making friends in midlife

Late adulthood can be lonely. The pressures of work life, caregiving, and family responsibilities can be immense.

They can leave you short on friendship at a time when time doesn’t seem to allow for it. Hands up who wants to approach their sixties lonely? Thought not.

Friendship is not a luxury. It’s a fundamental pillar of being human, and has been since our hunter-gatherer days. We are a community species, and friends never stop being important.

This may explain the widespread and intense mental health problems that many people experienced during the recent COVID lockdown policies across the world. We need to be around and interact with our people. It’s in our nature.

15 ways to make friends in midlife

Friends aren’t always easy to keep – but making them can be a trip! Try the following to boost your friend making skills in midlife:

  1. Join social media groups that reflect your interests – and get into conversations.
  2. Don’t be a couch potato. Get yourself out and about.
  3. Take positivity everywhere you go.
  4. Have existing friends take you to new places and be that exciting outsider who shows curiosity.
  5. Follow your hobbies and meet fellow enthusiasts.
  6. Embrace the power of smiling.
  7. Put your loss, insecurity, and pain to one side and learn to have fun.
  8. Alternatively, bond with others over your connecting difficulties and form a united front.
  9. Follow up on invitations and stick to plans.
  10. Leave yourself enough time to find the joy in life.
  11. Make friends as a couple or family.
  12. Become a pillar of your neighborhood.
  13. Be yourself.
  14. Join a business incubator project that can benefit from your experience.
  15. Make friends across the generation gap.

But if you think you’ve got deep adult friendships because you talk to a lot of people at work or say “hey” to neighbors in the street, you haven’t thought it through. If you were expecting a child tomorrow, who are the first five people you’d call with excitement? If you were in trouble, who are the first five people you’d call for help?

If your inner circle feels empty outside of your own home, it might be time to start seeking deeper connections. A social circle is healthy, but having a person in your inner circle gives you support and occupies a space by your side on a near-lifelong basis. 

1. Social media is a tool. Use it.

This is Carl and Russell from the Pixar movie “Up”. Different ages. Different worlds. But they find friendship and common ground through loneliness, grief, and a knack for adventure.

It might seem like the new root of all evil, but you can get benefits from it, too. If you see people sharing memes (a.k.a. funny images with commentary text attached) you agree with or videos that make you chuckle, leave a comment and build rapport. Or share it with your friends to show you approve.

You won’t become immediate bosom buddies, but who knows when you might have the chance to go to a meetup over a shared hobby?

Check Facebook for nearby events, concerts, or meets and turn up to them. Newer apps like Clubhouse also offer live chat rooms for a near limitless array of topics. Why not try setting up a room on Clubhouse that focuses on something you love. Then, meet new, like-minded folks from the comfort of your own home or car.

Social media isn’t even just for meeting people. Sites like Reddit (which still involve a lot of interaction) aren’t exactly made for fostering friendships – they consist of threads with discussion, video links, and commentary. But they can send you down wormholes of fun content and information that can help you gain confidence in the conversations you do have with people.

2. Get involved.

You have to be proactive about not restricting yourself to the house and marinating in your isolation. As the recent COVID pandemic has proven, this can be extremely damaging to mental health – and studies have supported the link, too.

If you’ve reached the stage where you really want new friends but feel like you’ve hit a wall, go on walks and drives to explore where you live. Even if you’re an old hand, new spots, groups, and activities pop up constantly that give you an opportunity to meet new people.

It doesn’t even have to be related to an interest you already had – try something new! Volunteering is a great place to meet friends, as it will put you around people who want to help their community and put positivity in the world. Who doesn’t want to be around that?

3. Be positive and social

Making friendships isn’t just about doing as much as possible, because having a full social calendar might actually wind up being counterproductive to investing in the friendships you have.

Being positive is about being proactive. That means setting up your own groups and inviting people to them. New to a neighborhood? Be the one who invites everyone over for the big football game and a barbecue. 

You have to go in with the right mindset and take the lead instead of waiting for people to find you.

