Five Foolproof Steps for Making Friends After 50

UPDATE:  Though I wrote this post 4 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.  Also don’t forget that I offer a free 30 minute coaching session to my followers (sign up on home page) if you need encouragement and a few new ideas.  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!

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

  1. Maggie 04. Jan, 2015 at 4:58 am #

    Hi, everyone,
    So glad I came across this site. Its the same here in the UK..I’m 59, and I’m so lonely. I am self employed too, so work alone most of the time. My kids have left home and I divorced over 20 years ago, so I have lived alone for 7 years.
    I always seem to be the one who tries to organise things to do with people I know, but it either gets cancelled or people aren’t interested. I very rarely get a call from anyone, so I usually call them. Its very upsetting to be the one who makes the effort all the time.
    There is very little going on in my home town for single people and I am so frustrated with it. Over Christmas I didn’t leave my house for 6 days.

    I have joined several networking sites, but I want a real person to talk to and someone I can support too. The loneliness really gets to me and I struggle to understand how my life turned into this.

    I had no idea that it would be so difficult to make just one friend in all this time. But its a comfort to know that there are lots of us in the same position. Maybe this new year will be a better one for us all !

  2. Kathy 04. Jan, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    Hi Maggie–Thanks so much for responding to my post. It’s amazing how many of us are struggling with loneliness in middle age and beyond. I was heartbroken to hear that you spent 6 days alone over Christmas holidays. I understand your desire to spend time with ‘real people.” And I appreciate your frustration about being the one who reaches out, but doesn’t get the response you need and deserve. WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE???

    I too am self-employed and spend most days in front of my computer at home. So when I go out to shop at the grocery store or pharmacy, etc, I often find myself talking “too much” to people I don’t even know–just for the social contact. As you may have seen from my replies to other folks, I’m a big fan of finding something you really enjoy and getting involved with organizations (and people) that promote your interests. I’m in a good mood now because I’ll be spending Saturdays the next ten weeks volunteering with a whale surveying project on the northeast Florida Coast where I live much of the year. We do our work in small groups, get lots of fresh air, enjoy the company of people we’ve never met before, and if we’re lucky, we even spot a few North Atlantic Right whales (an endangered species) who come to this area to calf. This time last year I connected up with this research project serendipitously when I overheard people talking about the whale project at a birdwalk I went to. Something about the idea of whales appealed to me, so I barged into their conversation to find out about the project, and “the rest is history.” I made a few friends from working on this project, something I never could have predicted. So what works for me is to find groups/organizations dedicated to causes and interests that appeal to me, and potentially find friends through my involvement with such groups.

    I’ve spent plenty of time at home watching TV and movies. I enjoy it, but I’ve never met a friend while at home on my couch. Not to say there isn’t a need to periocially relax and refuel by ourselves. So I hope going forward you’ll focus on engaging in activities that have meaning for you, and look for friends who share your interests and passions. They are the ones most likely to want to connect with you.

    Please keep us posted on your experiences. We can all learn from each other. Life is not easy, but we can take comfort in sharing our experiences with kindred spirits–even if they are “only” online. XX-kathy

  3. Kathy 04. Jan, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

    Hi Jim–Thanks so much for responding. When I read your post, I initially thought that what you are experiencing might be a signal to embrace a transition to a new phase of life in which you reflect on what your interests and passions are, then find groups/organizations/ etc. that engage you. As you’ve probably seen from my responses to others, I’ve come to believe that the best way to make friends is not to try to make friends. Rather, it’s to find vehicles that allow you to pursue your highest interests and passions. It may be volunteer groups, for example. Over the last 5 years I’ve learned that the best way to connect with others is to focus on connecting with groups that share my passions. If I find kindred spirits by my involvement through organizations that support my interests, that’s great. Even if I don’t make friends this way, I still have the blessing of connecting to activities that help give me purpose and meaning. I think it’s a no lose situation. But one thing I don’t think works that well is to try to find friends through groups that have nothing to do with my deep interests. So Jim-I hope you won’t let worries about “effeminate” interests deter you. We are in the 21st century and whatever you choose to do that fulfills you is a worthy endeavor. XX

  4. Kathy 04. Jan, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    Hi Jim–I can’t apologize enough for not responding when you commented on this blog post month ago. It must have been frustrating to pour your heart out and get no response. Again–I am SO Sorry. Would love to know how you are doing now that the holiday season is over. If you are willing, please respond to kathy[at]drkathyjordan[dot]com.

    Best regards, XXX Kathy

  5. Helena Hayes 08. Jan, 2015 at 3:50 am #

    Having had a multitude of friends in my twenties, my life circumstances (including multiple tragedies and long term illness due to heavy metal poisoning from leaking amalgam fillings) were such that I eventually found myself over 50 and quite lonely. I have my own hypothesis that one seems to be able to form close psychological bonds with others when they are young, but even when you meet people in older years, that close psychological bond doesnt form in the same way it used to – I think of my adolescent children for examaple – their friend means everything. But at my age, friendships are often more like acquaintances or exist while there is common reason for us to be together, but then disappears very quickly once that common purpose no longer exists. For example, I enrolled to do a couple of subjects in a law degree last year in an effort to meet like minded people. I met a couple of mature age students at law school who I became close to – but once exams were over and we all passed, the connection faded out very quickly.

    By contrast, I started surfing facebook for some very old school friends. One was my best freind when we were 12 years old and just starting high school – our family moved house after my first year. I simply messaged her (not having seen her for 40 years) and asked if it was her. She replied it was. We exchanged information on how our lives had gone. She was now living in another state over a thousand miles away. But she flew down to South Australia and we spent a lovely day together. And I now have someone I can visit if ever I visit her state. I didnt recognise her to look at, and personality wise she was different – like a middle aged woman rather than a 12 year old (LOL), but we reconnected in warm close conversation very quickly – something about the bond that had formed 40 years ago.

    Similarly, a friend who I hadnt seen in 30 years sent me a facebook message. We reconnected again so easily. She asked me to visit her mother who remembered me well and was quite lonely – I did that for her. Unfortunately my old friend lives at the other end of Australia now, but I have an invitation to go and stay with her.

    And 20 years ago, I had a male friend for a year in a course that I was studying. I similarly went out of my way to contact him. Knew he belonged to a theater group that I also had some involvement in. So I invited him and a couple of other theatre friends to a casual dinner restaurant. And this friend (we are not both single again) is very keen to have regular contact with me (my concern being that I’m just lonely and want people around – not sure if I want a boyfriend -especially with my fat saggy 50 plus year old body).

    But the point is that I found going backward to be very successful – I’m quite extrovert, but others are just shy and seemed very willing to reciprocate once I had made the first contact. Thought this may be a worthwhile suggestion.

  6. Kathy 08. Jan, 2015 at 6:11 am #

    Helena–thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and wonderful suggestions. It’s clear you’ve analyzed the elements of mid-life loneliness quite carefully. What you’ve said makes great sense and also makes me wonder if there might even be brain changes that account in part for the apparent differences in capacity for forming deep friendships early vs. later in life. I admire the steps you took to reconnect with friends from your past. I’m sure others will be inspired by your ideas!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why Men Fail at Friendship | Psychologist and coach, Corporate consultant, Writer and editor, Mind-body practitioner | Dr. Kathy Jordan - 21. Jul, 2014

    [...] have been a lot of responses to my old post “Five Foolproof Steps to Making Friends After 50.”  Only one man has ever commented about the challenges of male friendships, though a few women have [...]

Leave a Reply