The social life of older adults often declines with age for a variety of reasons:

  • Perhaps a spouse dies and invitations to couples’ activities start to fade.
  • Friends might move away, relocating to retirement areas or to be near their children.
  • Some friends pass away.
  • Work colleagues dissipate after retirement.
  • Physical limitations might affect activities.

It’s a gradual process that we might not even notice, but suddenly, we become aware that we’re just not enjoying life as much, and we’re spending too much time alone. It’s harder to make friends after retirement but it’s not impossible.

Quality relationships and having fun with friends can make us happier and reduce stress. A good friend to talk to helps us cope with traumatic events. People with good support networks are physically healthier too, having lower blood pressure and less incidents of depression.

All well and good! But we all know it’s harder to make friends in later life. Once the kids are gone and we no longer have the camaraderie of the work place, perhaps no longer have a spouse, the occasions to meet people and make friends decrease.

That doesn’t have to be the case. We might have to work a little harder at it but there are many ways to meet people and make friends.

Pandemic Modifications

It goes without saying that most of what’s listed here is post-pandemic advice but like everything else, that’s no reason to postpone your attempts to make friends. You’ll find that most senior centers have gone virtual, as have most opportunities for courses, Meetup groups and other activities.

Meetup groups usually vary group by group and safety requirements are determined by the group and government requirements in your area. I notice that many outdoor Meetup groups, such as golf and hiking, are obviously not virtual, some requiring masks and others not. Join things that are compatible with your own comfort level.

Here’s a thought! If you’re starting your own group and live where the weather is currently nice and have an outdoor space, put a table with some iced tea or beverage of your choice in the center and surround it with socially distanced lawn chairs. Enjoy your quilting group, socialization, and being outdoors – all at the same time!

Joining virtual groups is a great opportunity, and if you’re limited physically, might be perfect for you even post-pandemic. I have a friend who has MS and this has opened up a whole new world for her! I believe these virtual opportunities are here to stay.

Virtual groups also open things up geographically. You can take a great course that’s being given a thousand miles away. However, I recommend something headquartered within a reasonable distance if you think you’d like to continue with it post-pandemic.

Without further ado, here’s a list of some of the ways that have worked for me and others in the same position:

Meeting People: The Standard Methods

Mention that you’d like to meet people and make some friends, and you’ll always get these standard suggestions:

  • Join a Senior Center
  • Become active in a church group
  • Take courses
  • Try Meetup to find groups you might like
  • Volunteer for a charity of your choice
  • Join a hobby group
  • Volunteer for a political campaign

All worthwhile! Go for it! But later on, let me suggest some others you might not have thought of. They make good supplements.

Meeting People: Some Not-So-Standard Methods

In addition to all the standard, frequently suggested methods, here are some you might not have thought of:

One of My Favorites – Talk More!

To some this comes naturally. Others have to work at it. Proceed with baby steps. Just get into the habit of starting conversation with people you cross paths with: the man behind the deli counter, a person in the elevator, the plumber fixing your faucet, the pizza delivery man.

Nothing deep and personal that will have them thinking you’re strange! Just try “Good morning,” “This elevator is so slow,” “How long have you been a plumber?”, “How are the roads?”

I remember going into a ladies’ room once and a woman asked me how my day was going. On another occasion, while standing at a seafood counter in the market, a man said, “I just got a book published today! I’m going to celebrate with a lobster dinner.”

Will you meet your new best friend by saying “Good morning” in an elevator? Probably not. But you just never know where a little conversation will go.

I once met a woman, who became a really good friend, in the ladies’ room at a singles’ group event! We were both checking our hair in the mirror, and she said, “Isn’t this awful?” I agreed, we started talking, continued our commiseration over coffee and exchanged phone numbers!

Run for Office

A common suggestion is to volunteer for a politician or party. But why not bite the bullet and run for office yourself! Stop complaining about the way the schools/town/state/country is being run and become a change-agent. You will not only do some good for your fellow citizens but you will meet a ton of like-minded people.

Start Your Own Group!

Take something you love doing and start a group with people who share your passion. You can do this on Meetup or post details in your neighborhood group. Maybe there are many quilting groups in your area but what you really want to do is make quilts for flood and disaster victims.

Well, go ahead and start a group that meets and stitches. You produce something worthwhile and enjoy camaraderie at the same time. One of my neighbors started a Saturday morning touch football group and loves it. The guys and gals have become good buddies.

Get a Dog

Never fails! Who can resist a cute little puppy? Walking the dog not only gets you out of the house where you can practice your talking to others, but your pet will approach people, annoy some and enchant others.

You’ll be stopped continually with “How cute! What kind is she?” and lots of fussing and petting. And if pooch doesn’t want to move on, the conversation gets prolonged. And think of the health benefit derived from the exercise!

Arrive Early

When you’re taking a class or attending a meeting or event, get there early. If you’re one of the first to arrive and there’s time to kill, often the other early arrivals will start a conversation. Most often the topic is about the course or meeting, so it’s easy conversation.

Usually, once the class or meeting starts, there’s no time for mingling. Everyone sits in attentive silence. So, you’re learning but not socializing. The time before and after the event is the time to meet people.

Read Name Tags

If you’re at an event or seminar of some sort where everyone is wearing a name tag, approach someone and read theirs aloud, with a comment like, “I don’t have my glasses. Is that Margaret? I’m Judith.” There, you’ve been introduced, and it wasn’t quite as uncomfortable as just walking up to a stranger and starting fresh.

Ask People About Themselves

People love to talk about themselves and are flattered that you’re interested in them. By all means, share, but also ask some questions that show you’re interested in them without being intrusive or venturing into touchy areas.

Avoid “So, who did you vote for in the last election?” But it’s fine to ask, “Are you interested in politics?” Remember the man at the seafood counter who wrote the book? Certainly, that opener is just begging for you to ask “What is your book about? Is this your first?” Or at the buffet table at a party, “Everything looks so good. What are your favorites? Do you like to cook?”

It’s kind of like greasing the axle. Once you start practicing these little things, they become second nature. You just become more outgoing and comfortable as you join. Don’t expect overnight success. In time, you’ll have some good, quality relationships that will enrich your life.

Do you have experience with any of the suggestions above? I’m sure you have some things that have worked for you as well. What are some things you’ve done to help you meet people and make friends?

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