4. Have existing friends make an introduction

Let’s be real here: Everybody already knows someone. Whether that’s a family member, a colleague with whom you occasionally brush elbows at the water cooler, or an acquaintance from your street you always see while putting the trash out but wouldn’t consider a bosom buddy.

If you’re looking for a deeper connection or at least the opportunity to interact with more people, have them introduce you to other folks. Everyone loves being a connector. They’ll appreciate the nod, and you’ll get the chance to have some exciting conversations with potential friends. 

And if you really are in a new place where you know absolutely no-one, be that exciting outsider who shows curiosity and adds new energy to existing social circles.

5. Follow your hobbies.

Some hobbies lend themselves to socializing better than others. Painting model aircraft can nourish your imagination, sure. But does it get you out and about? Not really.

And if you find a model aircraft painting convention near you, even a seemingly solitary hobby can connect you with others. Run with the things you love doing, as you’ll be naturally more enthused, knowledgeable, and animated while talking about them.

  • Team sports are a great connector and a good way to meet people with a healthy, active mindset.
  • Dance lessons can take you back to your younger years tearing up the disco and connect you with total strangers.
  • If you’re not really a sporty person (we get it), start up a board games night or a Dungeons and Dragons table and invite people you kinda know but want to have more fun with. 
  • More musically inclined folks might want to start a regular jam or go and see a band together.

6. Embrace the power of smiling

Smiling is such a powerful connector. You don’t need pouty, James Dean vibes – no Gen Xer has the time or energy to try and decode sullenness and introspection. You need to put on a smile if you’re not a naturally bubbly person.

making friends in midlife

Humor is massively important, and easily shrugged off as a “defence mechanism” or “deflective shield” against deeper qualities. We call bullsh*t to that. While it’s no replacement for integrity or moral fiber, humor can be a social glue. You can use it to defuse tense situations, make observations, and build confidence.

There’s no such thing as someone who’s not a “naturally funny” person. Everyone has funny characteristics, whether they come across dry, deadpan, witty, or off-the-wall. Some people might not even realise they’re funny. It’s time to try and harness that power.

If the concept of trying to be funny gives you social anxiety or puts you off socializing, then don’t force it. Just be open to the humor of others and allow yourself to laugh and smile indiscriminately. Funny people love an audience too.

7. Put your loss, insecurity, and pain to one side and learn to have fun…

Everyone you meet at your age is going to have been through something, whether it’s divorce, bereavement, employment insecurity, body issues, or perimenopause – and they don’t always want to be thinking about it.

In fact, providing levity and distraction from those issues might make you appealing as a prospect for friendship. Our body issues do not define us. We are not our recent divorce. Passions, values, moral convictions, humor, skills, and knowledge are all key parts of who we are that don’t relate to any part of a struggle.

It’s in our darkest moments we reach most actively for the light. So provide that light for someone. Someone might well be searching for the same relief as you are.

But also…

8. …you can bond over your connecting difficulties and form a united front.

Nobody wants a friend that doesn’t pay attention to their difficulties. You can see a million smiling faces and still feel lonely if they’re smiling over your pain like they’re talking over you in a conversation.

If they’ve been through the same sh*t as you, then they also know how it feels and can maybe provide the company you need during difficult times. Some people, for example, find it hard to deal with depression in a friend and constantly try to “fix” a condition that has no repair manual.

Meeting someone else who has been through severe depression might provide welcome relief – someone who already knows the Depression Highway Code of sometimes just being there, shutting up, and listening.

Knowing the difference between wanting a friend to help you forget your troubles and finding one to help you through them is entirely your call. Make sure you’re clear on the distinction before seeking friendship – it can help stop you getting your wires crossed.

How not to make friends with everybody

Midlifers have been through every form of flaky friendship you can dream up. You have to have a way to filter the wheat from the chaff if you’re looking to add people to your inner circle.

  • Find out whether their values align with yours. When the time is right, ask them about family, God, morals; deeper questions that speak to who they really are. 
  • Watch their behavior alongside what they say. Make sure they walk the walk as well as talking the talk. No-one wants to engage on a deeper level with hypocrites or people that may not be there when they’re really needed.
  • Keep an eye on how disagreements unfold (over politics, TV shows, whatever). Differences of opinion are fine and even encouraged within a friendship, but they can show signs of narcissism and toxicity. You don’t need that energy around you.

