Most people find their friendships and social circle shrink dramatically after retiring. Something I never thought about back in my working days. Yet, it’ll become a reality unless you’re aware and willing to do something about it.
There are numerous ways to make friends in retirement:
Studies have proven the quality of your friendships (or lack thereof) impacts your mental health. “Loneliness is a killer” is all too true when you feel alone. Equally bad are those conflict filled relationships such as a bad marriage.
Thus, in ways to make friends in retirement, we’ll focus on attracting quality people for true friendships.
Become More Likable
As a general rule, people prefer being around someone who is upbeat and likable. When you’re positive, show an interest in others and listen you’ll have greater success in winning friends.
The truth of the matter is most of us are set in our ways. We have our own opinions on almost everything and seldom listen to anything countering these.
For instance, someone expresses a strong concern about climate change. Whereas others might not view it as a big deal. But, if they proceeded to argue about it, they’re not going to win any friends.
More likely, they’ll come across as opinionated, judgmental and unpleasant. While this might sound like an extreme example, it’s actually fairly common.
Part of the problem is most of us never really think about it. We’ve been surrounded by people while friends come and go. And, it seems the older we get, the more prone we’re to speak our mind.
First Impressions Matter
When you first meet someone, you’re going to form an opinion of them almost right off the bat. Either, it’ll be somewhat favorable or not so much. Usually, your first impression is pretty accurate and reinforced as you get to know them better.
So, what first impression do you create? Would a stranger view you as friendly, outgoing and someone they’d like to get to know better?
Or, perhaps you come across as closed and wary, somewhat negative or opinionated. If it’s the latter, you’ve got some work to do.
How to Win Friends
The best way to win friends is being open and friendly. Often, you’ll need to take the initiative and want to do it in a natural way. Such as complimenting someone on something they’re wearing. The most important part is be sincere and genuine.
The reality is most of us are a little shy and awkward. Walking up to a stranger can be nerve-wracking. While it’s easier to complain about a crappy service in the store or lousy weather, don’t fall into this trap. Keep things positive.
What it means to me is being positive and showing an interest in someone is far more powerful than trying to convince them of my importance.
Dale Carnegie’s timeless book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (link to a free PDF of book) contains practical advice still relevant to this day. Six tips on how to win friends include:
Your Partner Should Be Your Best Friend
When your partner is your best friend, they become your staunchest ally. They’re the most important person in your life. Not only do they have your back, they also have your best interests in mind. They might be the only one who’ll tell you the truth.
I’d be lost without the support and encouragement of my wife. Equally important, I can count on her to tell me the truth without sugar-coating things. I’m certainly not perfect and her candid insights help me grow as a person and partner.
All this translates into the fact we're each other’s primary source of interaction. We spend a lot more time together, especially over the past year with the pandemic. Lots of folks went stir-crazy.
I believe we became more grateful and appreciative (see our post on how to develop a grateful heart) for what we have. That’s not to say we’re completely dependent on each other for our social needs.
It’s healthy to have outside interests and friends. We also enjoy getting together with other couples adding more balance. What if your relationship isn’t all you want it to be?
When You've Grown Apart
Some couples have just grown apart. There may not be any conflict, in fact there’s not much of anything. They don’t have much in common anymore and often become more like room-mates.
This is one of the most reported reasons of baby boomer marital breakups. This is a shame after being together for so many years.
You have to ask yourself if your marriage can be revitalized or you’re too far apart. Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their split up.
Our post on Gray Divorce further explores this phenomenon.
When Your Relationship is Strained
Unfortunately, other relationships have become strained and unhealthy. Unresolved issues have simmered for years, never being resolved. Our post on Retirement for Couples: A Helpful Guide provides further insights.
Your options are either to roll-up your sleeves and get to work or decide it’s not worth it. Probably the most difficult part is creating open honest communications to actually resolve these issues.
Not easy and counseling is often advisable. One special note, abusive relationships are completely unacceptable!
If You're Single
Whether by choice or circumstance, an estimated 30% of American seniors live alone. At this stage in life, you may not be interested in dating or finding a partner.
This raises the importance of developing a strong social network. It’s doubly important for you to have ways to make friends in retirement that you can count on.
Reconnect with Family and Past Friends
In spite of our best intentions, often we lose touch with family and friends. These are the very people we once knew well and are worth reaching out to. These can include:
Even if they’ve moved away, it’d be nice to get in touch. Social media platforms make it so easy to find these people from your past. The best part, they’d probably love to hear from you too!
Does it ever seem like we only get together with extended family when there’s a wedding, family reunion or funeral? Years can slip by unless we make it happen.
Several years back, we decided to host a good old-fashioned family barbeque. My mother, in particular, was ecstatic about seeing everyone. She invited aunts, uncles and cousins I hadn’t seen in years!
And what a turnout! A beautiful summer afternoon and the deck was packed. My mother in her glory with everyone visiting and having a great time. The lesson I learned, sometimes we need to make a reason to get together.
Ever run into an old friend in the grocery store? I ran into a buddy from high school and almost didn’t recognize him! Less hair and a few more wrinkles, I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him. We must've chatted for 30 minutes or more, standing in the bakery section.
Although social media can be invasive, it’s also a really good way to keep in touch. The three things most retirees have in common: more time, we’re social media savvy and curious to know how others are doing.
