Years ago, when my son was leaving for college and was nervous about meeting new friends, a friend of mine gave me the most wonderful piece of advice to share with him.
“Everybody appreciates being asked,” Amy said. She had shared this nugget with her own son when he was in a similar situation. Whether you ask a crush on a date, a classmate to study together, or a dorm-mate to hang out playing video games, people never think less of you for asking. It’s flattering, after all, that someone would want to ask you to spend time with them. “Even if they say no,” Amy said, “Everyone likes to be asked.”
Fast forward seven years. I had decided to pack up my life and move away from my hometown of twenty-five years. Like my son, I, too, worried about making new friends. I didn’t know anyone in my new hometown.
I moved to a much larger city than the one I left, so I was confident there would be many opportunities to meet people, but unlike my son, I wasn’t working for a big company or living with housemates that could introduce me around.
People say it’s hard to make new friends when you are older. In your twenties, you have school friends, and you tend to do things in large groups: going to clubs or bars, concerts, sporting events, and pool parties. In your thirties and (and part of your) forties, your children and your work dictate your social life. You may have friends from your office, or your spouse’s, and you become friends with the parents of your children’s classmates and teammates.
When you reach the next part of your life, however, and aren’t inclined to hang out in bars or spend all afternoon in the sun at a pool party, your opportunities dwindle. After all, you are looking for like-minded women, but like-minded for me means we are all home and in our jammies by sunset. How are you supposed to meet each other?
If you are married, your social life may be wrapped around your couple friends, or work friends if you are still working. But many middle-aged women find that they neglected their friend relationships over the years they spent taking care of their family, and they long for the sisterhood female friends provide.
Psychologists say it’s not necessary to have a lot of friends to be happy, but it is important to have social interaction on a regular basis, so at least one or two friends you can see regularly may make the difference between feeling happy or lonely.
Friends help us to be healthier by giving us people to vent to outside our families, keeping us accountable to our health and fitness goals, and allowing us someone to laugh, or cry, with.
Friends can also help us to feel more confident by encouraging us in our efforts and supporting us when we step out of our comfort zones.
The tables turned
When I made my move, it was my son’s turn to give me advice on making friends.
“Go on Meetup,” he said. Meetup is an app and website where you can find groups or people that share your interests. There are groups for just about anything you can think of: exercising, meditating, book clubs, foodies, bar hopping, nature loving, traveling, dancing– the list is endless. If you can’t find a group you like, you can form your own group.
The first Meetup group I joined was the Hip Chicks, a group for women over fifty. The group was started in April of 2019 by a married woman who just wanted to do more with women her age. When I joined the group in June of 2019 it had already exploded to over 400 women in our area. That is a powerful example of how many older women are seeking friendships.
My first event was a happy hour celebrating anyone who had a birthday that month. I had a great conversation with Lisa, seated next to me, and Julie, across the table, and we all exchanged phone numbers before leaving. The three of us continued to meet at Hip Chick events and met a fourth friend, Lee.
We started meeting for dinner outside the Hip Chicks events. When the pandemic forced all organized events to end last year, we kept each other’s spirits up with group text chats and socially-distanced meetings in the park.
Aside from the Hip Chicks, I joined Meetup groups for pickleball players, outdoor yoga, meditation on the beach, bootcamp, salsa dancing, and kayaking. I’ve made several good friends who like to do the same kinds of things that I do, and in a short amount of time, I no longer felt like a newcomer in town.
Here are seven additional ways you can meet new friends.
1. Like MeetUp, online sites and apps are good for meeting people. Facebook’s group feature offers groups for all kinds of people’s interests. You can follow different groups and watch for get-togethers or reach out to group members when you want someone to meet you for a walk, bike ride, or dinner. Some dating apps, like Bumble, include a “friends only” feature.
2. Volunteer opportunities offer a way to meet people who are concerned about the same causes as you while helping others. Check out animal shelters, homeless and indigent services, museum docent programs, hospitals or hospices, schools, community gardens, libraries, nursing homes, political committees, or your church. Online sites like VolunteerMatch.org list available opportunities by geographical area.
3. Enrolling in classes is another way to make friends with people that share your interests. If you’ve always wanted to take a class in art, photography, dancing, gardening, or cooking, you can learn a new skill and meet people at the same time.
4. Hitting the gym is more fun when you can meet a friend there. Try out a cycling, Zumba, or group fitness class to find people with whom you can share support for your mutual workout goals.
5. Get sporty! Train for a 5K with a local runners’ club, take tennis, golf, or pickleball group lessons, or join a hiking or biking club. Active.com can help you find sports groups in your area. If you are more into watching sports than doing them, you may enjoy groups that support professional or semi-pro teams in your area, or your local alumni association.
6. Join a professional networking group. If you are in business, joining a networking group is a great way to promote your business and meet other working women. Usually, these groups have a regular weekly or monthly meeting, plus committees or other activities. The National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s clubs or your Chamber of Commerce can help you find a group.
7. Schedule a women-only trip. Women’s travel groups like the Women’s Travel Club and Explorer Chick offer women-only travel groups so you can travel with companions safely. Many travel companies also put together women’s only vacations. An easy Google search will have you ready to pack your bags.
Making friends when you’re older is easy once you put yourself out there. For one thing, we know ourselves better at this age. We don’t waste time on the insecurity-fueled drama that plagued our twenties.
We are less likely to waste time on people we don’t relate to or that bring a negative vibe with them. We get to know women faster now because we can be more vulnerable with our friends; we’ve all been through stuff and have learned that it’s OK to share and open up to our sisters.
So don’t put it off, just get out there and ask someone.