They say there’s a snake that can shed it’s skin
when the good old days are wearing thin, but
the good old days have all withered and died
some go on livin’ on the sentimental side
– Spirit of the West
In the 90s and 2000s I was way too poor to have cable tv so I missed out on the FRIENDS phenomena. What I did see I thought was funny, so during the pandemic the Youngest and I binged the series. We both very much enjoyed it but I had to explain that, yes, before smartphones and computers you basically just dropped by people’s houses or went to the café or bar where people hung out. You knew that someone you recognized would show up eventually. I really miss those years where my friends all lived close by and we just all knew to get up and get dressed because dollars to donuts someone would pop in almost every day. Those days of, “we were in the neighbourhood and thought we would pop in” are long, long gone. Now if people randomly show up at my door I am HORRIFIED. Why didn’t you text first?
So I simultaneously romanticize the past & have changed enough that I wouldn’t appreciate a lot of the same things now. I think the difference is that smartphones have enabled us to have our social lives in our back pockets so the excitement of someone popping in for coffee has been replaced by the excitement of a notification of a new message. I think in some ways the past is the past and we need to live in the here and now but also, I feel like we could steer the present in ways where we get the benefits of the past with the tools of the future. But as studies have shown, Facetime™ doesn’t really give us the benefits of face time. It feels like real social interaction but it doesn’t hold a candle to the benefits we get from IRL hangouts. That isn’t to say it has no benefit – like I have mentioned before, I spend most of my days chatting with my friends who are spread out across the continent but it doesn’t replace getting together in the real world. Contrary to the meme, human interaction is important to well being no matter how you define your particular personality quirks.
And now for another segue…
When I was 20, I went through a phase where I had one breakup which turned my life upside-down. I moved out of the downtown core and in with my dad, started dating someone new and was enrolled in university. By virtue of this life overhaul, I suddenly found myself without friends. I am not going to lie: that first year was rough. Sure, I had a few friends but with my schedule and by virtue of being far away from the downtown core, I didn’t get out enough to maintain strong connections. It was a pretty lonely first year of university where most of my interaction was virtual.
I also lost my grandmother that year. I was really close to her but the last years of her life were punctuated by extreme agoraphobia and she hadn’t had friends in 20+ years. She would sometimes walk to the end of the driveway but otherwise she stayed inside and relied on my mother to do all of the outside-world stuff such as groceries and going to the bank. My grandmother had been raised in Lowertown surrounded by friends and her large extended French-Canadian family who all lived either in the same apartment or nearby. When she married my Irish grandfather it was after the war and he was eager to finish university, start a career in finance and buy himself a house in the suburbs. On the day they moved, my great-grandmother apparently wept because in those days the new house seemed so far she thought she wouldn’t ever see her daughter (hilariously, it’s now considered part of the core part of the city).
So my grandmother stayed home raising her kids in this new, suburban island, far away from everything she knew, adrift from those tight social connections & the boisterous French-Canadian family she was used to. I don’t get the impression that she had a lot of friends in this new, anglo-based suburb. Then tragically in the early 70s, her mother passed away and within that same year, my grandfather also died (at 54!), leaving her a widow with a teenager, my uncle. She dutifully took care of my uncle until he was married in the 80s and also babysat my brother and I after school. But as we got older and didn’t need her, she didn’t have people to take care of, which is really all she had known. With nothing to do, she slowly slipped inside of herself, basically staying home and watching tv. We did end up moving in with her in the early 90s but at that point she had no friends and relied on us to be her contact with the outside world.
Having that as an example, I was terrified of not having friends. So when I decided to move back downtown during my second year of university, I also made the resolution that I would go out of my way to make friends. I did manage to do that and have maintained many of those friendships over the years. I have to say even for someone who is outgoing, it was harder to try and build new friendships in my 20s after it coming so easy in my teens. I hear from friends who have moved a lot in their 30s and 40s that making friends is even harder the older you get: most people have solidified their relationships at that point and it’s really difficult to break through into social groups.
But having witnessed what can happen when you don’t have a few solid social connections I have really forced myself to hold onto the ones I do have. When we had kids, no other people in our extended social groups had school aged or younger children. Most were childfree. So we tried to attend as many house parties as we could without kids, and forewent the more expensive hangouts. It also forced me into making new friends amongst people who did have children and now I have a pretty solid group of people in book club and in dragon boat that I am lucky to count on for amazing hangouts. I think Gen X women maybe saw their grandmothers and decided quite rightly that we should try and stave off the effects of loneliness.
Now, as a retired woman in her 40s I have enough money to live and not worry about whether the bills are paid but I also have TIME because I am not working (what I don’t have is energy or as much mobility). Sure, some things have changed: the days of lounging around at friend’s houses all day are over. Many of us have responsibilities now that we didn’t have when we were young and carefree. We aren’t called the squeeze generation for nothing: we typically work full time while simultaneously looking after our children AND our aging parents. I’ve witnessed a lot of stress, exhaustion, and loss in these past few years as many friends have juggled so many things – all high priorities. But the point is: social connections are paramount and in the middle of your life when chaos is reining, it is hard to maintain those connections.
