A new study suggests loneliness is a significant factor in our overall health and well-being. According to a recently published report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, loneliness after age 60 is linked to functional decline and death, according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco.
Fair enough, but how do you make friends when you are post 50 and all the channels toward friendship seem to have evaporated? Making friends is easy when you are in school. Everyone is the same age, lives in the same place, and the fishing pond is filled with people with whom you share interests and values. And then you graduate.
What comes next is a hodge-podge: You collect friends from the different parts of your life. You become friends with the people at work -- again, a pool of people with common interests if not common ages. And you become friends with neighbors -- people who generally match your age and socio-economic community: If you rent in a building with single professionals, that's who you meet; if you buy in the suburbs where all the young families live, you will find other young families. When you become a parent, friendships are formed with the other parents. You meet them on your kids' sports teams, at school, and enrichment classes you sign your kid up for like karate and ballet. I used to push my daughter to take ballet mostly because I loved the Moms in the ballet class.
But then the kids grow up and much of what you had in common with many of your friends -- your children -- disappears from your social life. What you're left with is a big void and no easy way to fill it. What do you do to make friends when you are post 50? Mind you, we're not talking about dating here -- online or otherwise. Where do you find men and women and couples to hang out with when your own old friends are scattered to the wind? Skype and FaceTime keep me in contact with my long-distance old friends, but they aren't around to grab a cup of coffee wtih or go hiking with on Sunday morning.
Making friends at this transitional point in our lives is critical to our overall happiness. Barbra Streisand had it right: People who need people are the happiest people, and I don't think Babs was talking about virtual friends. We need people around us -- brick and mortar friends to go out to dinner with, catch a movie with, join the new pilates class with.
Check out the slideshow below for seven ways to make friends post 50:
What you want is someone to hang with near where you live. Approach this scientifically. Having a friend who lives an hour's drive away will mean you won't see them as much as the person who lives closer. So think global, but stay local. That means your local coffee shop, the local branch of the public library, they local chapter of the Sierra Club, or the local college that offers evening courses.
If you play tennis, join a club or take a few lessons at the community center. If you like to throw parties, volunteer to run the annual fund-raiser at your synagogue or church; when the board thanks you publicly at the dinner, everyone will learn your name. If you hike, join the Sierra Club. If you bicycle, join a biking group or enter a race in your age category. Here's the one caveat about following your interests: Nobody ever met anyone while watching "American Idol" from the couch.
Be open to the idea that it's OK to have friends who are older or younger. The fact that they are in different stages in life just means they bring a different perspective to the table. While a 14-year-old won't be interested in socializing with a toddler, that 10-year age gap dissipates when they get older. Why not say yes to the 30-somethings who invite you to join them for drinks after work? Invite them over for dinner with their families and get to know their kids. Their views on the world may not match yours precisely, but variety is the spice of life.
If you are post 50 and uncoupled, you might find that traveling isn't as much fun. Call it the Noah's Ark theory, but in general, we like to go places paired up. There are services that will help you find a travel room-mate. Not only does this give you someone to talk to over dinner, it cuts down those single supplements that some tours and cruises charge. Friendly Planet runs one such pairing-up service. Road Scholar offers many active adult adventure vacations here -- offers to find you a roommate if you want. Their programs and generally educationally based and draw a well-heeled and educated crowd. Cruise ships do a pretty good job of making sure solo travelers find people to hang out with; group dining arrangements go a long way toward conversational icebreaking.
Even if you've never been a joiner, now may be the time to get yourself out there. Got a new puppy or an old dog who needs some new tricks? Find a community dog-training class. If you like to cook, take a cooking class. Participate in the 5K run for charity, even if you walk the final three.
Keep your smart phone with you and ask for numbers. Sure it may feel a little awkward to say to someone you just met "Hey, I really enjoyed talking to you on this Sierra Club hike but the next one isn't for two months. Would you like to get together for a hike before that?" Worst they can say is no.
With Skype and apps like FaceTime, it's easier than ever to have face-to-face visits. Don't assume your old friends are too busy to talk to you on the phone. Most cellphone plans include free long-distance calls and for those that don't, there's Skype. Invite friends who live a great distance to come and stay with you. Show them your city. Friendships are like gardens; it's often easier to tend to an existing one than grow a new one from seeds.