Senior adults need friends too

Bruce & Bill at left with their new friends. Photo provided.

by Bruce Hartley
Life Columnist

My momma is known for saying, “You can’t have too many friends.” This quote haunted me as a closeted gay Christian teenager in the late 1970s who was trying to find my way in a world of judgment and bullying.

Back in the day, I was scared to make new friends. I worried they would hurt me. This fear came from age 10 when my grandpa died. He was my hero, and his death impacted me drastically. As a high school student, I realized that my childhood memories were erased from my mind. As a teenager, I was scared and frightened for many reasons.

Only now as a 56-year-old man, can I face the scary monsters from years of being in the closet. The demons that haunted me came from death, judging and bullying. Those three things caused me to be leery of new friendships.

This experience brings me to the new world of 2020 and navigating new friendships as a married gay Christian man.

Since our wedding on January 1, 2020, Bill and I have grown our friendship circle. This circle has been rewarding. I no longer worry about the demons from my teen years. Coming out of the closet at age 50 gave me a new confidence that I lacked.

I have studied the Bible, and I am confident in my spiritual belief that God loves me, and I have a personal relationship with Him. This personal growth was a huge step for me as I grew up in a traditional Baptist home and community. Yes, I am continually judged by people who don’t understand my spiritual beliefs, but I am stronger now, and I am not rattled like I was as a teenager.

Learning how to deal with grief has been important to me, as well. I have lost numerous friends and family over the years. I have learned that counseling is key to recovering from grief. We all grieve and heal differently.

Bullying never goes away in our world. We see it daily in politics, social media, news and more. I have learned that I will not allow bullies to win. I take back my power by screening them from my world, but this practice requires that I watch over my shoulder to be safe and curate what media I consume. I don’t ignore the news media, but I know that for my mental health, I must not allow it to consume my mind.

Bill and I have learned how to grow our friendship circle. We have some outstanding friends who we spend time with for dinner, movies, antiquing and old-fashioned conversation. Making new friends as adults has been fun.

My tips for growing adult friendships include:

- Meet new friends in a neutral place.

- Ask questions and listen more when getting to know new friends.

- Learn about common likes and dislikes early on.

- Find out if you have common friends to examine if this could be the start of a new friendship circle.

- Decide how often you will communicate with each other and how. Daily, weekly or when?

- Start some friendship traditions (holidays, events, parties, travel, etc.).

- Demonstrate the kind of friend you hope they will be for you.

- Make sure you are on the same friendship page to prevent problems later.

Facing old demons is the first step in being a good friend to others. Bill and I are thankful for the new circle of friends who are making our life more abundant. Remember, a friendship circle made up of singles and couples can be rewarding and fulfilling to everyone.

So, momma, thank you for the sage advice that I am embracing now at age 56. It took me a while to say thank you. As momma always says, “You can’t have too many friends.”

Copyright The Gayly. 7/23/2020 @ 8:53 a.m. CST.