The Importance of Pals

Recently we moved to a place high on a mountain in Vermont.  It’s a dream house that cantilevers out over a cliff with an  180-degree view of the valley below.  We are travelling a good deal too –  everywhere, at the drop of a hat. Our design for this part of retirement is like being on permanent vacation.

Except for people… there are very few people up here on the mountain.  Oh, we have skype and modern technology to keep in touch with family and friends.  And we are making new friends but here on the mountain new friends are an hours drive away and social technology can only go so far.

It’s as though we a participating in our own social experiment.

  1.  Our  Unintended Question:  What is the effect of the absence of close social interaction on midlife adults?
  2.  Our Hypothesis:  If given a luxurious lifestyle and modern technology, there would be no discernable effect.
  3. Experiment: Move an average couple to a gorgeous mountain top, away from family and friends.  Give them every want and luxury.  Let them openly communicate with friends and family with top modern day technology.
  4. Result: We discovered that close contact relationships have become more precious than any amount of travel, leisure or money.

Our inadvertent experiment and its results match what the current overarching research tells us about the nature of friendship and aging.

First the the Science:

In 1948 the World Health Organization defined health not as the absence of illness but as the presence of well-being—physical, mental, and social.

Two exceptional studies, The Harvard Grant Study on Aging and the Australian Longitudinal Study on Aging, both conclude that having good social relationships are the biggest predictor of general well-being as you get older.


Now while these conclusions seem obvious from a distance, as the ravages of time affect us, the number of pals can drop.  We move away from one another.  Retirement reduces work friendships.  Spouses and friends die.  The opportunities to make new friends lessen and we become complacent with a certain status quo.

It’s easy to forget, as Husband and I did, how critical having pals around is to our general well being as we live through our changes.

As it turns our family just isn’t enough. Interestingly the Harvard Grant Study concludes that men’s predictor is their relationship with their wives; while the Austrailian study concludes the opposite is true for women. The Oxford Gerontological Review of all the longitudinal studies concludes while that family relations (including spouses) caused both positive and negative effects on our health as we get older (no poop, Sherlock),  friendships only produced positive. In fact, social companions help us live longer and more happily!  The good news is the Austrailian study showed that women’s social relationships grow more deeply as they get older.

If we want a robust Third Act it’s critical that we need to remember that old Girl Scout Tune:

Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver

and the other is gold.

As Always,


  1. What a conundrum! You’re in your dream home (and it sounds spectacular) but friends are farther away. At least you two make an effort to be with others and get out into the world, and I’m sure your friends are more than willing to visit your lovely home.

  2. At this point in my life I yearn for peaceful, quiet time for contemplation. But almost as much I want to find new relationships based on the new clarity I gain.

    1. Beth says:

      I don’t want drama. I love peaceful too… but I need to share it with a pal to keep it.

  3. Kelly says:

    I love this. My husband and I are relocating overseas next year in a place where I will have a language barrier. I worry about my relationships back home. This was helpful. Thank you!

  4. Barbara says:

    I totally get this. We moved to the beach from the city and learned very quickly how difficult it is at our age to make new friends. We’ve gotten involved in local groups and organizations, which helps, but takes time. Fortunately, we’re less than 2 hours from Philly so we can visit fairly often but, the day to day is not the same. Life is always an adventure!

    1. Beth says:

      Life is an adventure and learning how to make new friends is part of it!!!!

  5. I’m familiar with this study, Beth, but it does leave us in a dilemma at times, no? I crave solitude (and thankfully, as an author, get a lot of it :). But I need interaction too. It’s always a balance, no?

    1. Beth says:

      The Meyers-Briggs test measured me as an extroverted/introvert. I need people but get nourished by my times of solitude. It was one of the reasons moving to the top of a mountain was appealing.

  6. Good post, and timely for me as the hubster and I are planning a move this year away from close friends. As tough as I think it will be, I still know it will be tougher. Fortunately we will be at the beach and so will not have the isolation issue that you face. I’ll never let go of the gold friends, but I’m looking forward to making some new ones, too.

    1. Beth says:

      I’ve said it a million times this year that I’ll never move again; an yet, the adventure of it makes me feel young.

  7. Michele says:

    I totally get this. We moved to be closer to our adult children and grandkids. We left all of our friends behind. It certainly is hard to make new friends at our age! Thankfully we do have FB, Internet a day text messages so it quite so lonely.

    1. Beth says:

      We did the opposite and moved away from our adult children and grandkids. Not so far that we can’t see them easily, but far enough so we are no longer in their back pockets.
      While I’m still in touch daily with friends, I miss the “drop of your hat lunch and movie” proximity.

  8. Anna says:

    Where are you in Vermont? We lived there for 18 years. We spend the summer in Shelburne. We would be happy to share our friends.

    1. Beth says:

      Oh thank you! The problem isn’t that we can’t make friend, its that we live on top of Dorset Mountain and the rive to anywhere is significant. Everyone is 45 minutes to an hour away. Big adjustment.
      However, it is so beautiful it’s like living in a movie.

  9. Grammy Dee says:

    Always got to have pals or at least one good friend 🙂 Thank you Beth for sharing this post at Wednesday AIM Link Party at Grammy’s Grid. I shared it on social media. Hope you get lots of traffic!

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