50 Years Old And No Friends? 10 Practical Solutions
Entering your 50s can be a difficult time, you are certainly no longer young but you are not really old either. Victor Hugo described it well when he said that ’40 is the old age of youth and 50 is the youth of old age’. If you had children your 30s and 40s are likely to have been spent raising your family together with all the stresses and joys that entailed. American parents have a tendency, these days, to create a fetish of parenthood, putting all their energies into supporting their children while allowing their own interests to take a back seat. Is it any surprise therefore that, by the time the youngest goes to college, mom and dad sit back and realize that they no longer know who they are and what interests them?
Because parents’ lives are so intimately bound up with their children’s many of their friendships will also be tied into their children’s activities. You may suddenly find that you no longer have anything in common with the soccer moms and dads you spent every weekend with if there is no match to cheer.
At the same time your 50s is a challenging period career wise. You will be close to expert in your field with many years’ experience under your belt. You may also start to struggle with innovations and new methods of working that are introduced, that is only normal. Sadly, for many employers, that leaves the impression that the over 50s are expensive dinosaurs and they may be searching for any reason to get rid of you. This makes finding the time to socialize even more difficult.
So what is your average, gregarious 50 something to do when they wake up one morning to realize they have the sum total of zero real friends? We have 10 practical solutions for you.
10Get A Dog
Pets provide almost instant companionship and true, unadulterated friendship. They love you for who you are; faults and all. Just owning a pet can help make you feel calmer when you are anxious, lower your blood pressure and generally make you happier in yourself.
Just the very act of having another living being to care for is often enough for some people and with that in mind a cat would be as good as a dog. They are certainly endearing pets. Dogs have an even greater advantage, however. They get you out of the house! Dogs need to be walked every day and that means you need to take them. Once you are out and about you will find that your cute pooch is a magnet, people will want to come and admire your fuzzy companion. Where your dog really starts to show his worth, however, is when you get to places like the dog park or puppy school. They will be teeming with hundreds of other dog owners all happy to talk about their pets (people get very enthusiastic about their furry family members). Of course you won’t hit it off with most of the people you meet and many of them will end up as no more than passing acquaintances, but the chances are one or two of them will be potential new friends.
If your circumstances do not allow you to get a pet consider looking into dog share schemes where you ‘borrow’ a dog while their owner is on holiday or walk them while they are at work. Many people who subscribe to these schemes end up becoming very close to the dog’s real family. Local humane societies are often searching for volunteers and are another good option.
Please note, you have to be healthy and willing to take on the lifetime commitment to an animal that can live 15 years or more. If you are not willing to commit the time, resources and emotional energy your pet deserves please do not get one!
9Take A Class
A quick search of your local paper or internet listings will show that there are interest groups for just about everything. Is natural history your thing? Go to the monthly lectures at community college. How about knitting? There will almost certainly be regular meet ups of a local group and this goes for just about every skill and interest.
Of course you may turn up at a group and realize that it is not for you, perhaps all the people at the Natural History lectures are in their 90s and have little in common with you, you won’t know until you try. List a few interests that you have always wanted to explore and skills you have wanted to learn, then give yourself a period of 6 months where you pursue them through groups or lectures. At the end of that period of time you will know which ones truly benefit you and which ones just don’t click. You will almost certainly have made a few friends along the way as well.
8Get Involved With Politics Or Become An Activist
Politics is not just for those who want to become a Governor or the next POTUS, in fact those big ticket races would not be possible without the support of local activist organizations. If you have always supported the Democrats or the Republicans (or even a third party) at the polls you may find getting involved with your local grass roots organization very rewarding. This can be an excellent way to meet many likeminded people and attend fundraisers, rallies or even meet important national figures whom you admire greatly. Before you know it you will have more social interaction than you could ever have thought possible and many of those people are potential friends.
Let’s face it, however, not everyone is interested in party politics and that is ok too. There are plenty of organizations that would welcome your support and provide the same return in terms of live social networking. Go protest at Standing Rock, join the Occupy Wall Street movement, get involved in Women’s March style events the NRA or Greenpeace (who would have imagined seeing those groups in the same sentence!) or just about any group you can think of. If you are passionate about something other people who are similarly passionate will make great friends.
