We tend to think friendships should grow organically. They don’t. Particularly in our later years, when we often lose friends—to death, illness, or moving away—we need to be much more intentional about making new ones.
This is especially so for “solo agers,” those without children and grandchildren. The younger generations in the family typically make up a large portion of the average older adult’s social network.
Making friends requires time and effort. Research has shown it takes fifty hours of contact to become casual friends. Bump that to ninety hours for a real friend, and 200 hours to cultivate a close friendship. Here are some tips to ease the process:
- Look for social activities with continuity. Meeting regularly helps rack up those contact hours with less effort. But more important, we feel more comfortable when activities and people are more familiar. The only way to get past anxiety is to go through it. Regular contact makes a new situation familiar faster.
- People in transition are the most open. Those who have recently moved to town or are going through a life change are typically extra receptive to making new friends.
- Assume people will like you. Research shows we vastly underestimate how much people like us. If you lean into the idea that you are likeable, you will actually behave in a warmer and friendlier manner. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- To get a friend, be a friend. Notice if someone needs assistance, and then offer it. A ride to the airport. A meal after surgery. Helpfulness, support, and compassion rank high among qualities people look for in a friend.
- Small gestures matter. Consider sending a “thumbs up” text when you hear of an accomplishment. Or encouraging words before a challenging event. Even a touch-base “thinking of you” email when you haven’t seen someone in a while can be surprisingly meaningful and can open new opportunities for connecting.
- Let people know you like them. While intellectual sparring and trading jokes can be fun, it helps if you can sprinkle in compliments now and then, too. Tell people what you admire about them. We tend to like those whom we feel like us.
While you are at it, it doesn’t hurt to look for multigenerational opportunities. Establishing bonds with people in their middle age or younger can broaden one’s perspective on life! And may help you feel more connected to the future. Having a younger friend may also come in handy should you need a physical favor, such as moving a chest of drawers.
Ready to interrupt your isolation? Give us a call at (210) 492-1224.
We are experts in the process of aging well.