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!

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

  1. Susan 20. Jun, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Could so use some kind support & suggestions! I have lived in Florida for 1yr. & 9 months. I am originally from R.I.. I left New England because of the awful weather and admittedly I didn’t feel that my connections were strong enough to stay. I have cried every day since I moved to Florida, my hair is falling out & I am ready to run back home. I feel foreign to this flat, HOT, desolate, transient community that I’m in. People that I have met here in Florida and loved have moved away, my work has come to a dead halt because it’s off season & I feel like I can’t breathe. My hatred living here is so full blown. What I would give for familiar friends, mountains, crystal lakes and comfortable fresh air! I have a husband and a precious dog and going home for a visit without them doesn’t really fix the problem. I am volunteering and I like alone time but I am truly losing my spirit. I live in a gated community but rarely see a soul. Should I move back to little Rhody & suffer winters again?? So sad.

  2. Grayce 25. Jun, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    I’m almost 50, alone, digging my way out of a chronic illness and trying to rebuild my life. I live north of Indianapolis – anyone want to gather at a local Starbucks and meet? We can share our stories, and even if we don’t “hit it off”, practice some social skills! :)

  3. Kathy 26. Jun, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    Hi Grayce–thanks so much for reaching out. Managing a chronic illness is not for the fainthearted. Not to make too many assumptions, but some friends don’t handle illness in others very well, and I’m wondering if you’ve lost friends who didn’t have the integrity to support you during tough times. Even if my guess is wrong, I admire your spirit and determination to rebuild your life. Your idea for a Starbucks meeting is great. Now we just have to get the word out. So any of you who live north of Indianapolis and are open to getting together for coffee with some kindred spirits, please comment here. Leave your email address in a safe form. for example, kathy@drkathyjordan [dot] com To send actual email, replace the [dot] with a real “.” I have a Facebook, Twitter, blogger friend in Indiana, but not sure exactly where she lives. I’ll get in touch with her and find out where she lives and if she has any other ideas for finding kindred spirits in your area. You may also have noticed on my home page that I offer free 30 minute coaching sessions (NOT sales pitches for paid coaching!). So if you are feeling alone and stuck, I’d be happy to chat with you by phone, Skype or Google Hangout.

  4. Sandy 26. Jun, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Grayce,

    I read your blog and was surprised to see that you are climbing out from chronic illness because so am I. I may be further along, but it took around 20 years of my life. I’m 58 years old, never married and self employed. I think we come from challenges that most people don’t understand. Especially if our illness was something people have never heard of.
    Kathy, I wonder how you hit the nail on the head with your statement about people who didn’t have the integrity to support us during illness. I do feel like I lost one friend that way.
    During the first 7 years of my “Trigeminal Neuralgia” the love of my life died, and three months later my father died. These were the two most important men in my life. After that, I just worked (barely) and became a chronic pain patient.
    I’m so blessed in many ways and I’m grateful. I have amazing people in my inner circle, because I have high standards. Recently I had to end two friendships which really affected my options for activity because they were both single. But one was a narcissist with untreated PTSD, and the other was an alcoholic! I can’t allow that chaos in my world. There are too many amazing people out there. Why would I pick the sick ones?
    So I’m reminding myself that it’s my tenacity and fight and a series of miracles that got me pain free, and I need to strike a spark to activate that fight to get to the next level. My biggest challenge is to not judge myself for not being where I think I “should” be, and to be as loving and compassionate with myself and i hope I am with others.

  5. Kathy 27. Jun, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Hi Sandy–I hope Grayce reads your commments and is able to take some hope and inspiration from your experience. I know through a few friends that trigeminal neuralgia is unimaginably painful, and that some of the medications are either not too effective or leave you feeling foggy. So I’m happy that you got your “miracle.” Also I want to applaud you for being selective about your friendships. Knowing who you don’t want in your like is just as important as figuring out who you do want for friends. Finally I love your self-awareness that it’s important to be loving and compassionate with yourself–the path to fulfilling relationships begins with being a good friend to yourself! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

  6. Kathy 27. Jun, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    Dear Susan–Sending you support through cyberspace! We can long for a comforting geographical area as much as we are long for friendship and connection. Summers in Florida can be so oppressive. Moving full time from New England to Florida is a huge transition. I know quite a few people who have tried Florida and moved either back north or to another area that is more comfortable for them such as Asheville, NC. If your situation is so stressful that you are having health problems (your poor hair!) it could be helpful for you to reach out to a life coach or counselor for professional support. The International Coach Foundation the premier certification organization for life coaches has a member directory and there are quite a few well-qualified coaches who work in Florida. http://coachfederation.org/members/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=863&navItemNumber=570. Most coaches work by phone as well as in person. Also I can provide a free one-time 30 minute coaching session if you sign up on my website homepage. If you decided you were interested in additional coaching, I can refer you to someone in my network of coaches. Take care and please stay in touch.