Did you think that only the young college types could join the Peace Corps and volunteer overseas? You would be wrong, the Peace Corps is for everyone and if you have the flexibility to leave your life behind it could be just the thing you are looking for. Of course if you are still working a shorter term volunteer program might be more suited to your taste. Why not make a difference with monks in Laos or help children in India. Along the way you are certain to meet a lot of likeminded people.
If you have a professional skill that is in demand outside the US (a telephone network engineer or a cataract surgeon) it may be that you will be able to volunteer through a professional body that sends people overseas on a pro-bono basis.
If you don’t want to or can’t go abroad at the current point in time or if you want to use your volunteering time to make friends closer to home then there are still many opportunities open to you. Hospices and homes for the elderly often need volunteer ‘befrienders’, schools often need people to help read with children. You can also volunteer in areas that support your interests, local historical attractions and national parks often rely on volunteers to help their organizations run smoothly. There are endless options.
6Go To Church (Temple, Synagogue, Mosque Etc)
Going to church (or other places of religious worship) no longer play as pivotal a role as it used to in many people’s lives. 100 years ago it was almost unheard of not to be involved in worship, today while many people profess a faith many others do not. Places of worship are, however, fantastic hubs of community activity. They can be bases for volunteer efforts (see 7 above) and again are a good place to meet likeminded people.
Many people, particularly those who have not attended Church in years, might feel nervous and potentially even hypocritical about going to Church in order to make friends, particularly if they have doubts in their faith. Don’t worry, doubts are normal, if you speak to the Priest, Pastor or Vicar and explain why you are returning and that you have had breaks in your faith and ability to believe they will support you, if doubts were a barrier to attendance then Churches would be empty! That said if you really do not believe then this solution is probably not for you!
When you join a new Church (or other place of worship), take the time to get to know the Priest, Rabbi, Imam etc, they will introduce you to the people who can help you settle in and make friends. You will find all sorts of opportunities to get involved from brunches and lunches to donation drives, just get stuck in, the more you do the more opportunities you will find to meet people who might become close friends.
5Use Technology To Keep Up With Old Friends
The chances are that you have moved at least once in your life. If you did you probably had to leave some old friends and family members behind. Luckily modern technology and social media means that physical distance does not need to correlate into no contact beyond the odd letter. Facebook and What’s App are brilliant ways to stay in touch and keep up with what is happening in your friends’ lives, they even allow you to create private groups. Skype has also proved to be a game changer. If you used to meet up with friends for coffee and cake every Wednesday the simple fact that you have moved state does not need to stop you joining in. Simply set up a skype call and voila – you are there!
No matter how many new friends you make (and you should) friends who have known you a long time can be something of a security blanket and maintaining contact is vitally important for good self-esteem and mental health.
4Turn To Your Virtual Friends
Joining a physical interest group or class (see 9 above) can be a little daunting, particularly if you are shy. That does not mean that you can’t use your interests to help you make friends, you just need to go about it a slightly different way.
If you are on social media (see 5 above) and have interests there are almost certainly groups that you can join. Do you like cross stitch or watercolors, if you do a search on Facebook you will find any number of private groups that surround your topic of interest. This is an easy, no pressure way to get to know people with shared interests. In a watercolor or photography group, for example, people might post their latest project and look for constructive and supportive comments or they might ask for advice on techniques. You may be in a position to help or you may want to ask similar questions. Over time you will start to recognize names and interests.
Smaller groups such as ‘Pasadena Watercolor Enthusiasts’ may be geographically limited and they often arrange annual or monthly local meet ups that you can attend if they are close to your home. Other groups are more diverse and have a very disparate membership with people from locations as distant as Germany and Australia but that does not mean that there are no people close to you. There is no harm, after you become established in the group, writing a post saying ‘anyone else from X want to get together for coffee sometime?’. Before you know it you will have turned a virtual relationship into an actual one and be well on the way to having a new friend.
