Finding Friendships at 50+: Actively Searching, Not Desperately Seeking

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As I slide into my 50s, I recognize while my life has changed significantly with respect to responsibilities, I still have responsibilities of a different nature. I’m no longer driving kids around to various school-related events or nagging them to do homework. They’re all in college now, which requires a different level of attentiveness plus working to help support them through these next four years.

Being extremely busy, often holed up at home in my office writing for hours on end, has left me somewhat lonely. Yes, I have my spouse and, yes, I have a dog with which I have conversations on a daily basis, even if they’re rather one-sided. What is missing is a friend. Despite evidence to the contrary on my Facebook page, which indicates I have in excess of 600 “friends,” in reality, I don’t even have a whiff of a compatible relationship in that regard because the past several years have found me buried in family and work. I haven’t even had the time to maintain the friendships I developed in years past, let alone inspire new ones.

When we are young, it seems that opportunities for friendship abound, initially during our school years and then later as we marry, have kids and congregate with people in similar stages of life. Now at this threshold where we’re staring the afternoon of life bravely in the face, many of us may feel a tinge of loneliness on the friendship front. Where do we find them? How do we foster them? Is it even possible at this stage of the game? After all, this is the point in life where we have wisdom, experience and confidence all on our side. Shouldn’t it be easy to make new friends?

Lifestyle advisors and experts suggest that embracing new adventures and activities might just be the key. Check out a dance club; run a 5K race; enroll in a class to learn a new skill; or even start a new business. It’s okay to test your limits and refer to yourself as one filled with vitality, strength and positivity; optimism has the power to attract new experiences to you, including those that can potentially offer the opportunity to meet new people, strike up a dialogue and create a new friendship.

We are social creatures who need meaningful relationships that should not diminish with age. You are never too old to make new friends, and a close network of friends who will share life’s joys and burdens with you can keep you healthier and living longer. Long-term studies have offered persuasive evidence that social connections are contributing factors to warding off heart attacks, strokes and depression.

However, for many people the thought of making new friends can be intimidating, mainly because there is not a steady stream of people from which to choose. It may seem daunting to find individuals who are at the same stage of life, sharing activities and interests of work, school or children. When you meet someone at school or at work, you have consistent opportunities to foster that relationship. At midlife, such instances are more elusive. And the question is: what is required of you at this point?

At first, it’s necessary to take some initiative to keep the flame of friendship going. Yes, at this age it can be awkward to call someone or send an email without feeling the dread of rejection. It may feel personal if the other person does not have the same motivations you do. Additionally, as we mature, we tend to be a bit more particular about the people with whom we spend our time. Often, fun dinners or lunch events provide a common thread, and if you feel as if you are missing out, it is important to continue to put yourself out there and find ways to connect with people. Be proactive about activities that bring you in contact with the same person or persons on a regular basis, allowing for that foundation of friendship to develop.

At this point in life, you probably have a bit more time to invest in new activities, so consider joining a bike club or taking a watercolor class. Volunteer at the local library, join a walking club, start a book club or take that yoga class.

Participate more and in different roles in your faith community. And most importantly, stop limiting yourself to friends of the same age. When you have relationships and connections with people of different generations, you open yourself up to a new view of the world that you might not have ever considered. Babysit the kids of the busy mother next door; visit your elderly neighbor down the street. Sure, when you were 20, a friendship with a 40-year-old might have seemed strange, but in your 50s, a 20-year age gap is essentially negligible, and, in fact, can be quite enriching. ■

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