“No man is an island,” John Donne once wrote. It's cliché, but it's true—we all need other relationships, and friendships, to grow and thrive. A 2021 survey found that more than 40 percent of Americans have three to five close friends. The same survey also found that close to 60 percent of people say they have a best friend. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that friendships help us to lead healthier and happier lives—impacting our physical, mental and emotional health. It’s not always the quantity of friends, but the quality of friends, that makes the difference.
Both the quantity and quality of friendships can change, however, as you get older. Life at age 50 looks a lot different than life at age 20. Various seasons of life often change your personality, your life outlook and your friendships. What’s more, it can be harder to make—and keep—new friends, which is why it's important to note how to nurture friendships over 50, according to psychologists.
We take a look at why you might have fewer friends at 50 than you did when you were younger, and key tips on how to keep the friendships that mean a lot to you.
Related: 'Encourage One Another and Build Each Other Up'—30 Powerful Prayers for a Friend
Why Am I Losing Friends at 50?
A night out on the town, hanging out over a cup of coffee or having the guys over to watch the football game may all be fond memories you have of time spent with friends. But maybe you’ve felt like those gatherings are now few and far between. Suddenly, as you age, you feel like you’ve lost touch with your friends. You’re not alone.
“Many adults over 50 have family as a priority, especially if they have children and work," explains Aura De Los Santos, clinical and educational psychologist. "Daily life, household chores and other family situations may leave little time for conversation and reconnecting with friends."
Along with shifting priorities and hobbies, finding times that fit your and your friends’ schedules can seem impossible.
Another reason you’re losing friends could be that the friendship has simply run its course; that person may have been meant to be a part of your life for a certain season. “Friendships end for different reasons, and this is not always a bad thing,” De Los Santos adds.
However, no matter the cause of the friendship waning, it can still hurt.
How Do You Cope With Losing Friends as You Get Older?
Sadness and disappointment are normal reactions to losing a friendship. You’re dealing with the mental and emotional sting of not being as important in their life. You’re also dealing with not having them around to talk to and laugh with. When you’re over 50 and this is your experience with several relationships, it can be hard to take. Letting yourself experience those feelings is a part of the coping process.
“It is not often talked about, but there is such a thing as grieving the loss of a friendship," says De Los Santos. "When you lose a friend you not only lose someone, you also lose the memories you created with that person. Live your grief and take your time to heal."
Talking to a therapist or another trusted person in your life can also help you sort out your feelings.
How To Nurture Friendships Over 50
So, how do you keep the friendships going that you do have? With tight schedules, family members vying for your attention and the need to work as well as take time for yourself, what are practical things you can do?
Surprisingly, not much more than what you already do to enjoy the relationship—talk.
“Many times, you don't need to do much to nurture friendships over 50," notes De Los Santos. "Constant and honest communication will be key to maintaining the bond. Talking is the beginning of relationships, so communication will always be the main factor."
In fact, that’s the number one step in a list of things you can do to keep your friendship going.
Lay your expectations out on the table. If you’re too busy to meet, say so. If you want to do other activities, make that known. Actually, talking to your friends about their feelings and about your limitations can lead to a more beneficial relationship.
2. Don’t put undue pressure on the other person, especially when they have a full schedule
This is where patience, understanding and good communication between the two of you come in. If their life is really hectic, give them some space.
3. When you schedule time together, make an effort to keep that appointment
Prioritize the plans.
4. Honor the time with your friend
Put away your phone. Give them your attention, so they can see how important they are to you.
5. Check in with your friend in other ways
A quick text hello or to say “I’m thinking of you” can make a world of difference.
“Lead with kindness," advises Reena B. Patel, positive psychologist, and licensed educational board-certified behavior analyst. "How would you want to be treated in this stage of friendship? Engage in this similar way. Focus on the little things that will help nurture the bond."
Tips on How To Make Friends Over 50
You may decide it’s time to branch out and cultivate new friendships. Whether it’s due to losing friends, or just deciding to expand your circle of friends, there is no shortage of ways you can interact with new people.
“Loneliness occurs as we age and separate from loved ones due to life journeys," says Patel. "As we age it is important to engage in activities [that] are socialization opportunities."
That can mean that you attend events or join clubs that cater to your interests. It can also mean volunteering for a cause that’s important to you. Maybe you take a class that sounds intriguing and meet others who like the topic. Or you can decide to do an activity and invite a neighbor or someone you’re just getting to know to come with you.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find friends. Do things you enjoy. As you connect with others, friendships will organically flow out of those connections.
“A tip for people over 50 who are having difficulty making friends is to identify what kind of friendships they want in their life," De Los Santos concludes. "Having many friends is not synonymous [with] having a true friendship. It is better to focus on cultivating those relationships with people you identify as genuine and who can add value to your life.”