There are many misconceptions of older adults and their friendships and romantic relationships. People in older adulthood still can maintain friendships though the potentially could differ from those friendships of someone in early adulthood. Friendship is important throughout all aspects of life as is sexuality and intimacy.
Friendships don’t have an age limit. Many people view people in older adulthood as unhappy, lonely, miserable people who definitely don’t have a lot of friends. Society also views sexuality in older adults as obsolete, sex is for young people and new intimate relationships couldn’t possibly be formed once you’re “old.” When in reality age doesn’t necessarily determine the amount of friends someone has nor the quality of those friendships. Adult Development and Aging tells us “Friendships are predominately based on feelings and grounded in reciprocity and choice. Friendships are different from love relationships mainly because friendships are less emotionally intense and usually do not involve sex. Having good friendships boosts self-esteem and happiness” (Cavanaugh, 312) and this definition of friendships has no stake on age. Friendships may change as one gets older and friends may come and go but the basic desire to have friends and be a part of a friendship remains important.
Unfortunately older adults have to deal with the loss of more friends than one does during the earlier years of adulthood. Due to this fact older adults often forge new friendships depending on their living situations. Susan and John McFadden explain how friendships change in an assisted living environment as follows,
“Visit any assisted living residence or nursing home and you will find very old people who will tell you that everyone they were ever close to— family members and friends— is gone…Because human beings are fundamentally relational, as we explained in the last chapter, many of these elders form new friendships with fellow residents. They will tell you that these friendships are not the same as the ones with persons they had known for so many years; some will also say that they are reluctant to become close to others because they know that death haunts even the cheeriest and most progressive place where old people live.” (McFadden, 62)
Though living in older adulthood can result in the loss of your friends residents of assisted living still have the desire to make friends and thus make new friendships with the people they live with. Friendships are an important part of life regardless of what age you are, the need to fit in and have “your people” is something everyone desires.
Anne Böger and her team studied loneliness and the age-related changes associated to determine whether or not loneliness increased as one entered into older adulthood. Her findings were as follows, “In line with previous studies, we found that the average level of loneliness remained relatively stable from middle adulthood into the beginning of very old age. The aging effect from 40 to 84 years turned out to almost equaling zero. In addition, our results suggest that age-related changes in emotional qualities of the SNW are marked by both gains and losses. There was no indication that the effects that emotional qualities of the SNW exert on loneliness increases from middle adulthood into the beginning of very old age” (Böger, 2018). With that being said the stigma that older people are lonely, miserable people, who have no friends or relationships has no merit and loneliness has no correlation to age.
Another aspect of relationships in older adulthood to examine is intimate relationships. Websites such as ourtime.com, Elite Singles, Silver Singles, and Senior People Meet are all places people over the age of 50 can log on and find other singles in their age group. This is just evidence that age doesn’t matter when it comes to the desire to form an intimate relationship. Often times older adults experience the loss of a spouse whether through divorce or death.
There is about a 50% chance of a marriage ending in divorce in the United States. According to Cavanaugh, “Older, long term married couples, the perception of the spouse’s support is the most important predictor of remaining married” (Cavanaugh, 326). The effect of divorce on the couple varies but divorced people typically are unhappy for some amount of time and the transition into single life can be difficult. Also, we learn that later in life “if women initiate the divorce, they report self-focused growth and optimism; if they did not initiate the divorce, they tend to ruminate and feel vulnerable” (Cavanaugh, 327).
In most older adults the end of their marriage comes with the passing of their spouse leaving them in widowhood. The passing of a spouse is said to be one of the most traumatic experiences someone can experience and even raises the risk of death in the living spouse, ever heard of dying of a broken heart? Well this can last upwards of ten years. Beyond this painful time most widows are able to cope and move on but may experience deep loneliness.
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