If you’ve recently left the workplace or moved out of state, you may be feeling a little isolated. But don’t despair. New opportunities can still abound, and cultivating new friends can be good for your mental health, too.
When Stanford University invited retired people to come to campus to take classes for a year, the 30 people in that group bonded tightly, says Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.
“What surprised them was the very important friendships that these folks were forming with one another,” she says. Like the younger students, the retirees were able to leave their previous lives and professional images behind when they got on campus and enjoyed the freedom of being who they were now.
“Social networks get smaller as people age but, surprisingly, older people are generally more satisfied with them and often report levels of emotional well-being that are higher than those of younger adults,” Carstensen adds.
It may take extra effort to make those new social bonds, as I discovered after leaving the companionship of the work place and moving away from my home in the Northeast. Here are several steps that can make the process of forging new friendships a bit easier.
1. Explore the landscape
Some organizations, such as Newcomer’s Clubs and MeetUp, focus on providing get-acquainted opportunities for their members with similar interests.
“Even if you haven’t moved, when you retire or semi-retire, you can act like a newcomer in your own city, and do and join the things you missed out on before,” advises life coach Barbara Beizer of Washington, D.C.
Beizer eventually became a board member of The Transition Network, a national group that focuses on “what’s next?” issues for professional women over 50. Joining my local chapter (and volunteering for two committees) helped me get over my “friendless in Florida” phase.
Volunteer, community, and religious groups as well as lifelong learning classes are other places to find people with interests like yours who may also be looking for new friends.
2. Pave your way
Don’t be surprised if you enthusiastically put events on your calendar only to find that when the time comes you’ve got a tiny stomach ache and a large reluctance to leave the house.
Many of us get a bit anxious—I call it “stage fright”—when we enter new situations. It may help to pave your way beforehand by calling or emailing the organization’s officers, introducing yourself to someone, and saying you plan to attend their next function.
If possible, arrange to drive to the event with someone. Hopefully, you’ll have at least one person to look for when you get there, and that will lead to other introductions.
3. Make the first (and second) move
If you feel a spark when chatting with a new person, or just want to continue the conversation, don’t be shy about asking for an email or phone number. I always try to follow up immediately so we don’t forget each other, and propose meeting for coffee. If you enjoy each other, the next time each of you can invite another acquaintance or two and broaden the circle.
“Just say yes,” to invitations from new individuals or groups. The more I said yes, the more I was invited (no one likes rejection), and the more often people said yes to me when I proposed my favorite activities.
4. Be alert for social connectors
It’s a good idea to mention to people that you’re looking for more social connections. Just as some people fancy themselves to be matchmakers, others have a special talent for connecting people and the generosity of heart to share friends. I was fortunate to meet such a person, and she introduced me to a number of interesting people.
5. Become a regular
Whether it’s at a committee meeting or a dog park, meeting regularly can deepen a connection. “Seeing each other often develops a kind of affection and shared experience,” Beizer says. “It’s the fastest way to get to know people.”
If you see people regularly at an activity you all enjoy, you’re much more likely to find friendship and the health boost that can come with it.
Ronni Sandroff, an award-winning writer and former health editorial director at Consumer Reports, covers mind, behavior, and culture from Southern Florida.