Wow that was quite a response to the last post on midlife loneliness! As I said at the outset, when I receive a cluster of emails on a particular topic, it suggests that something is going on at a wider level. I knew I could count on you to rally around Anna but what I didn’t anticipate was the wonderful outpouring of empathy.
I’m not going to write a long post today, partly because a power cut has wiped five hours off my work schedule but also because I want to spend my afternoon replying to the comments. If there’s one thing worse than a Happiness Journal with empty pages it would have to be a Loneliness post with no replies to the comments from readers! What I thought I would do though is try to crystallise the collective wisdom that has been offered by you all.
Types of midlife loneliness
Judith quite rightly noted that there are different types of loneliness and pointed me to Gretchen Rubin’s post, 7 types of loneliness. Briefly, Gretchen summarises the types as follows:
- New situation loneliness: you’ve moved to a new house or a new job
- ‘I’m different’ loneliness – you feel you don’t have anything in common with the people you meet
- ‘No sweetheart’ loneliness – you don’t have a significant other
- ‘No animal’ loneliness – you don’t have the pet in your life that you want
- ‘No-time-for-me’ loneliness – you have acquaintances but you wouldn’t call them friends or your old friends have moved into a new lifestage without you.
- ‘Untrustworthy friends’ loneliness – you have friends but you’re not sure that they have your best interests at heart
- Quiet-presence loneliness – you miss having someone just to ‘be with.’
I think knowing which one of those applies to you might help to make more sense of it and give you a starting point.
Knowing your personality type
Some people suggested that the way you feel about loneliness is related to whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. The best way to define the difference between the two, in my opinion, is not by thinking about shyness versus confidence but by considering what gives you energy. If you are energised by spending time in the company of others you are an extrovert. You are therefore likely to have a wider circle that includes lots of different types of people and you are less likely to feel lonely. If you enjoy being with other people but then need quiet time alone to recharge your batteries you are an introvert. You are likely to prefer being in smaller groups of people having more in depth conversations.
As you can imagine, you can sit anywhere on the introversion / extroversion scale, you don’t have to be completely one or the other. I am an introvert but I’m not shy. I love being with friends but I have a tolerance of about five hours and then I need to retreat. My friends know this and one of them even bought me this coaster which sums it up!
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t need friends, you just don’t want to be surrounded by them all of the time. I was really interested by Lilgang’s take on this when she said in the comments that as an extreme introvert she has to force herself to spend time with other people but that when she does, she is always glad she has. She knows it is good for her.
So although a few people talked about learning to like your own company (and I agree that this is very important) it is still good to spend time with other people. Knowing whether you have introvert or extrovert tendencies may tell you how many and what kind of friends you need to look for.
There have been so many different ideas about how to make friends in midlife that you really need to read through all of the comments. Some themes recurred repeatedly though so I’ve summed them up here.
The route of least resistance
A few people talked about being brave and just asking someone to join you for a coffee. That brings us on to the fear of rejection. I suspect for a lot of people it would be too hard to face, especially for someone who is an introvert and spends time ruminating over things. In this case, it strikes me that the volunteering route would be the easiest one to go down. You are offering your services rather than baring your soul and you can get to know people at a rate that suits you.
Lots of suggestions have been offered for volunteering, links include:
Other people suggested volunteering by googling your favourite charity, or working with your local church or school.
Joining a social group
Lots of commenters had experience of this and were very enthusiastic. Options included:
Doing an exercise class or signing up for a course about something that interests you. Even if you don’t meet someone, you will be reinvigorated by doing something you enjoy in the company of others.
Going to an established group for women such as WI / Mothers’ Union / Townswomens’ Guild (I have been reprimanded for implying that the WI is no longer a thing, apparently it is much loved and thriving)!
Going to a group that is arranged specifically for people to meet others. Lots of people recommended Meet Up groups. I had a look at them and I think it’s a case of pot luck with these, there are only 3 near me but if you live in a more urban centre, the opportunities look amazing. You can go along as an individual or as a couple. There is also the Red Hat Society (UK link, International link), ladieslink and nextdoor.
