I’ve moved to a new city and I don’t know anyone. Like many older women, I left my comfort zone to be near my family. When I say I didn’t know anyone in my new city, I mean I missed people with whom I shared history and a comfortable sense of belonging.
There were lots of people in my new community whose names I soon remembered. We’d greet one another, chat about the weather, then go our separate ways until the next time we said hello.
When we relocate after retirement we have no workplace or young children to provide ready-made relationships. We have to invent new ways of creating community.
Here are some quick ideas based on my own personal experience.
Find groups that share your interests. This is where you’ll meet like-minded people.
Pick a favorite charity and volunteer. Working together eventually leads to belonging.
Look for a church that provides community. Join their potlucks and social events. Over time, you’ll develop a sense of belonging.
Get a dog, if you like them. People will stop and talk to your dog. Other dog owners are natural candidates for friendship.
Finally, host your own “new to the neighborhood party.” Drop invitations into mailboxes and invite everyone over for wine and cheese.
In order to do these things however, you need to make some changes.
Before I moved, I had several different networks. On a personal level, I socialized with neighbors, professional colleagues and extended family. When my son was younger, his friends and activities brought other long-term relationships into my life. Moving in your sixties requires a whole new approach.
In your old life, people had a fixed image of who you were. In your new life you have an opportunity to be whoever you really are. Now that you’ve moved, you can find your authentic self, stripped of others’ expectations.
Here’s where you have some homework to do. Before you make these new friendships, you need to know yourself. What activities and topics interest you? What bores you or makes you feel awkward and ineffective?
Reflect on a friendship you valued. Allow yourself to feel what it was like to be in that person’s presence. This is the feeling you’re looking for when you meet new people. On the other hand, you might want to do this same exercise to avoid unhealthy relationships by remembering the feel of toxic persons in your past.
Can you allow yourself to welcome the feeling of loneliness? It’s your body’s signal that something needs to change. This visceral feeling can guide you to a whole new way of being. It helps you find a way that’s authentic and just right for making new friends.
Rushing to numb the feeling of loneliness can only lead to putting on another mask and distancing yourself from the authentic people in your new community. Now’s your chance. You’re with new people who have no pre-conceived notions about you. Embrace the uneasy, queasy feeling of loneliness and let it take you to a whole different way of being authentic in your new world.
Being authentic means dropping your “masks.” Let go of those acts you put on in order to make yourself likable and socially acceptable. When you’re feeling anxious and depressed, do you cover up your real self with a big smile and an upbeat manner? This coping tactic is what Dr. Margaret Rutherford calls Perfectly Hidden Depression. (You can watch her video here on Sixty and Me.)
Develop an attitude of compassion for yourself when it comes to meeting others. Like a loving parent tell yourself, “I know this is hard for you. Just do your best. If you don’t come across as smooth and sophisticated, that’s okay. You’re still a good person and people will get to know something of the real you.”
You don’t have to reveal everything. Being real does not mean telling everyone everything about yourself. Relationships are built in small steps. Be honest, but know that friendships are formed over time.
In moving to a new life, embrace loneliness as your guide to authenticity and a whole new way of being in the world. Drop your mask. Be real. Enjoy the freedom to start fresh with people who have no preconceived image of who you are.
What are your masks? Do you find yourself in a new community needing to make friends? How have you turned acquaintances into true friendships in retirement?