Margaret Manning in her popular blog, Sixty And Me, talks eloquently about how you must be ready to take emotional risks in order to make new friends and fight off loneliness. I agree… and as one gets older, it can be easy to do the opposite – to succumb to that tired feeling of “I just don’t feel like it” when you consider, fleetingly, attending some event or gathering where you know there’ll be lots of people you don’t know.
How many times have you found yourself engaged in a conversation you don’t like because you attended a function that turned out to be a bad fit for you? How many times have you tried a networking event that made you simply feel sad inside? How many times have you been introduced to a friend of a friend and the minute she’s opened her mouth, you’ve thought, “Nope. Not gonna ever want to talk to her again!”
Maybe I’m anti-social. Picky. A closet recluse. (Sounds redundant, but you know what I mean; I try to be social, I don’t want to admit that I’m not social, but frankly most of the time I’d rather be alone.)
Which brings me to the point of saying that I agree with everything that Margaret says, but I feel an underlying assumption must be addressed: the assumption that we want to make any new friends at all.
And that’s where I’ve surprised myself in the last five years. As I said, I’m a closet recluse. In all honesty, I feel as though I don’t enjoy most people. Is that a terrible thing to say. It is, I know… I’m just trying to cast about for an understanding of myself, unattractive though I may be. But back to the surprise in my life; I’ve suddenly burst into a new sort of social existence that’s active, and warm, and embracing, and very, very exciting. And this Suddenly Social Me feels utterly comfortable and natural.
It happened when I started planning Women At Woodstock back in 2011.
Women At Woodstock is a small gathering of women from all over the country who come together every fall in Woodstock, NY for a 3-day weekend getaway. We have workshops, speakers, evening discussion salons, time alone, food and wine, and fun. Though I shudder at the word, I will say it: we network.
If you were to describe an event in those words to me, I would never go. I hate trapping myself into an evening event I might not like, much less a whole day or god forbid, a whole weekend. I hate “networking.” But the Women At Woodstock gatherings are different, and I think it’s because they were built around a certain type of person, not a theme or roster of activities or business-building goal. Our group is comprised of like-minded women who are open to sharing and listening. And when we get together, great things happen – business ideas, new insights, extensions of help, business deals, life-changing revelations. Most of all, lasting and deep friendships.
I’ve made more friends in the last five years than I made in the preceding 20.
Remember, I’m an antisocial recluse. Yet this happened, and I am so grateful and my life has changed course so dramatically, and I’m excited and revved up every single day. (OK, maybe not on those days when I might have had a little too much wine the night before.)
One amazing shift in my thinking – which has affected my view of the future – has been my attitude toward living in shared housing. My mind has always contained the dark void of “what if?” What if I lose my husband, for whatever reason? I am so happy living with him, I don’t know how I would go on, and I would never, ever consider living with roommates if I lost him and found myself alone. That was me. In fact, I’d joked with my daughters many times over the years, “The only way I would ever consider living with someone else is if they’re family, or I’m having sex with them.” Other than that, no way.
But my outlook is different now. Now I do consider that “what if,” and it looks good to me. I can very well picture sharing a home with a friend – a like-minded woman – and experiencing the comfort, companionship, and enrichment that comes with living your life accompanied by another compatible human being. No, it would not replace my husband. It would be nothing like it. But it could be good. I see that now.