Five Foolproof Steps for Making Friends After 50

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!

20 Responses to “Five Foolproof Steps for Making Friends After 50”

  1. Annie 20. May, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Well, I’ll be. So much of what Kathy says reflects my sentiments. Meeting people at my age is difficult. Seems people already have established friendships and there are times I feel that they don’t have room for ‘one more.’ I know nothing can be further from the truth, but sometime my Mom said years ago, still rings true, “You’ve got to be a friend to have a friend.”

    I don’t think I fully grasped that concept until now. WHen I was younger, friends were easily made. I lived in Chicago and many people there were in the same boat; they not only wanted to make friends, but they were in that developmental stage where they NEEDED to make friends. Singles wanted to meet others through church, or on teams, in groups, classes.

    As we age, it seems that there are fewer people who want to make friends (they already have established relationships) and there’s no room for more. THat’s so not true. The author of this blog and I met quite by accident; other than my husband and realtor, I can say that Kathy Jordan is my first friend in this Colorado town. I do have fiends in other parts of the state, but I’m talking this town.
    c

    In my mind, there’s a difference between friends, and friendly aquainntances (sp?) Many people fall into the latter category, those people with whom I never develop ‘that’ bond, people with whom I really ‘click,’ or people of whom I can say, ‘I made their aqauinntance. That’s it.

  2. kathy 20. May, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    Thanks so much for your comments, Annie. You are a great example of getting out there to meet people through groups and by hosting events yourself. I’m very glad I met you and I hope we can support each other in finding additional kindred spirits! Kathy

  3. Rebecca Stees 07. Jun, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    I think you’d be a wonderful friend!

  4. Kathy 07. Jun, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    How lovely of you to say that! Thanks to Twitter, maybe we’ll become friends!

  5. Frannie 20. Mar, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    I have never had problems making friends and having moved all of my life – I have had a lot of practice (minimum 20 moves). I have several friends from previous places i lived but now have lived in this one place for many years and have had the worst “luck”….I have met other women and while they seem to enjoy my company they do not invite me into their “circle” despite me asking directly – could I join your book club? Be included in your group ski trip? etc etc. I find myself less willing to bother even trying. I live in an area where most people have lived their entire lives and the older I get the harder it is getting. I don’t want to give up but I feel sad, angry and completely discouraged.

  6. Kathy 21. Mar, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Hi Frannie–thanks for commenting. So sorry to hear about your situation. It’s understandable you’re discouraged. Some geographical areas are tough, places where even midlife women act like they’re still in high school. They have their cliques, and they’re not interested in anyone new. Since you have great friend-making skills, I’m sure you’ve tried all the tips I suggested in my post. I was stunned you couldn’t talk your way into a book club. Really! Even Oprah would have welcomed you into hers (back when she still had one!) Colorado was challenging for me initially, though things got much better when I moved into a townhouse complex where people were very welcoming. Before I knew it, I had a small group of friends. We met for Friday night wine and light dinner at one another’s houses. We went to concerts, took walks. The community as a whole sponsored a lot of social gatherings, where I got to meet a lot of my neighbors. Most of my success in forming relationships was to the credit of a community culture that was welcoming. The only thing I did was say yes to any invitation. I now move back and forth between Colorado and a northern Florida beach community where I happen to be as I write this. People here seem congenitally friendly. I have one very close friend that I met walking my dog on the beach eight years ago. I have a number of friends who are also part-timers, so I see them when I can, and stay in touch when we’re not in town together through Facebook and Skype. I guess what I’m saying is that social skills can take you only so far, and that environment really does play a big role in becoming socially connected. Would be happy to brainstorm about some next steps for you. If you’d like to schedule some phone time, please contact me at kathy [at] drkathyjordan [dot] com. Meanwhile sending warm thoughts your way!