What if not working could bring back some of that nostalgia and connection in a way that is in-step with the realities of modern life? How many times have you genuinely said, “Gosh, this has been so fun! We really must do it more often!” knowing full well that you won’t? It’s money, it’s time, it’s work, it’s responsibility.
I’ve been thinking what *IF* we do it more often? And by we, I mean Mr. Tucker and I since most of our friends are still working. As we head into the home stretch of what hopefully will be his permanent retirement I am thinking of the things we haven’t been able to prioritize due to raising kids, having two jobs, maintaining a house etc. and re-prioritizing them – and the first one on the list is seeing friends more often. While the days of late nights in bars and cafes are over, I am sure we could meet them where they are.
A not-so-complete list of things we could do (or things we or friends are already doing) that are free or cheap:
– Bring lunch to friends at work and enjoy a lunch hour with them. No time for lunch? (problematic, but ok) bring them a coffee and have a quick chat.
– Host a Sunday night dinner for friends where they only have to bring themselves and any beverages they may want.
– Afternoon pool parties and BBQs. My friends typically bring something to share with everyone and then something to grill for themselves.
– Bring dinner to friends who are under a lot of stress.
– Put together a picnic for some friends and go to them. I have friends who live on the other side of the city who don’t have cars so this would be us heading to the east end.
– A friend of mine hosts movie nights in their backyard with a projector, which is a lovely thing to do and low stakes for everyone.
– Bike rides where you meet in the middle at a beach or park.
– Because we are a Halloween-crazy household, last year I organized two group outings in the city: one was a Haunted Walk and one was going to a local orchard that had haunted houses and hayrides.
– Meet for movies at a locally-run theatre: I love that one local theatre does a fairly-priced Saturday Morning Cartoon Party where you watch retro cartoons and they have an AYCE cereal bar.
– A local bar has retro pinball machines and all-day Saturday and Sunday they have FREE PLAY from noon-8pm for $10. They also have amazing perogies.
– I usually do a Winter Solstice party as a continuation from my Pharm days. Snacks and mulled cider for everyone! Covid canceled almost all of my plans for the last 3 years but I hope this year will be the charm!
– Our book club usually does a weekend away in November. Pre-Covid it was a cottage one year within driving distance and then away another year. We went to New Orleans in 2019. They’re going to New York City this year but I won’t be joining them because we have tight financial goals.
– Go rollerskating! The local volunteer group does these fun, themed events and they usually have both family and adult-only sessions. While I have yet to go, 4-Wheelies looks fun.
– We do a games and/or craft night with friends once a month. This month Mr. Tucker and I are going to whip up burgers and they can bring a side.
– Our community has a wild amount of engagement by our neighbours. In particular, one fireman always does a HUGE fireworks display on Canada Day and they close the street off for it. Our neighbourhood has a roaming tiki bar that everyone stocks and shares as well. On Halloween the same fireman makes a HUGE Haunted House for the kids and it is really quite lovely. Every year they also do a street party that is planned and hosted by anyone turning 40 that year. It’s pretty fantastic. I have thought of getting more involved by maybe booking the community house in the park behind us and doing a winter themed party in December – if I can convince the eldest to learn some winter-themed harp songs. Hah.
– During Covid the kids and I baked cookies around Christmas and delivered them to friends around the city. We used to do a yearly cookie decorating party with other families in our neighbourhood but our children outgrew it.
– Also during Covid because the kids couldn’t Trick or Treat we started doing #13DaysOfHalloweenMovies and #12DaysOfChristmasMovies where we would watch a movie every night and then I would post their reviews to Instagram. Friends told me they loved following along and seeing the whackadoodle things the kids would notice about beloved classics.
– We really should volunteer more with the Community Association, even if it is minimal.
– There are a bunch of winter trails (run professionally and run by volunteers – there are more but these are examples) that you can snowshoe or ski on. Round it off with a hot chocolate at the Sailing Club if you do both.
To be honest, there is an absolute ton of things you can do to stay connected. Sometimes I will just text a friend out of the blue to tell them that I was thinking of them. I have been blessed with an amazing amount of great friends and I know life can get away from us but honestly, I want to head into my golden years with these folks so I want us to make sure we stay connected – off of social media.
So thus ends the rambling series of nostalgia posts. TL;DR: I want to reclaim my one wild life now that I don’t have to worry about money. I want to take up video games again, see friends and connect with them as much as possible even if I have to do more of the heavy lifting. I want to get back that feeling of freedom and that anything is possible in the future. The other day Mr. Tucker said to me, “I cannot wait for the second half of my life to begin!” I can’t either!
*Apologies to Elastica