group of middle aged friends celebrating in bar together

How to Find and Keep Friends: A Guide for Middle Age

Karla Olson, a 51-year-old mother of three in Park City, Utah, is working on creating what she’s calling the Empty Nester Club. She plans to develop an online community on the video-communication app Marco Polo, and hopes local branches will form around the country for in-person meetups. For Olson, it’s all about creating a community that will encourage others in middle age to develop new interests or businesses.

Jen Mann—a humor writer and author of Midlife Bites: Anyone Else Falling Apart, Or Is It Just Me?—couldn’t agree more about the need to create a sense of community in the midlife years. Finding and keeping friends at this stage in life also is essential in combatting loneliness.

Mann knows this feeling all too well as she found it hard to break into established friend groups in her Kansas City, KS, neighborhood. So, she and a friend created a monthly get-together called “Midlife with Moxie,” with activities including a Christmas-lights tour and poetry readings. At first it was scary because Mann wondered what if no one came. But she never had no one come.

Establishing friendships doesn’t have to entail grand gestures. Sending someone an article or funny video that makes you think of them shows you care.

Because texting or calling can feel time-consuming and exhausting, you could send a voice memo, as well—especially since it may be easier for you and more personal for them to hear your voice. You can use your voice-memo app or the voice feature found in many messaging apps.

“Whatever it is,” Mann said, “make the first move. Ultimately, the best way to make friends—even just one or two—is to leave your house. You have to put on pants and go somewhere. But you can also reach out through your phone.”

If you’re looking for help, sometimes you may need to bounce ideas off of a professional counselor.

The reality of feeling lonely

Loneliness is a reality for many middle-aged people. While there’s no magic wand to fix that lonely feeling, there are things you can do to make new friends, and to rekindle or sustain the friendships you already have. For all the strategies, you have to take initiative—and be vulnerable, said Julie Jargon, Family & Tech columnist at the Wall Street Journal.

“When our kids are little, we teach them to approach other children on the playground and ask to be their friend,” Jargon said. “Adults need to do the same—without being so literal, of course. I’ve made some good friends by chatting with other parents at my neighborhood park.”

There are also ways to reach out to strangers virtually. For example, a woman in Texas posted a request for friends on a Facebook page for moms in her town. More than 200 women responded, saying they’d like to meet her. Another woman who read Jargon’s column and then posted to the local social-networking site Nextdoor asked if anyone else in their Berkeley, CA, neighborhood would like to form a group for dinners and trivia nights.

Being vulnerable is key

“It requires vulnerability to do this, but if you don’t ask, you don’t receive,” said Jillian Richardson, author of Un-Lonely Planet: How Healthy Congregations Can Change the World.

Richardson facilitates friendships in New York, using what she calls the Joy List, a free weekly newsletter of meetups. A recent study found that nearly half of Americans have three or fewer close friends—and the trend toward fewer friends has grown considerably in the past few decades.

“When considering asking someone to go out as a friend, keep in mind that, statistically speaking, that person is probably desperate for connection and you’re giving them a gift by asking them out,” Richardson said.

It requires vulnerability to do this, but if you don’t ask, you don’t receive

Be social, minus the media

Social media doesn’t necessarily cause loneliness, but many people said platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can make loneliness feel worse. 

Kat Vellos, a friendship coach and author of We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships suggests inviting friends to take a social-media break with you, agreeing to spend the time you might have used scrolling on Instagram having a phone call instead.

Create a routine

If there’s something you need or like to do each day, such as walking your dog, try doing it at the same time, said Danielle Bayard Jackson, a friendship coach. You’ll probably notice the same people out at the same time and have ample opportunity to strike up a conversation.

Bayard Jackson advises maintaining a distance and even beginning the conversation by explaining that you’ll stay a few feet away if you sense the other person is nervous about getting too close.

Jargon tends to go hiking and visit the park with her family at regular times. They often see the same people out, some of whom have become friends.

“I’ve found that people with dogs talk to more people than people without dogs, so your four-legged friend can be an instant conversation starter,” Jargon said.

Bayard Jackson also suggests that people who want to meet new friends keep their phones out of sight while out walking, and not wear earbuds, to signal that they’re open to conversation.

You have to go to the grocery store anyway, why not shop at the same time as a friend?

Try a friendship matchmaking site

People turn to matchmaking sites to find romantic partners, so why not do the same to find friends? If you’d like to explore this option, there are several sites, including Bumble BFF, Meetup, and Friended.

When setting up a profile on such apps, Bayard Jackson suggests being as specific as possible about your interests and about what you’re seeking in a friendship. This will improve your odds of attracting the right people.

“Research from dating apps shows that matching algorithms favor positive language,” Bayard Jackson said, “so it’s important to list the things you like and not the things you don’t like. If you start messaging with a potential match, ask questions to show your interest and keep the conversation flowing.”

Rethink the hangout

One reason many busy parents don’t see friends as often as they’d like is because the very idea of planning outings can feel daunting. They have the idea in their minds of happy hours and long brunches, and many people don’t feel they have time for that.

However, they might have time to go on errand dates with friends. This recent trend has gained popularity on social media sites, and makes good sense, according to Bayard Jackson.

“You have to go to the grocery store anyway,” she said. “Why not shop at the same time as a friend?” 

Book time

We’ve all been in the situation where we run into a friend and say, “We should get together,” but then no one plans anything. Friendship experts recommend booking friend dates right when the topic arises, or even entering recurring meetups into your calendar.

If getting together in person is too difficult, you can book time each month for a video call with friends. Bayard Jackson said having a purpose for the meeting can help, like discussing a book or podcast.

Do the little things

If you don’t find groups that resonate with your interests, research events in your area then invite people to attend. You can also create your own event. 

Whatever you do, don’t give up, Jargon said. No person is an island. We need each other.

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If you’re looking for help, sometimes you may need to bounce ideas off of a professional counselor.

Reference

Jargon, Julie. “How to Find and Keep Friends: A Guide for Middle Age.” Wall Street Journal. Jan. 29, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/being-a-parent-is-lonelyheres-how-to-find-and-keep-friends-in-2022-11643465968

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