9. Follow up on invitations and stick to plans.

Integrity is important and midlifers are not going to waste time on time wasters.

Be the person who answers calls, turns up to meets, and regularly follows up on the “we must catch up over coffee” text. It shows you care. And people like and respect those who support their intent with action – it’s a rare treat in the 21st century.

10. Leave yourself enough time to find the joy in life.

You might think that you don’t have time for new friends, between work and family responsibilities, looking after yourself, and caregiving for the sick people in your life.

Even worse, you might think you don’t deserve them, or that it’d be betraying your family to meet new people when you could be spending time with them.

That’s where you’re wrong. They love you and want happiness for you. It’s about balance.

If you never see your family because you’re at bars with your new buddies, then it’s a different question you need to be asking yourself. But making new connections can actually make you a better partner and father, because you can approach life with newfound vigour.

Plus, you’ll have an extra teammate when it comes to those DIY tasks or deep cleans you can’t quite pull off singlehanded. Your family will thank their lucky stars for your new friend.

11. Make friends as a couple or family

You can always leverage your entire family for friendships. Family friends are a part of growing up, whether it’s fellow parents at your kids’ schools, other families you meet on vacation, or couple friends you meet at religious gatherings.

These friendships can be powerful and lifelong, so don’t shrug them off. Of course, you need your own friends too – every single member of your family is an individual and should have their own connections to keep them strong.

If you’re single, fear not. As per usual, there’s an app for that. The dating app Bumble has a spinoff called BumbleBFF where users swipe left and right to find friendship rather than romance. Whether you’re on the lookout for a workout buddy or a teammate for games night, the app serves as the middleman you might need.

12. Become a pillar of your neighborhood

It sounds cliched, but the absolute best way to connect with people is by helping them and working to build the world around them.

If you’re ever-present at the Christmas parade, helping to put up Halloween decorations, running to the store for elderly neighbors, fixing stuff for neighbors or providing coal or meat for the neighborhood cookout, you’re going to make friends.

Become the person people want to know by helping them with no ulterior motives. If you can’t really think of ways to help, this helpful resource can point you in the right direction of somewhere to volunteer your time and services.

13. Be yourself. 

In all of this, the most important takeaway is authenticity. You’re past the point where you need to impress new friends with false bravado, designer gear, or empty sentiments.

Authenticity should be the bedrock of friendships throughout your entire life, but it doesn’t always pan out that way.

You’ve got no reason to pretend anymore – so don’t. Be open about your beliefs, morals, and hangups. Talk about your life. Be open to listening, as well. If someone is making friends with you, they have to make friends with you. It’s too late in life for anything else.

14. Join a business incubator

If you’ve been all work, no play for far too long, joining a business incubator as a mentor might be a more comfortable “in” with new people.

A business incubator is an organization that provides a free (or virtually free) workspace, as well as mentorship, guidance, and investor access. They might even provide a loan. 

It’s a great place to be around bright, brilliant people who are hungry for information and inspiration. Plus, you get to be of service to people who need help getting great ideas off the ground while making friends across the generational gap.

Speaking of which…

15. Make friends outside your age group

You might have younger colleagues you’d like to thrash at online gaming, or elderly neighbors you can help with the gardening and for whom you could provide vital companionship.

The age gap is like any other that divides humans into categories: Completely ignorable. Kindred spirits are kindred spirits whatever length of time they’ve been on the planet. The only hitch to finding them is how willing you are to put yourself out there.

Make the effort. Start the conversation. There could be a heartwarming Carl & Russell friendship (see the YouTube link above) on your horizon soon.

The roundup

As old age approaches, friendships are going to become an increasingly important part of maintaining your well-being.

According to the National Institute on Aging, being lonely as an older adult can increase your risk of heart problems, anxiety, depression, brain function, and even Alzheimer’s. So it’s worth making the effort now to reduce the impact of loneliness later on.

Friendships and laughter are some of life’s greatest alternative medicines, and we wish you an abundance of both.

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