Any fan of The Golden Girls can instantly recognize the tune of “Thank You for Being a Friend” that helped propel the show to its iconic status in American culture today.
The show, which celebrated its 30th anniversary, is still as culturally relevant as ever, showing that life does not stop after “a certain age.” Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia were not just roommates, but best friends, sharing their home and all aspects of their lives with one another.
Their friendships were so heart-warming that, for the past three decades, viewers frequently fantasized about their own golden years so that they could have as much fun as their favorite girls.
A Clash or Click of Personalities: Age Amplifying Character Traits
But is the notion that, once we reach a certain age, we will all get along just as fabulously as the golden girls simply a farce? Of course it is. Even the Golden Girls had their notorious foes. Who could forget Maria Heartgrave, whose deathbed confession resulted in Sophia facing arson charges for burning down her retirement home with a hot plate? Or mean-spirited Freida Claxton who made it her mission to get the town council to tear down a majestic old oak tree — just because it would aggravate her neighbors?
If the girls taught us anything, it is that we don’t lose our personality as we age, but simply, amplify it. Does anyone think that Rose would have felt as comfortable telling all those St. Olaf stories to just anyone? Or would Dorothy have been as quick to exercise her acid wit upon anybody but her best friends and family members? The fact remains that the girls got along so wonderfully because their personalities simply clicked.
Yet, for many seniors living in close quarters, particularly those in an institutional setting, they do not always click as well as one may predict from watching any episodes of this classic sitcom.
I can remember visiting my own great grandmothers while they were in nursing homes, wondering who they spoke to and interacted with when their families were not visiting.
Contrary to life as it was shown on The Golden Girls, they no longer had their own homes to tend to, but rather, an endless amount of time to spend in the company of their counterparts. And while the vision of the quintessential golden girls’ friendship of joyous banter and playful joking with one another makes us think that this is how all elderly citizens interact, this is simply not the case.
Seniors Bullying Seniors: Why Does It Happen?
As many seniors come to find, there is no set way to how to make new friends as an adult, and as a result, many find themselves the victims of bullying. While bullying is most commonly associated with a high school setting, a lot of these behaviors manifest among older adults, particularly in an institutional environment.
It is estimated that anywhere from 10-20% of seniors living in institutional settings are victims of senior bullying. Senior bullying occurs when, just as it sounds, one senior picks on another one. And when they live in such close quarters to each other and utilize the same resources (community rooms, dining facilities, etc.), there is bound to be some tension.
A recent article in the New York Times spoke to the issue of cliques within retirement communities. In a Mean Girls meets Golden Girls [LC1] twist, the seniors occupying nursing homes often behave much more like the evil Plastics than loveable grandmothers. Elderly residents navigating today’s nursing homes must face the reality of making new friends among potentially already well-defined social cliques. This includes scenarios anywhere from not allowing people to sit at certain lunch tables, criticizing the way others participate during group activities, and, in extreme cases, even physical violence or death.
While the inevitable conflict of seniors living in such close quarters is pretty intuitive, there are several underlying causes that can further explain such actions. One of these explanations is fear; getting old is no walk in the park, and many elderly people are very fearful of their surroundings and what may happen to them. New members to the home often provoke cause for worry rather than welcoming. Further, many elderly people have painful physical conditions which make their state of life uncomfortable and they’re less inclined to have a friendly demeanor.
Dementia has also been identified as a cause of senior bullying. Those suffering with dementia often perceive threats that are not real, and react accordingly. On the flip side, people with dementia are often picked on for their sometimes unusual behavior. Dropping food on their clothes or their fork on the floor sometimes warrants criticism from other members.
Making Friends and Standing Up For Them At Any Age
While the Golden Girls’ promise of everlasting friendship well into senior citizenship and beyond is not exactly reminiscent of reality, they do offer us advice on how to remedy this ongoing issue. When Sophia’s friend Lillian is being mistreated in her nursing home, Sophia visits with her and makes a plan to remedy the situation. She does not sit idly by and allow her friend to suffer, but speaks up for her and sets the wheels in motion for meaningful change. Lillian did not need to be friends with everyone in her home, because, as it turns out, she only needed one caring friend in Sophia.
According to experts, the best thing one can do when they witness senior bullying is to say something. No one deserves to be unfairly treated, not in grade school, and certainly not in their nursing home. Just as Sophia did for Lillian, we must remember that the Golden Girls promise is not actually that everyone will get along once they reach their golden years, but that, as long as you have good friends looking out for you, you will be okay. And that is why, even after 30 years, we continue to thank The Golden Girls for being a friend.
What are your thoughts and experiences with friendships among seniors? Have you seen any instances of old friends who get along really well? Or do you see more conflicts among older adults than strong bonds? What do you feel are easier ways for older adults to forge lasting friendships and make new friends? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.