Social engagement: I mean I went to lunch
It’s not often that I travel alone, but in the past few months, I’ve had several opportunities to do so. Not that I don’t appreciate my family and friend travels, it’s just that I discover changes in my psyche when I go it alone. To some women, it’s uncomfortable, to others, it’s routine, and for a few of us, it’s noteworthy from a life stage perspective. What I mean to say is, while I study social engagement in midlife women, I also get to experience it, which of course, influences my attitude and actions. (Promise, I’m not going clinical in this story) Rather than give you a list of the benefits, I'll share a story from my last trip. It’s ironic that I was attending a health conference, since studies show social engagement is a key piece of the wellbeing pie.
My phone was dying after using it for note taking all day. (Note to self: Yay you for packing your charger. Next time bring the extra battery pack.) The conference was over and I had the rest of the day to research, write, and sit outdoors in sunny CA. I found a plug at the bathroom sink, and settled in reading emails and googling coffee shops within walking distance. Women came and went, chatting occasionally about conference content and untimely deaths (cell phones, not people).
One woman washed her hands, adjusted her bra straps and began touching up her makeup, sighing that she’d thrown herself together to get to the first session on time. As we talked, I learned her name was Lisa, she was a local psychologist, and ran a national family intervention non-profit. She learned I shared the same name, was a health ed specialist working on a midlife women’s study on social engagement, and that I was hungry. Yes, women can cover a lot of ground while adjusting undergarments and waiting for battery life.
Then two strangers, now friends, went to lunch to continue the conversation away from bathroom stalls.
My new friend shared her views on the changes in her social network as she transitions through midlife. At 62, she’s exploring ways to reconnect with old friends, and finding opportunities to meet new ones. Where life once revolved around her family’s activities and work connections, thoughts of retirement bring even greater concerns of social dis-engagement. Where empty nest produced mixed emotions, changing societal roles produce an equally mixed bag. Where physical changes, ethnicity, economic status, and personality influence what activities are available, they also factor into the level of wellbeing. These are real life emotions. The same outcomes I find in my research, and the very reason that we need more population-specific data to create solutions for healthy aging. Because they’re more than outcomes; they’re Lisa’s story and they represent many other women in our communities.
We finished our conversation over soup and salad. She teased, “Is it ok to order a soda in front of a health ed specialist?” We agreed that a prerequisite for midlife friendships should include being nonjudgmental, as in I'll have water, you drink whatever the heck you want. We also agreed that it’s a great time for women to be purposefully exploring, learning, laughing, and connecting. We exchanged cards, shared resources, and she dropped me off at a coffee shop down the road. (Yes, I got in her vehicle twice - lovely car with a navigation screen the size of Texas for aging eyes.)
Traveling alone as a midlife woman brings a host of opportunities like my simple story. Of course, be safe as in, don’t get in a car with strangers other than your uber driver (who fyi, can’t be contacted if your phone is dead) or the cool psychologist you just met. Go places where you’ll meet interesting people. Or not meet anyone, so you can walk, think and re-center. It’s social engagement prep work for the next life stage. The end.