5 Tips for Making Friends as You Age
As we begin 2021, we may find ourselves feeling a range of emotions. We may be exhausted from the demands of the past year or fearful of what’s to come. Many of us are grieving the loss of loved ones and connections with others. We may also find that mixed in with the losses, worries, and loneliness are relief for having made it this far. We may even be feeling twinges of hope as we begin to let ourselves imagine life beyond the pandemic.
Whatever we are feeling, we need relationships with others to help us navigate the joys and hardships in our lives. The pandemic has taken away opportunities to connect with people in person, especially for older adults. But sharing the “stuff of life” with one another gives us the support, safety, and satisfaction we need. As this new year progresses, how can we take steps to nurture mutually supportive relationships? A good place to start is by building strong connections with others through friendship.
1) Acknowledge Anxiety
It’s normal to feel anxious about any number of things right now. Begin taking steps towards what’s best for you by acknowledging feelings of fear or worry. Apprehension about re-entering social settings or becoming infected with the virus are par for the course we’re on. It also helps to know that isolation and loneliness exacerbate anxiety. "One of the most anxiety-inducing things an aging individual can experience is the loss of control,” says Leela R. Magavi, regional medical director for California-based Community Psychiatry.
During times like this, meaningful connections with friends are especially important. If getting out with others feels like too much at first, consider joining an online support group to begin building the support you need to move back into life-as-usual over time. Or call a friend to catch up over the phone. Go easy on yourself and take your time as you ease back in to social relationships.
2) Make a List
An easy place to begin a search for friends is to simply take notice of who you already see. Is there anyone you encounter regularly—like a neighbor, a fellow dog walker, or a regular at your favorite coffee shop—that you feel interested in knowing more? Who do you have a natural, friendly connection with? Is there an old friend you’d like to reconnect with? Make a list of people you are interested in pursuing as possible friends.
Keep an open mind as well. Think outside the box as you consider people you enjoy. They don’t have to be the same age or in the same stage of life as you. You can form meaningful connections with people you feel a kinship with, even if your lives look different.
3) Find Common Interests
If you’re ready to strike out and meet new people, a great place to start is to find others who share common interests with you. “Finding others with an interest in something you enjoy can be a great way to break the ice and interact with a new community,” says Nashville-based GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor, who works mainly with adults. While the pandemic makes it more difficult to spend time together in groups, there are ways to find others with similar interests. One of the quickest ways is through social media. “Something as simple as joining a Facebook group can be enough to open up opportunities to meet new people and make new friends with common interests,” Guarino says.
Local community centers can offer socially-distanced art classes, fitness groups, movie matinees, free seminars, and book clubs for seniors. The Fort Wayne Fun Times offers brochures full of seasonal activities all year long. Simply put, go out and do what you enjoy, and you will likely find people you’ll enjoy.
4) Start a Conversation
If you do venture out to a class or activity, consider starting a conversation with someone new. While it’s harder to talk through masks or from a safe distance, you can still communicate interest in another person. You might start by complimenting their mask or something unique that you notice about them, like a piece of jewelry.
Asking questions is another great way to start a conversation, especially if you are shy or don’t know what to say. “Ask people about places they’ve traveled or their family—people love to talk about their grandkids and their trips,” says Christy Monson, a retired therapist and author of Finding Peace in Times of Tragedy. “And if you’re feeling shy, remember that being a good listener is just as valuable.” Showing interest in another person is worth the risk. A friendly conversation may turn into a meaningful friendship down the road.
5) Keep It Up
If you do find someone you connect well with, don’t leave friendship up to chance. Take the next step and ask if they would like to spend more time together. You might suggest going out for lunch, coffee, or a walk. Or if you met via a shared interest—like a painting class, for example—you could continue painting together and shopping for supplies even after the class has ended.
It takes intention and effort to develop a friendship over time. Therapist Tina Tessina, Ph.D., says “Don’t make the mistake of thinking the friendship will keep going if you don’t put energy into it. You have to reach out, and keep reaching out.” With some effort, you can get into the groove of spending quality time with friends. Why not try? In addition to gaining new friends and having fun, you’ll also boost “your emotional, mental, and physical health,” according to Tessina.
Whether you decide to join a group online or head out to a new class, keep an eye out for people that interest you. Notice those that you’d like to get to know and start a conversation. It may take a few tries. But the benefits of a life-giving friendship will be worth the effort.
The Cedars Retirement Community
The Cedars Retirement Community is a beautiful lakeside retirement residence located just outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Cedars believes in providing the highest quality of life and opportunity for seniors at almost all levels of mobility and health. We are operating with great care during this pandemic and are following all guidelines issued by the CDC and ISDH. Please contact us with any questions you may have.