Making new friends isn’t as easy as it use to be. But maybe it can be . . .

By Steve Moran

Over the Easter weekend I came across this real cool story out of Saskatoon. There is this elementary school that has this thing called a “buddy bench.” If you are a kid and can’t find someone to play with, you go sit on the buddy bench and someone will come invite you to play with them.

Socialization Problem

Figuring out the socialization problem in senior living is not easy. There are some residents who are naturals at this socialization thing, but they are the minority. In most cases, over time relationships slowly develop and that is good.

Except . . . 

Too often that is when the “mean girl” syndrome sets in and cliques start to develop. It is a curious thing but as people age (way before senior living) they tend to consolidate their friendships rather than make new ones. This makes it very hard to figure this whole socialization thing out.

It is also complicated with the reality that people die in senior living.

Buddy Bench in Senior Living

It would take some thinking and planning to make this work. When you are 7 years old, there is not too much shame to sitting on a bench that says “I need a friend.”  

I see two complications that would need to be figured out:

  1. Curmudgeons Just about every senior community has one or two residents who are just plain not nice people. No one wants to be friends with them or even around them for good reasons. I can see that person sitting on the buddy bench and having no one reach out to them . . . then complaining even more.

  2. Self-Centeredness Even worse would be to have someone who could really use a friend sit on the buddy bench and have no one come visit with them because no one cares enough to reach out. I know if I were down and out before sitting down on the bench and then no one came to talk to me, I would feel even worse.

It would take some thinking, programming and creative storytelling, but it could be a powerful tool in nurturing interpersonal relationships in your community.

Buddy Bench at Conferences

Maybe when you attend conferences you know lots of people or attend with lots of people or are naturally outgoing but for many, maybe even half of all conference attendees, this is not true. I think having some buddy benches at places like LeadingAge, Argentum, NIC and AHCA would be a really cool way for people to make new friends.  

I don’t know, maybe the whole thing is a dumb idea, but I kind of like it. Your thoughts?

PS:  The next conference I will be attending is Argentum in Denver and you should always assume that if you see me standing or sitting I am surrounded by a virtual buddy bench because I am not ashamed to say I always need another friend.