How to Make Friends in Middle-Age

February 3, 2012 at 1:53 am in Family & Relationships by Lynne Spreen

You spent your life working and now, God willing, you’re looking at retirement. You’ll have time, glorious time! So you blow out the candles, go home with your plaque and sleep in the next day.

At first your life is full. You repot those straggly houseplants and organize your closets. Take a bag full of business outfits to the Goodwill. Cook from your dusty recipe book. Watch the morning news shows. Meditate. Go to the gym right in the middle of the day. Woo hoo, livin’ la vida loca, girl!

But pretty soon you get caught up. Your calendar says your week is filled, but it’s all mundane: take dog to groomer, get nails done, don’t forget mammogram. Maybe you start a business from the guest bedroom, and that keeps you so busy that you don’t mind the absence of those coffee-fueled morning conversations you used to have with your buddies at work. If you’re lucky enough to have somebody at home whose company you enjoy, that helps. But after a while, you notice you don’t have any women friends. There’s something missing in your life, and it’s uncomfortable.

That’s how it went for me, anyway. At middle-age, I realized I had few friends (does the one who lives halfway across the country count?) Worse, I didn’t know how to find new ones.

I’m an introvert so it was even more daunting.

So I read The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymoreby Marla Paul. Marla says finding new friends at our age is harder because our peers aren’t looking. By now, they generally have all the friends they need, so you have to sort of sneak up on them. You go where the prospects are, engage in an activity that makes you happy on its own merits, and then you and the targets just naturally fall into conversation (keeping it light at first). If there’s a spark, you’ll know. Bonus points for meeting multiple times at the activity (pottery class, golf, book club) without the pressure of a first date (“Hey, want to get a cup of coffee sometime?” is awkward, IMHO).

I know you want me to end this with “…and then after a while I had tons of friends!!” but that didn’t happen. At the time I was living in Palm Desert, California, where half my neighbors were snowbirds who left town six months out of the year. The rest of the population was at work. Tumbleweeds blew down the street. So Bill and I moved to what Dr. Phil would call a target-rich environment: a 55+ community an hour away where the residents live year-round and are eager to make friends. I joined activities that made me happy, like book club and golf, and friendships began to form.

I now know that the best way to make friends later in life is to find the activity and let the friendship follow. That’s my advice, but maybe you have some ideas, too. Have you had this experience, and if so, how did you handle it?

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