  7. Mark 08. Apr, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    I want to thank everyone for sharing. It isn’t easy admitting a fault and especially when it is a short coming of yourself that is connected to social acceptance . Obviously I am a man and not to make excuses but I find that it makes the task that much harder. In high school I was extremely popular and considered a class clown. I’m sure if you were to ask classmates they wouldn’t ever guess that I would be completely without friends. Shortly after high school I was getting into trouble along with all my friends. I had gone together with my high school sweetheart and knew I wanted to marry her some day. I made the decision to change my lifestyle and stop hanging out with my group of friends I had known for a long time. This choice got me out of trouble and on track to getting married and starting a business with my family. Although the business has been fairly successful, it took a lot of very long hours and hard work. I didn’t mind, I was providing for my family. I now had two great kids and I had married the love of my life. I would come home dead tired and nothing mattered other than spending time with my family. I also felt a sense of pride, stepping up and producing for my Mother andFather who were counting on me. After 20 years of marriage and raising two children that I am very proud of, I learned that my wife had an affair and was not interested in seeking help to see if we could patch our relationship back. I had no one to turn to except my direct family…. Mom, Dad, and Brother. I managed to get through this very tough time in my life and also start the road to financial recovery that still continues today. After about 9 months I met someone through an ad online. She was so much more than I ever knew I could want in a partner. Our relationship was not without trouble though. We had gone together for nearly six years and embarrassed to say but she broke up with me probably 50 times in that span. I will not blame her as she was many times right to be upset by something I might of said or had failed to say. All I can say is when things were good between us they were better than I could of imagined. My lack of friends didn’t bother me because I had my kids, parents, her kids who think very highly of me, and of course I had her. It is hard to explain but if anyone was to run into me when times were right between her and I, you would never guess that I lack friendships or that I am extremely shy. Looking back, it was almost as though I was on a high and wanted to share my joy with anyone I came in contact with. I do remember confiding in her as to the fact that I didn’t have any friends of my own. I also shared that I didn’t even really feel comfortable talking with the preacher after service. Or any of the people that seemed to reach out and be welcoming at church. Well very recently she had broken up with me again and left in an ugly email pointing out how I have no friends and how I had just lost the only one friend I had. Along with pointing out many hurtful things about myself, some true and others not, I am left feeling so hurt and with out any self confidence. My kids live with me full-time since the divorce but now are older and involved in their own lives. My parents are much older and I feel like I don’t want to burden them. I don’t have any hobbies like I used to, I don’t have any friends. I don’t feel comfortable going back to her church in the chance that we would run into each other. I am at a complete loss and question my faith at this point.

  8. Sharon 27. May, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Hi Frannie: Kathy is sooooooo right about closed environments. I moved back to the small rural community where I was born and raised from southern Florida and… all I can say is “geeeezzzzeeee.” I’ve been back now for going on three years and I have managed to make one good friend: we do run around the city together and talk/text often. For the most part, i feel isolated. I go back to Florida to visit twice a year: old friends are so welcoming – a contrast to what I find in this small town.

  9. Donna 12. Sep, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    I’m so happy I’m not alone in my feelings. When I do make friends-I feel like I’m the disposable one when someone new comes along. I’m not much of a joiner but I will not give up hope.

  10. Deb 17. Oct, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    I have to say I echo Frannie’s sentiments. I’m a pretty young and active, healthy 58 year old and my world has shrunk so small over the past few years. All my “old” friends have moved or gone a different direction. I am trying desperately to find new friends….I took up knitting so I could hang at my local yarn shop and meet women there – I’ve met them but I can’t really seem to “break in” and conversations are all totally surfacy. We started at a new church last year – we joined a small group and for some reason I’m just not “clicking” with the other women. I’m outgoing and friendly, cheery, etc. I too have asked about being part of a book club and card club…no go. I cannot for the life of me figure out what I’m doing wrong or what I should do differently. I’m successful in running a business and with my business contacts. I’m to the point of feeling so worthless and unlikeable that I have zero confidence in myself in the social realm, even though I’ve never before in my life had trouble making or keeping friends. I find myself agonizing over what is wrong with me or what I may have done that turned someone off: is it because I’m a little overweight? Could they tell I was faking confidence? Am I too ugly? Too old? They didn’t like my hair color??? I truly feel like an island and life is passing me by.

