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!

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

  1. Kathy 28. Mar, 2016 at 8:17 am #

    Hi Leslie–yes you would think that somewhere in NYC there would be some kindred spirits for us 50+ers. As you’ve probably seen, I’m a fan of getting involved in group activities that are personally meaningful. That way, even if we don’t meet people who become friends, we are doing something that makes us happy or feel we are contributing in some way. I have found that service-oriented activities, e.g. volunteering at a food bank, or working on some environmental cause, seem to be better sources of potential friendships than groups such as book clubs or socially-oriented meetups. People who dedicate some time to a cause then have something meaningful in common, and also tend to be “givers” rather than “takers” which tends to make them better friends. Best wishes. Please let me know how you are doing.

  2. Kathy 28. Mar, 2016 at 8:40 am #

    Hi Beth–yes it would be great if this site could help people connect. I’ve seen a few people who lived relatively close by reach out to each other about meeting. But it would be a long shot to find even one person to connect with via this site, since there are not that many people in total who’ve responded. I have reached out by email a few times to see if people would be interested in getting together by conference call or Skype, but haven’t gotten much interest. So I hope you will find some group activities that are satisfying to you whether or not you make friends as a result. Good luck!

  3. Julie 09. Apr, 2016 at 12:13 am #

    Hi again, I posted a couple of months ago … I’m in the UK. Is there anyone else in here from the South West of England who would like to connect?
    It’s so sad to read all these stories but strangely comforting to know I’m not alone in this predicament. I’ve just turned 50 and in the process of building up courage to join a class, and have felt so low lately my two teenage children are noticing so I’m thinking of talking to my doctor about medication, which I really don’t want to do but can’t bear the thought of my son and daughter worrying about me.
    Please get in touch, we can create our own ‘meet up’ if there are any takers. Would love to hear from people in a similar position.
    J

  4. Catherine 09. Apr, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

    Dear Julie,
    Unfortunately I don’t live in the U.K. at all, I’m near Dallas, Texas in the U.S. But, I’m 51, with a 10 year old daughter. If you would like a pen pal/internet friend, drop me a line! Maybe we can encourage each other to get out there! 😃
    Cat
    csquared@att.net

  5. Kathy 09. Apr, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    Catherine, how lovely of you to reach out to Julie. I hope she takes you up on your offer. Ten years ago, my daughter who was newly a military spouse, reached out to military spouse groups online. It was life-changing for her. Over the years, online friends have turned into IRL (in real life) friends, and she gets together with quite a few of them in person several times a year. We can learn from the millenial generation about how to develop relationships at a distance. It’s made such a difference in my daughter’s quality of life. So it’s not just 50+ers who need help forming meaningful relationships. But as boomers we need to be open to new ways of connecting, and you Catherine, are to be commended for using online resources to find potential friends. Best-k

  6. Kathy 09. Apr, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

    Hi Julie–wanted to point out Catherine’s post in which she suggested connecting online with you, though she is in the UK. Some of my best friends are thousands of miles away. Good luck! k

  7. Julie 09. Apr, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

    Thanks Catherine, thank you I’ll mail you – will be lovely to have a pen pal! x

  8. Julie 10. Apr, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    Hi Catherine, I tried sending an email to the address you gave but it won’t send? Is the address correct?
    J

  9. Linda 11. Apr, 2016 at 6:03 am #

    I can relate to all of the posts. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a site where people could find people to do things with, and in the process, possibly develop friendships? Or is there such a thing already? Like a dating site, but just for friendship.

    I’m in PA if anyone is close by 😉

  10. Kathy 17. Apr, 2016 at 4:11 pm #

    Hi Dr. Jordan—I’m in this boat, 60 years old and my husband and I relocated to a new town. We are joining things, but a couple that we met a few months ago mentioned they didn’t know many people here, now she has 2 new ‘best’ friends. I’ll try inviting people to dinner, but for some reason, I can’t seem to connect well—it seems everyone who moved here after me seems to be making friends! My husband and I get along well, travel a lot, and are pretty self-entertaining, but we don’t feel ‘connected.’ I’m pretty perky and engaging (IMO) yet we both seem more shy than I would like. Any other ideas other than joining, joining, joining?? Are people with old friendships willing to make newer ones?

