In the book about downsizing called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it’s suggested that you discard items in your home that don’t bring you joy. The same could be said about friends, I suppose.
What happens, however, when a friendship you treasure is taken from you? When you lose a friend because she moves, or you do? Or there’s a rift due to divorce, or a change in jobs or interests? Or the ultimate tragedy happens – your friend dies? The joy in your life diminishes.
Is this an inevitable part of the process of growing older? Yes, unfortunately it is. But does it mean that your life must constrict, becoming smaller and lonelier as time goes on? Absolutely not. You can – and you should – make new friends.
Post 60, making friends is easier than ever. Do you know why? Because as we grow older, the old social constructs fall away, closed groups no longer hold their power, cliques dissolve, exclusivity becomes irrelevant, the jockeying for social or workplace position is over.
As a cohort, we become more genuine and open. Almost all of us suffer some losses, which tend to make us more appreciative of those who are in our lives. It also makes us more open and compassionate toward new people who arrive on the horizon.
Have you found that nowadays, when you meet someone your age for the first time – say at a friend’s party – you experience an ease in getting to know them that wasn’t often possible when you met someone new in the past?
Do you notice that conversation is quick to become comfortable and honest? That it’s much easier to get to know – and like – someone than it was when you were 40, or 30, or even 17? I certainly have found this to be the case.
Making and nurturing friendships is good for our health, both physical and mental. According to a recent article by Anna MacMillan in Time Magazine, friends may be more important than family.
She cited a study reported in the journal Personal Relationships that found that having supportive friendships in old age was a stronger predictor of well-being than having strong family connections.
In that study, more than 270,000 people across almost 100 countries were surveyed, and the data collected revealed that both family and friend relationships were associated with better health and a stronger feeling of happiness.
However, the more surprising finding was that in advanced ages, that association occurred only for people with strong friendships.
The author of the study, William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, says the findings aren’t surprising when you think about it.
Why? Because we can choose our friends while we can’t choose our family. So, it stands to reason that usually we enjoy our time with friends more than with family. We get together for fun and leisure, or for conversation about topics we want to discuss.
Family gatherings, on the other hand, may touch on repetitive issues that are tiresome or annoying, or they may involve activities that are serious, stressful or monotonous.
So, if you think that family is all that you need as your circle of friends grows smaller, think again. And if you’re telling yourself that you can’t make new friends because you’re no longer heavily involved in your career, or you no longer participate in activities associated with your children’s lives, get that idea out of your head.
There are lots of ways to meet new friends. Take a class in something that interests you. Attend performances and be aware of those around you. In other words, be a little more open and outgoing than your usual self.
When someone invites you to a party, outing or dinner gathering, say yes even if your instinct is to stay on your couch for the evening.
Finally, don’t be shy about gathering new people to you. Some women I know have started hosting ‘salons’ in their homes. A salon is an evening of conversation around a stated topic of interest.
They either invite a speaker or they simply prepare some questions to get a conversation going on their own. And they not only invite their friends, they encourage them to invite their friends.
I call it “socializing with a purpose,” and it’s a lovely throwback to the salons of the Age of Enlightenment.
So – do go out and meet new people. Be open to developing new friendships. It’s for your own good.
Have you made any new friendships in the past few years? Are you contemplating moving to a new location? If so, what are your plans for finding and making friends in your new neighborhood, town or city? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.