UPDATE: Though I wrote this post almost 7 years go, wonderful people keep commenting and reaching out for ideas about how to form new friendships in midlife and beyond. Though the post is old, the issues are timeless. And as you can see from a follow up post, I’ve learned from my readers that there is really no foolproof way to find friends at any stage of life. That said, the ideas in this post work for many of us. But the most helpful aspect of the post comes from everyone who has left comments. So please keep telling your stories, sharing your ideas, and reaching out for support. The original post:
I just moved to Colorado a few months ago. I was excited about the change, but worried about how I would adjust, since I didn’t know anyone here (apart from my daughter, son-in-law, and baby granddaughter.) The last time I moved, from Boston to Florida, I didn’t make much of an effort to form new connections. Instead, I maxed out my cell phone plan calling up my old Boston friends. I spent too much quality time with Ben & Jerry’s. I was lonely, but I didn’t want to admit it, and figured that my town just wasn’t a good place to meet people my age. Then I was introduced to a friend of a friend who had moved to my town in Florida only three months earlier. She is a widow in her mid 60s with some health problems. But she is vibrant and happy. And she rapidly made a bunch of new friends who keep her very busy. I felt a little embarrassed that she had pulled off something in a few months that I hadn’t managed in well over a year. I realized that I had fallen for a self-fulfilling prophecy: That you can’t make friends over 50 because everybody in that age group already has enough friends. But I’m learning that’s just a myth. There are lots of people out there who need or want friends: Their lives may have been jolted by geographic moves, divorce, or loss of a spouse or partner. Some people simply wake up and realize that some of the friends they have no longer offer the support that makes their friendships worthwhile. I know someone who has been going out to dinner with a friend once a week for the last 20 years. They have absolutely nothing in common except for their weekly dinner ritual.
So when I arrived in Colorado, I made a resolution to actively seek out friendships. Here are the steps I used to keep me out of solitary confinement:
1. Admit that you are lonely
Self-awareness is the first step. Last year, I got so used to a limited social life and a lack of local confidantes, that I stopped noticing how lonely I was. A trip back to New England—where old friends seemed very interested in spending time with me—reminded me of what I was missing. So pay attention to the signs of social disconnection: Are telemarketers the only people who call you in the evenings? Is watching Grey’s Anatomy or Project Runway the highlight of your week? Have you stopped cooking meals because it’s so much trouble for “only one?” Do you find excuses to strike up conversations with strangers in supermarket checkout lines? Whatever your loneliness red flags, recognize that loneliness is not a character flaw—it’s simply God’s way of telling you to GET A LIFE!
2. Decide what kind of friend you want to be
The most important ingredient you bring to a relationship is yourself. What kind of energy and commitment are you willing to put out there in your search for connections? Make a decision that you will show up in the world as someone who is worth having as a friend. That way your energy, honesty, and caring personality will draw people to you when you meet.
3. Reflect on the qualities you are looking for in a friend
Even though you don’t have enough (any?) friends right now, this is no time to lower your standards. In fact, the more conscious you are about what kind of friends you want to have, the more likely you’ll find people who meet your needs. Are you looking for someone who:
Enjoys some of the same activities you do?
Shares your political or religious beliefs?
Has something in common that you can both talk about?
Doesn’t complain excessively about physical symptoms or family problems?
Has a similar standard of living?
Likes to listen as much as she talks?
Once you have identified your criteria, keep them on your radar as you implement step 4.
4. Become a joiner
This is a tough one, because so many of us are shy about joining groups. My Florida friend adopted the strategy of saying yes to any invitation she received to get involved. She joined a scrabble club, a singing group, and a meditation group, all at the invitation of her new neighbors. She is already so wired into the local community, you’d never know she’s only been living here for only a few months. On the other hand, I have a friend who recently retired, who has thought about joining some environmental organizations, but who resists, saying “I don’t do groups.” Accept your discomfort about groups and join some anyway. It’s really the only efficient way to meet kindred spirits. View it as a necessary evil. And choose only those groups devoted to activities or causes that you are passionate about. Focus on how you can contribute to a worthy cause, and you’ll lose your self-consciousness about being the new kid on the block.
5. Invite people to dinner
Many of us are intimidated by the prospect of having people to our homes, especially people we don’t know all that well. So challenge yourself to dust off that old recipe book, and host a dinner party for a few people you hardly know. It will give you a night off from eating Lean Cuisine, and there is nothing like home-cooked food to help people feel welcome and connected. By inviting a small number of new acquaintances, you won’t have to worry about keeping the conversation going all by yourself—your other guests can help you. If the thought of food preparation makes you want to jump off a bridge, plan a pot luck dinner, or even a group dinner at a modestly priced restaurant. The important thing is to break out of your social shell and take those first steps to forming new friendships.
Thanks to www.meetup.com, a great online resource for connecting with people based on common interests, I am actually enjoying the process of meeting new people. I joined a local writing group and an alternative healing group. I really clicked with Annie, another member of my writing group. So now I’m fortunate to have my first Colorado buddy, who coincidentally lives right in my neighborhood. Gotta stop blogging so I can meet Annie for breakfast.
Meanwhile I hope you’ll use the comments section to share your experiences and ideas about making new friends—at any age!