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Creating Friendships Later in Life

By Kaye Olsson, I Start Wondering Columnist

I recently returned from a trip abroad with a group of delightful, highly accomplished women who were all solo travelers like me. As we chatted with each other, several of them remarked about often feeling alone—sometimes despite living with a spouse or other family members. Life situations such as retirement, relocation to a new city, divorce, or becoming a widow had disrupted their previous social connections and they were missing their girlfriends.

Their experiences are certainly not unique. Loneliness has become a public health crisis, particularly among older Americans. The pandemic only made things worse with lockdowns and remote working conditions that left us all feeling isolated. Now, as we emerge from the past two-and-a-half years, many of us may find ourselves feeling a bit socially awkward. While we are eager to reconnect with others, it does not seem as effortless as it once was.

The Importance of Friendships

Photo By Rosie Kerr on UpSplash
Photo By Rosie Kerr on UpSplash

A long-term Harvard study suggests there is a clear connection between fostering close personal relationships and perceived levels of happiness. People who have at least one close friend report greater overall satisfaction with their life. Having strong social ties can also be a powerful influencer on our health. According to Robert Waldinger, the study’s director, “Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.”

But making friends as an adult can be challenging. Everyday demands—a career, caring for aging parents, or life in general—can leave little time for socializing. Gone are the days of childhood when we were automatically surrounded by opportunities to meet others in classrooms, playgrounds, or neighborhoods. Now, in this later stage of life, we must think more strategically in order to build new relationships and reconnect with existing ones.

Can you relate? Are you looking to create some new friendships? If so, here are a few ideas on how to get started.

Make Social Connections a Priority

If broadening your social network is important, then it must become a priority just like any other goal. This means setting aside sufficient time to cultivate friendships and making a consistent effort to get out there and meet new people. While virtual connections are certainly one place to start, it’s not the same as interacting in real life.

There’s something special about sharing an experience in person, so consider inviting someone to join you in an activity such as coffee, a movie, or perhaps a walk. You can start small: by putting in 10 minutes a day to interact with others, you can maintain existing friendships and start building new ones.

Pursue Activities You Enjoy

Kaye enjoying Flowers on a trip
Kaye enjoying Flowers on a trip

Do you like to run? Garden? Volunteer? Read? If you want to widen your social circle, consider joining groups in your area that offer an opportunity to participate in an activity you enjoy. You will not only have a great time but will also potentially meet like-minded people who share your interests. You and your fellow participants will automatically have something in common, which is a great conversation starter and can help forge paths to deeper connections. Sharing novel experiences with friends gives us a chance to bond as we learn more about one another.

Take It Slowly

Don’t worry if your first few interactions with a potential friend feel awkward. Sociologists have determined that it takes an average of about 50 hours of contact to make a casual friend, and up to 200 hours to form a close bond with someone. In other words, deep relationships don’t form overnight. Be patient with yourself and know your continued efforts will eventually pay off. And while you’re making friends and trying to strengthen bonds, think of quality over quantity. Some relationships may be worth keeping; others, not so much. The goal is to form healthy friendships that are mutually beneficial and satisfying for everyone involved.

Open Up

How we choose to spend time with friends matters, so consider moving past the superficial small talk and delve a little deeper. Research shows that sharing thoughts and experiences with each other, called reciprocal self-disclosure, promotes closeness. The idea of being vulnerable can be scary; however, sharing personal feelings can help us connect on a more intimate level. Honestly expressing our emotions allows others to get a glimpse into our authentic selves, and exposing our vulnerability can build trust. If you struggle with trust, remember that you are in control and you can choose to share personal information slowly rather than all at once.

Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe

Photo by Harli Marten on UnSplash
Photo by Harli Marten on UnSplash

We all tend to gravitate towards people with similar energies who make us feel comfortable, and we make friendships with those who reciprocate our values. Your “vibe” is the energy that radiates from you, and it can be perceived by others. First impressions count so be aware of body language—an engaging smile and an upbeat attitude can go a long way in making us seem approachable.

One of the best ways to put out good vibes is to be able to relate to people. Reading books, engaging in conversations with a wide variety of individuals, and traveling to different places can help expand our perspectives. As a result, having more life experiences makes it easier to relate with others.

Maintain the Gain

Once you’ve made a new friend or two, an important way to maintain those connections is by becoming a good friend yourself. Finding ways to help during times of need, saying “thank you,” offering encouragement, asking questions, being an attentive listener, and validating the feelings of others are all great ways to deepen a relationship.

Another way to maintain friendships is to create a routine. Whether a monthly book club or weekly workout class, knowing when and where you’ll see a friend helps eliminate most of the legwork required in scheduling a get-together.

Be encouraged and know it’s possible to make friends as an adult. Instead of having the mindset that everyone already has their clique, assume people want to interact. Research shows that society is actually quite lonely and disconnected, especially since the pandemic. So, take the initiative. Say hello. Introduce yourself. You never know where your efforts might lead.

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1 commento

Brenda Riojas
Brenda Riojas
22 mag 2023

Kaye, thank you for highlighting the importance of friendships. I like a phrase my daughter uses often: We need to feed the relationships in our lives that we want to maintain and grow.

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