You can imagine my disbelief when one of my “Alumni” friends announced he deleted his LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. He figured he didn’t need them anymore. After all, he was retired.
One of the nice things about social media, it doesn’t take a lot of effort. You can passively read what other people are doing. If you’re so inclined, you can “like” them and/or respond. As convenient as all this is, most of the time, you never get together.
As wonderful as it is connecting with an old friend on social media, wouldn’t it be nice to get together for coffee? What holds most of us back is fear of rejection. What if you invite them and they decline?
There’s lots of reason they might say no. Put yourself in their shoes. Maybe they’re having an off day, it ‘s inconvenient for them or they’re just not interested in getting together. Rather than feeling deflated, brush it aside and move forward.
Keeping in Touch with Work Friends
What happens after you leave work? Most of the time, your “work friends” fade away. When you’re not in the office anymore, you lose that interaction.
They’re busy and sometimes work was the common bond. Having said that, if someone was a friend, it’s worth keeping in touch.
What about those folks who also retired? They’re probably feeling the same and in much the same boat as you. If you got along with them, why not reach out?
My story is of a major corporate downsizing where a whole bunch of us were let go. After licking my wounds for a few months, I decided to call up one of my friends, who had also been let go.
I’m so glad I did. We went out for lunch and commiserated about how we were treated. Job loss is a major life event, especially when you’re older. How to deal with forced retirement provides a framework on moving past it.
Anyways, we decided to invite a couple of former employees to join us next time. It wasn’t long before we had ourselves a monthly luncheon group with a dozen attendees.
This became our own little support group and we referred to ourselves as “The Alumni”. It’s amazing how much it helped to be able to talk about things and hear how others are doing.
How to Make New Friends
The key to making new friends is opening yourself up and engaging with others. This becomes easier with a shared activity or interest. And realize, it’s not easy for anyone. We all struggle in some way when trying to figure out ways to make friends in retirement.
Rather than focusing on that, think in terms of what you enjoy. The rest comes more naturally. You’ll meet people with a shared interest, plus you’re having a good time.
When you’re doing something fun, friendships are almost a by-product. In addition to physical activities, you might consider taking a course, joining a club or volunteering. Taking this one step further, don’t restrict yourself to one activity.
“Target three groups to join and become an active member. One group just for fun, one group to learn something new, and one group to support a better world.” from Aging with Freedom
Sports are a good way to get out and also get some physical activity. For instance, pickleball is the latest craze with leagues and even tournaments springing up everywhere. The fact that so many are into it, why not give it a shot?
And, what a great way to get active, have some fun while meeting new people. Instead of worrying about what to say, you’ll probably be lamenting the shot you missed. Or, that crazy “kitchen” rule which no one fully understands.
If pickleball isn’t your thing, there’s lots of other activities. Have you thought about joining a walking group, a golf membership or aquacize? And, there’s hundreds of other activities and sports if those aren’t for you.
Join a Club or Meet-Up Group
There’s nothing better than meeting people who share your interest. If it’s something you’re passionate about, you’ll never run out of things to say. And, this is an excellent way to develop what often become life-long friendships.
Whatever your interest, there’s likely a local club or meet-up group nearby. Searching under Meetup.com will reveal more groups than you could possibly imagine. Most of these are informal with members coming and going.
Clubs tend to be more stable with members showing up regularly. For instance, a bridge club might expect you to show up each week. The same might apply for a book or art club, depending upon the membership.
Attend Local and Community Events
What better way to support your community and local business! Check out the local events of your town / city. And you’re sure to meet lots of folks from your area. These could range from a music festival, food fair, cultural events and many more.
You might even be able to volunteer and be able to attend for free. A friend of ours volunteers for a music festival every year. She’s gotten to know so many people and always has a great time.
Donating your time to a worthy cause can be fulfilling. You’re doing something that helps others and feels good. This could be helping children in need, supporting a food bank, animal shelter or spending time in a senior residence.
The opportunities are almost endless. You might be considering a non-profit organization or your church. Either way, even a few hours a week can make a difference for others.
In addition, the majority of volunteers are around our age. Another option to expand your social circle and one of the ways to make friends in retirement.
Sign Up for A Course
Stimulate your brain and learn something new. Your local college may offer low-cost courses on topics that interest you. These could be academic or general interest.
Related options might include signing up for a pottery course, fiction writing or astronomy.
Maintain Your Friendships
Friendship is a two-way street. Live by the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated. This could include:
Feel free to add to the list for what you’d expect. We’ll usually give someone the benefit of the doubt for a time or two. After that, most of us start feeling taken for granted.
Part of the reason for this, at least at an unconscious level, we keep a running score. When you’re there for a friend in need, you earn positive credits. Again, this isn't at a conscious level. If you were in need, you’d hope they’d be there for you.
On the flip side, if they let you down; you might not be as inclined to help them out. When you feel taken for granted, it’s time to move on.
Closing Thoughts on Ways to Make Friends in Retirement
There’s no question that quality relationships are critical to well-being. Yet, the day we retire, our social circle begins to shrink unless we take action. We’re all envious of those well-liked people who seem to naturally make friends.
They have a knack of making others feel comfortable. Instead of displaying anxiety and awkwardness, they radiate confidence. Their secret, they’re not worried if they’re liked or not. They put themselves out there and show interest in others.