If you’re in the second half of life, you’re wondering where your friends went. If you’re a woman over 50 who doesn’t often meet new people, you may feel socially disconnected and awkward. You are normal! The older we get, the more difficult it is to make and keep friends. Especially if you’re childless, like I am, and live in a big city, like I do.
Good news, though: Even though it’s harder to make friends when you’re a woman over 50, it’s not impossible. My tips on how to make friends in the second half of life will widen your social circle and feed your friend-starved heart. On my article about making friends when you’re traveling solo, a reader asked for friend-finding tips for women over 40. My ideas apply to people of all ages, shapes and sizes but I am focusing on women in the second half of life. I also included a few signs you’re a toxic friend. Is it possible you have no or few friends because you drain the life out of the room? My tips will help you see the truth. And the truth shall set you free!
How do women over 50 – including widows and empty-nesters – make new friends? I’m not sure if I’m the best person to ask; meeting friends has been a struggle for me for the past 15 years. Ever since I got married and moved to Vancouver, BC – I was 35 at the time – I’ve been struggling to make friends. Before that, I had more friends than I could keep up with. Good friends, too. People I truly liked, connected with and enjoyed being around. Getting married changed everything, as big life events often do.
I searched for a few ideas for how to make friends for women in the second half of life. I found advice such as : “How do you present yourself to new friends? Are you open and approachable? If not, you may be scaring people off from trying to get to know you better. Be sure to use body language that invites conversation (don’t cross your arms or frown, for example) when you’re in an environment where you have the opportunity to chat with someone new.”
Here’s the problem with advice like that: it doesn’t address the underlying problem. The real problem with making friends when you’re a woman over 40 or 50 – especially if you live in a city like Vancouver or New York – is that we seem to have less need for social connections and friendships. This isn’t because of the digital age or social media; it’s because the older we get, the less we want to be around other people.
5 Ways to Make New Friends Over 50
You may find it helpful to think about why you’re struggling to make friends. Figuring out the problem will help you find the solution. Do you find yourself withdrawing and enjoying your own company more now than you did when you were in your 20s and younger? Even if this isn’t true for you, it’s true for other women over 40. Which means they’re perfectly happy being alone. No matter how approachable or friendly you are, they don’t want to be your friend. And the pool of possible friends gets more and more shallow – both literally and metaphorically. Shallow as in small, less friends to choose from. And shallow as in less meaningful and emotional friendships with people who aren’t interested in silence or solitude.
These tips for making new friends when you’re over 50 revolve around this quote: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” This means that whatever you were doing in the past to make friends – such as play dates with your children’s friends and socializing with their parents, going to social events as family, attending work functions – don’t work anymore. It’s time to try reach past your comfort zone and try new ways to find friends.
Also, these tips aren’t just for making friends. They’re for finding kindred spirits, soul mates even. People who “get” you, who you feel comfortable with. You don’t just want a friend who goes to the symphony or ball games with you; you want a friend who plays the violin and is the back catcher for your favorite team!
1. Meet your “enemies”
Why are you having trouble making friends? Those are your obstacles, or enemies (to stick with the friends theme). I’m having trouble meeting people in Vancouver because of a combination of things: I’m married, I’m an introvert and prefer to be alone instead of with people, my husband doesn’t need to spend time with friends, and I like spending time with my husband. Plus, I think Alberta (where I lived before) is friendlier and more down to earth than Vancouver. For the first few years I was married I didn’t need friends. My husband met my emotional and social needs.
Whether or not you’re married, it’s healthy and important to have friends outside your marriage. Social connections (especially in person, not online) create physical and emotional health, and give us additional support when life throws curveballs. And we need all the support we can get.
2. Know your personality and do what you love
Are you introverted or extroverted? If you don’t know, take my fast and free Are You an Introvert? A Test for Introverted Personality Traits. Learn what drains your energy, what lifts you up, and who you are from the inside out. The more self-aware you are, the easier it’ll be to make good friends when you’re over 40 or 50.
Here’s an example: I started a writing group when I lived on Bowen Island and a book club in North Vancouver. I figured monthly gatherings would be a good friend-building practice. I also love writing, reading, and talking about books. Is there a book club in your community or city? If you like reading, it’s a good way to make new friends in the second half of life. If books aren’t your thing, join a MeetUp group. They’re specifically designed to bring people together who have common interests – which is what meeting new friends is all about! Do an internet search for MeetUp groups in your city, get out of your comfort zone, and drop in on a meeting every couple of weeks.
3. Learn something new – or volunteer your time
I dislike sharing this tip on for making friends because it’s such as cliché – especially for women over 40. You know you “should” take a class, learn an instrument, join a club or learn something new. The reason I’m including this tip despite its ordinariness is because it works. Doing something different really is a great way to meet friends when you’re in the second half of your life. I started playing the flute a few years ago, and joined a community band. I also went back to school to get my MSW (Master’s of Social Work). I didn’t make any new friends, but I know others in my group did. If it worked for them, it can work for you.
If you don’t want to learn a new instrument or go back to school, find volunteer opportunities in your area. I’m a Big Sister with Big Brothers/Big Sisters in Vancouver; my Little Sister and I were matched when she was 11. She’s 19 now, and we still see each other every two or three weeks. She’s like family now. Being a Big Sister didn’t help me meet new friends either, but my life is better and I’m happier. And I changed my Little’s life, too. That’s better than making friends – it’s leaving a legacy!
Would you rather focus on helping or giving to others than look for ways to make friends? Yay! Here’s a life-changing tip: Volunteer at your local hospital, hospice, or long-term care center. Visit lonely, sick people who have no friends or family. Read How to Comfort a Friend Whose Mom Has Cancer for tips on being with patients and hospital visitors.
4. Get a dog (it’s impossible to own a dog and not meet friends!)
We’ve had our dog Georgie for several years, and I get lots of social interaction just by walking her a couple times a day. I’ve made friends with neighbors near and far, and am actually throwing a party next Saturday night for all the friends I’ve met walking my dog.
Bonus: People who own dogs are often healthier and happier (pet research proves this) – and if you’re over 40 or 50, you need to start focusing on your long-term health.
Many women in the second half of life struggle to make new friends because their old friends have died. So have their husbands. If you lost your spouse, read 3 Ways to Meet New Friends – Help for Widows.
7 Signs You Are a Toxic Friend
These five signs that you’re a toxic friend are inspired by author George Eliot. She was an English novelist who used a male pen name to ensure her words were taken seriously. Her real name was Mary Anne Evans, and she had some solid ideas about friendships. She said, “Perhaps the most delightful friendships are those in which there is much agreement, much disputation, and yet more personal liking.” Good friends agree about lots of things – and, better yet, are able to disagree about lots of things.
- You’re negative, and you can’t stop complaining. Do you hate your job, your ex-boyfriend, your mother, and your last vacation? Fine…but stop talking about it! Expressing your negative feelings is fine – good, even – but polluting the air with a nonstop monologue about how terrible your life is won’t help you make and keep lifelong friends.
- You talk behind your friend’s back. You’re a toxic female friend if you share info about your friend, her habits, her work, her partner, or anything about her life. Gossip may feel good – but it just ain’t nice. And, it’ll destroy your friendship.
- You don’t remember – or know – what’s happening in your friend’s life. How did your friend’s dad’s open heart surgery go? When is her birthday? How old are her kids? What does she want to be when she grows up? What’s her biggest struggle? You don’t know what’s going on in your friend’s life because you don’t ask. Or listen.
- You give back-handed compliments. “I love your new haircut! It makes your face seem so slim.” I’m sure you’ve received “compliments” like this. If you find yourself making snide remarks (and let’s face it, ladies, we’ve all done it), cut yourself a piece of humble pie and apologize immediately. You could even explain why you were snippy (my grandma’s word) with your friend. This example of a toxic female friend is from Kelli Zink, host of CelebTV.com — and so is the next one…
- You criticize your friend in public. If you don’t save your criticisms for private discussions, then you may be the poison in a toxic female friendship. Sometimes we need to confront a friend’s bad behavior – but not in public (the same goes for married couples!). Do you know what the number one cause of negative attitudes and behavior in people? Self-hatred. If you aren’t a good friend to others because you aren’t a friend to yourself, read How to Love Yourself When You Don’t Feel Good Enough.
- You don’t call, you don’t write. This may not be a sign of you are a toxic friend, but if you never reach out, then you’re not much of a companion. Being a good friend can involve a quick, simple “Hey – how are you? Haven’t talked in ages, was thinking about you today.” If you never think to call or email your friend, then you’re not carrying your end of the canoe, my friend.
- You drain other people’s energy. Are you an “energy vampire”? This may be difficult to figure out on your own, but it’s a strong sign that you’re a toxic female friend. Energy vampires leave people feeling drained, depressed, and exhausted. They ignore boundaries and other people’s needs. Energy vampires can be “drama queens” — making the smallest incident a huge deal.
Do you recognize yourself in these signs of toxic friends? That’s okay. You’re human, you’ll always be an imperfect friend, and your friends know this. And sometimes toxic friendships become healthy, strong relationships! I have a couple good examples of that in 6 Tips for Dealing With Your Husband’s Toxic Ex-Wife.
What have I missed? I welcome your thoughts on how to meet people and make friends in the second half of life. May you find kindred spirits to lift you up and hold you close…and may you do the same for them.