  11. Holli 02. Nov, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    I can so understand Frannie’s frustration. I too have moved several times in my life and used all the techniques and skills you’ve identified successfully. This past February I moved to an “active adult” community that touted itself as friendly and social. Indeed there are on going programs and social events. I have participated, joined, volunteered, called people and invited them for lunch, asked folks to join us for dinner, called to say “hi” without calling too much….without any success after almost nine months of efforts. I have been friendly, smiling, attend social events, don’t monopolize a conversation, am a good listener and respond appropriately to others. I can be funny and have joined in during social events. I have volunteered on committees and in the community. My point is, nothing that has worked in making social connections for me in the past is working for me now. And, since this was supposed to be the last home and last place I was going to live this is very unsettling. Actually more than unsettling, it’s terrifying. I cannot figure out what, if anything, and there must be something I am doing wrong. To not have anyone respond back truly begins to impact your self confidence. I certainly don’t expect everyone to connect with me. But I’d be happy if one person called me back. My expectations have become very modest to say the least. And, I have found a meetup group, which I am exploring. And I have connected with a faith community as well. So I believe I’ve covered every base and possibility. I am open to all suggestions. I realize that this comment board us a bit dated and I just found it but….you never know.

  12. Kathy 02. Nov, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Dear Holli, Deb, Donna, Sharon, and Frannie–I’m coming back to my blog after a long absence. This old post about making friends after 50 seems to be one that resonates with quite a few people. After reading your touching stories, I’ve come to believe that, contrary to the post title, there is no such thing as a foolproof way to develop the social connections we all seem to want. But maybe we can put our heads together and support one another in our quest. I’m going to email each of you privately to see if you’d be interested in getting together for a group phone chat. We could introduce ourselves, update on our efforts to make friends, and share ideas. Hope to “meet” you all in the near future! XX-k

  13. Curious 07. Dec, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Kathy,

    I just stumbled upon this site and couldn’t help but notice that you left Mark out of your invitation. You don’t sound like the type that would do that intentionally, but I am guessing he must have been very hurt by that.

    Mark, I hope you read this comment. Hang in there, I think our lonely times are when we discover the most about ourselves, and that will only help us get where we need to be. Blessings to all!

  14. Susan 02. Jan, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Was searching this subject and found your blog. My husband and I have moved a lot, but we’ve been here four years now and haven’t connected too well. Before we had military like minded friends, but as retired military it seems harder out here in te “real” world.

    I intend to re energize my efforts this year and pursue meet ups and a book club. I also want to take some classes. In the past that didn’t help a whole lot, but we’ll see.

    Any new ideas appreciated.

    Sue

  15. Victoria 07. Jan, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    Hi, everyone,
    Thank you for sharing your stories. My husband died five years ago. Becoming a widow at the age of 46 was not exactly something that I had anticipated happening, but neither had I thought that I would lose my mom, my husband, my father-in-law, and my home in the space of two years. With these losses, I lost many friends. I found that a lot of people, including my best friend of twenty-some years, wanted the same light-hearted person they’d always known. Additionally, the couples with whom my husband and I had socialized were just that: couple friends.
    Since I had just switched buildings right before my husband died, I do not see many of my former work friends. The majority of the women with whom I work now speak poorly of their colleagues behind each other’s backs, but they put on an air of friendliness when speaking face-to-face. Honestly, I thought I was done with junior high in…well, junior high!

    I am very blessed to count my sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) as my closest friend, but I feel guilty about taking up so much of her time as she has a husband who loves her, too! I also have a gentleman friend whom I see once a week or so.

    I do miss having other friends, but like some of you have mentioned, it is difficult to find people with whom I feel a connection and whom I trust.

    I wish you all the best in your quest to find quality friends. Take care!

  16. Franziska 09. Jan, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    Hi to you all. I am a 59 year old divorced Englishwoman recently moved to Austria and it sounds like I am like Annie, Deb, Frannie and Holli in that I am lively, humorous, sociable, friendly and have had a history of moving around, but am experiencing problems in having a good social life. I have not tried everything yet, but I have tried many things, and it’s not working out so far. I am a teacher of English and I know that I am successful at delivering fun English classes for adults, but somehow hardly anyone so far wants to offer me friendship outside the classroom. Vienna has lots to offer and I have not exhausted all possibilities, but so far I often feel really lonely. I do remember that I experienced about 5 months or loneliness in 1992 when I lived in Germany for 10 months. But through my small children I did eventually begin to form several friendships and really didn’t want to leave! I have lots of friends in many parts of the UK, but moved here because I felt I needed to live near my elderly mother. There have been a few false starts… I have met a couple of new people, but quite often it seems to turn out that they are not quite my type, alas! And by the way, I did live here for a few years when I was a teenager and I do speak German fluently.

