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Revealed! The Fairy Dust That Truly Makes Life Sparkle

Here's how a reluctant social butterfly found her wings.

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illustration of female butterfly surrounded by other human butterflies, social butterfly
Cynthia Kittler
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When my kids were small, making friends was easy for me. The deluge of volunteer activities, PTA meetings, playdate drop-offs, pickups and carpool line chit-chat turned me — an introverted writer prone to spending copious hours by myself — into a social butterfly. My calendar overflowed.

Grabbing coffee with moms at the local coffee shop after morning carpool, casual lunches before afternoon pick up and catching up with parents on the playground after school were wonderful panaceas for my social woes. But all that changed once my kids learned to drive and my chauffeuring duties became extinct. By the time my youngest left for college, the effortless path to friendships no longer existed. And it hit me hard.

After one of my closest friends went back to work full-time, I not only lost my daily walking partner, but our frequent calls came to a halt as well. I knew not to take it personally, but I missed hearing her cheerful voice throughout the day, chatting about our daily minutia, which rap song ringtone to give our family members and the merits of butter over margarine in a pie recipe. Seemingly trivial things, yes. But not to me.

Another blow came when one of my empty nest buddies began traveling the world, only touching down long enough to repack for her next adventure. That’s when I realized I not only needed to widen my circle. I also needed to revamp my routine.

I would toil at the keyboard almost an entire day, unaware of time, and not speak to anyone but a few short calls or texts with family and friends.

And it was fun until it wasn’t. Suddenly, I felt overcome by a deep ache for connection. I eventually found it. But not exactly in the way I thought I would.

One of the most wonderful gifts came when we welcomed a Goldendoodle puppy into our family. I imagined endless hours of cuddles and play, but then something happened that I didn’t expect. He was a magnet for anyone and everyone on two or four legs! We made friends everywhere we went. Sometimes, we spent more time interacting with our new human and canine friends than getting exercise, but neither one of us was complaining.

Psychologists say when we’re younger, being alone is often a choice, but as we get older, being alone is usually something that happens to us, which was the case with my mom. She was never interested in forging female friendships. Widowed young, her focus was having a man. Her loneliness after her second husband died, compounded with the devastating isolation of the pandemic closures in her nursing home, was painful to witness. I didn’t want the same fate. I knew I had to make changes, even if they went against my natural inclination to seek solitude.

I learned that making new friends and deepening the friendships I already had required effort. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. As someone who never enjoyed playing games, I took a giant leap and joined a mah-jongg group (shocking myself and my family) that met once a week to play and have lunch. It was more fun than I could have ever imagined. Not only was I broadening my social circle, but I was also challenging my menopausal brain, two important factors for a robust and longer life. Four years later, I still set my entire week around our game. I also joined a book club that meets once a month. We’re so committed to seeing our literary sisters that we all attend whether we’ve read the book or not.

The undeniable gravitational pull toward people at the hair salon, where I once sat with my eyes glued to my phone, is now a much-anticipated monthly opportunity for bonding and photo swapping of adorable dogs and precious grandchildren with my seat mates (or the regulars?) as our stylists work their magic on our heads.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that being alone just long enough to recharge my batteries is plenty. I’ve grown more sensitive to the silence I sought in my youth when I would go to great lengths to avoid seemingly meaningless conversations and often get by with just a nod, a smile, and fast-moving feet. Not anymore. Since the pandemic, I have grown to relish random chitchat and the white-toothed grins of strangers throughout my day. I have a new appreciation for the lonely-hearts. As my mother would say, I have become a regular Chatty Cathy in the checkout line. Elevators have provided great opportunities to share pleasantries, too. I am now that person who talks to everyone. Sometimes, I wonder who I’ve turned into, but I blame age and life, which has softened some of my sharp edges. I’ve developed a fondness for forging relationships, even if they’re fleeting. Like little drops of sunshine on the sidewalk, I relish each one long after they are gone.

Having friends to go through life with, create new memories with, and relive the old ones with is one of life’s greatest gifts. But it’s the eliciting of random smiles, conversations and the making of fast friends sprinkled throughout my day that is the fairy dust that makes life sparkle. The world doesn’t seem quite so large. We are all connected.

For more information on how to live a happier life, go here.

Have you found it hard to make friends as you age? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships