Most lose half their friends every 7 years. Cultivating the skill of making new friends is critical to health and happiness.
As women leave the workplace, their children grow up and become independent and longtime friends move away, women often find themselves with fewer people in their lives. Their circle of friends begins to dwindle in number. With fewer people to talk to and enjoy socializing with, feelings of isolation and loneliness can begin it creep in. Almost three-quarters of women over age fifty report they experience loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness can be a major health risk. Having too few friends is the equivalent mortality risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is riskier than obesity, according to a recent study by Brigham Young University. Loneliness can even be deadly. How often have you heard of someone who died shortly after their spouse or other close family member died?
When we were younger, our activities naturally put us in close contact with others. We had shared interests or similar goals. As we outgrew some interests and as our goals in life changed over time, some of the people we spent time with drifted away. It’s the natural order of things. Sociologists report that, on average, we lose half our close friends every seven years. So it’s vital to learn the skill of cultivating new relationships to take their place.
Increasing the amount and quality of time spent with friends, new and old, is a wonderful way to bring more joy and meaning into your life. When we interact with friends, our brains are stimulated in a multitude of ways as conversation sparks memories, laughter and new thought. A conversation with a friend can lift your mood and flood your mind with wonderful things to think about all day.
So, if you find yourself, like most women, with a dwindling number of friends and fewer activities with them, there is a solution. Make new friends! But how?
As we get older, it becomes more challenging to meet and make new friends. Comfortably settled into a routine, some women find it next to impossible to meet new people. The idea of striking out in new directions to find new friends can seem daunting.
Fortunately, wonderful friendship opportunities are everywhere. You just need to know where and how to look for them. Most people would agree that the odds of forming friendships with others who share similar interests, philosophies on life and life experiences are highest. However, friendships can form between the most unlikely of individuals. Compatibility between people is wildly unpredictable. So being open to new people whether they are similar to you or not just might lead to a richly rewarding friendship.
Friendships most often are formed through a combination of two key elements – consistency and openness. As children, we saw the same groups of people at school, in after school activities and sports. Consistency in our interactions with others was baked into our lives. As older adults whose activities and interactions have decreased, opportunities are fewer unless we regularly and purposefully seek them out.
Simply rubbing elbows with people on a regular basis is not enough to form a friendship. Being interested, engaged and somewhat invested in the well-being of others is necessary to form a connection with another person. Being open and vulnerable to others and likewise comforting others when they are feeling vulnerable deepens the bond between people.
Here are three ways to meet new people and form friendships.
By joining a group, you will put the power of consistency to work for you. The group can be a club, organization, religious organization or team. By regularly attending group meetings, activities and functions, growing familiarity with others can lead to forming connections that extend beyond the group. Check out Meetup.com to find special interest groups where people come together over similar interests. There are groups for Great Dane lovers, bridge players, kayaking enthusiasts, restaurant-goers, music lovers, in fact, just about any interest you can imagine. Connecting over a common interest is a great way to bond with a new friend.
When people share a cause they care enough about to volunteer their time and talent, the seeds of friendship already exist. Each of you may be dedicated to the same cause because of personal life experiences. When you each open up to the other about your experiences and passion for the cause, bonds of friendship can form quickly.
Grow Your Connection Outside the Group
Superficial, “acquaintance type” friendships can flourish quickly and easily within the container of a group or organization as people talk and laugh while participating in the group. The key to a meaningful, lasting friendship is taking a superficial relationship outside the group. Like the weaving of a fabric, the more points of connection, the strong the fabric.
Invite someone you want to get to know better to join you for another activity outside the group. You could meet for coffee to talk further about goings on in the group or about an interest you discovered you share. You might gather a small group of 3 or 4 people and meet for lunch at a local restaurant or an activity like touring a local art gallery or museum.
It’s likely that you will feel like you’ve made a friend only after 7 or 8 shared experiences. Frequent and regular get-togethers – consistency – is key. And when you do meet, demonstrating genuine interest and caring about the well-being and concerns of the other person will lay the foundation for a lasting friendship.
How have you dealt with loneliness after you lost a friend or loved one? How have you developed a casual acquaintance into a real friend outside of the group where you met? Share your thoughts!