Reflection #4: Being a Friend at 70

I’m relatively more fit than most friends at or near my age, which means I can walk faster and farther, and stay out exploring most of the day before I need a break or a full-fledged rest. I don’t nap during the day, which gives me many hours of awake time.  Twice in the past few months I’ve had friends visit Seattle, and I mentally planned out a day that I thought would be fun for all of us and give them a good sense of the city. Within minutes of our beginning to walk to our first destination, I knew I’d have to cut the plan in half and pick routes that were longer but worked around our city’s short but steep hills. I also added in an unplanned cost: fees for uber cars or a taxi. I added rest breaks, which hadn’t been on the agenda.

Lots of my friends no longer like to navigate crowds, which to me is part of the liveliness of an urban environment, or eat in noisy places. Happily there are quiet spots that offer lovely food, although crowds are hard to avoid during the summer tourist season.

One of my Panama invitees this past January let me know that she is awaiting a hip replacement, and in the meantime she is somewhat limited in her mobility. She didn’t want to tie everyone down. We talked by phone about what she could and couldn’t do, and both agreed a Panama visit would be fine. Other than the heat, it’s not a physically demanding or stressful vacation. She came, and it was fine.

I suspect that one reason I enjoy having friends in a variety of age groups is that sometimes I want to be the one who’s challenged to keep up, not the one making adaptations for those who can’t.

I’ve also learned to accommodate my own needs and preferences when I’m out with friends. I’ll take an uber car in the city center, but I won’t drive my own car and drop people off door to door and then be left struggling to find parking.

Beyond the physical, turning 70 brings the question of how to be present in friendship. I think there’s less casual hanging out time, as I did when I was even ten years younger and a small group of us would go out for the evening. At this age people experience loss, and want to talk about it. That’s a more serious conversation, and requires more than responding to, “where do you want to go for something to eat?” or “shall we go to a concert or a gallery opening?”.

Friends who drive are more often asked to help out friends who no longer do. Or we ask each other for company going to a difficult doctor’s appointment, or to be the emergency person who comes if asked in the middle of the night. I did that for a new friend not long after I moved here, responding to her panicked call at 3am and getting there just after the ambulance. I was glad to do it, and it was honestly difficult to awaken abruptly at that hour, throw on some clothes, and get in the car. I was up until dawn, and since I can’t really sleep during the day, was exhausted until time for bed that night. I have the desire to be there for friends during an emergency more times than I could actually physically do so. It’s my limitation and not theirs in asking.

I’m a low drama person, and most of the people I choose to be with are capable and low drama too, although I make exceptions. My Panamanian friend Gloria is a whirlwind of high drama, and since most of it isn’t life or death, she makes me laugh and shakes me out of being bland.

I like friends who are reliable, have mature personal boundaries, expose me to things I wouldn’t necessarily do on my own, listen to me as much as they expect me to listen to them, and are willing to work through interpersonal bumps in the road. I try to be that kind of friend. I also like friends who help me let go of my worst impulses, as in reminding me to pick my battles and curb my evil twin. I like friends who can be what I’m not – like religious – without demanding that I be it too.

All through my life I’ve had a best friend, and a small circle of good friends. I tend to go without that third circle: the large cluster of acquaintances and hangers-on. That’s the introvert talking. What’s interesting now is that I have a best friend, but I also still have almost all of my best friends from other periods of my life. I tend not to lose track of people. That means I have a fairly robust best friend circle, even if many are not people I see very often. I like that.

I think you can make friends at any time of life, even if it’s not the same as people you’ve known forever. To have people be interested in you, you have to take responsibility for being interesting. No one wants to hang around with a bore or a whiner, or someone who is so guarded she or he is impossible to know beyond a surface chat.

I’m absolutely confident of how satisfying and meaningful friendship can be, and I can’t imagine being a person without friends. On my recent trip to my longtime hometown of Rochester I saw a lot of dear friends, and every one made my heart smile. I think I like extended time with friends – which is what I do on the Panama trips – more than I crave discovering new destinations, although you can clearly do both. I’m also deeply moved in friendship by the way people let you see how they keep putting one foot in front of the other despite often glaring adversity, and go on living their lives with joy and gratitude. That’s more visible when you haven’t seen friends for awhile, and then you’re with them again.

In Panama we often do a toast over glasses of wine or gin and tonics, amigos para siempre, which means friends forever. That encompasses the old friends who come with me from the U.S., and the new friends from the village that everyone has just met.  Try it next time you’re out with people you care about. Amigos para siempre. See if it brings smiles all around.

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