  17. Kathy 16. Jan, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    Dear Fran (Franziska),

    You offer more disturbing proof that people looking for connections and friendship in later life can do all the right things and still not be able to develop the relationships they seek. As I’ve probably indicated before, my supposedly “foolproof” ideas for forming friendships after 50 are anything but foolproof. At this point I can only offer you my support and friendship (though online.) The idea that someone as talented and resourceful as you clearly are, is struggling with reshaping their social life is disturbing to me. But there is an upside. For example, I’ve just returned to Saint Augustine, Florida USA after 4 years in Colorado, and am newly facing the challenge of re-establishing a social life. It’s not easy, so I’m going far out of my comfort zone to build connections. For example, last Sunday, I went to a local bird walk. There were about 30 people there, many of them couples. But I made a point of saying hello to several unaccompanied women. I met two women who were in Florida for 3 months to avoid the cold weather where they live (one in Canada and one in the US Southeast) These two women met for the first time last year, and now are good friends who do things together when they are both “snowbirding” in Florida. I also met a woman who had just moved to Saint Augustine. Don’t know from where. Just know that she has a good camera :-) . I’d like to get to know her better. Next week there is another bird walk in the area. I decided that I’m going to invite everyone who shows up for that walk to come back to my condo for a light brunch. I’ve tons of stress about this idea. E.g. I have no idea how many people might show up. I don’t know if I will have enough food, or end up with too much food. I will be inviting people into my home who might abuse the situation and steal my things. Not to be too dramatic, but there are a lot of risks I take by inviting an unknown number of people of unknown background or integrity to my home. Despite those fears, it seems like an opportunity too good to miss. I am going to assume that people who show up for a bird walk are unlikely to be serial killers, so my invitation to brunch is probably not as scary as some of my crazy fears might suggest. I will let you know how things turn out this Sunday. Meanwhile, what creative ideas could you come up with to connect with people in your new area? When obvious tactics fail, what unusual approaches can you take to meet companionable people?

  18. Kathy 16. Jan, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Dear Victoria,

    Thanks so much for responding. First of all, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss of your husband. I can’t even imagine how devastating that must be. It’s such a blessing to have a life companion, and so tragic to lose that special person who completely understands you and always wants what will make you happiest. As I’ve confessed before, this post about “foolproof” ideas for making friends after 50 turned out to be unfortunately too superficial and glib. But the upside is that it has provided opportunities for learning. Based on comments to this post, and my own experiences, I’ve come to realize that it’s unimaginably tough to form deep and meaningful relationships with people when one is in later life. It was pretty easy when we were in our 20s, perhaps in college to make friends. It was still pretty easy to make friends post-college in our workplaces, say when we were in our 20s and 30s, with people who shared our professional and personal (e.g. starting families) interests. But now it is hard. Very hard. If I had never written a blog post except for this one about making friends after 50, I would feel I had supported my life purpose. So what do we do now? Maybe it will take months or years to connect locally–or in our town, city, or region. Meanwhile, why don’t we connect online? Victoria, if you are open to connecting via Google+ or some other real time online venue, please let me know. Meanwhile I will explore ways we can connect and share tactics for building community in our new neighborhoods.

  19. Kathy 16. Jan, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Dear Susan,

    Thanks so much for responding. Your ideas for connecting with your new community are spot on. As a military spouse, I’m sure you are a talented connector. But like many “neighborhoods” you move to, your efforts to build relationships may not always work as well as they should. My daughter is a military wife and she has found that connecting via forums focused on military spouses have been invaluable to her in connecting with like-minded individuals nationally and in her region. If you need help connecting with milspouses in your area, please send contact info and I will have my daughter help you meet fabulous retired milspouses in your area. Also love your idea about a book club. Book clubs are so supportive for many people whether in or out of military. Courses may not be a magic bullet, but even if you don’t meet kindred spirits as a result, you can’t lose, since you’ll have gained new knowledge and/or skills. Everyone–please share your ideas for connecting with community with Susan!

  20. Kathy 16. Jan, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    Hey Mark–I need to apologize for leaving you out of the conversation. As “Curious” noted, you are an important someone who is struggling with the same connection issues that I often mistakenly think of as women’s issues. I totally endorse “Curious” lovely advice to hand in there, and view lonely times as opportunities for learning. Warmest regards–Kathy

Leave a Reply