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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - April 2012

It could be you ....



Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.





Maggie and DuncanFriendships old and new.

It is 32 years since we last met and I spot him immediately. Standing head and shoulders above everyone, smiling a smile I recalled so clearly, my pal Duncan met me and my husband at Auckland Airport.

He was a fellow student in our group at college in the mid sixties and, I think, the most gentlemanly of our cohort. Tall and rather shy, he proved to be a good listener, ready to join in whatever fun we were having socially, and became a kind and generous friend.
Now, after all that time, there we were in his adopted country, the other side of the world.

Reunions can be fraught with difficulties. Over the course of years we change; we experience character-forming events which can alter our outlook and interests. Especially after a long break, past friends can find there is little to connect them any more.

But there he was, striding towards us, arms wide in welcome and the renewal of our friendship was seamless. I felt I could have picked him out in a crowd from the back, so well had his bearing imprinted on my memory. Our conversations, his warm welcome to my husband, whom he had not met before, instantly put us at ease and over the next five days we were to spend most of our time in his company. Duncan had already helped us plan a rough outline of our seven-week journey. Now, in his beloved New Zealand, he devoted his days to driving us around the whole Auckland area, showing us the wonderful countryside and shoreline. Each time we stopped for refreshment, out came the maps. Gradually, he teased out of us the things we would most enjoy doing or most like to see. Armed with that information, he began to help us plan the whole of our time in New Zealand. He gave selflessly of his time and, through recent illness, his now finite energy. His company was a delight for us and, having travelled more than 3,000 miles through his country, I now understand more of why he made his home so far away.

After decades, it was a great treat to meet again someone I shared many hours of our late teens at college and the inevitable parties, and find I had made instant contact with the essential person I knew. There had of course been much emailing and anticipation at both ends, and now the rest of our group from all those years ago are waiting for me to report on my adventure.

So what can I say? I can tell them that the young man we all knew and were fond of in our classes is still there, still Duncan, but so much more now. Then he was a shy, conservative and rather bulky fellow, still shaking off schoolboy influences. The Duncan I now met is a mature man, lean, confident, knowledgeable, wise, experienced in many areas and infinitely kind and open.

This has led me to consider how much we all develop and change over the years – and whether we make enough allowance for such natural changes. Experiences shape us and deepen whatever we carry in our character. Work, love, children, health – or the lack or loss of these - adventures, achievements and bereavements add to our persona. Perhaps that is where, when people meet after many years, the difficulty arises. The losses or disappointments in someone’s life can feel too much to expose to others, so a person can be guarded, maybe even bitter, about what they see as the other’s success, or feel they’ve moved into new situations which make it hard for the friendship to continue. I wonder if these, along with unrealistic expectations, are among the reasons for what happens when two people meet after a long time and feel there is nothing to say.

Sometimes the gap cannot be breached. My husband met an old friend at a party with whom he did National Service many years before. The young soldier poured out his personal troubles to my husband, and that comforted him. Later, they met a few times but now the man had become successful and ‘important’, and simply didn’t want to talk to my husband. I have occasionally met friends from years gone by who are uncomfortable with the fact that I became a therapist, saying ‘I’d better be careful what I say to you’, or ‘I think my husband/wife had better talk to you’, and they have chosen not to stay in touch.

I too have paid some friends the dis-service of losing touch – for no better reason than failing to make space in my life for them. Maintaining friendship takes time and effort – even if only making contact once or twice a year. Something seems to prevent many of us – I realize I am not alone in this – from keeping up more than a certain number of friendships at any one time. As time passes, I am less concerned about the gaps in my contact with really good friends - we can just pick up where we left off.

The numbers of ‘friends’ one can have on Facebook seems to give the impression we can have hundreds – even thousands – at any one time. It is just not possible to have true friends in this number. Imagine, if you spent just 10 minutes a year on contacting each friend in Facebook numbers, it could take you months annually to cultivate that many real friends – and often ten minutes is certainly not enough.

"True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and choice" - Samuel Johnston,

New friends too have their delights and surprises. Two years ago, we moved into a new home and within days had been greeted by all the neighbours. Each of them welcomed us warmly and several are treasured friends. Co-incidentally, two had lived for 30 years in New Zealand and, like Duncan, spent hours talking with us about things to do on our trip. We even dined with their daughter and her husband at their Auckland home.

Some friendships are necessarily long distance. Nowadays, many have friends who are connected only by the internet. Do they matter less because we might never meet? Online friendships are to be chosen carefully but there’s no reason why trust cannot grow between people who find interests in common and allow friendship to build from a base of mutual interest. With Skype and iChat, the online friendship has great potential, especially for people who are housebound or lonely.

With Duncan and his partner, like my next-door neighbours and their family, friendship is anchored. It is for life, no matter what befalls us. It is just so good to hear from - and contact - that kind of friend occasionally, no expectation of frequent dialogue attached, no wish for all to be told, or long conversations every time, no admonishment for long gaps, just a pleasure in their company. These are friends to cherish.


You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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