It seemed the right thing to do; loneliness to me seems to be one of the most challenging things to face in older age in modern society and surely befriending could help? Two years ago in January I set out to try to offer something to help with loneliness somewhere. It took me ages to find a way of helping (blogs about that here and here) but earlier in 2015 I became a befriender for a small local charity.
I am no longer a befriender.
This feels like a confession but I equally feel compelled to write this down – It didn’t quite pan-out as I thought it would.
The charity, rightly, do loads of vetting before you can go one the list of befrienders. Interviews and CRB checks. We both went together, thinking that as a family unit we might be more helpful to someone. My husband is a great handyman and can be really helpful doing ‘jobs’. I am a consummate chatty coffee drinker and have loved working with older people all my nursing life. I know I’m friendly, chatty and kind. What could go wrong?
It all started with the matching process really; for me it didn’t feel right at the start. The lady I went to see is lovely but I confess I didn’t feel the connection, somehow it didn’t feel right inside. One of the primary reasons for ‘matching’ us is location, we live quite close to each other. But even that didn’t feel like enough.
But that’s just me, right? Not trying hard enough?
I went every weekend for weeks and weeks. I learnt that she hadn’t asked for a befriender but her daughter, who lives 3 miles away, had done so. She has other family too who come fairly regularly, grandsons and their children. I got to know her and heard all about her family. But it still wasn’t right.
The task of visiting became more like a chore as the weeks went on. We did talk but there was no depth to our relationship.
She once said to me – ‘you don’t have to come you know!’ and I said to her ‘But I like to come’ – I lied.
From then onwards she seemed to think I was going for me, that it was me that needed her company. I continued to not to want to go but do so from a sense of duty and my natural optimism – ‘It will get better’ I used to tell myself.
But it didn’t and in the end I stopped going and I feel guilty.
What did I learn?
- Relationships are organic and dynamic and sometimes two people may not connect.
- Befriending is sophisticated and complex.
- Just because you want to do good it doesn’t mean you can.
- Kindness is a good start but it takes more to be a great befriender.
- Lonely people and potential friends are tricky to match well.
I feel bad, I feel guilty but I have stepped away. I want to have a healthy befriending relationship not one where I don’t want to go and it feels like a duty and a chore.
I am rethinking my thoughts on loneliness and befriending. Perhaps in my naivety I was in fact patronising – of course I would be a great be-friender! Err, no Anne, it’s much more complicated than that.
So I continue to find ways I can help. My next plan is to say hello to as many people as I pass in the street and smile more. Being well-meaning isn’t enough – friendship is more than that.