A client, age 45, finds herself without close friendships in the wake of a difficult divorce. “Most of my friends are part of couples that my husband and I hung out with. It’s just plain awkward to try to be part of that group anymore.”
My 70-year-old client is lonely. “Most of the friends I thought I’d grow old with have died,” she explained. “I miss them terribly, of course. But I also miss just having people to do things with.”
Still another client, this one in her 60’s, complains that her closest friends have moved far away to be with adult children and grandchildren. “I’m glad for them but I’m the only one left in the area. Phone calls and emails just aren’t the same as spending an hour or two over tea.”
By the time people reach their mid-life to senior years, most have settled into their friend group. They have seen the same people and done the same things together for perhaps decades. Then something happens — illness, a move, a divorce, death — that causes people to lose contact or to lose each other.
It’s so much easier to make friends when we are young and surrounded by a pool of friend candidates. We easily meet people in school or in the early days on the job. While single, socializing feels easy (or at least easier). Early parenting puts us in proximity to other young parents. Older kids’ activities and school events give us the opportunity to meet other parents as well. Churchgoers have a whole congregation where they can find friends.
But the older we get, the more difficult it seems to meet new people and to do the friend maintenance activities that make acquaintances into friends and friends into best buds. So what can you do to meet new people and develop new relationships? Here are a few ideas:
- Volunteer One of the surest ways to find new people is to do some volunteer work. Identify an organization in your community that needs help and lend a hand. Non-profits often appreciate and even depend on helping hands. Working side-by-side with others will help you get to know people. Friendships may naturally bloom. A bonus is that studies have shown that people who volunteer are healthier and live longer. President Jimmy Carter is a role model for us all. His decades of volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity not only contributes to his community in a meaningful way, it also keeps him healthy and involved.
- Join Something There are often sports teams that invite new people. If you are not an athlete, consider a book club or community chorus or chess club. Take a yoga or exercise class. If there is a senior center nearby, look into classes that are offered. One of my 90-year-old friends faithfully goes to his weekly group about “Mathematical Probabilities,” also known as his poker night.
- Reach Out to Old Friends There may be people in your community you used to spend time with. Then your time got so filled up with your job, raising kids, and an overfull schedule and you just gradually stopped seeing each other. If you remember that friendship fondly and if you just drifted apart, it may be worth a call to see if they would be interested in catching up over coffee.
- Nurture Your Contacts There are people we only see when a mutual friend has a party. We haven’t been in the same social circles. We don’t know the same people. But every time we see them, we enjoy their company. Is there is a person or two with whom you’ve had particularly meaningful or delightful conversations? Why wait until your friend has another party? Give this person a call.
- Be Visible in Your Neighborhood Go for walks. Hang out on your front porch if you have one. Garden. Be friendly to people you meet or who pass by. Chances are you will start seeing the same people regularly. One of my new friends is a neighbor who brought over some Dalia bulbs when he saw me planting bulbs last spring. That led to many talks over coffee. Oh, by the way: Walking a cute dog is a surefire magnet for finding other people who love dogs.
- Travel One of my friends swears by cruises. She says that the shared experience, and the fact that she bumps into the same people day after day on the ship, has resulted in several new friendships. Some of her friends even book the same cruise year after year. Another friend likes to travel to Europe on a budget. She uses hostels instead of hotels and always meets interesting people. These folks are fortunate to have the time and money to be able to do such things. But there are other travel options that are shorter and less pricey. Your college alumni association or local senior center may sponsor day-long bus trips to a sporting event or a place of interest. Be an active participant and chances are you will meet some great people.
- Check Online Check into www.meetup.com. Meetup helps people make, find, and join groups around a particular interest in your own geographical area. I just checked for my town. Listed are groups for yoga, photography and sewing as well as a group for people who are interested in computer security.
Research has shown that friends, especially happy friends, help keep each other happy as well as healthy. Having a sense of belonging gives life meaning and provides mutual support and protection in times of stress. Yes, there are times in life when our friend census may go down, but with a little effort, it is possible to make new friends and bring old friends closer.