3Leverage Your Spouse
As long as your loss of friends is not due to divorce (sadly more often than not divorcees find they lose their friends at the same time as they lose their significant other) you can leverage your spouse’s friendship making abilities.
Of course you love your other half and enjoy spending time with them. It is not unreasonable for you to want your own friends and time away from them either. The truth is, however, that you could do a lot worse than tap into their friendships. The chances are that you enjoy a lot of the same things and therefore their friends are likely to be on the same wavelength as you. Even better the friends’ spouses are also likely to be of a similar mindset and therefore have excellent friendship potential.
You could go about leveraging this potential pool of friends in a number of different ways. If you and your spouse are both gregarious you could employ a ‘divide and conquer’ mode of friendship making, ie each of you should put the tips in this article into practice in as many diverse settings as possible, one or more of them is sure to pay dividends. If you are an introvert or otherwise shy you can use your spouse as the engine whose job it is to develop the friendships and then arrange double dates or go to some ‘plus one’ events. That way you do not have to walk into an empty room all by yourself, instead you have the rock of your life with you and able to give you the support you need to be able to go out and make friends without coming across as both desperate and creepy (see 1 below)
2Smile, Be Friendly And Find A ‘Local’
A smile really is worth a thousand words and the very act of smiling at people shows that you are friendly and approachable. Bear the advice on being too eager (1 below) in mind, however. Don’t walk around with a grimacing rictus on your face, you will just look creepy and everyone will avoid you. The key is to be open and honest in your smile. Make eye contact but don’t stare.
The best way to turn this smile into potential friendships is to let it loose on a similar group of people on a regular basis. For that you need a local, a spot where you can become known as part of the furniture. Frasier Crane started out at Cheers and moved to the Coffee Bean and became well known (and loved in spite of his idiosyncrasies) by all the other patrons. He was never short of someone to talk to and the baristas/bar keep always knew his order. Take a leaf out of his book and find a local haunt that you can enjoy time in, it does not matter what they serve or where they are as long as they are convenient for you and attract the type of people you would like to get to know more.
The first people to become familiar with you will be the waiting staff but before long other regulars will start to catch your eye and smile and before you know it they will start exchanging the odd greeting with you. How you take it from there is up to you. We would counsel you against inviting them all to your 55th birthday party or second wedding following no more than a nodding acquaintance (1 below again) but if you take it gently you could meet some good friends there.
1Don’t Be Too Eager
We have all met THAT person! The one who seems normal, a potential friend and then BAM, just as you are thinking that you might like to meet up with them next month they take your email and cell number and before you know if you have a friendship stalker. It is horrendously suffocating and very off-putting.
You may think you would never do this but it is all too easy to be caught up in the excitement of the moment and, thinking you have met your new best friend forever, send them running for the hills.
Friendships are like romantic relationships, they typically mature over time. Most good friendships start out as passing acquaintances and gradually deepen as you get to know each other. The more needy you seem in the early stages of a relationship the more likely it is to just not progress. Take each new potential friendship slowly. Meet for coffee every now and then but don’t insist on getting together every other day. Don’t stress out if your new friend does not respond to your texts straight away and don’t follow them round like a lost puppy! Just be your normal relaxed self and everything else will flow naturally from that.
So there are our 10 practical solutions to help you make new friends. Do you feel up to it? You will notice that our suggestions have one thing in common, you have to ‘put yourself out there’. You will not make friends by sitting at home and failing to interact with other people. If going out in the real world is too daunting start by making some online friends and then see about meeting them in real life, alternatively see if you can find someone (like your spouse or your dog) to help ease the introductions. If you are really stuck and feel that you can’t take the risk of getting hurt then volunteer with an organization whose politics or mission resonates with you or start helping out at your local church. You don’t have to go with the intent to make friends but it will get you out of the house and interacting with people and that is a step in the right direction.
Once you have some friends it is infinitely easier to make more as your self-confidence will start to grow (and your new friends will be able to introduce you to their friends and so on). Good luck!