Jane Gordon is a good friend of both Grace and I, she recently recorded two podcasts with us. (To listen to the latest podcast with Jane Gordon click HERE). In these she chats about being single and moving from London to the country. More recently she asked me to co-write an article for Stella magazine (published 18th August 2019) about making friends when we get older. We may be planning or have made our dream move to the country, be married or single but it is always a challenging time. Making new friends is not always easy particularly when we are older and other people are set in their friendship circles so read on as Jane is very honest about her own change in circumstances.
IT MIGHT SOUND ODD, but I found my best- friend-forever in my local branch of Waitrose – in the vegetable aisle, to be precise. It was in 2014, a few months after I had made a dramatic, slightly mad move out of London to what I imagined would be the greener grass of Oxfordshire. Divorced with grown-up children and fresh from the break-up of a long relationship, I had decided that I needed a change of life.
What I hadn’t realised, in the exciting early days of my relocation, was the simple fact that in moving away from my lifelong network of London friends, I was risking social isolation. I did have family locally – indeed one of the main reasons that I chose my country town was the fact that, within a 10-minute radius of my idyllic little cottage, I had at least a dozen people I loved (my brother, my wonderful sister-in-law, their three grown-up children and my six grand-nephews and nieces). But as welcoming as they were, they could not quite replace the busy social life I had left behind.
It didn’t occur to me that by moving 40 miles away from the home I’d been in for 30-odd years, I would gradually lose contact with the friends I had made through work and my children, Bryony, Naomi and Rufus. While at first they would come to stay for the odd weekend, it was no longer possible to meet up with them – as I had in London – for an impromptu lunch or supper or a trip to the cinema. Six months into my move, I realised something really disturbing, something that made me feel ashamed and embarrassed: I was lonely.
Loneliness, on a national level, is some- thing of an epidemic, suffered by an estimated nine million people in the UK. A survey conducted by Gransnet (the social-networking site for the over-50s) revealed that 71 per cent of respondents, with an average age of 63, said that their friends and family would be surprised and shocked to find out that they felt lonely, because there’s such a stig- ma to admitting this.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that loneliness seems to accompany the ageing process. According to one study, the three most common triggers are bereavement, retirement and children leaving home. Nor is it surprising that being lonely is bad for our health, with acknowledged links to dementia, diabetes, heart disease and, in particular, depression. The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness (set up before the MP was murdered in 2016) estimated that as a result, loneliness costs British employers approximately £2.5 billion a year. Which is why the Government created a Minister for Loneliness last year.
The ultimate antidote, of course, is friendship. According to a study involving 280,000 respondents conducted by Michi- gan State University, friendship becomes increasingly important to our well-being as we age. In fact, the researchers found that in older adults, friendships were a stronger predictor of health and happiness than relationships with family members.
The difficulty, particularly for women whose children have flown the nest, who are widowed or divorced, work from home or are about to retire, is in making new social connections. In our bright new digital age, where we might have hundreds of friends on Instagram or Facebook, it is often hard to connect to other women in the real world. Which is why there is now a boom in social- media friendship sites. Helen King, 58, found herself with time on her hands after her children left home for university, so in 2013 she set up Together Friends, for women over 45 who want to make new friends in their area. Two years later in the US, Dale Pollekoff (now in her 70s) retired and moved to a new city, but found it so hard to meet like-minded women that she created a group called Making Female Friends Past Fifty, which now has over 2,000 members.
Whatever our relationship status – even happily married women can feel socially iso- lated – we need to nurture old friendships and, perhaps more importantly, be open to creating new ones as a kind of social insur- ance against future loneliness. Which brings me back to my local branch of Waitrose and my BFF Belle (or Annabel as she’s also known). It wasn’t quite a coming together of two strangers, nor was it a match made on- line; I had been briefly introduced to her while I was still in London. But in the six months since I had moved, Belle was the first person outside my family to properly engage with me. So much so that when we bumped into each other again, we abandoned our shopping and went to Caffè Nero, and dis- covered that we had a lot in common.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Belle is her generosity. Within weeks of that meeting, she had joined me up to her book club and in- vited me to a ‘girls’ lunch’, and she has en- couraged me – over the subsequent years – to sign up to an endless list of things I would never have done on my own (from burlesque to ballroom dancing, dating sites and classes in everything from meditation to Nordic walking). Through these activities (a few of which I hated), I have established a strong network of female friends, all of whom can be traced back to Belle. We even have a Whats- App group of mutual friends who share sug- gestions for meetups along the lines of, ‘Anyone fancy a coffee/supper/movie today?’
Belle possesses all the qualities you need in a friend. She is funny (we often laugh to the point of collapse), she is wise (she has a huge knowledge of current affairs as well as a grasp of fashion, beauty and health trends) and she is not afraid to tell you what you don’t want to hear (but probably need to know).
It’s said that the measure of a true friend is being able to call them at 3am if you need to. I haven’t tested this out on Belle, but I am confident that when I do (it’s only a matter of time) she will simply say, ‘I’m on my way.’
Did a major life change cause you to become lonely? Share your experiences on the Telegraph Women Facebook group
WHERE TO FIND FRIENDS – WHATEVER YOUR AGE
For women over 45 looking for platonic friendship, try togetherfriends.com.
If you’re under 45, try the largest worldwide women-only website girlfriend social.com. Dame Esther Rantzen launched The Silver Line five years ago, offering the nation’s older people friendship and advice, which has already received over two million calls to its 24/7 helpline. 0800 470 8090 or thesilverline.org.uk.
BELLE ON JANE (Annabel tells her side of the story)
My female friends are so important to me, especially as I get older. Much like a marriage, a female friendship is always a work in progress. However, unlike a marriage, girlfriends come and go. They move; they remarry and don’t have time for you any more. When you are younger you make new friends as a couple, through work or, later on, through your children, but it is more difficult as you age, particularly if you live alone.
Jane and I became friends a few years ago and immediately hit it off. A new friendship is so much fun and it injects new life into your circle of friends. We now go to an exercise class on a Monday, so I know I am going to see her at least once a week. We also dog-walk and have done some pretty mad things together – most memorably, our attempt at ballroom dancing. I should have realised Jane was no Darcey Bussell as ballroom involves moving backwards and Jane can’t even reverse a car (I often do it for her). We have now signed up for life drawing, which doesn’t involve our feet or Jane going backwards.
I also have a website and podcast with one of my closest girlfriends, called Annabel & Grace where we share tips and try out new things, and Jane has come with me on some of these trips.
I have a great relationship with my husband, but in my female friendships, we trade our confidences, hopes, fears and advice. There is something undeniably different about them.
Republished with kind permission of Stella magazine, Sunday Telegraph and photography by Leo Goddard
If you want to hear Annabel & Grace chatting with Jane Gordon in either of our two podcasts then click HERE. Episodes 8 & 10.
For more stories from A&G contributors click here