Like Freshman in a College Dormitory…

Reflections on This New Season of Life.

I walk regularly with a couple of ladies within our neighborhood. We’ve gotten carried away a few times, losing track of time and distance, only to realize we just logged more miles than we expected because we all have the gift of gab. As little as a few months ago, I didn’t know a darn thing about them… 

I like to compare new retirement living to being a freshman in college. You may be shy, but you may also be that person naturally drawn to attract new friends. Like freshmen in an assigned dormitory, anything unfamiliar challenges us – even after all of these years. 

I consider myself fortunate because even though I’m friendly anyway, it’s easier for me as one of the original residents to greet the new guy with the newly constructed house than it is to BE the new guy/gal. Simple introductions come easily for me when I encounter new neighbors. 

I have an advantage because I already have a small inventory of names and numbers on my phone long before the new homeowners do.  

I’m not the Welcome Wagon by any means, and our HOA is quite strict about keeping residents’ privacy safe with good reason. Not everyone wants to be friends with everyone. But just “Hello” can kickstart lifelong relationships. 

When you’re one of the original homeowners that purchased a home in the early development stage, you have to deal with inconveniences such as constant construction noise, ugly dumpsters, and even nails lying around just waiting to pierce your tires or dog’s paws.  

However, you also experience the privilege to watch it grow, to greet new people, to become involved or plan activities that encourage introductions. Then, an amazing phenomenon happens. New friendships launch like rockets on a clear day. 

I had a background in development for multiple nonprofit organizations before my own retirement of sorts. Although fundraising can burn you out quickly because you feel like a broken record asking the same people for favors or contributions, the motivation that always kept me going was connecting people and then stepping aside to watch the magic show called friendship. 

I’m finally enjoying that again because now I’m not asking anyone for a dime. I simply make introductions when I can, certainly without any motive. It has been a joy to watch new friendships blossom. 

Dogs are particularly adept at making connections between neighbors. For instance, I’ve met people out walking who can’t remember my name. But they know my dog’s name. She’s like the mayor. Honey struts around the neighborhood meeting every newbie dog or human upon arrival, looking to make yet another friend. Dogs are great ambassadors for those of us that can’t recall people’s first names. 

I’m guilty of that myself. I have neighbors in my contacts listed as things like, “Fred and Debbie who own Kobe and Doolan,” “Michael with the three poodles,” and “Martha at the Stop sign who owns Cooper.” Since we happen to have a dog park in the neighborhood, it’s inevitable that the dog parents get to know one another, while down the street, the Pickleball community is already a tightknit group of friends with common interests. They too did not know each other until this post-pandemic era. 

At a recent coffee social designed to make neighbor introductions, nametags, as tacky as they may seem were actually a big hit. Nametags ease awkwardness and can be conversation starters. 

For example, this neighborhood happens to have an extraordinary number of Bobs. Knowing this, the newest Bob filled out his nametag “Bob #22” (he’s not far off), and there were two guys named Jay who wrote on their nametags “Jay 1 because I was first,” and “Jay 2 because I was next.” I have two next door neighbors named Michael, who go by “Michael 1” and (self-designated) “Michael, Too.” 

So, like those freshmen I metaphor, new retirees come to the table with senses of humor and perhaps a bit of jitters meeting a throng of new neighbors. By the time we all reach senior year, inevitably close friendships will surface and thrive. 

By Bridget Fitzpatrick

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