By Sally Stitch
By the time my husband and I reached our 50s, our kids were out of college and supporting themselves, our aging parents were doing all right and our circle of friends, one of our greatest sources of entertainment and comfort, were, like us, enjoying life as empty nesters. Then, one couple got divorced, another started spending much of the year at their lake house in another state and a third became new grandparents and had little time for socializing. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just life and its inevitable losses. But my husband and I were devastated. Sure, we had acquaintances, but we wanted deeper relationships, people with whom we could go through life's ups and downs. Photo by Thinkstock
"The three easiest stages in life to make friends are high school, college and motherhood because the common interests are so evident," says Jennifer Freed, PhD, a marriage and family counselor in Santa Barbara, CA, who's facilitated friendship groups for decades. At other times, there may not be an overt reason to connect.
Over the next few years as we tried to rebuild our social life, we realized that our situation was far from unique-and that making friends as adults is hard. But necessary. Read on to find out why and how to find and keep new pals.
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Making Friends in Your 30s
At 34, Meagan Francis of St. Joseph, MI, creator of TheHappiestHome.com, discovered as a mom of five that she needed support beyond her circle of mommy friends. "When your kids are young, the moms you meet through playdates become your friends," she says. "But I wanted a friend who would share my interests after my kids are no longer the primary focus." Not an easy thing to find, given how busy life was. Step one: streamlining her schedule. "Most of my time was eaten up with mommy-kid playdates, so I offered to exchange babysitting duties instead." She contacted a friend of a friend on Facebook who lived in her town. They met for coffee and had so much fun that Francis and her husband now socialize with the new friend and her spouse, a childless couple. "When I'm with my pal," she says, "it's me time, and that's a priority."
Making Friends in Your 40s
Janice Costa from Bethpage, NY, found as a single woman in her early 40s that her friendship pool had diminished. Work friends were laid off, other friends got married, others moved. She suddenly had no one she wanted to hang out with. "My life felt out of balance," she admits, but remedying the problem wasn't easy. "It'd been so long since I'd tried."
And you have to keep trying, as Costa discovered. "I loved dance," she says, "so I figured I'd join a dance class." But most women did their exercise and left when class was over. Discouraged, she could've given up but didn't. Her newly adopted high-energy dog provided the answer. "I talked to other dogs owners at the park," she says. "The real relationships started when I got invited to a dog meet-up, a group who hikes, travels and has backyard barbecues with their dogs." Today, one of her best pals is a woman from the group. They get together regularly outside of meet-ups.
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Making Friends in Your 50s
For Tom and me, one thing was clear. I'd been the primary architect of our social life-as women often are-but this time, I wanted his help from the get-go. The obvious place to start was with the guys he'd been working out with at the gym every morning for several years. He loved this group. I figured I would find a wife or two I liked, so I started by inviting the whole gang plus spouses over for dinner-much less intimidating than meeting one-on-one. Though we enjoyed everyone, we clicked with three of those couples-ultimately spending frequent casual evenings that lent themselves to sharing important things. No doubt our relationships also bloomed because we live near each other and could get together easily. It also helped that the guys already had a bond. And that we all seemed to have been looking for good friends.
Finding new friends is pretty standard stuff: Follow your business interests and politics. Volunteer. Create a group of fellow passionistas (hikers, knitters, amateur movie critics) by posting on Meetup.com. The real work begins after you identify people you'd like to get to know better. Here's how to become closer with new buddies.
1. Start slowly. Just as first dates are no longer all-evening affairs, so your first time alone together might revolve around coffee rather than lunch. Why? To mitigate potential awkwardness. The key is to want to get together again soon to gab-not fret about pregnant pauses.
2. Look for cues. If a potential gal pal mentions that she loves Woody Allen flicks, perhaps suggest that you two can go to the next one together.
3. Come from a place of inspiration, not desperation. As you seek friends, says Dr. Freed, continue working on your own interests so that you bring excitement to the relationship. "The most magnetic adults love to learn and aren't afraid of challenge," she says.
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4. Stay in touch. Close relationships are built on knowing what's important. Regular contact reveals those concerns. Listen when your pal talks and then seize chances to call, email or text about things important to her.
5. Think of resources you can share. Just as kids share toys, so do adults, says Dr. Freed. Your new friend loves to swim, and you belong to a neighborhood pool? Invite her.
6. Follow the chemistry. If it's there, you'll know it. "But if your new friend lets you make all the effort, says things that make you uncomfortable or is too flaky, gently ease up on the active pursuit," suggests Patricia Gottlieb Shapiro, author of Heart to Heart: Deepening Women's Friendships at Midlife. "You don't have to be unkind, just less available."
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By Sally Stitch