Online friendships and Penpals
There is always somebody online that you can talk to. Find a site that fits in with your interests, browse through the Mumsnet forums or, of course, come to Midlifechic, we’re all friends here. I often don’t manage to reply to the comments as quickly as I’d like to – so you are doing me a huge favour if you jump in and reply to someone else on here and start a conversation. A few people on this post have said that they are open to forming friendships so follow it up with them.
Mary mentioned in the comments that she has started some old fashioned Penpal friendships. I think it must be lovely to get a real letter through your letterbox from someone that you can get to know. It might even lead to trips abroad to meet them – a whole new adventure. There are various sites online where you can start a Penpal relationship – just remember that you will need to give out your home address so be careful.
Putting yourself out there
Lots of people gently pointed out that a good place to start is by getting yourself out and about with a smile on your face. A dog helps. This veers into the Jo Cox “Start a Conversation” campaign and I think it’s a great way to make every one of your days better, even if you don’t feel that you are lonely.
This is just a brief summary of the collective wisdom of so many wonderful women this week. Do go back to my last post and read through all of the comments. As so many people have said, at the very least it’s reassuring to know that you are not the only one looking for a way to find fulfilling, meaningful new friendships for this next phase of life.
As well as being captivated by each comment that has come in, I’ve been working hard this week. I’ve spent two days at a Lake District Tourism event meeting people who are keen to work out ways of getting the right kind of people up here. In true Northern style, it was held at an Auction Mart. At times like this, my sensitivity to ‘fragrance’ doesn’t do me any favours because however much coffee was brewed, it couldn’t mask the underlying aroma of manure. It was also very cold and I didn’t wrap up well enough on the first day:
La Redoute blouse (past season); Hush Cardigan (past season); Finery wide cropped trousers (past season); Autograph boots (past season); Bucket bag
Yes, I do have curly hair in this shot. My hairdressing journey continues – I’d been planning to go to George Northwood when I was down in London last week but, as you know, my journey had to be abandoned. So, I went to a new salon locally and the hairdresser wanted to show me how I could style it in a different way. I wasn’t overly keen on it but Mr MC really liked it so I left it for a day. And yes I’m grimacing – my face is showing that I really want to get into the car and put the heating on.
Here I am the following day, back to normal and wearing a lot more clothes – there are thermal layers underneath.
When I got home it was lovely to find these beautiful flowers that had been sent to both Mr MC and me by the O40Co girls as a thank you for designing and building the Over40Collective website. I am very much enjoying the flowers but I must confess that he is the one who did all of the work! Of course I should be kind and promote his skills here by suggesting that if anyone is looking for a new website or blog design, large or small, do give me a shout.
New Pilates gear
I have survived my first trip back to Kettlercise with my shoulder intact. I can’t say the same for the rest of my body though, I am walking around like a Thunderbird!
I decided to assign my usual UnderArmour gym kit to Kettles and get something new in more of an athleisure style for Pilates so that I I feel encouraged to keep going to those classes too. I’ve had my eye on the new Pineapple range at Finery since it first came in and so I ordered some. As you would expect from Finery, it’s great quality whether you wear it for something like Pilates or just for lounging in, here it is on me.
We’ve already talked about the prevailing 1980s nostalgia at Hush and now Finery is working with Pineapple which feels as though it is coming from the same root. When I put it on it took me straight back to the heady days of “Kids From Fame” which is probably the only cult American TV series that I’ve ever watched avidly. For me aged 15 and living in the rural North it was the highlight of my week, I had the LP too and I still know the words to every song.
So picture this, there I was, getting my things together for the Pilates and singing “hey baby look at me and tell me what you see” at the top of my voice (in my head of course I was Coco – always Coco). Mr MC came into the room and said “yes, all you need is the walking stick and you could be Miss Grant.”
My dreams were shattered – in his eyes I was the teacher who always seemed so old…. but then we YouTubed it and actually if this is how he sees me, that’s ok by me (and I’ll be wearing my Finery Pineapple stuff every day from now on)!
Have a great weekend everyone!