The Friendship Factor in the Empty Nest or for any Stage of Life
How are you doing with your friendship factor? Do you have a few deep friendships? Deep friendships are what I like to call replenishing relationships. You are blessed if you have deep friendships. More than 42 million Americans over the age of forty-five say that they suffer from chronic loneliness. This statistic suggests that people are becoming disconnected, more isolated, and lonelier despite the worlds of Facebook, Instagram, and loads of other online connection tools. The study, conducted for the AARP and dubbed the “loneliness study,” determined that loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health. Those who rated their health as excellent were less likely to be lonely than those who rated their health as poor (25 percent versus 55 percent). Good friendships make a difference.
A Great Life Requires Great Friends
Because great friendships make a difference, we must be proactive. The empty nest is a time to focus on deepening connections with others. Most people unintentionally allow friendships to fade because of the high demands of family and work. What would a strong support network and social life look like for you? Proverbs 18:24 says, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother [or sister].” As you look for deep, supportive friendships, remember they don’t happen overnight. They are built over time as trust and vulnerability grow.
Friends accept you for who you are. Friends support and encourage you. Friends know your faults and love you anyway. They are caring and accepting. They tell you the truth, even if the truth hurts. Friends grieve with you, listen to you. They are willing to sacrifice for you. Friends are a safe place. Obviously, there are a limited number of people with all those attributes who can speak into our lives, but there is no reason not to find a few.
An old Russian proverb says, “Tell me who your friend is, and I will tell you who you are.” My good friend Ted Cunningham likes to say, “The quality of your marriage depends a lot on the quality of your friends speaking into it. Marriage is a duet in need of great backup singers.” Your investment in friendships is a determining factor in how you do life. Cathy and I are a part of a group of couples we call the BLAT Group. BLAT stands for Burns, Larsh, Alexander, and Toberty—the last names of these couples. This group has known each other for forty years. We have celebrated each other’s weddings and the weddings of some of our children. We are together for significant events. We spent a week vacationing together in Hawaii. There have been highs and lows, sicknesses, joys, struggles, and through it all, the BLATs hang out and support one another. Cathy’s and my marriage is richer and stronger because of them, and we are better parents because we’ve watched these beautiful people parent their own children. You don’t need a group to hang with for forty years, but we all need friendships with people who will be there for us, and us for them.
How much time do you spend developing inspiring friendships and best-friends-forever relationships? It takes time and energy to develop those meaningful relationships, along with a willingness to sacrifice, but it’s worth it. If you don’t have great friendships, then don’t despair. It’s not too late to find friends who will encourage you and enrich your life, and for whom you will do the same. It’s easiest with people who share your values. There is a great proverb that simply says, “Iron sharpens iron.” When you share similar values, you tend to enhance each other’s lives in deeper and more meaningful ways.
 Julianne Holt-Lunstad, “So Lonely I Could Die,” American Psychological Association, August 5, 2017, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/08/lonely-die.
 G. Oscar Anderson, “Loneliness among Older Adults: A Survey of Adults 45+,” AARP Research, September 2010, www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2014/loneliness_2010.html.