Tips for Making New Friendships Later in Life


Remember those days in school, when making friends was as easy as sitting down on the swing next to another kid and talking about anything at all? That could be more than enough to make you fast friends for years. It felt so easy! That’s because it was. Kids seem to make friends as easily as breathing.

But when you become older, it’s not that easy anymore. Perhaps we lose some of our innocent belief that everyone is going to like us. Maybe we get self-conscious and wonder why that particular person would want to talk with us. Sometimes our lives get so full and busy that while we might like to have more friends, we simply don’t have the time or the space. Whatever the reason, making friends as an adult is hard. The older we get, the harder it becomes.

But why is that?

There have actually been studies on this question. Turns out there are two elements that allow us to make close friendships as children: shared vulnerability and continuous, unplanned interaction. As psychologist Marisa G. Franco told WBUR radio, “As we become adults, we have less and less environments where those ingredients are at play.”

In our younger years, friendships tend to simply happen, evolving naturally. But those who attribute their friendships to luck, such as being at the right place at the right time, tend to be lonelier as adults than those who believe friendships take an active effort to maintain[1].

Being Lonely Can Take a Toll

Making friends matters, especially as we get older.

A study in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that about 25% of adults aged 65 or older are socially isolated. Those who are over the age of 50 are more likely to experience loneliness, as they have several of the most common risk factors: living alone, chronic illness, sensory impairments, and the gradual loss of family and friends.

Feeling lonely has been connected to a variety of serious health issues, including cardiovascular disease and stroke. Alzheimer’s disease can progress faster for those who have little to no social interaction. When it comes to longevity, it turns out that loneliness can actually be as detrimental to your health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day[2].

The CDC rounded up some of those studies. They discovered that among those with heart failure, loneliness contributed to a four-fold increase in the risk of death, a 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and a 57% increased risk of going to the emergency department. Feeling lonely was also associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia and a higher risk of anxiety and depression[3].

Given these health statistics, it’s recommended for those who live alone to have medical alert technology at their fingertips. If you are feeling isolated and have any health concerns, get in touch with Alert1 about the medical alert system that might be best for keeping you protected.

The Difficulties in Finding New Friends

Making friends takes time. During those easy days of childhood, it’s simple to find things in common with someone else on the playground. By the time we reach our college years, it can still feel pretty easy to strike up a conversation with that person who sits next to you in history class and before you know it, you’re doing all sorts of things to solidify your friendship.

But as an older adult, your potential for making friends drops as your social circle gets smaller, you get out less often, and you are burdened with life’s responsibilities, such as kids and grandkids, long hours of work, and other obligations that keep you from spending time with people outside of a very tight inner circle.

A study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that it takes 50 hours of dedicated time to make a new friend. That can be tough considering that Americans spend only about 41 minutes each day socializing – that’s a third less than they spend watching television or commuting to work[4]. Do you want to make very close friends? Count on spending at least 200 hours with that person before you can begin to feel as though they are a “best friend” – and keep in mind that those hours are outside of work[5]. Though it might seem like the workplace is the most logical place to make friends, Business Insider points out that shared proximity doesn’t make you friends. It’s the sharing of experiences that makes friends, so getting to spend time with a person outside of the office is a key to building and maintaining a friendship.

How to Find Friends as a Senior Adult

What if you don’t work or don’t know anyone in your workplace? Building friendships can seem even more daunting. But there are ways to get out there and create strong relationships with others. Here are a few tips:

·         Talk to your family and acquaintances. Enlist their help in getting a wider social circle. Ask them to introduce you to their friends, ones they believe would hit it off with you. Perhaps you could enlist their support in going to a cookout or other community event that you’d be too nervous to go to on your own. If you have trouble with mobility, talk to your family caregiver about ways to get out safely and more often. Those who care about you will love watching your circle grow.

·         Don’t be afraid. Wait – afraid to make friends? Absolutely. It’s natural to be afraid of rejection. We all have a tendency to think we’re more likely to be rejected than we actually are[6]. Therefore, it’s very important to assume that someone you approach will like you. That will build your confidence, which makes you more likeable. It’s a wonderful cycle!

·         Focus on your hobbies. If you want to make friends who share the same interests as you, it’s important to go to places where you can foster that interest. For instance, if you enjoy cooking but you’re not great at it, consider enrolling in a cooking class. Strike up a conversation with the person who happens to be next to you. If you are into gardening, join a local community group of gardeners – you know you’ll have plenty to talk about! If you’re into fashion, visit small boutique stores to shop and say hello to those who are just as enamored with the clothes as you are.

·         Go to places you enjoy. The idea in making friends is that you have something in common. It might not be a hobby, though. Perhaps there is a particular park where you enjoy spending time. If you happen to see someone there on a regular basis, take the time to stop and say hello. If you have a favorite café, linger there for a bit longer to speak to the person who is sitting nearby. Are you an avid reader? Used bookstores and libraries are excellent places to meet someone who also loves good books. Or join a book club, and that can lead to many more hours of sharing and laughter. Are you a churchgoer? Take a few minutes after the service to discuss the lesson with the person in the pew next to you.

·         Be ready when opportunity strikes. Are you bored in the waiting room of the doctor’s office? Say hello to that other person who looks quite bored, and you suddenly have an opportunity to get to know someone new. Are you standing in a long checkout line? Talk to the person closest to you. Even the most casual conversation can hit on something that brings you two together and makes you want to keep in touch.

·         Look for commonalities. Find a reason to strike up a conversation. For instance, if you happen to see someone with a medical alert device and you’re thinking about getting one for yourself, it’s the perfect opportunity to talk with someone new and get fresh information, too. At the grocery store, commiserate on the higher prices as you stand next to someone who is looking for the same special on seafood. If you’re a pet lover, it’s quite easy to find those who share your adoration of furry friends – you can say hello to anyone at the dog park or veterinary office and have something in common immediately. 

·         Go online. For some, getting out and about in person can be tough. That’s where the internet comes in! Joining online groups and forums can give you an instant connection to someone you have something in common with. Online connections can eventually turn into offline friendships. Find a message board or chat room dedicated to something you enjoy, from quilting to model rocketry to movies. Say hello and start talking – who knows where it might lead? But before you go into the virtual world, please check out this AARP guide to staying safe online.

·         Volunteer. If you’re looking for socially active and like-minded people, volunteering for a cause that matters to you is a great way to connect. Perhaps you spend a few hours at the local humane society, interacting with the animals and talking with others who are doing the same thing. Maybe you help out at the local elementary school and talk with the person who is also volunteering for the good of the kids. As an added bonus, when someone volunteers for a cause they are passionate about, you get to see a vital side of them – their level of dedication.

·         Plan to invest time in the friendship. Remember that it takes time and effort to maintain a new connection. Take the time to make it work. Invite your new friend to lunch, ask them to join you for a walk, or simply talk with them on the phone for a while. If they invite you to do something, say yes! Do this even on days when you just aren’t feeling very social. Putting forth the effort can make you feel better in the long run as your relationships grow, and it assures your new friend that you want a friendship to blossom.

Finally, remember to be patient. Making friends takes time – not just the 50 hours of togetherness to create a casual friend, but the time it takes to actually find someone you want to devote that kind of time to. Make a point of getting out and talking with others as often as you can. No matter where you are and what you’re doing, consider wearing a medical alert watch or pendant to stay safe while you embark on your new journeys of friendship. The more peace of mind you have, the more confident you will be, and that confidence can serve as a beacon to others, inviting them to join you inner circle!