Guest Post Author Rebecca Greene, MSW, LSW
Imagine that you’re 85, and recently moved from your hometown on the West Coast clear across the country, to be close to adult children and grandchildren. While you’re happy about the move and increased support from living near family, you also find the new living situation a bit lonely, without the longstanding circle of lifelong friends back in your hometown.
Your daughter is worried that you’re not adjusting well and suggests looking into a nearby senior center. There you can participate in daily programming and meet new people, and you’re impressed by how many activities they offer daily. But the thought of walking into a senior center makes you anxious because you won’t know anyone there. You feel “rusty” at friendship skills and believe you might be “too old” to make new friends after all.
Many older adults have felt this way at one time or another. It’s hard to say goodbye to a comfortable circle of lifelong friends and try to make brand new friendships in your golden years.
As a geriatric social worker, I meet many older adults in the course of my work who feel lonely and isolated. They would love to make a new friend or two but don’t know what to do or where to start. Many of them haven’t made new friends since their children were in grade school and feel that it’s been too long since they had to “put themselves out there.” But research studies have repeatedly shown that having friends and active social life is essential to older adults’ physical and mental health.
Many seniors feel overwhelmed by the idea of trying to make new friends, but if you start small and take one step at a time, you’ll have a new friend or two in no time. Below is a list of 5 helpful tips for making new friends over 65:
1. Be a joiner.
The best way to make new friends is to join groups, clubs, or activities where you will find others who share your interests and values. Many seniors like to start with religious congregations. Joining your church or synagogue can connect you with others who share your beliefs and provide you with older adult groups to join, as well as senior programming.
Also, look into your local senior center. Most cities and towns have senior centers, so check out a few in your area to get a sense of the programming and events that they offer. Most senior centers offer an impressive array of daily programming, interesting speakers and events, art and fitness classes, free or reduced-cost lunch, and special trips to area attractions.
2. Use the Internet to find your people.
Making new friends online is a very 2019 way to meet people and make connections. Have an Internet-savvy family member (like your 10-year-old grandson) show you how to create a free account on meetup.com, and find special interest groups to join through there. meetup.com has real-life interest groups in your local area for every hobby and interest imaginable, so it’s a great way to meet others who you’ll have something in common with.
If you’re homebound or have limited mobility to get out and about, consider joining an online discussion forum or Facebook. Besides being a great way to stay connected with old friends and family, Facebook also has several interest groups and support groups you can join, on every topic you can imagine. Through these groups, you can connect with other members and participate in discussions.
3. Manage expectations for new friendships.
Making quality friendships take time. Sometimes months or years, so you need to have patience. You can’t expect to meet someone, and overnight has a new best friend. Meeting new people, reaching out, extending invitations, and nurturing a new friendship is a slow and steady process.
When people sense that you’re too needy or desperate to make a new friend, they may be turned off and pull away. It’s better to show genuine interest but then give a new friendship the time and space to develop naturally, at its own speed, rather than trying to force things. Having a few friendships can help you to not rely too much on any one friend to meet all your needs since that can be overwhelming for some people.
4. Know how to manage loneliness.
Everyone feels lonely from time to time. You can feel alone when you crave interpersonal contact or conversation, but can’t get it for whatever reason. When you feel lonely one of the best things to do is to get out of the house and go to places where there are lots of people and activity: the grocery store, shopping mall, bookstore, community park, gym, etc.
Just being around people, even if you’re not interacting specifically with anyone, can make you feel less lonely and more connected. The change of scenery from your own house or apartment also helps too. Other ways to feel less lonely if you don’t have any friends is to keep in touch with the friends and family you do have—a simple phone call to say hello or an email to check-in can help you feel more connected.
5. To have a friend, you have to be a friend.
When you’re just starting to get to know someone, it’s important to show them that you can be a good friend. One way to do this is to be a good listener, ask lots of questions, and get to know the other person.
Talk less and listen more, especially in the early stages of friendship. Also, think about how you can be helpful to the other person, and show up for them when they need you. Bringing a friend a meal after they’ve had surgery, asking about their travels after they’ve been away on vacation, or driving a friend to a doctor’s appointment are all ways you can show a new friend that you care.
Rebecca Greene, MSW, LSW, is a geriatric social worker and freelance writer specializing in elder care and senior living topics, in the Washington, DC metro area. She works for a geriatric care management company and loves to help seniors increase their quality of life, enhance their independence, and make new friends. Contact Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org.