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  5. At 72, I've experienced periods of loneliness. I've learned the best ways to make friends — and to enjoy time alone.

At 72, I've experienced periods of loneliness. I've learned the best ways to make friends — and to enjoy time alone.

Louisa Rogers   

At 72, I've experienced periods of loneliness. I've learned the best ways to make friends — and to enjoy time alone.
  • At 72, I've experienced times of loneliness. I learned I need companionship.
  • I've made friends in many different ways, including joining groups and spending time outside.

In one of my first jobs, back in my 20s, I worked as an electoral counter. The pay was good, and I enjoyed the physical exercise of walking around all day making sure residents matched the addresses on my voter list. But I had no coworkers — no one to chat, gossip, celebrate, or commiserate with. Not only that, but I was also living by myself. I only saw the two friends I did have on weekends.

It was awful. Being solitary all day and all night made me feel way too isolated, and I was desperately lonely. I finally got a job I loved, teaching English as a second language, and then I thrived.

I learned that I need to be around people I like, not constantly but often. But figuring out how to create that in my life took some time. Over the last 50 years, I've had occasional periods of loneliness, but they're brief, and I know what to do to get past my sense of isolation.

I join groups to meet new people

Throughout my adult life, I've made friends by joining organizations, especially if I'm new in town. When I moved to Vancouver, BC, at age 22, I didn't know anyone. I joined the Unitarian Church and later became part of a women's group. Thanks to the internet, I'm still in touch with two women from that era.

I also rented a room in a cooperative house, which turned out not to be a great fit for me because I didn't feel very comfortable with my housemates. But while living there, I did meet the girlfriend of one of the guys in the house, and she has since become a lifelong friend. From that experience, I learned that in order to make friends, I might have to put myself in situations where I feel awkward.

I have friends of all ages

I've found not worrying about friends' ages to be a great gift, because I gain so much from people both older and younger than me. At the Unitarian Church in Vancouver, there was no one my age, but fortunately, I made friends with people of all ages, including a high school girl named Luinda, who lived within walking distance. I'd spend time with her family, who would send me home with huge bags of homemade dried apples. Far from my own parents, it was good for me to spend time in a family setting.

I also made friends with a couple of older women. Almost 50 years later, I'm still amazed by the story that Dorothy, a divorced physician, described while I was having lunch at her home. As she heated the lentil soup, she told me about the tour she had recently taken in Africa and how she ended up having sex with the tour guide one night. Later, as I walked back to my apartment, I was blown away that a woman my mother's age would share such an intimacy with me.

Nature brings people together

Making friends outdoors seems to happen easily. For several years, I went on an annual retreat on the Trinity River in northern California, near our Eureka home, with a group of women. During the rest period, a few of us would walk down to the river, bracing ourselves for the cold. There's nothing like nude dipping in freezing cold water to drop any defenses! One time in particular, there were just two of us, and as we inched into the water, we began sharing confidences, even though we barely knew each other.

My husband Barry and I have also made several friends outdoors together during our travels. Years ago we met a Dutch couple on a beach in Cuba, whom we've now seen in the US, Europe, and Mexico, where we live part of the year. And we also made a close British friend while hiking the Coast-to-Coast trail across northern England to celebrate my 60th birthday.

Under the right conditions, I love solitude

There's a difference between loneliness and solitude, and Barry and I are alike in that we each thrive on solo time. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., he walks to a nearby café so we can each have some space.

We love paddling on Humboldt Bay, a block from our apartment in Eureka, he on his kayak, and I on my paddleboard. We're often within sight of each other but not interacting. I also go out by myself and wander around, checking out all the different docks and pilings of our funky working bay. Paddling is meditation for me.

Now, as I look back on that period when I worked as an electoral counter, I realize that as painful as my loneliness was, it was a gift. I'm grateful I had that experience when I was young because it taught me how important close connections are, an insight that has served me my whole life.

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