with Delia explaining how yesterday was SO boring. Entertainingly for me, my wife reads Delia’s voice with a sassy, bored tone that she clearly remembers from our own kids. As do I.
Joe's granddaughter picking up a rubber ducky from a pool in a carnival game.

Joe's granddaughter picking up a rubber ducky from a pool in a carnival game.

Joe Weeg

Does a spouse count?

“Happiness is being married to your best friend.” This is a needlepoint you can purchase online for $74 [https://lycettedesigns.com/products/happiness-is-being-married-to-your-best-friend]—if it’s not sold out, which it was when I checked. Sold out! Need I say more. Truth by needlepoint.

So there it is. My wife is supposed to be my best friend. Problem solved. I do have a friend! Society has spoken and we can all pack our bags, get on board the marital friendship train, and put an end to this friendship search.

Well, I wish it were true. Sorry. It’s not to be. Here’s just a small example to gently deflate your friendship balloon. Last night we went out to dinner with my wife’s friends, which is fortunate because, as you know, I have no friends. Be that as it may, my wife checks out my wardrobe, as she has done for 42 years. She then says some variation of these seven words:

“You’re not wearing that, are you?”

Years of facing down judges and cops and defense lawyers never prepares me for the correct answer to this very complicated question.

“No, no, no...maybe,” I say. “Yes?” with a small pause to check out whether she’s shaking her head. “No, of course I’m not wearing this.”

A wife is something, but not a friend. A friend would congratulate you on your stylish embrace of elastic-wasted pants with Velcro pockets. Not so much a wife, who follows up her clothing critique with an eye roll. Yup, an eye roll.

Friends with my wife?

I don’t think so.

Delia’s review of her boring day begins with her complaining that at breakfast nothing happened except for spilling her milk. Then my wife looks up from the book and says to my granddaughter, “But Juliette, what did Delia miss seeing?” Juliette laughs. “The elephants walking across the kitchen.” And the two giggle as they look at the drawing of elephants walking end-to-end across the room behind Delia’s back.

Children and parents as friends

We raised three kids who are now middle aged. At this point, unlike the teenage years, they give me great satisfaction. They care about the world and do good in it. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Our relationships, however, are in constant flux, and presently they’re treating me as a seriously doddering old man. I resisted this at first, but now I take their hand to help me up the rocky trail on the coast of Ireland. I obey when they tell me not to move the sofa out of the U-Haul and into their new house. And I put on the eye gear they scoldingly hand me as I trim around the yard.

But periodically, I still play dad. I know this is wrong. I know they’re adults. And I know this is my own therapeutic issue. But should they marry that man or that woman? Dad has an opinion. Should they leave that job for another opportunity? Well, dad has a thought about that. Should they behave in a certain way toward their coworkers? Hmmm, guess what? Dad has some pointers.

Yup, I shoot myself in the friend-possibility foot every time. But there it is. I can’t help but be dad!

And your parents, if they’re still alive, can they be friends? Same problem with the same weird role issue in reverse. My 96-year-old mom tells me to never throw out the envelopes in which the tons of junk mail arrive for her. Yup, unlike a friend, who’d refuse on the grounds of craziness, I dutifully collect empty envelopes into box after box after box for saving. Why? She’s my mom.

Again, these relationships are something. But friends? In your dreams.

Delia’s story unfolds just as you’d expect. Delia walks to the bus stop and complains there’s nothing interesting. “Juliette, what did Delia miss seeing this time?” my wife asks. Juliette smiles. “Hot air balloons shaped like a chicken and an ice cream cone and an octopus.” Giggles galore. “Juliette, who didn’t Delia see on the boring bus ride to school?” “The pirate,” Juliette shouts with joy.

Not family, not romantic interests

“The family we choose for ourselves is more important than the one we were born into; that people have to earn our respect and trust, not have it handed to them simply because of genetics.” Charles de Lint, Moonlight and Vines.

This little pearl and its variations are usually paraded out when the family you’re born to has gone south in some significant way. But even with that dynamic, there’s something powerful to the notion of you choosing your friends from the duck pond of life. I choose you. You choose me. Wow.