  7. Kathy 03. Jul, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    Hi I’m Kathy 56 I live in Long Island New York all of my Friends moved away all of them so I really don’t have any friends I do have couple of health problems but I’m getting over them and I’m looking to meet people but I do not know how and having a very hard time I’m not a person is just going to go out there so any help would be great I’m married but would love to have some close friends I just call ally friends out of state to talk yes I’m Lonley and need to make friends ( it’s good for your health) any help would be great thanks

  8. Cynthia 07. Jul, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    Hi Kathy,

    My mom is 60 and is currently without any friends in the state she lives in (Utah). After divorcing my father she was in a relationship for almost 20 years and didnt pursue any new friendships. He died 2 years ago of cancer and my mom finds herself alone. I have asked her to move to California (where i live with my hubby and daughter), but she is, understandably terrified to move so late in life (though, she hates her job and has no real anchor there.) I have always been her friend, but i would finally like to be her daughter….i have never had that experience. How can i help her connect with others. She did sign up for “meet up” with no response. She isn’t interested in a dating site, and her work environment is dysfunctunal, so co-worker connections aren’t happening. Help…please.

  9. Bob 10. Jul, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    This looks like a great site. I agree with the one other man that has posted here that there is quite a difference in the degree of difficulty for men trying to make new friends over 50 versus women. I don’t mean that it is easy for women, but I think for many many men it is next to impossible. I mean close friends, not Facebook “friends” or friends you only see in a particular group or sports bar. I am talking about friends you chit chat with on the phone and hang out with here and there. I am also talking about same sex friends. Opposite sex friends are a whole different matter.

    Many people for various reasons have moved around the country or the world numerous times throughout their lives and they sometimes lose touch with people they knew before. Not everyone has a family. For some, this can actually become a matter of life and death. http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/fat-wallets-and-no-friends/

    I have actually given up on the possibility of ever having another close male friend. There is one other obvious alternative that I have left. I am a married man, and this other alternative is rather tricky. I don’t discuss it directly online, but you could probably guess what it is.

    I don’t know if any of you go on Meetup.com, but it is interesting to observe that there are hundreds of meetups for women only, and only a few for men only. I live in a large city, and the only ones we have for men only are either gay or quasi religious in nature. We actually have a meetup here, though, called “Women learning photography together”. The typical male response to the question, “Why not a Men learning photography together group” is “that would be gay”. The obvious corollary to that would be, “then wouldn’t women learning photography together be lesbian?” That argument, although seemingly straight forward to most of you women, would actually be too complex for the average man in his 50′s. He would actually think it obvious that the womens group was NOT lesbian, while the identical group for men only IS gay. That type of pseudo logic that they use is one of the reasons I cannot understand or make friends with them.

  10. Melody 18. Jul, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    I’m 57, just moved to California’s Central Coast. Was born in LA, raised my sons there, had tons of friends there. Things happened, fell in love with someone else, divorced, got toxic mold in walls of my apartment, which gave me Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. If you don’t know about it, it prevents me from being around Anyone with fragrance, laundry product scent, strong deodorant or shampoos, and any kinds of cleaning products. I have a dust allergy, so I keep my place immaculate. Eat at my computer desk, have one chair and a portable washer so I can use my own products, and drying rack. I’m very friendly, but this does not appear to be a “smart” town. I need intellectual places, cultural places, and I’m even trying to find a place in the city I was born in, but so expensive. I am ABSOLUTELY alone. Nobody here at all. I don’t have a car. I am also Bipolar, so I’m on meds, and have lots of Childhood Trauma, so in ways I’m still like a child, in other ways just puzzled. Very good writer, but have been here a month and haven’t even SEEN people my age. The ones I see are homeless or really sort of out-of-it. Low-functioning. I’m puzzled.

  11. Kathy 21. Jul, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Dear Melody–Thanks so much for commenting. It’s challenging enough to make friends after 50 when you’re feeling well. But dealing with chronic health conditions can complicate our search for social connections. MCS is a nasty condition. Many people still don’t understand it, or believe it’s ‘real.” It limits places you can go and things you can do with friends. You may go on an outing with a friend, only to discover that you’re getting “toxed” by some nasty environmental condition that other;s don’t even notice. Just this weekend, a friend of mine with MCS was volunteering with some friends at a local outdoor festival. She was working in a food prep area, too close to where they were grilling hot dogs, etc. The propane used in the gas grill started making her sick, and she had to leave her friends. Some friends are empathetic. Others become impatient with friends’ limitations. They decide it’s too much trouble to be friends with someone who is so “fussy” about what she can do socially. Dealing with other allergies and Bipolar on top of MCS must be all that more challenging. So where do you find friendship given all these constraints.? I think it’s a smart idea to try to live near people who already know and love you. Just keep in mind that if you’ve been gone for awhile, some friends will have moved on emotionally, and some will be going through their own life changes and challenges that could affect the closeness of your friendship. As I’ve mentioned in earlier replies, I lost a very close friend of 40 years because the things we had in common evaporated over the last 5 years. We still get together once in awhile, but it’s not the same. My next step in this quest is to explore online social networking groups for their potential to help us connect with kindred spirits. My daughter has some good friends that started out as fellow posters on a pregnancy and motherhood site. Some of the regulars eventually set up a private Facebook group. Later they began to schedule in-person gatherings, where several times a year a group of 7-10 of them would get together for a long weekend to connect in real life. Some of these women have become my daughter’s closest friends. I need to do some research about what’s going on in the area of social networks for Boomers and Beyond. I wonder if you could find an online support group for MCS or Bipolar–there are a lot of very smart people out there who share your health conditions and probably feel isolated themselves. Keep trying to create what you need and deserve for yourself. And please keep us posted! xx-k

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  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 [...]

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