  11. Terri Gates 20. Apr, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    I found this site today (also by Googling how to make friends after 50). Unfortunately, I asked the same question at 17 and in my 20’s,30’s and 40’s. The last 14 years I have lived in a 55+ condo community in Florida. For 10 years I cared for my grandmother till she passed. The people I knew here were her friends and they passed before her. I have tried to form friendships with some ladies who live alone but they don’t show any interest in leaving their condos and they are quite a bit older. I don’t drive and my income is very limited. I keep the TV on all day just to hear people talking. I find myself keeping strangers on the phone as long as possible. Sometimes I will walk to the store for a pack of gum because the clerk at the counter has seen me for years and will ask how I am. The only time I find myself around others is when I have an appointment at the VA hospital. I have been at the point of attempting suicide in the past and almost succeeded a year ago. This time I felt I would try to reach out to someone else who finds the loneliness crushing. I feel people sense how desperately I want a friend and take advantage. Many of my attempts have caused me pain and money. If anyone is in the Seminole area of St Pete and wants a friend please contact me.

  12. Kathy 20. Apr, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    Hi Teri,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I know exactly what you mean about going to the store and chatting with cashiers. I also like slow cashiers at my local CVS because a long checkout line forms and I get to chat with everyone else waiting. One good thing about Florida is that the culture lends itself to these social interactions, no matter how superficial. IF you try to talk to a “stranger” in a store in the Northeast of the country, they look at you like you’re crazy. But of course that’s not nearly enough. I also have some older friends that I’m finding are less willing to get out there and do things. Everytime I suggest doing something, she says “Oh I used to do that. I’m not interested anymore.” I find I do better with women who are younger than me. I also enjoy my Canadian friends who spend half the year in Florida. They tend to do inexpensive activities such as free classes at the library or free lectures at local colleges.

    Depression is awful and obviously life-threatening. I’m so glad you are still here. Many people I know have found that they feel much better with some medication and are more outgoing. I hope you are getting the care you deserve through VA.

    Meanwhile, if you meet someone at the VA, would you feel able to suggest getting a cup of coffee or lunch with that person? Would they be open to meeting for a walk on the beach or a visit to the pier of the amazing Dahli museum? You’ve probably already seen my go to my all-purpose loneliness antidote: get involved in something you care about. My thing is animal rescue, volunteer endangered species research, and birding/Audobon society. I’ve met some lovely people. But even if you don’t form lasting friendships, you have the satisfaction of doing something meaningful. Lastly, daily exercise is a powerful mood booster. You may meet someone while doing something active, but even if you don’t you’ll feel better. Is there anything you want to learn? In Clearwater/St. Pete area there should be lots of free or low cost courses through adult/commmiunity education or programs for seniors if you’re in that age group. Wnat to learn a language? How to garden? Art classes (we’re all artists even if we don’t realize it.) All places where other people go, and you can enjoy learning even if you don’t find a best friend. Meanwhile–if you live anywhere in or near Saint Petersburg, Florida–send in a comment. Teri would love to meet you

  13. Micah 26. Apr, 2016 at 8:26 am #

    Hi,

    My best friend Nancy died this past Sunday. Today is my birthday. I moved back to a small rural town in NY after having lived in the Boston area for 28 years. Nancy moved with me having just retired wanting to help out. We lived, worked and played together for the last eight years. She was 15 years older and was interested in many different things than me, but we connected in a deep spiritual and emotional level. Now I’m here in the little town I grew up in caring for my mother having just my friends in Boston for support. I’m an introvert. I don’t do small talk. I understand how one could get very depressed and lonely. But, my friend Nancy always had hope so I’m trying to take each moment at a time.

  14. Kathy 26. Apr, 2016 at 8:50 am #

    Micah, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Thanks for sharing your feelings with us. Nancy sounds like a wonderful person, someone who will always inspire you. Please take care, Kathy

  15. Elise 27. Apr, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    I have lived in South FL for over 30 years. I had many friends in high school and college, but I guess I let most of those friendships slip away over the years. My husband and I joined a country club and have made many “couple friends”, but while my husband has become close with the men, I find that I only really see the women when we all get together. I like them, but don’t feel like I can become “best friends” with anyone in particular. I really miss having 1 or 2 really close friends that I can call or just hang out with. I kind of feel like at 50, it’s just too late. I have made a very small effort to have “girls nights”, but nothing one on one. It just seems like everyone I know has so many girlfriends, I just wonder what’s wrong with me!!

  16. Kathy 28. Apr, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    Ther

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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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